By James Eze
One of the outstanding ways in which Governor Willie Obiano has made a mark in leadership is by doing those little things that come naturally to him. Things like stopping his convoy to rescue an accident victim. Things like reaching out to the first generation of players of Rangers International Football Club and placing them on a monthly stipend. And things like gathering the pop stars of the 70s to play a gig fifty years after in a nostalgic appreciation of their role in healing the trauma of the civil war with good music. These are little things that most leaders would never put any value on. Yet the very foundations of a conscionable society lay in them.
It was such a delight last Easter, to watch Da Pal Akalonu who I am told was once the Nigerian equivalent of America’s Quincy Jones mount the stage on the night and take a spot beside Chief Chika Okpala (Zebrudaya) of the New Masquerade fame and some of the musical legends of the 70s like Sweet Breeze, Funkees, Founders 15, Wings, Wrinkars Experience, Semi-colon, One World, Aktion and Soky Ohale. Some of these men had long forgotten what it felt like to be on a concert stage. But Governor Obiano brought all of them together once again on one stage to say “thank you for what you did for my people; our people.” Again, considering that these stars are all in the winter of their lives, governor Obiano decided to give each one of them a memorable Easter present. Each went home with an envelope that was sizeable enough to give their families an Easter to remember.
The symbolism of this gesture is profound. For we must never fail to look back! We must never be too absorbed with the present to forget the past. A forward-looking society leaps into tomorrow from the springboard of yesterday!
Indeed, Governor Willie Obiano has continued to show us the difference between a leader and a Great Leader. A great leader is one who may not necessarily weaken the strong to strengthen the weak but one who shows the right sensitivity, the right keenness on issues that make life more unbearable to the weak. Governor Willie Obiano’s sensitivity for the dispossessed and the mentally incapacitated stands him out. From the moment he took over in March 2014, Obiano began to show deep concerns about the growing number of people afflicted with mental illness in the streets. He felt disturbed by the very thought that these people were once healthy like everyone else until life dealt them a cruel hand. His immediate reaction was to set up a home for them… a place where people who wandered the streets of Anambra State on account of mental illness could find soothing arms waiting with a warm embrace; people who had lost memory of their own name, people for whom time no longer existed. The living dead!
The house in Nteje looks ordinary from the outside. But it is home to extraordinary occupants. When yours sincerely visited, there were 60 of them. They came from different parts of the country. Some came from nearby Enugu and Delta while others came from Akwa Ibom, Edo, Ebonyi, Abia and some states in the South West. They were randomly picked up from the streets of Onitsha, Awka, Ekwulobia and Nnewi and brought to the home. Yet when they sang church songs in Igbo, their differences in tribe and tongue dissolved on the common grounds of faith. These are the people to whom Governor Willie Obiano happily signed away his salaries from April 2015. Yes, in his many moments of sober reflection, Obiano had decided that his salaries would be more useful if he signed them off to a project that touches the lives of others. So, he instructed his Principal Secretary, Sir Willie Nwokoye to ensure that whatever would have come to him as salaries were routed to the upkeep of the inmates of Nteje Mental Home.
The Home is staffed with 18 people with Mrs Njideka Iloakasia as the Matron. Recalling how the Home gets its supply of inmates, Mrs. Iloakasia explained that they are often picked up in a raid which is authorised by Mrs. Victoria Chikelu; the Commissioner for Woman Affairs and Development. According to her, “when we pick them up from the streets we bring them to this place. We shave off their usually bushy hair first then give them a change of clothes after a cleansing bath. Then we begin to take care of them and administer drugs to them. When they have sufficiently recovered, we begin to ask them questions about who they are. Sometimes they may not remember who they are. Sometimes they have absolutely no memory. But when they start responding to treatment, they begin to recall who they are and other personal details. These details are recorded and kept. Then with their personal details, the Ministry of Women Affairs would reach out to their families to inform them that their relative is in our custody.”
Mrs Iloakasia recalls a particularly moving story of an inmate whose family had held a symbolic burial for after years of fruitless search for him. “So, when we took him back to his family to re-unite with them, it was like a return from the dead. They couldn’t believe what they saw. The inmate was from Enugu State,” she recalled.
Indeed, for most inmates of Nteje Mental Home, Governor Willie Obiano is very much like a miracle worker. He has made a bad habit of bringing people back from the “dead.”
And this is one of the numerous reasons why none of the people running against him in the November 18, 2017 gubernatorial election will defeat him!