By Ifeanyichukwu Afuba
Anambra State’s present political transition evokes the lines of Christopher Okigbo. Probably influenced by the poetry of Alberto Alvarez, Okigbo wrote: “An old star departs, leaves us here on the shore, gazing heavenward for a new star approaching. The new star appears, foreshadows it’s going, before a going and coming that goes on forever.” If a reminder was needed that the Willie Obiano era was drawing to a close, Governor – elect, Chukwuma Soludo’s recent unveiling of his transition committee put the change process on the spot. With the transition plane taxiing for take off, the question is not about the achievements of the government but whether the Obiano governorship ranks the greatest yet since the State’s creation in 1991.
Although Obiano’s detractors are roaring with rage on the social media and every other available space, activism is no match for self – evident truth. Again, contemporaries of public actors are often ill qualified to assess their contributions to society. The critics are in a hurry, battling to keep up with the events; the lure of partisanship is strong; and the tendency to see the value of ventures only from immediate benefits, real. History operates from higher ground of interrogation, detachment, broader view and time – proven results. Consistent with this praxis, the four civilian governorships of Anambra State since 1991 have unfurled better with passage of time and received relatively progressive appreciation.
With the benefit of hindsight, Chukwuemeka Ezeife recorded average impact in very difficult circumstances. Anambra was second to last on the national revenue table at the time and with total absence of critical infrastructure. In a short space of two years, the Ezeife regime ensured the accommodation and take off of government agencies. It delivered on the Awka housing estate and a few roads as well as federal status of the hitherto State – owned Oko Polytechnic and Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka. Ezeife was the earnest pioneer. Amidst the turbulence that defined his Fourth Republic governorship, Chinwoke Mbadinuju managed to found the Anambra State University. His administration not only conceived the private sector – driven Orient Petroleum but also secured the State’s initial equity stake.
One of the remarkable feats of the legitimacy – haunted Ngige regime was the return of fiscal discipline in government business which was absent in the preceding government. Consequently, at the end of it’s three year existence, the successor administration inherited N13.8b cash and bank shares from Ngige’s regime. Other highpoints of Chris Ngige’s governorship were quality road networks, revival of health institutions and advanced preparations for return of schools to missions and voluntary agencies.
Peter Obi’s greatest mark as Governor, is, in our estimation, weaning governance from politicking. For the Mbadinuju and Ngige leaderships, rabble rousing was a staple diet with the result that Government House turned to a local Hyde Park corner. Obi brought back the focus of government and civility of governance. Although the Obi era witnessed activities in a broad range of sectors, the major impact were in the development of Amaku Teaching Hospital, Awka, road construction, support to misssion schools and hospitals, provision of vehicles to public secondary schools and the attraction of Intafact Beverages, brewers of Hero beer. The Obi leadership posted a handover sheet of N9b cash, N34b securities and N127b debt to the successor administration.
Man of the moment, Willie Obiano, probably has his highest score in his elevation of the standard of governorship. The credit for this thought goes to Willie Nwokoye, Principal Secretary to the Governor. As far back as 2015, Nwokoye posited that Obiano had raised the bar, so much so that future governorship contests would exclude mediocres. The emergence of Chukwuma Soludo from a contest parading accomplished citizens of Anambra State is a refreshing vindication of Obiano’s value addition. When we recall that Soludo was Chairman of Planning Committee of Igbo Summit on Restructuring of the Nigerian Federation hosted by Anambra State on 21st May, 2018 as well as Chairman of the State’s Vision 2070 Committee of 2020, it becomes clear that his choice as next APGA Governor was deliberate and planned.
Obiano’s sense of frontiers is reflected in the ambitious nature of his administration’s programmes. A robust security architecture extended to the introduction of mobile surveillance cameras and smart patrol cars with digital gadgets. Drive for food – producing State status was integrated into export of vegetables and yam. The food export initiative was stronly praised by former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar in July 2017 at a lecture on Restructuring at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. The international cargo airport and the breath – taking Conference Centre, Awka through the complementarity of their services equally illustrate the optimal value sought in Obiano’s projects.
Outgoing Governor Willie Obiano stands apart from the boldness and path – finding thrust of his infrastructure exploits. Aside the airport project which past administrations avoided because of the intensive capital outlay, the Obiano governorship broke new grounds of institutional and physical development. It pursued and realised the inauguration of the 18th Division of the Court of Appeal in Awka February 6, 2020. The same year, Ndi Anambra were saved an annual national embarrassment with the commissioning of an impressive NYSC orientation camp at Umuawulu built by the administration.
It was another landmark on August 3, 2019 when Obiano unveiled the first medical oxygen plant in the southeast at the State Teaching Hospital, Awka. Bartholomew Ifeatu, a medical doctor, enthused on the instruction’s transformation by the Obiano administration in the article: “Anambra Teaching Hospital as Metaphor for Excellence” (Daily Sun, November 23, 2021). He noted that the first set of medical students took nine years to graduate in 2016 – after the new government met the accreditation requirements. Following significant upgrade in facilities and staff, the institution currently has approval for specialist training .
Doubtless, the State’s roads could be better than they presently are. But it should not be forgotten that the decline in rehabilitation works only occured in the past one and half years with a shift of emphasis to a number of legacy projects. The administration had in it’s first two years in office, delivered on the three Awka flyovers, followed by hundreds of kilometres of asphalted roads in the three senatorial districts and 14 bridges, including the 190m Aguleri Otu Umueje bridge, second longest in the southeast.
In August 2020, path – finding Willie Obiano led Anambra State into the club of Nigeria’s oil – producing States, bringing to conclusion a 30 year struggle for equity and fairness first championed by Third Republic Governor, Chukwuemeka Ezeife. The State’s economy was already on the ascent through investor confidence and ASBA – spurred MSMEs growth. In the circumstance, benefits of the oil producing rights would be one of the greatest handover assets to the next government. In a sense, institutions do not die. Consequently, Obiano’s legacies will endure by the power of their reference points.
Afuba is Special Assistant, Media to Governor Willie Obiano.