In July 2015, Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State informed workers in the state’s public service that their salaries would be increased across board by 15 per cent to energise the workforce so that its productivity would improve considerably. Most people thought that the governor was making a political statement. After all, no state government in Nigeria had increased worker’s salaries in the previous four years because of the economic crisis in the country.
However, those who recognised Obiano over the decades as an astute technocrat knew that the word of the erstwhile banker, auditor and accountant was his bond. Workers were paid promptly the same month their salaries were increased. Obiano went further to pledge that all workers would henceforth get their salaries by the 24th of every month, and followed quickly by political office holders like commissioners and lawmakers. He explained that workers’ pay must precede that of political office holders by a day or two just to show that, in a democracy, the people are supreme, and not the other way round.
Because of the promptness with which workers receive their salary payment alert from the banks on the 24th of every month, employees of the state government nicknamed Obiano the “Alert Governor.” This alias stood and even spread. The 5,000 graduate workers employed on the eve of his assumption of office were among the beneficiaries of the new salary increase. Obiano continues to employ people into the public service, even when practically every state has placed embargo on recruitment. Anambra is right now employing 1,000 teachers in both primary and secondary schools. He is, therefore, regarded as the most worker-friendly governor in Nigeria. On May 1, 2017, both the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC) passed a resolution strongly endorsing Obiano’s reelection. They advised other state governors to borrow a leaf from him by adopting and implementing policies that are pro-people.
As the Anambra governor will be sworn in on March 17 for a second term of four years, he is no longer called the “Alert Governor.” The people have now nicknamed him “21 Over 21 Governor.” This is on account of the unprecedented manner in which he swept the gubernatorial polls in each of the 21 local government areas (LGAs) in the state last November 18. Even his most formidable opponents and their so-called godfathers were defeated in their hometowns and, in some cases, in their wards and polling booths.
Obiano was able to post this brilliant result because of one major factor: He kept faith with his people. Everywhere in Anambra, people are in an upbeat mood. Anambra is excelling even in areas where most people did not know that the state could have a comparative advantage, like agriculture. The state’s leadership in various educational contests is now taken for granted, as it represents Nigeria in international educational competitions.
During the recession, oil-producing states like Bayelsa, which earns over three times what Anambra gets every month as revenue, could not pay salaries for several months, even up to a year as in the case of local government employees. But Anambra continued to build not just several roads but also state-of-the-art bridges and flyovers. In fact, Anambra launched an economic stimulus, which, among other things, exempted the poor from paying taxes and levies during the recession. Consequently, the recession was not felt in the state as in most parts of the country.
Senator Ben Murray-Bruce (PDP, Bayelsa East) spoke the minds of most Nigerians when he noted recently: “There is something to be learned from Anambra. Is it their policy? Is it their budgeting practice? Is it their sense of community? Whatever it is, it is working! The Federal Government and other states should study what Anambra State has been doing right and replicate it nationally. Anambra proves that Nigeria does not need oil to thrive.”
Excited by the direction in which Anambra State has headed since Obiano assumed leadership, the people of Aguleri, the governor’s hometown, decided to confer on Chief Obiano the title of Ebube Dike last January 6, thus elevating him from Akpo Kuo Dike. Despite Obiano’s initial decline of another chieftaincy title, his people, led by their traditional ruler, had their way. As Chief Obafemi Awolowo once noted, the greatest legacy a leader can bequeath is to etch his or her name in gold in the minds and hearts of the people.
Very few leaders can be openly endorsed by such personages as Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the late venerable Nigerian Vice President; Chief Emeka Anyaoku, former Commonwealth secretary-general; Mrs. Oby Ezekwesili, the erstwhile World Bank vice president who has been Nigeria’s Minster of Education and is on the board of Transparency International; Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha; Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, former Anambra State governor; and Dr. Cyril Enweze, Igwe of Umuoji, who was the vice president of the African Development Bank after serving at the IMF as a highly respected economist. Obiano was the first governor to be openly endorsed by top members of leading rival political parties. Among organisations that have openly expressed satisfaction at Obiano’s record of superior service delivery are the 177 communities in the state, all the churches, market associations and professional groups. In obedience to my conscience, I openly campaigned vigorously for Obiano’s reelection, even though I was chairman of the PDP in Anambra State. In the All Progressives Congress (APC), my former colleague in the Anambra State House of Assembly, Hon. Echezona Okechi, was one of the several members who openly endorsed Obiano’s return to office.
Against this backdrop, Obiano’s superlative performance in the governorship polls came to no one as a surprise. The only reason the people rejoiced massively when the result was announced was that, contrary to the endless boasts by a number of APC operatives in the state that the election would be rigged by the APC-controlled Federal Government, in a reckless exercise of what they called the “Federal Might,” President Muhammadu Buhari allowed a free and fair election to hold in Anambra. The President’s profile quickly shot up in the state.
Obiano is far from resting on his laurels. He has been inspecting many ongoing infrastructure projects with the kind of zeal seen from those going for reelection within weeks. He lives out his mantra that the reward for hard work is more work. Obiano has made the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) become synonymous with peace, stability and rapid progress. The record has persuaded a lot of people in such badly governed states as Imo, Abia, Delta and Bayelsa that APGA may be the only platform to deliver good governance to these places. I, too, have since late October joined APGA.
As he begins his second tenure on March 17, we urge Chief Obiano, who has been elevated by millions of his people from “Alert Governor” to “21 Over 21 Governor,” to keep on doing good. Nigeria needs exemplary leaders like him.
• Hon. Nsofor, a Knight of St. Christopher in the Anglican Communion and member of the Nigerian Society of Engineers, was Majority Leader in the Anambra State House of Assembly (2003-2007). He was until last October Anambra PDP chairman.