By James Eze
The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano, has continued to endear himself to the people of the state with new approaches to governance that bring leadership remarkably close to the people. One of his many initiatives that have earned him the affection and trust of Ndi Anambra is the Choose-Your-Project initiative for the 181 communities in the state. This initiative is probably the most revolutionary development model in black Africa and, perhaps, the most democratic too.
The Choose-Your-Project initiative gives each community in Anambra State the liberty to choose a development project that it considers dearest to it that the state government would execute it with a sum not exceeding N20 million. The communities were also given a free hand to select the labourers and the location of the projects and to take full ownership of the projects from start to finish. All that the state does is to ensure that there’s due diligence in the process of selecting the contractors, ensure that there is a strict adherence to standards and provide the funds for the execution of the projects. Since it was announced in September 2016 as a component of the widely applauded Economic Stimulus Package by the Obiano administration, as a response to the crushing economic recession in the country, this initiative has had a transformative impact on the socio-economic landscape of Anambra State. In nearly every community one visits in the state, there is a project either completed or nearing completion. In all, 39 communities already have their projects completed while 12 communities have their projects at the roofing and painting stages. Ten projects are at decking level while three are at DPC level.
One of the most fascinating values of the Choose-Your-Project initiative is that it is probably the only government programme in this part of the world that enables the government to first and foremost understand what the beneficiaries need most before responding to that specific need. It is not the all-too-familiar whimsical act by a presumptuous, all-knowing government that rams its own threadbare agenda down the throats of the hapless electorate that put it in power. Under this model of development, the communities are sounded out on what is most important to them. The various communities are given the chance to prioritise their needs and choose what would have the most impact on them. Some communities choose civic centres; some choose mini stadia while others settled for abattoirs, town hall buildings, doctors’ quarters, classroom blocks, borehole projects, lockup shops and different projects that minister to their specific needs. To underscore the sheer diversity of these needs, some riverine communities choose pontoons that would help them carry heavy loads and automobiles across rivers to the hinterland. Nothing could possibly have been more exhilarating to these communities while they await the construction bridges across the various rivers that crisscross the state.
In addition to bringing governance closer to the grassroots, the Choose-Your-Project initiative also ensures that no community is left out of the concentric circle of development; that every community in Anambra State is treated as equal and given a chance to determine what is best for it. To that extent, the initiative scores an enviably high mark, as a development model that best approximates the true meaning of bringing the benefits of democracy closer to the people. It encourages a dialogue between the government and the grassroots as against the familiar monologue arbitrarily imposed by the usually aloof government, who knows what is best for a people that it barely knows.
There is also the highly important aspect of the numerous jobs that this initiative has created for the usually forgotten rural folks, who are frequently cut off from any meaningful financial empowerment. The Choose-Your-Project initiative is designed to spin off jobs to the natives of each local community, placing immediate cash in the hands of the breadwinners of most families and consequently alleviating the pangs of the current recession. To that extent, the initiative serves the multiple purposes of fulfilling a democratic promise, bringing development closer to the people and creating employment for hitherto forgotten folks.
It is indeed pleasantly reassuring to see that Governor Willie Obiano has continued to expand the borders of imaginative leadership since he was sworn in as governor three years ago. Once in every while, he comes up with something that stretches our vision to new horizons; something like his convening of Nigeria’s first real Security Summit with an Israeli security expert, as a facilitator; something like the creation of the highly popular Anambra Rice brand or his pioneering of the export of vegetables to the UK. There is also the unexpected turning of Anambra, hitherto known for commerce and industry into a frontline agricultural state; and now the introduction of the Choose-Your-Project initiative with its value-laden offerings.
Indeed, if it is generally agreed that Nigerian leadership could do with a little more imagination, Governor Willie Obiano appears set to lead the charge in that direction. Obiano has perfected the uncanny act of increasing salaries and paying workers regularly in spite of the recession, building massive infrastructure and bringing democracy closer to the people with revolutionary programmes while balancing these disparate efforts together without dropping the ball. For this alone, Willie Obiano deserves our praise!
• Eze, Special Adviser to Governor Obiano, wrote in from Awka, Anambra State capital. Email: [email protected]