By Ifeanyichukwu Afuba
In seven years of political office, Anambra State Governor Willie Obiano has impacted on the fortunes of Anambra State as well as on the field of Igbo renaissance. Obiano’s leadership thrust tells us a thing or two about his sense of the sub national collective.The popular view is captured in the cumulative assessment of Anambra’s fortunes by John Nnia Nwodo, President – General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo in the declaration counteracting IPOB’s campaign for boycott of the November 18 2017 Anambra governorship poll. ‘Today Anambra has the lowest poverty index in Nigeria. Today Anambra has the highest growth rate of manufacturing outfits in Nigeria.
Today Anambra has the highest growth of import substitute endeavours in rice and vegetable production in Nigeria. Today Anambra is the state with the lowest loan exposure in Nigeria with the capacity to meet its monthly obligation to workers timeously. Today Anambra and Lagos are the only states involved in the building of new cities planned to meet the standard of any modern city in the world.’
No issues here. But a less known dimension of the Obiano story is the patient cultivation of a pan Igbo agenda.A closer look at the pattern of Obiano’s momentum however indicates the presence of a native worldview; the dream of regional cooperation and the openness to sharing the Anambra experience on this community platform. It is common knowledge that the progressive advance Anambra has made under the watch of Governor Willie Obiano rests on a multiplier foundation of state security. The integration instinct instructed that better outcome lay in the network approach and Obiano would not fail to explore the composite view. Anambra State was not an island unto itself and her wellbeing was tied up with the fortunes of neighbouring states. The result was that on August 22, 2015, Anambra hosted the first ever southeast – Delta states security summit in furtherance of regional stability and cohesion.
There is a subtle statement in the fact that the state’s agro export scheme was launched with a local plant, onugbu. The export of bitter leaf to Europe in 2015 signposted the dawn of an economic civilisation at once indigenous and universal. Hauling onugbu abroad rather than say, rice, potato, groundnut or any other global crop represented a cultural message that the Igbo nationality at home or in the Diaspora would easily connect to. And shortly after, Governor Obiano announced a project for reviving husbandry of efi igbo, the local cow species that some of us saw last in the village in our childhood days. The initiative with obvious nutritional, economic and cultural benefits has been attracting converts within and beyond Anambra State.
A keen sense of the Igbo mission led to the ozoemezina memorial held in honour of the Igbo victims of the 1966 pogrom and subsequent civil war. Observed on the significant date of January 12 in 2015, the rite of passage was an Obiano initiative for pacification of a brutal past and coming to terms with its memory. Delivering his speech richly punctuated with compliments of umu nnem, [brothers and sisters], Chief Willie Obiano said: ‘We are bold enough to accept the cruel verdict of fate and bury our dead with fanfare. Our culture upholds the centrality of ‘burial’ as a crucial epilogue in the narrative of life…My administration is committed to lifting up the standards of our shared experience. We shall continue our bold efforts to ensure that we are not only united in times of adversity and grief but in times of victory and peace. With this ceremony, I urge you to mourn no more but rather celebrate the bravery of these great spirits who lost their lives yesterday that we may find peace today.’
We find a fraternal spirit of oneness in the inclusion of a Senior Special Assistant from Abia State and a Special Adviser of Enugu State origin in the government of Willie Obiano at various times. There is likelihood of a tendency to brush this off as mere symbolism. But in a milieu where the government of a south – eastern state would not apologise for laying off pensionable workers from other south – east states in its employment on pure ground of discrimination, Anambra’s display of accommodation serve as important unifying gesture.
The same goes for the monthly welfare package extended to the old generation former Rangers club players by the Obiano administration. In the same vein, the regime has twice sponsored a musical fiesta with especial significance. Tagged ‘The Resurrection’, the concert featured pop stars of the post – civil war decade at Awka. It was not just to serve a refreshed course from the staple of The Wings, Sweet Breeze, The Apostles and their generation. Old friendships were revived, the surviving spirit remembered. The musical rallies honoured the artistes, soothed the hunger of nostalgia, fostered fellowship beyond state boundaries. For the youth it was also a call away from crime through inspiration to realise themselves.
This sense of Igbo civilisation was obviously what motivated the Anambra chief executive to inspect a police guard of honour adorned in chieftaincy regalia sometime in late 2014. Perhaps it is important to remember that the Akpokuedike of Aguleri is a traditional, not honourary red cap chief. Obiano is another country boy; a native immersed in his roots; a Kunta Kinte for whom westernization cannot erase the allure of his heritage. In the count down to the election that brought him to power, a columnist had described Obiano as ‘a man given to ceremoniousness.’ What the writer was trying to say rather vaguely was that here was a fellow for whom expression of the Igbo culture comes naturally to him.
There is of course the APGA question. With a south – east connection, APGA is on a mission to widen and deepen the democratic space; be a voice for the marginalised, broker the realisation of alternative models of social reconstruction. Obiano has kept faith with the APGA legacy, leading the party to extend its frontiers and gaining more electoral ground. Nevertheless, he is realistic enough to realise that the south – east’s political destiny should be collectively explored. Consequently, at the 2016 World Igbo Congress in USA, Obiano invited: ‘We must come together and draw up a political plan that we shall all agree to invest in and pursue with the resolve of martyrs.’
In further confirmation of the noble spirit of Igbo union, Obiano boldly stood up to host the Ohaneze Ndigbo Summit on Restructuring of the Nigerian State on Monday, May 21, 2018. Brushing aside threats from the underground IPOB to abort the conference, Governor Obiano led the way to that successful and historic juncture called Ekwueme Square Declaration. A sense of the enormity of the summit could be gleaned from the presence of Ike Ekweremadu, highest ranking Igbo in government at the time. In solidarity were Olu Falae, Segun Mimiko, and Ayo Adebanjo from the Southwest. The south – south was represented by 91-year old Edwin Clark and Idongesit Nkanga. From the north central were Dan Suleiman and Jerry Gana.
At a point, Obiano had considered building a cultural cum film village in honour of Chinua Achebe. Although the project could not materialise due to financial constraint, Obierika’s wise words in Things Fall Apart has not been lost on Obiano. “The white man is very clever. He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.” The merit of history is to learn and imbibe it’s lessons. A takeaway from the past Igbo experience is the imperative of integration today. Sensitivity to the values of our identity and heritage can only be commended. Kudos to William Maduaburochukwu Obiano for forging the ties of Igbo civilization.
Afuba writes from Awka