The first paragraph in a press statement by the Anambra State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, C. Don Adinuba, my very good uncle, titled “Anambra’s Prudence In Financial Management Will Remain Exemplary,” reads in part: “Governor Willie Obiano cleared the backlog of salaries of the Anambra State Water Corporation staff members who were not paid by the preceding Peter Obi administration for over five years, leaving many highly trained engineers, geologists and other eminent professionals to die of hunger, starvation and malnutrition, to say nothing about their being subjected, together with their families, to contemptuous conduct by landlords, traders and others who provided goods and services to them on credit. It is not for nothing that states like Kogi have been sending delegations to Anambra State to understudy Obiano administration’s financial management.”
I was not the only one touched by this statement but also the entire Nwabugwu Izundu family of Ihiala in
Anambra State and, by extension, all the hundreds of thousands of people with friends, relatives and well-wishers in the water corporation during the Obi administration. I have read the statement twice, and have been reflecting on its contents because they affect me in a very special way. I lost my father in the 1980s when I was a kid, no sooner than we returned to Nigeria. My father had graduated in Criminology in New York and joined the American army, but quickly returned to Nigeria out of sheer patriotism. On return to Nigeria to do the one-year compulsory National Youth Service Corps scheme, he was assigned to the Military Police Corps at the Nigerian Army Cantonment, Ikeja, Lagos. On one of several missions to arrest erring soldiers who were consuming illegal drugs, he was shot dead. The incident was well covered in the media, especially the Sunday Times, which was then edited by Achike Chuks Okafor, a brilliant journalist from Onitsha, Anambra State, who, I am told, is now a pastor with the Deeper Life Church in Lagos.
My sister and I were, in typical African tradition, raised by our aunties and uncles. Years later, my father’s eldest brother, Mr. Pius Nwabugwu, was expected to do more. After all, he was the first Geology graduate in our hometown of Ihiala. His father, Mr. George O. Nwabugwu, was the first person to get the then highly revered Higher Elementary Grade Two teacher’s certificate in our town. According to researchers at the Abia State University, who authored the eminently useful biography, A Nation Builder: The Life of Chief G.E. Okeke, who was the Eastern Nigerian Minister of Education and, later, Economic Planning, all Chief Okeke wanted to be in life when he was a young man was to be successful and respected as my grandfather, Mr. George Nwabugwu.
But Mr. Pius Nwabugwu, the first Ihiala geologist, could not meet the expectations of his people. The reason: The great misfortune to work for the Anambra State Water Corporation! Uncle Pius was in the same Geology class at the University of Ibadan as Mr. Godwin Gaius-Obaseki, who was in 1999 appointed the group managing director of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC). They were recruited into the NNPC, then known as the Nigerian National Oil Corporation, the same time. They also trained in France the same time. They lived in the official quarters in Ikoyi, Lagos. A colleague of theirs that comes to mind now is the late Dan Oduah, who was to leave to study for an MBA in Canada, and on return to Nigeria joined the West African Paints Limited. He later became an effective and efficient managing director of Premier Breweries Ltd in Onitsha, then the third largest brewery in Nigeria in terms of hectoliters, after Nigerian Guinness and the Nigerian Breweries Ltd.
My uncle was passionate about his homeland. Consequently, he made considerable sacrifices to be in his land of birth so as to contribute significantly to its rapid development. He left the highly-paying petroleum industry in Lagos to work for the Anambra State Water Corporation. The Commissioner for Public Utilities in Anambra State, Chukwuma Okoye, the literary critic and academic, saw the patriotism, passion and intelligence in him and got the state government to sponsor him for an M.Sc programme in Hydrology in the United Kingdom. He graduated with distinction.
Like any other person in the state water corporation, the Governor Peter Obi administration turned out to be his nemesis. He was not paid for years, like the rest of the corporation’s staff. Life became difficult for all workers. As Information Commissioner Adinuba has stated, “many highly trained engineers, geologists and other eminent professionals (died) of hunger, starvation and malnutrition, to say nothing about their being subjected, together with their families, to contemptuous conduct by landlords, traders and others who provided goods and services to them on credit.” My uncle died in January 2010, in circumstances I hate to discuss in public.
Most Anambra people wondered how the head of that government, Chief Peter Obi, could sleep every night without his conscience pricking him. The media, which should be the watchdog of society and its conscience, did not rise to the occasion. Various efforts to report the situation at the water corporation, as Professor John P. Clarke would put it, failed.
It is, indeed, gratifying that Gov. Obiano has long cleared the backlog of salaries and allowances of the corporation’s workers. My uncle, Mr. Pius Nwabugwu, a brilliant and committed Anambra son who began to think home long before Gov. Obiano began the Think Home philosophy, must be looking at us from above, pleased with Obiano’s performance. Obiano is a true leader. He is caring.
As social science scholars throughout the world acknowledge, only a leader considered by his followers as caring, can be successful. On this score, Peter Obi’s performance in office was abysmal.
•Nwabugwu, Jnr, is a Nollywood actor, writer and chief executive of Kemdek Consults Ltd, Lagos