Perhaps those who coined the expression ‘Warri no dey carry last’ had Anambra state in mind as well. This is because the state and its indigenes otherwise called Ndi Anambra continue to dominate the headlines and national discourse. Whether in politics, sports, education, the arts, business and other sectors, Anambra state remains one of the bright lights amongst other states in Nigeria. No wonder any story about the state with its motto as ‘The Light of the Nation’ and acclaimed to have the highest number of billionaires in Nigeria spreads easily like the harmattan wild fire.
But therein lies the paradox. A state like Anambra, which celebrated the 25th anniversary of its creation in 2016, one that is so richly blessed in human and natural resources, has long struggled to actualize its full social, political, cultural and political development potentials. It has been bogged down by the divisive politics of ‘Ndi kwe, Ndi Ekwegi’; a lack of consensus on what is good for Ndi Anambra, a lack of collective agreement on the type of leader that will lead Anambra to the ‘promised land’, and finally a lack of collective support for such a leader when providence throws him up bearing in mind the Igbo mantra – ‘Igwebuike’ and also that ‘Chi na eme eze’. Anambra remains a land of ‘big men and women’ and each wants to have his or her say on who governs the state. For most of them, it is either their way or the highway.
In the past, it used to be that Anambra state was the poster boy for crime and bad governance in Nigeria. The return to civilian democracy in 1999 threw up PDP’s Chinweoke Mbadinuju (Odera), who is from Uli in Anambra South Senatorial Zone, as the Governor. His administration failed largely to deliver to Ndi Anambra what has now come to be known in Nigeria as ‘dividends of democracy’. It was quite beleaguered and was characterized by a long, drawn-out battle with organized labor over non-payment of workers’ salaries among other challenges. This was during the heydays of the dreaded ‘Bakassi boys’, the vicious and avenging local vigilantes that meted out their own home grown and special type of justice to perceived armed robbers, criminals and their associates. Stories still subsist how the Bakassi boys were used to settle family feuds, sour business deals and political scores. Many innocent lives were lost and high profile killings were the order of the day, the most famous being the gruesome murder of Mr. B.C. Igwe, an Onitsha based lawyer, his wife Abigail, and their unborn child. At the time, Igwe was the Chairman of the local chapter of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), avowed critics of the Mbadinuju administration.
Fast forward to 2003, enter the Uba brothers. Andy and Chris, with a large and deep war chest and political connections extending to the highest political level in Nigeria. They foisted Dr. Chris Ngige (Onwa) from Alor in Anambra Central Senatorial district on Ndi Anambra as the candidate of the PDP and later Governor of Anambra state. Ngige’s time at Agu Awka, the seat of government, was characterized by tales and acts of the good, the bad and the ugly. Knowing that power actually belongs to the people and not the political godfathers that brought him in, Ngige embarked on an ambitious scheme of winning the hearts and minds of Ndi Anambra through extensive road construction works. His 21-month stay at Agu Awka was characterized by a running battle with the Uba brothers over the ratio of sharing the ‘spoils of war’. This later led to his infamous ‘kidnapping’ and the destruction/burning down of government properties. Till date, Ndi Anambra shudder whenever they recount those dark days of political brigandage, the days of ‘The Wild Wild East’. It was a period that saw the breakdown of law and order in the state. Despite these challenges, Ngige would be remembered mostly for the roads he built, many of which Ndi Anambra still enjoy till today.
Peter Obi (Okwute), the candidate of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), had participated in the same election that brought Ngige in at the 2003 gubernatorial elections. His claim that he was rigged out would later receive the favorable judgment of the Court of Appeal in March 2006, which ruled that he was indeed the duly elected governor. Just when you think that peace will finally return to Anambra, Peter Obi, who is from Agulu in Anambra Central Senatorial zone, was ‘impeached’ by some renegade members of the Anambra state House of Assembly in November 2006. His deputy, Dame Virgy Etiaba, a native of Nnewi in Anambra South Senatorial zone, would take over and in doing so achieve the status of being the first female civilian governor of a state in Nigeria.
Anambra’s political drama would continue when Andy Uba, a native of Uga in Anambra South Senatorial zone, was declared the winner of the state gubernatorial elections which held in March 2007. Peter Obi, the incumbent, did not participate in that election on the principle that he hadn’t quite served out his tenure discounting the months Ngige served as Governor and the months his impeachment lasted. He would later reclaim his mandate through the Supreme Court, which agreed with him thus bringing to a premature end Andy Uba’s 2-month brief occupancy at Agu Awka. As the come-back kid yet again, knowing that he was a child of providence, and having to contend with Ngige’s seemingly large footprints all over Anambra, Obi will embark on projects through his Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS) that touched the lives of Ndi Anambra.
Peter Obi’s seemingly good performance and the Ojukwu factor easily got him reelected in February 2010 for another 4-year term. As he variously promised Ndi Anambra, that he wouls bring forward at the end of his tenure a candidate that would perform better than him, Peter Obi introduced Chief Willie Obiano (Akpokuedike) from Aguleri in Anambra North Senatorial zone to Ndi Anambra and they would go on to elect him as their governor in the November 16th 2013 gubernatorial elections. Obiano was sworn in on the 17th of March 2014. The emergence of Obiano satisfied the long yearnings of Ndi Anambra from the North Senatorial zone who had not yet produced a governor in the state.
Obiano, an acclaimed auditor with Texaco Overseas and later Executive Director and the number two man at Fidelity Bank, though not a politician, came prepared. His economic blueprint carefully conceived to help advance the fortunes of the state and the lives of Ndi Anambra were well captured in the Four Pillars of his administration, this later morphed into the Five Pillars of socio-economic development, namely Agriculture, Industrialization, Trade and Commerce, Oil and Gas and Logistics. His administration charged onto the scene like a raging bull and had within three years reconfigured the economic fortunes of the state for the better, repositioning and recreating a sustainable equity laden state brand in the process with its attendant citizens mindset reorientation. Pride of place came back and Brand Anambra came alive once again.
Amongst several achievements, including massive infrastructural developments, the construction of three lit flyovers in Awka, which has changed the face of the capital city, and an ambitious plan to make Awka, which was once described as a glorified village, the “Dubai of Africa” using the agency Obiano set up, the Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (FCDA). The Obiano administration has also through the one-stop agency it set up, the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA), attracted investment commitments to the state worth over three billion dollars. Many of the MOUs have since been consummated. The administration has also made inroads in agriculture including the pioneering export of Ugu and Onugbu leaves, large scale rice production which has now made ‘Anambra Rice’; the name given to the brand of rice produced in Anambra one of the most sought after in the market.
There are also ongoing efforts to empower and fund small and medium scale enterprises through the newly created Anambra State Small Business Agency (ASBA). Perhaps the Obiano administration’s biggest achievement is in the area of security. Anambra state currently ranks as the safest state in Nigeria and this has huge social and economic benefits. These days, the popular saying locally is that Ndi Anambra now sleep with their two eyes closed unlike in the past when armed robbers and kidnappers overran the state and held the people hostage. Ndi Anambra in the diaspora now visit home regularly to hold family events in their villages. Time was when ‘Igba Nkwu’ and other traditional ceremonies were held in Lagos, Abuja, London and other distant towns. Night life has finally returned to the state and the people are happy.
Despite the present economic challenges facing Nigeria, Anambra remains the only other state in Nigeria outside Lagos state that pays workers salary promptly every month. As other states continue to struggle to meet the demands of recurrent expenditure despite collecting huge bailout funds from the federal government, not only did Anambra state not collect any bail out funds but it went ahead to increase the salaries of workers in the state by fifteen percent. Obiano is on record to have promised the state civil servants that further salary increases will occur if they work harder and help the state to hit the N2 billion IGR mark from its present N1.2 billion, which was at a lowly N500 million when the administration came into power.
Just recently, while other states were scratching their heads wondering what to do in Nigeria’s recessed economy, Governor Obiano unveiled a hopeful and soothing Economic Stimulus Package (ESP) in the state, which amongst other things promises ASBA additional N3 billion funding so it can lend on to MSMEs. The state also temporarily suspended the collection of certain categories of fees and levies. The big idea here is to let those low income earners have more spending money at their disposal. The governor has also in addition to the ‘Operation Light Up Anambra’ street light project being championed by the Ministry of Public Utilities embarked on a N3.6 Billion community development project guaranteeing 181 communities in the state development projects to the tune of twenty million Naira each. Each community will decide which project it considers most critical, whether a school block, market, civic centre etc. The contractor will also come from that community as the idea is to circulate the project money within the community as this guarantees local jobs and economic activity and also provides a good supervisory model. All the projects are projected to be completed by the first quarter of 2017.
One will think that with such outstanding scoresheet achieved just within three years, that the least Governor Obiano deserves is support from Ndi Anambra and encouragement to present himself for reelection but alas, the ‘big men and women’ are gradually swooping down on the state with only one mission in mind; to stop Obiano from seeking reelection or to stop him at the polls by whatever means, prevent Anambra North Senatorial zone from completing their two terms and finally put a halt to the incremental progress that is being made in Anambra state.
The social media these days is populated with lies, gossips, rumours and innuendoes targeting Governor Obiano. The hate filled and vile campaigns conjecture all sorts including binges on champagne and food, imaginary tales of seventy five billion Naira being money the previous administration allegedly left in government offers for the Obiano administration, security votes misappropriation and ostentatious lifestyle even when such aspersions dim heavily against contrary evidence. There appears to be a grand conspiracy to undermine the achievements and legacy of the Obiano administration despite his public show of good statesmanship and plea to former governor Peter Obi to forgive him if he had offended him in any way. This was in Onitsha on the 3rd of August 2016 at the burial of Father Nicholas Tagbo, former Principal of CKC, Onitsha.
What is happening in Anambra state today between Peter Obi and Willie Obiano is akin to sending a child on an errand to fetch salt only to call on the gods to send down rain to soak the child and the salt as he makes his way back.
It appears as if the ‘big masquerades’ are bent on destroying the promising Anambra narrative which started with the Chris Ngige administration, continued by the Peter Obi administration and now being sustained and expanded by the Willie Obiano administration. Obiano himself admitted this much in his 4Cs proclamation after his election. He said that he will Continue, Complete and Commission all projects begun by his predecessor and also Commence new projects.
No doubt the year 2017 promises to be an interesting year in Anambra state as the gubernatorial election has been slated for the fourth quarter. However, in the coming months, the choice that will confront Ndi Anambra which they really need to think through will be whether they want to be taken back to the dark period when the mere mention that one is ‘Onye Anambra’ attracted jeers and hurtful comments, a period when the land was left desolate and only evil men roamed or whether they want to continue to bask in the sun under their new found joy, freedom, liberty and progress, a journey that Willie Obiano is already taking them on.
Nworah, a public affairs commentator, writes from Awka. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.