Special to USAfrica multimedia networks (Houston) and USAfricaonline.com • @USAfricaLive
By James Eze
For Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, the New Year arrived with a memorable gift. A few hours into 2017, Senator Ben Bruce, founder of the famous Silverbird media franchise announced with a tweet that Governor Obiano had emerged winner of the Silverbird Man of the Year 2016. A perfect start to a very important year in his political career, it is doubtful if Governor Obiano could have hoped for a better start to a defining year. But it also firmly placed a golden seal on what had been an out-gone phenomenal year for him.
Well, we all know that 2016 was a difficult year for Nigeria. Not only did the economy slump into the abyss after thrashing around in the grips of falling oil prices but Nigeria waddled through a maze of heated rhetoric and bouts of finger-pointing into avoidable spams of blood and gore. And as though seized by manic schizophrenia, Nigerians shouted themselves hoarse at every turn of events – a people once described as among the happiest on the planet now reduced to a terribly shaken lot, groping for a foothold that “change” had wrenched away.
But as it turned out, however, in the midst of the gloom and doom, hope rose in incandescent glory in the unlikely places. In Anambra Sate, the narrative is redolent with hope. In Lagos and Kebbi State, new grounds were broken. But in Anambra in particular, leadership rose with the full weight of history to restore the people’s belief in the government to think for the society as a whole.
Indeed, it is interesting to recall that when the year began, most people seemed carried away by the euphoria of the change of guards in Aso Rock and the melange of promises that came with it. But Anambra State was largely out of the bubble. Governor Obiano had since figured out that even with the emergence of a new helmsman at the centre, the specter of economic depression that had since set in with crashing oil prices would take a water-tight economic management to halt. So, he quickly organized a strategic retreat for his cabinet where intensive scenario planning was carried out. This was followed up by another retreat which attracted some of the finest brains in financial and management consultancy in the country. The result is a tightly knitted administrative model that offered enough elbowroom to government to meet its obligations in the direst of times. And so, in a decidedly difficult year when other states doubted the wisdom of their own existence, Anambra was paying regular salaries to workers as well as leave allowances and other entitlements.
But what seems rather fascinating about it all is that Obiano did not allow the honour conferred on him as The Sun Governor of the Year which came rather early in the year, obfuscate his vision or slow down his thinking. And when they gave him the Zik Prize for Good Governance in the middle of the year, he took it all in his stride and kept an eye on the ball. He was also honoured with a Certificate of Recognition by the Institute for Housing and Urban Development of the Erasmus University, Rotterdam in the Netherlands in August. But he didn’t let it get into his head. He stood his ground and masterfully completed six bridges in two and half years, maintained a chokehold on the security situation in the state to ensure that Anambra remained crime-free and successfully held two important town hall meetings in Abuja and Port Harcourt to bring Ndi Anambra who were resident in the two locations up to speed with his giant strides at home. Stakeholder engagement is crucial to democracy!
Nevertheless, Obiano’s final test of competence as a manager of human and material resources finally came when Nigeria recorded two successive negative growths and slipped into a recession. Interestingly, if the historic admission by the Minister of Finance, Kemi Adeosun that the economy had slid into recession drove jitters into the spine of his contemporaries, it had the exact opposite effect on Obiano. No sooner had the situation become clearer than he had rolled out a well thought-out Economic Stimulus Package that would serve as a realistic antidote to the debilitating effects of the recession on his people. Obiano was the first governor to react to the economic slump; rolling out measures that would mitigate the biting pangs of recession on the weak and the vulnerable and stepping up to re-assure the industrialists in Nnewi and Onitsha that they would not be swept away by the gale.
A direct result of Obiano’s intervention in the harrowing pains of the recession was the removal of taxes and levies, increased support to SMEs, social intervention for low income households and involvement in massive construction projects that would create jobs for the unskilled labour force. His revolutionary bottom-up development initiative which allows every community in the state to choose a project valued at N20m that the state would execute is also part of this response. It serves two useful purposes at the same time. It ensures that no community in Anambra State is left out of the government’s development web and next, it places immediate cash in the hands of the rural folks and low income groups who supply the labour needed for the construction of the projects. It is a tightly conceived initiative that leaves no room for waste.
Again, in pursuit of his assurances to manufacturers in the state, governor Obiano took the bold path and formally presented the plight of the state’s industrial community to the presidency. It was in response to this appeal that Vice President Yemi Osibanjo visited the Nnewi and Onitsha industrial clusters and offered further assurances as well as palliative measures. Incidentally, before Osibanjo’s visit, the Minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe and the governor of the CBN, Mr. Godwin Emefiele had both visited the agricultural belt in the state to see the rice farms in Anaku and Ifite Ogwari. The CBN governor was so impressed with the mechanized farm in Anaku that he announced that the apex bank would release the sum of N3bn to Anambra to boost the state’s efforts in blazing new trails of excellence in manufacturing and agro-allied industries. There have been other visits by key ministers and important senate committees as well. Babatunde Raji Fashola, the Minister for Power, Works and Housing has come to inspect the 2nd Niger Bridge project, the Zik Mausoleum and the decrepit Umunya sector of the Onitsha-Enugu Express Way. The Senate Committee on Works, led by Senator Kabiru Gaya has also toured federal roads in the state and offered assurances and just the other day, Governor Obiano handed over the necessary documentation on the 80 hectares of land designated for the development of an automotive industrial park in the state to Dr. Okechukwu Enalama, the Minister for Industry, Trade and Investment. The building of an automotive industrial park is a farsighted initiative that will lend deep roots to the on-going efforts to sustain the manufacturing of automobiles and auto spare parts in Anambra State.
However, beyond the brass task of laying the foundation for future prosperity, Governor Obiano also stepped up to give Anambra a serious face-lift in the out-gone year. Awka may well be Nigeria’s new city of light with modern street lights twinkling a thousand luminous sparkles in a mild rebuke of the persistent darkness at night. Code-named Operation Light-up Anambra, the street-lighting project that is crisscrossing the state, from Awka to Onitsha, Nnewi and other towns gave Christmas holiday makers something to cheer about during this yuletide season.
And as has been attested to by many people, this year witnessed the highest number of Christmas holiday makers in Anambra State in the past two decades. Thousands of Ndi Anambra who had heard of the wind of change at home felt safe enough, elated enough and hopeful enough to come home for a grand reunion with family and friends in the truest tradition of Christmas. These folks defied the pangs of recession to come home in their numbers and successfully turned the whole state into one huge carnival with a colourful celebration across the length and breadth of the state.
And this perhaps is possibly why for Governor Willie Obiano, 2016 was indeed a phenomenal year!