Obiano At 68
By IfeanyiChukwu Afuba
In spite of Nigeria’s socio economic upheavals, there’s an abiding sense of hope in Anambra State. The belief is strong that Anambra State is safe in the hands of Professor Chukwuma Soludo. Catholic Bishop of Awka Diocese, Paulinus Ezeokafor who tasked local government chairmen on July 30, 2023, to emulate Soludo echoed the widespread view of citizens when he said: “The Governor is performing well especially in infrastructure development and agriculture.” However, this singular opportunity of the Soludo governorship arose from the vision and tenacity of one man, Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano; who as it were, marks his 67th birthday this 8 August, 2023.
We recall that
Soludo was a deliberate choice of Obiano and it took intense nomination battles to secure his APGA governorship ticket in 2021. Obiano was resolute on Soludo because as he said, “I was convinced that he is a very good material.” The Aguleri – born leader stated it loud and clear that “Soludo will do better than myself.” ThisDay columnist and former editor, Olusegun Adeniyi could not help noting that “it takes character to say such things in today’s Nigeria” in the essay, “2023 and Obiano’s Worthy Example” (ThisDay, May 4, 2022).
Anambra’s recent history shows that it took Obiano’s push to salvage the medical programme of the Anambra State University and graduate it’s first set of students. The pioneer class of medical students could not graduate in 2012 after six years of study because the prescribed learning had not been completed. The Nigerian Medical and Dental Council could not grant approval in the face of inability to meet accreditation requirements.
At inception of Willie Obiano’s administration in 2014, the remaining medical students were in their eight year, many having abandoned the programme in frustration. And in a burst of empowerment and sponsorship of the Faculty of Medicine, the requisite standards were finally attained, leading to graduation of the last standing 13 in December 2015, after almost ten years. The historic set were immediately offered employment by Anambra State Government.
It was a similar experience of eyes on the ball which broke the barriers to the State’s attainment of oil – producing rank. Although the Chinwoke Mbadinuju administration had taken initial laudable steps on the venture, successive governments were unable to execute core demands of the project. Aside making the State’s oil fields in Aguleri – Uno and Ogwuaniocha accessible with good roads and the spectacular 290 metre Aguleri – Otu bridge, Obiano drew on his investment banker reach to ensure that set production levels for recognition as oil – producing were met by the State. Today, accruals from derivation revenue has become an additional source of income for the State, powering development needs.
The list of governorship legacies is long. Constraints of space and brevity will not allow all the details. It will suffice to itemize the agro export initiative of the Obiano administration; opening of Court of Appeal Division in Anambra State in 2018; construction of NYSC Permanent Orientation Camp; boost to micro, small and medium enterprises through the award – winning Anambra Small Business Agency. Mention must also be made of the oxygen plant at the State University Teaching Hospital; International Conference Centre, Awka; statewide light – up – Anambra shower and N40b community choice projects in each of the State’s 181 towns.
Those who had intimate knowledge of his charitable spirit in private life were not surprised by the welfarist bent of Obiano’s governorship. One of the first acts of the new Governor in 2014 was a fifteen percent raise of workers’ pay, without prompting from any quarters. Disbelief unfolded on his face the day Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano learnt that operatives of the State Fire Service were entitled to just twenty naira as monthly hazard allowance – and the amount had never been reviewed since creation of the State in 1991. There and then, he directed increase to twenty thousand naira monthly. On another day, a briefing led the Governor to know that Basden School of Special Needs, Isulo, had been receiving fifty thousand naira monthly subvention for the past ten years. “That’s unjust” he said when he recovered from the shock. He instantly approved a new monthly subvention of half a million naira. The administration expended N2.6b on arrears of salaries and benefits of workers of the State Water Corporation, Anambra Broadcasting Service and National Light Newspaper denied them by past administrations.
A man with a deep sense of community life, Obiano’s leadership was infused with desirable dose of regional agenda. In the uncertainties of Mohammadu Buhari’s upset presidency in 2015, Chief Willie Obiano – led government held a memorial to honour the Igbo who died in the events of 1966 – 1970. No other southeast Governor had committed to a rite of passage for the Igbo war dead before Obiano’s outing. Nor after. As discussion on constitutional amendments recurred in the Fourth Republic, Obiano’s Anambra State hosted southeast summit on Nigeria’s restructuring in May 2018 which produced the Ekwueme Square Declaration. Veterans of Rangers Football Club, a symbol of Igbo solidarity and reaffirmation in post civil war era, enjoyed a welfare scheme in Obiano’s governorship. It was a blast of nostalgia, friendship renewal and music on April 16, 2017 when the people – oriented administration organised a free concert in Awka featuring popular bands and artistes of the 1970s in the former eastern region.
In the past one and half years since leaving office, Akpokuedike has largely been away from the stage. Yet, his low public profile has not diminished his reputation as a man of the people. At the flag – off of APGA’s campaign for the 2003 general elections on January 14, he was mobbed at Ekwueme Square, Awka by hundreds of enthusiasts, many, paying tribute to his live and let live spirit.
Remarkably, the technocrat – politician has not engaged in any spat, struggle or dispute with his successor. In staying out of the orbit of influence and refusing to distract his successor, Willie Obiano leaves us another legacy in Nigerian government and politics.
A man who trusts that the judgment of history will vindicate him is a man confident that his good works speak quietly for him in the present.
Cheers to a pathfinder for the blessing of a new age.
Afuba is Director, Public Administration Circle, Awka.