Governor, money and service to the people
The best form of propaganda is to do the right thing. If a leader does a number of key things right, a lot of myths will be created around the person. When Professor Bart Nnaji began to address Nigeria’s electric power sector in a way nobody before him had, all kinds of stories emerged about how he was personally fixing outages. One of the stories I heard at a top restaurant in Abuja by well educated persons was how Nnaji, as the Minister of Power, would personally climb transmission towers to fix problems anytime a crisis became too much for employees of the Power Holding Company of Nigeria (PHCN). “You know he is one of the best engineering professors in the world”, one of the discussants declared. “He wasted no time showing Nigerian engineers how to tackle difficulties so that electricity consumers would not suffer unduly.”
I was reminded of this myth about Nnaji having to mount transmission towers last week at a beer parlour in Awka, Anambra State capital, when I overheard a group of eight persons talking excitedly about the secret of what they called the new Anambra State. “Willie must be minting money”, one of them said, in obvious reference to the state governor. “It is a top secret but I am reliably informed that he has money minting machines. You know he was the executive director of a bank in Lagos.” It was obvious that the chief narrator was lying, but no one challenged him. In fact, another discussant spoke in a way supporting the first speaker. “I have been wondering how ‘Alert Governor’ gets the money to increase workers’ salaries by 15% in July, 2015, when even oil-producing states like Bayelsa which receive over six times what Anambra gets monthly from the Federation Account have been owing civil servants for between six and 12 months.” Alert Governor is what Anambra civil servants now call Obiano for receiving their alert about salary payment before month end. “Not one pensioner is owed in our state, and Obiano has cleared several years of salaries, allowances, pensions and gratuities owed the staff of the Anambra State Water Corporation by former Governor Peter Obi”.
As the young men were eating, drinking and discussing, amidst laughter and banters in Igbo, though laced here and there with English expressions, another person announced: “In the next two years, there will be a lot of houses in Awka, and no persons will still come to work from Enugu. Willie is building over 1000 houses right now. In the next two years, Anambra rice and tomatoes will flood the Nigerian market. Power outages will be a thing of the past as Willie is building a 40Megawatt power station in Ogbaru Local Government Area which will be used only in the state. Modern markets and shopping centres are springing up in all three senatorial zones”.
The discussants went on and on to name various achievements in education, industrialisation, health, etc, attributing everything to the governor. In fairness to Obiano, he has consistently explained that he works in partnership with the private sector. Much of the progress in the state which has caught the attention of many Nigerians is actually driven by the private sector. For example, the ongoing agricultural revolution is spearheaded by such wealthy citizens as Cosmas Maduka of Coscharis Group and Engineer Emeka Okwuosa of Oilserve while the 40MW thermal power plant is by a group represented by Engr. Dom Ekesi. Even the various housing schemes are by private investors. What the governor has done in the last two years is to create the enabling environment and serve as a facilitator through the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA).
Part of the enabling environment is the provision of security. Anambra is now Nigeria’s safest state, a radical departure from the situation two years ago when kidnappers and armed robbers were on the loose. As someone from Aguleri which in the late 1990s engaged neighbouring Umueri in a vicious fight over land ownership which cost several lives and assets worth millions of dollars, Obiano knows more than many people the need for peace and security. Ending the Aguleri-Umueri war is one of Mbadinuju’s few enduring achievements, and it made it possible for Orient Petroleum to be established.
There is an important part of the rapid industrialisation in Anambra State which most analysts do not seem to appreciate yet: equity contributions by both the state government and host communities in businesses. Instead of communities selling their lands outright to investors, Obiano has convinced them to use part of these assets as equity contribution. This makes them part owners of the businesses. But if they sell everything and collect their money in full, the money can finish in years, if not months. As part owners, the communities feel bound to protect the businesses.
• Onwuamaegbu, a retired permanent secretary, lives in Onitsha