Anambra, Obi, Obiano and History By Okey Ikechukwu
Anambra State was agog yesterday. Yes! The people watched with bated breath as their newly elected Governor, Chief Willie Obiano, was sworn in. The outgoing governor, Chief (former Mr) Peter Obi, was in his element. Ekwueme Square, venue of the event, looked like something out of a new yam festival and a bazaar put together. There were masquerades and there were dancers. There were excited youths and there were bemused elders, some of whom had since told themselves that they were not likely to see a civilized handover of power in Anambra State in their time. But it happened yesterday. The government did use policemen and sundry security personal to make anyone to be of good behaviour. Who needs the police in a village square? Who needs terror machines of whip wielding aides to maintain order in a family celebration?
The venue was filled to the brim. Some sat in high places while others sat in not so high places, fully aware that everyone has his place. Wait a minute, no, the venue had the crowd spilt all around. Neighbouring tall trees and high rise facilities played host to those who preferred these perching points to any other location around and within the venue. The elders came. The children came. The titled men and women came. The age grade associations came. Even the infirm threatened to crawl to the venue if the strong did not help them to get a glimpse of what was going on. There were smiles on all the faces. There were also tears of joy in the eyes of many who had never seen a handover of power in Anambra State before. It was just unlike any other day since the creation of Anambra State.
A week earlier, the outgoing governor stood before the people to give account of his stewardship. Many had actually tried to dissuade him from doing so, saying that no one had done it before and that he had no need to stress himself. He disagreed and gave them an Igbo proverb thus: “A person who is sent on a mission by his people must report to those who sent him when he comes back. He did not go on a personal picnic. It was the people’s resources, prayers and expectations that saw him through. That is why a man who undertakes an assignment in the name of a community cannot go to his house and sleep, on return. He must go to the village square, or some other appropriately designated place, to report on how his journey went.”
Today he is the first governor in the Federal Republic of Nigeria to give full account of his stewardship in the public domain. He is also the first governor to incorporate the introduction of his successor to development partners and all friends of the state, as a way of transferring all that can serve the common good to the new person. His mantra everywhere he went with his successor was: “The governor-elect needs to inherit the friends we have made for Anambra State, but he must not inherit any enemies I may have wittingly or unwittingly made for myself while in office.”
Meanwhile, he became governor at a time Anambra State had outstripped all known (and possibly future) world records in the speedy production and demolition of state governors. Any global prize for the high birth rate and short life expectancy of state chief executives would have gone to the state – possibly unopposed. No one handed over to him. He inherited no government house. He also inherited no governor’s lodge. He was impeached for daring to rebuild the burnt down governor’s lodge at less than 30% the budgeted sum of nearly N500 million. Today his successor is inheriting fully functional state infrastructure, in addition to solid investments and commercial interests. This is quite apart from the sum of over $150 million and over N27 billion.
Obi came into office fully convinced that he had come to serve the people. The emergence of Obiano and Nkem Okeke is part of that service. They have the right exposure, a sure-footed approach to issues of public administration and will become a blessing to the future of the state once they remain faithful to the common good.
Obi was not an ‘executive governor’, the way it is understood in these climes. His comportment throughout his tenure reminds you of the Igbo saying that it is not the noise that makes the Ikoro musical instrument, but the particular type of sound that comes out of it. He was governor and yet he was an ordinary citizen. He maintained his authority in office and yet he never raised his voice. He broke new grounds in so many ways and yet he maintained the peace.
Was he looking for a name or money when he became the governor of Anambra State? No! The man was already an accomplished business man of international repute before he became the governor. Prudence, diligence and close attention to measurable results characterised his trajectory in business. Some of his colleagues did not quite understand his parsimonious ways as Chairman of Fidelity Bank, until the days of consolidation, when the bank found that it could go solo, and even buy another bank because it had been exceptionally prudent under his chairmanship.
The banker, he would say, must conduct himself in such a way that he can always retain the people’s trust as a responsible custodian of the results of their sweat. Thus he rejected the limousine bought for him as Chairman of Fidelity bank and told the management to sell it off and put the money where it belonged. He also got rid of the chairman’s guest house. His reason was that he lived in Lagos and had no need for a house where he will not spend three nights in a year. His profile gives the lie to the mistaken assumption in public consciousness that those who go into politics are mostly never-do-well and people who have no well-defined means of livelihood.
Another background anecdote of interest here concerns that fact that Obi never marked his birthdays with public or private ceremonies, before and after he became governor. When he turned 50 three years ago and everyone confronted him with one simple message: “We have a right to celebrate the 50th birthday of our governor, whether Mr. Peter Obi liked it or not”, his response was: “It is just another year added to my age, so you people should go and find something more useful to do with your time. His children were asked to go to church and pray for the common good and for him, etc.
When some of his associates and professional colleagues before he became governor raised millions to give him a birthday bash, he pleaded with them to think of some children in Anambra schools who need better learning facilities and better learning environment. In the end, the group helped the governor celebrate his birthday by spending the money they raised on some Anambra schools that needed computers and facility upgrade. An Anambra businessman who bought the governor a N3 million watch for the same birthday did not fare any better. He was asked to convert it to cash so that the state can find the balance and buy a N6 million bus he promised a particular secondary school. After the man left and returned a week later with the bus as a donation, a grateful Obi observed with joy that a lady who is being chased by a lion does not take psychedelic footsteps (or Ije selense).
The outgoing governor of Anambra State has earned himself the reputation of a hero, because every true hero in Igboland is a people’s hero. The hero risks his popularity and sometimes his life, to remain on the slippery path or rectitude. The bully is a consumer who takes from others, especially his weaker kith and kin. As an old senator from the North once told me on an Aero flight from Lagos to Abuja: “I don’t know what has happened to your people, because those of us who grew up in Kano know and respect the Igbo man. He is no spendthrift and he is not into capital consumption. But all these boys that you people allow to be jumping up and down in Abuja do not represent your people. Except for what we are seeing with Peter Obi, some of us were even beginning to doubt our own understanding of your people.”
On assumption of office, Obi has announced that he would not accept chieftaincy titles, because it was unnatural to say ‘well done; to a man who has not finished his task, has accepted it at a time no one has anything to gain from him by giving him a title. That means and says a lot.
Incredible Lady of such sober realism, intelligence and unobtrusive effectiveness! Kind and sunny like my daughter, Daisy, who actually looks like her! What will the man we know be without such a woman?
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