A few years ago, I was privileged to be part of an investment team of American entrepreneurs that was invited to Nigeria to prospect for opportunities to partner with players in both the public and private sectors of the country’s economy. And one of our ports of call was Aguleri-Otu in Anambra State in the South-Eastern part of the country, home of Orient Petroleum.
On arrival by air at Enugu’s Akanu Ibiam Airport from Abuja, our group was moved by road to Awka, the State capital en-route to a meeting at Orient’s offices near the banks of the Anambra (Omambala) River. For a journey that should have ordinarily lasted about 38 minutes, we arrived our destination two-and-half hours later due to the treacherous condition of the roads. To top it all, the state of the countryside was so depressing that I was subjected to rounds of questioning by my colleagues whose curiosity about Nigeria was almost dampened by the parlous sceneries that greeted the visitors, some of who were experiencing Africa for the first time.
Back at the hotel, I was quite frustrated at how life had been reduced to that of toil and misery for Nigerians. I was forced to meditate on the hopelessness etched on the sullen faces of the villagers we saw as our convoy headed to our destination. My attempt to juxtapose the haunting imageries of the countryside with the open display of affluence which we saw in Abuja proved both painful and irreconcilable.
What made it all the more senseless was that citizens of Anambra State alone account for a large portion of private investments across the length and breadth of the country. They are reputed to own prime real estate in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria, with investment portfolios that span manufacturing, oil and gas, general merchandising and sundry haberdashery. Unofficially, it is believed that Nnewi in Anambra State boasts of the largest number of millionaires per square mile in all of Africa. And Nnewi is home to the likes of Cosmas Maduka, Innocent Chukwuma, Cletus Ibeto, Ifeanyi Ubah, the Illodibe brothers, etc.
In other spheres of life, the list of the sons and daughters of this state who have accomplished and contributed to the tapestry that is the richness of the Nigerian nation is not shabby at all – the Nnamdi Azikiwes, Chike Obis, Nwafor Orizus, Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Chinua Achebes, Emeka Anyaokus, the Mbanefos (Sir Louis and Arthur), the Ikenna Ndagubas, the Dora Akunyilis, et al.
Since the Fourth Republic, however, Anambra State has held onto an ignominious record for bad governance. Chinwoke Mbadinuju’s era was a burst while the tenure of Chris Ngige, though populist was characterised by acrimony and under-performance. Then enter Peter Obi riding on the goodwill of most Nigerians who had empathised with his alleged maltreatment in the hands of political godfathers in the state. With so much wind under his sail, Obi’s appearance at the Government House in Awka was to engender hope among its citizenry – a hope that was soon to be dashed on the altar of political philandering.
From the embers of Peter Obi’s reign emerged former banker/technocrat and incumbent governor, Willie Obiano, who has proven in two years that he understands his brief as the state’s chief executive. And he seems to understand that with the right motivation, the people of Anambra State can transform their own homestead into a haven, something they have done so well in other parts of the country where they hold vast investments. In his relatively short stint at the helm of affairs of the state, I have seen in Willie Obiano a leader who is determined to reverse the trend. He seems focused on fostering an enabling and investment-friendly environment for his business-minded countrymen and women dispersed all over the globe, and also seems determined to invite them home to thrive.
In all of my travels inside and outside Nigeria, I have, without count, run into more of Obiano’s folks who are in business for themselves than from any other ethnicity in Nigeria. Not too long ago, I was on an official assignment in Conakry, and I had the opportunity to be asked to address a group of Nigerian business people resident in the Guinean capital. Guess what? Over 80 percent of those in this select audience could trace their roots to some hamlet somewhere in Anambra State. Same types of stories are replicated in the Caribbean, Asia, Europe and the Americas, and if you ask any of them why they live and do business away from home, their answers are likely to be the same. Bad governance. And an unfriendly business environment.
I have never met Governor Willie Obiano, neither do I have any form of communication with him. And suffice it to say that my ancestry is rooted somewhere in Imo State. But, I have every reason to believe that Obiano has finally found the magic key to unlock the floodgate that will open his state to investments from her own people. Obiano seems to understand and appreciates what drives his people – their innate instinct for entrepreneurship of which he is determined to tap into for the sustainable development and overall well being of the state. So far, it seems that this charm is working.
There is no evidence more convincing of the favourability rating of Willie Obiano than that which was on display at an event in Lagos last February billed to mark his second year in office, where Obiano earned the endorsement of no other than the ultra-conservative former Secretary General of the Commonwealth, Chief Emeka Anyaoku who is an indigene of Anambra State. Of Obiano, Anyaoku according to media report, said to the applause of a full-house of the cream of the Igbos in Lagos: “Whenever I visit home, I see evidence of Governor Willie Obiano’s activities. Driving from Enugu to Onitsha and Obosi, the evidence stares me in the face.
“In my last trip, I was passing through Awka and there was Chief Obiano commissioning one of the bridges. And this evening, what we have all seen struck me deep because what we have seen in the documentary confirms my view in that in Governor Obiano we have a governor and much more important than that; with a strategy. And as was said earlier, I would say jidekwa k’iji.
“And finally, on behalf of the aging group that I represent here, I want to thank you, Your Excellency for the excellent work you are doing in our State and indeed when I go to other states you have given me reason not only to be proud but also to boast.”
From various media reports, Obiano has demonstrated time and again that he has the decorous temperament to serve as the State’s chief executive. He understands his people. He knows that the average Igbo has a large ego and Obiano knows how to massage it, and he knows how to harness the cosmopolitanism of his kinfolks and understands how to forge that quality into becoming a portent force.
On assumption of office, Obiano did not delay in reaching out to most of his constituents across the various political and ideological divides. He was quick to demonstrate that he understands the dictum of bridge-building in leadership. On that note, I must say that I was deeply impressed in the way and manner with which he handled the well-publicised feud between him and his erstwhile benefactor and predecessor, Peter Obi. That was nothing short of class personified. I believe that his overall mien invariably accounts for the giant and impressive strides the State has made under the governor’s tenure both in infrastructure and agricultural development. From his template, I am confident in the fact that Obiano has the momentum on his side, and could very easily turn Anambra State into one of the nation’s flourishing breadbaskets.
Equally of note, is the all-out and unrelenting war that the Obiano administration waged against those behind the spate of kidnappings and abductions which had become rampant in the State and the entire South-East region – a war which I am told has yielded tremendous results and has afforded the people of Anambra State the much needed respite from homegrown hoodlums. Obiano understood from the get-go that to create wealth and grow the State’s fortune, he had the responsibility to rid the State of brigandage and lawlessness, and thus ensure the safety of lives and property.
Obiano’s demonstration of the hallmark of statesmanship first struck me when he apparently defied the popular flow and the dictates of political godfathers to cross party lines and paid a congratulatory visit to then President-elect, Muhammadu Buhari after the landmark presidential election of last April – a deft stroke in rapprochement and political maturity. I have watched him ever since. And he has not disappointed. So far.
I therefore join the venerable Chief Emeka Anyaoku to say to Governor Obiano: jidekwa k’iji.
That is my story. And I stand by it.
Charles Anyiam is Editor-In-Chief, The African Times-USA.