Sunday, 23 April 2017

We’re rebranding the state : What I did to make Anambra safe—Obiano

Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State who has been in office for three years rarely grants interviews to journalists. But recently, he sat down for one and a half hours with C. Don Adinuba, to speak on a wide range of issues. Though there will be a gubernatorial vote in Anambra State in November, Obiano pleaded that political issues be avoided because he regarded them as divisive and distractive. But there is no way politics can be avoided utterly in an election year.  Here are excerpts of the interview:
I understand some journalists were here in the lodge with you. Why did it take so long to engage in a series of what you call dialogue with the media?

I have always appreciated the value of communication. This is why I have a media team. My postgraduate studies at the University of Lagos were in marketing where I took courses in communication, in public relations, in corporate image management, etc.  I was the executive director of a major bank, which knows the value of both internal and public communications. Communication is more than journalism. Actually, I have been doing my best to rebrand Anambra State from day one.
Why rebrand the state?
Rebranding was necessitated by two factors. When I was taking over in March, 2014, the state was often in the news headlines for kidnappings, armed robberies and killings. Traditional rulers were among the kidnapped, with some still missing. There was a vicious attempt to kidnap the Obi of Onitsha, but the police foiled it, using intelligence which the Operations Department acted upon quickly. Leading business tycoons like Chief G.U. Okeke, founder of the GUO Group of Companies, was among the several kidnapping victims. People like Sir Eze Elvis Emecheta from Abatete were thus relocating their manufacturing firms to Lagos, Abuja and elsewhere.
Now, the second factor. I want Anambra to become synonymous with development, and not raw power politics, or what Professor Pat Utomi of Lagos Business School calls power without responsibility. It was politics without a sense of service to the people, which saw a sitting governor kidnapped and another illegally impeached and the daylight burning of key government institutions like the state legislature, the judiciary, the state broadcasting service, and Government House. I set out to rebrand the state in such a manner that it would become synonymous with development. As it is said, the best form of branding is to do the right thing. To do the right thing means excellence in education, health, employment generation, agriculture, housing, infrastructure, civil service, etc. But excellence in any field cannot be attained without security. So, we tackled security in a way no government in Nigeria’s history has done. Let me say with all sense of responsibility that Anambra is today the safest place in West Africa. And I challenge any person anywhere to contradict this assertion. Violent crime is now a thing of the past.
 How were you able to make Anambra so safe?
Without going into details, I will say it is what Professor Chinua Achebe called leadership by personal example. To let no one be in doubt that we meant business, I began the campaign against kidnappers from my own hometown of Aguleri, arresting and trying kidnappers and pulling down their houses in broad daylight and before television cameras, in accordance with the appropriate laws of the state. We funded the police in the state, organized security seminars which the then Inspector General of Police, Mr. Solomon Arase, attended. We reorganized the State Vigilance Service, giving more effective roles to presidents of town development unions and traditional rulers, because they operate at the grassroots. We have reequipped even the Navy and the army formations in Anambra State. In the Christmas of 2015, we introduced air surveillance with police helicopters hovering all over the state throughout the Christmas and New Year period. We brought specially equipped security vehicles which no one had seen in the state before; they are exactly the type of cars used by the police in American cities.
In Anambra, we have gone beyond fighting criminals after they have committed their heinous acts. Our strategy is proactive, that is, we prevent them from committing crimes in the first place, while they are still planning to do so. The remaining criminals have, as a result, escaped to other states.  I should think that in answering my security prayers, God used President Muhammadu Buhari to make Anambra have its first Deputy Inspector General of Police in the person of Sir Val Ntomchukwu, a fantastic officer. The Assistant Inspector General of Police in charge of the South East and all state commissioners of police in the South East report directly to him. You can see how God works for Anambra State.
When there were crises between Fulani herdsmen and their host communities in neighbouring Enugu State last year, many people thought there would be spillover effects in Anambra. Why has your state been insulated from clashes of this nature?
The murders in Enugu State are absolutely condemnable. The culprits should be tried and punished adequately to serve as a lesson to others, otherwise the murders could be repeated. I was abroad when the tragedy in Uzo Uwani, which shares boundary with our state, occurred. I cut short my trip and headed straight home. Satisfied that there was no crisis brewing in the state, I headed straight to Enugu and met my brother and friend, Gov Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, and also met victims of the massacre.
As part of the proactive security strategy which we adopted in Anambra, we set up a security committee immediately I assumed office to ensure proper relations between the herdsmen and crop farmers. It is headed by the police commissioner, and members include representatives of the Fulani, who have for decades had some 20 settlements in the state. The Fulanis are so integrated in the state that most not only speak the Igbo language but understand our customs and traditions better than a number of Igbo sons and daughters. Unknown to many people, a lot of the cows they rear belong to Anambra people.
Before Buhari became president and made agriculture a cardinal point of his development agenda, you had made agricultural development your priority economic programme. What accounts for your action, given the fact that Nigerians did not then reckon with Anambra as an agricultural state?
Agriculture provides us food to eat, without which there will be no peace and stability. It provides employment in large numbers. It earns foreign exchange, as the whole country experienced in a big way before oil became the mainstay of the national economy. It provides raw materials for industrial products. As the late Africa’s greatest economist, Dr P.N.C. Okigbo, a worthy son of Anambra State, used to remind us, every industrial revolution has been preceded by an agric revolution. Our people love manufacturing, and I want them to use agric produce from the state as raw materials. I thank God things are working to plans. SABmiller, Nigeria’s second largest brewery after Guinness in terms of hectoliters, is in the process of using sorghum produced from Igbariam, instead of imported sorghum. By the way, the farm in Igbariam was set up by Professor Godfrey Nzeamujo , a Catholic priest, engineer, agriculturist, biologist, theologian, philosopher and business manager, who established Songhai Farms and Songhai Electronics Research Centre in Benin Republic, which the United Nations has embraced as model research centres. The man is originally from Owerri in Imo State, but he is a global asset, a plain genius. He is changing nature, demonstrating that onions, sorghum, apple and the rest can flourish in places like Cotonou and Anambra State.
We are delighted that industries are springing up here and there in Anambra State. Multimillionaires and billionaires like Cosmas Maduka, Engineer Emeka Okwuosa and others have gone into agric as a business, and not as a charity, or an activity meant for old people and villagers. With Anambra rice sold all over the state, we are about to start having our rice brands in other parts of Nigeria. Our rice was adjudged the best in Africa at an international trade fair, beating rice from Egypt and other parts of the African region. We have been exporting bitter leaf and pumpkin vegetables to Europe, earning some $5m. The best species of bitter leaf is produced in Idemili. It is highly valued by Asians. We are about starting exports to the United States. It was humbling to read an analysis of our vegetable exports by a researcher at the University of Roehampton in London, comparing our exports with flower exports by Kenya ,which have earned global attention.
It has been alleged that you develop mostly the Omambala cultural area where you come from. What is your response to the allegation?
Anambra is the most homogeneous and united of all states in Nigeria. Our people strongly abhor favouritism, and this is why we excel in competition and business. When I was growing up and attending catechism classes, we were taught that “ikpa oke bu njo ogbugbu”, that is, parochialism or discrimination is a mortal sin, which can lead a person straight to hell fire. I took this spiritual instruction to heart.
Some shadowy characters tried to play religious politics against the state administration no sooner than I took over, hoping to capitalise on my newness in politics. They alleged our government was responsible for the destruction of Ebenezer Anglican Church in Nkwelle Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government area, so as to incite the church. But most Anambra people like former governor, Chris Ngige, saw through the extremely dangerous politics and ensured that truth prevailed. I detest religious politics. I probably would have been an Anglican or Pentecostal Christian if I was born into a non-Catholic family; I did not choose the family into which I was born. In any case, Anglicans, Catholics and Pentecostals belong to what is called Western-rite Christianity. We are all one in Christ, as the Bible says in John 21: 17 and Galatians 3: 28.
I am proud that Anambra is well developed, making it difficult to see villages in the strict sense in many parts. But the downside is that there are not too many places where large scale farming can take place. The main farming areas are Ogbaru LGA, some towns in Orumba South LGA and, of course, the place you have just referred to as Omambala culture area. Coincidentally, Omambala area is right now the only oil -producing community in the state and the Orient Refinery is located there.  Petroleum is still key to Nigeria’s economy. All this means that the area has to be opened up, so that economic activity can flourish. The area leads to Kogi and then, Abuja, a fact which means that providing infrastructure like roads and bridges will shorten the distance to the Federal Capital Territory. Our people go to Abuja frequently in large numbers. Do not forget that up to 50 per cent of property in Abuja belong to Ndi Anambra. In any case, no one doubts that Omambala culture area is the least developed in the state. It is not good to have a huge gap in development between one part of the state and the rest.
You have mentioned that former governor, Ngige, who is the Minister of Labour and a member of the ruling APC, exposed those who attempted to play religious politics against you. Does he now work with you?
People like Dr Ngige recognize the limits of partisan politics. Ngige doesn’t engage in destructive politics. Once the election is over, it becomes time for governance which is serious business.
Do other leading politicians in the state relate to you as Ngige does?
Dr. Alex Ekwueme, the venerable former Vice President, who practically formed the PDP and one of the greatest professionals in Nigeria ever, attends every function in the state. He is one of the leaders of the Old Aguata Union (OAU) which has graciously adopted my humble self as its candidate in the next gubernatorial election. Dr. Chukwuemeka Ezeife, a former governor and a great leader from Aguata, honours us with attendance at key functions and advises us regularly. He was one of the persons to endorse me from Aguata. Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju, a former governor who is now in APC, visits. Dame Virgy Etiaba, the first female governor in Nigeria, is with us. So is the immediate past deputy governor of the state, Chief Emeka Sibeudu, who, in fact, chairs the security committee. Prof. Chukwuma Soludo, the brilliant, erstwhile Central Bank governor, who lost the APGA nomination to me some four years ago, is very supportive. There are many others that time may not permit me to mention. I have in mind people like Senator Ben Obi and Iyom Josephine Anenih, both of the PDP. I am very pleased with the present crop of politicians from our state. They are very mature and patriotic.
Lest I forget, last year I signed an agreement with a company owned by Senator Annie Okonkwo of the APC to build Eagles Hill Housing Estate covering 24 hectares for N1.4 billion in the state capital in the next 18 months, bringing to eight the number of companies developing 180,000 housing units in the state. It was flattering to hear the senator describe my humble self as the best governor since the state was created 26 years ago. Yet, I have not done four years in office.
I noticed you did not mention your predecessor, Chief Peter Obi. Why?
My predecessor has been extremely busy. He prefers not to come around for fear of being misunderstood, as he says. We speak from time to time.
Ex Governor Obi’s camp says you apologized to him, because you are determined to return to office and you need his support. What is your comment?
There has been a little communication gap between us, which I regret. He and I attended the same high school, and I felt that the burial of our fantastic school principal, Rev Fr. Nicholas Tagbo, should be an occasion for full reconciliation and bridging of communication gap. Though I still do not know how I offended him, I apologised to him in public and before a large crowd. I respect him as my predecessor and he is the person who got me involved in politics and he campaigned strongly for my election.
Frankly, my apology has nothing to do with re-election. I have been under pressure to declare my interest in re-election which I have been resisting, because I want to concentrate on the development of our dear state. I have been receiving endorsements from the best of people and groups in the state. Ndi Anambra are truly a very appreciative people, and I thank God every morning and night for them. I will do whatever it will take to make Anambra remain peaceful. It is peace which leads to rapid economic development. If apologizing to Chief Obi or any other person will help bring about peace and development, I will not only apologise, I will genuflect, kneel down, prostrate. The future of our state is worth every sacrifice.
Education is one area where Anambra State is believed to have done remarkably well. What is the magic?
The whole world knows that Anambra now excels in elementary and high school education. Dr. Chris Ngige set in motion the machinery to hand over schools back to voluntary agencies to manage and my predecessor began the implementation beautifully. Under the present administration, we took excellence in education to the global scene, representing Nigeria in places like South Korea and Germany and shining brilliantly. Schools in the state won five or six of the first 10 positions in a nationwide essay competition on the national economy. This was towards the end of last year. Just yesterday, the honorable Commissioner for Education, Professor Kate Omenugha, came here with students of Loretto Special Science Secondary School in Adazi who beat all schools in Nigeria to win the first prize in every science subject in the examinations organized by WAEC and NECO. It reminded me of my days in the 1970s, when I took the first position in the annual national John F. Kennedy essay competition organized by the American Embassy in Lagos.
We are taking excellence in education into a new direction. For instance, for 10 years, the state University Teaching Hospital could not be accredited. We provided funds and did some other things right. So, we, last year, graduated two sets of doctors and we have offered them automatic employment, because they did brilliantly in the professional exams. Consultants and specialists are now being trained in the state university. The medium term plan is to have our medical facility become one of the best five medical schools in the country, while the long term plan is to be the best medical school in West Africa. I wonder why Anambra cannot be the centre of medical tourism in Africa. Dr Ernest Azudialu-Obiejesi, who is chairman of Nestoil, has commissioned an excellent children’s hospital in his hometown of Okija in Ihiala Local Government Area. He is also building a one billion dollar power generation facility there called Century Power, to produce 1,500 megawatts. In addition, he has attracted the Loyola Jesuit College to his place. The government and people of Anambra are grateful to investors like Dr Azudialu-Obiejesi, who are developing the state. Our ‘Think Home’ development strategy is working because we have provided the enabling environment.
Anambra’s politics is sometimes described as the most turbulent in the country. How are you preparing for the forthcoming gubernatorial vote?
Our turbulent politics was in the past. Today, we are the most peaceful state in every sense. It is a great honour to serve a state, which has produced more successful Nigerians than any other in history, ranging from political leadership to spiritual leadership, from international diplomacy to the public service, to creative writing, to mathematics, to academia, to sports, to the professions, to business, to music. For instance, the greatest musicians in Nigeria today are from our state. I am referring to Phyno, Flavour, KCee and P-Square. There has never been any time the people of Anambra State are prouder of their state than now. They are so proud that many families living outside the state insist on eating only Anambra rice. A place like Ihiala, which most people did not know until now is a rice belt, sends truckloads of rice to Lagos weekly. Senator Ben Murray-Bruce from Bayelsa State has consistently described Anambra as a model state, asking public officers throughout Nigeria to learn from us. I am truly honoured to lead such a wonderful people.

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