Friday, 5 May 2017

Did Peter Obi really want Willie Obiano to excel? I don't think so

By Uzonna Ononye

Recent developments and mostly unintended revelations have deflated what could have passed as general, incontrovertible belief that the former governor of Anambra state, Peter Obi and his successor, Willie Obiano, parted ways over the incumbent's non performance and penchant for extravagance.  I lack the competence of sitting in judgement over an individual's lifestyle particularly when there is no doubt that 'this is who the individual has always been'.  Permit me therefore to proceed with pointing out a few of the deliberate landmines planted on the path of governance by those who held sway before now.
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I will say again that Willie Obiano owes a lot of gratitude to his predecessor in office as governor of Anambra state, for 'making' him governor. Prior to that election in 2013, virtually nothing was known in the political space about the man his admirers call Akpokue Dike. But from his emergence as candidate of APGA to the election proper, there was no realistic chance left for anyone to become governor apart from Willie Obiano.
I am aware of the popular view that Obiano was not really Obi's choice. But whether the former governor was arm twisted  by circumstances beyond his control, or compelled by superior reasoning to drop his allies of yester-years, Gov. Obiano couldn't have stood a chance to win more votes than the least popular among those earlier preferred without the support of Peter Obi himself.
Perhaps, it is this massive influence of Mr. Peter Obi in the emergence of his successor that beclouded the reasoning of most people in assuming that the former governor meant well for Willie Obiano.

When a state governor placed embargo on employment for over 7 out of an 8-year tenure, and suddenly recruited over 5,000 civil servants, just 2 months to the end of his reign, he is setting a trap for anyone taking over from him. This is simple and short.
The question any sensible individual with a mind not coated by primordial political sentiment will ask is why embark on such exercise when you are leaving office?  From my little corner, the answer is not difficult.  The employment of 5,000 civil  servants in a state like Anambra will alter the monthly wage bill by at least 40%.  The new government is now forced to take from two very difficult options: Stay with the figure whether it aligns with your policies or not, or nullify the recruitment and battle with the consequence for a larger part of your stay in office.

Willie Obiano chose to keep the workers, perhaps because he understands the pain of losing a job just few months after celebrating an employment, and damn the challenge of beginning with a seemingly over bloated work force.  Was the number of civil servants really too many? In answering this, I will ask questions on how the previous administration went for 8 years without any recruitment.
The usually untold part of the employment concoction is that the former governor's Aniocha Local Government has  more candidates than the 7 local government areas that make up Anambra North Senatorial District.  Actual implication of this is that in 15 years from now, Aniocha alone will produce over 30% of top civil servants in the state. This is pure and concentrated nepotism.
For want of a better expression, that act of the former government in Anambra state is not just callous but unjust.

Since the return of democracy in 1999, there were 2 governors in Anambra state before Peter Obi.  Never has the hand-over document been made a tool for media manipulation. That on its own wouldn't have been an issue but for the half truth and mischief that dotted the entire argument.
No one can take away Peter Obi's financial management skills from him. He deserves unadulterated commendation for being prudent to the extent that the state, at the end of his tenure, was debt-free in simple terms.
Now, while the former governor and his men were singing about the figures in cash and investments, he was completely mute on commitments he tied the state to few minutes before driving out of the government house for the last time as governor.  Mr. Obi had issued cheques dated March 18, 2014 and thereabout, amounting to hundreds of millions of naira. The next morning, while the new governor was being introduced to civil servants in his office, banks were pulling out funds from the state's accounts in honour of valid instruments issued by the previous administration.
The fact about the handover controversy is that as at the morning of the inauguration day, the figures were correct. But the truth is that a substantial percentage have been designated to be spent, while the other large chunk coming close to N30bn cannot be touched by anyone because of the nature of the investment.
So why has it been so difficult to spell out the issue clearly if mischief was not intended? In any case, how Gov. Obiano has continued to manage such deliberate mischief without engaging in outright combat remains interesting.

If Peter Obi meant well for Willie Obiano, he will not have conducted the Local Government Election on the 12th of January 2014, when he was leaving office on the 17th of March.  Remember that for 8 years, he did not consider it important to establish an independent third tier of government.  
His successor voted in that election as the governor-elect since the governorship election was conducted on the 16th of November 2013, and Obiano fully declared winner two weeks after.
From all indications, the former governor hurriedly conducted the LG polls, despite the huge criticism it attracted, because he desired to see his successor lose sleep over the initial challenge of dealing with LG executives who owe their loyalty elsewhere but the incumbent.
Those who follow trends of governance in Nigeria will realise that just one of the booby traps, wrongly handled, is sufficient to create a destabilising factor which could derail a government from the word go. How Willie Obiano successfully navigated through the murky waters, with minimal stumble and distraction  will be a relevant reference for students interested in understanding how Chameleons on the corridors of power can be neutralised.

Uzonna Ononye is the Head of News and Political Editor at Silverbird Television, Lagos

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