By Okechukwu Nwakile
Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State has continued to impress with his surefooted approach to environmental issues in Anambra State. No other governor has shown as much sensitivity and commitment to the environmental challenges that Anambra has faced since the state came into existence 25 years ago.
It would seem that from the day he was sworn in, Governor Obiano had demonstrated a clear understanding of the huge environmental challenges in Anambra State. He had obviously realised that with 4,484 square-kilometre of land, Anambra is only slightly bigger than Lagos out of the 36 states of the federation. He had also clearly come to the awareness that in actuality, with over 900 sites of dangerously deep gully erosion across the state, Anambra is smaller than Lagos, especially with the on-going expansion of Lagos into the Atlantic ocean where the Eko Atlantic City project is fast taking shape. All these must have informed his decision to take proactive steps to save and beautify the environment.
And what essentially did he do? One of the first symbolic steps Governor Obiano took to signal his resolve to take environmental issues seriously was the evacuation of a 30-year-old mountain of refuse in Okpoko, near Onitsha. The refuse mountain had defied the efforts of successive administrations and had thirstily claimed more territories in the surrounding area, as the neighbourhood grew through the years without a hint of planning or a provision for managing the refuse generated by the residents. The refuse dump stank to high heavens from a long distance and became a source of serious health concern for the entire neighbourhood. But Governor Obiano arrived on the scene and in a matter of weeks, an empty space emerged from where the mountain of eyesore once stood.
The governor may have drawn inspiration from the infectious joy and ululation that followed the demolition of the refuse dump, as he quickly stepped up his efforts to cleanse Anambra’s major cities of filth. There is a concerted effort to rid Onitsha of filth and the governor would personally storm the ancient commercial city on Sanitation Days for a direct involvement in the clean-up exercise that inspired the residents to take the environment more seriously. To strengthen his campaign for a cleaner environment, Governor Obiano deployed 15 brand new waste collection trucks and 1,200 modern waste receptacles across the state. The trucks maintain a routine tour of the state, crisscrossing every nook and cranny to pick up refuse from the receptacles. He also employed 600 street-sweepers to keep the cities dirt-free. This is the first time in recent memory that any political leader would care so much about Anambra cities to the point of employing people to sweep the streets.
Perhaps, the larger impact of Governor Obiano on the environmental concerns of the state is best felt in the resolute campaign against the growing menace of gully erosion. This peculiar threat has almost made nonsense of the advantage of the state’s 100 per cent arable land by swallowing up a sizeable chunk of it and threatening to wreck more havoc on what is left. But happily, in partnership with the World Bank, remedial work has since commenced on four big gully sites while Obiano has secured funds for the fixing of eight new sites. The expectation is that these efforts will amount to a significant pushback against nature.
Interestingly, the governor has also realised that remedial work is not enough fight back against gully erosion. This realisation has led to the launch of the One-Million-Tree-Campaign by the governor last year to shore up the ecological balance of the state and fortify the capacity of its alluvial soil to resist erosion. The expectation is that the campaign will ignite enough interest among the populace to embrace the planting of trees on its own and consequently help in creating a bulwark against the menacing erosion.
Perhaps, taking the aesthetics campaign a little further, Governor Obiano also launched the Operation Light-up Anambra Project, which seeks to enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of the state with dazzling streetlights. The project has successfully covered 150 kilometres of roads so far while installation is being done on additional 100 kilometres.
Indeed, it is no longer in doubt that Governor Willie Obiano wants to leave an indelible footmark on the fabric of Anambra State and that the environment is of priority interest to him in this regard.
•Okechukwu Nwakile, a Public Affairs analyst, wrote from Onitsha.