By Ifeanyi Afuba
It is seven months to the end of Governor Willie Obiano’s four-year mandate to steer the affairs of Anambra state. How has Obiano fared and what does his handling of this complex assignment tell us of his philosophy of life? The popular view is captured in the cumulative assessment of Anambra’s fortunes by John Nnia Nwodo, President – General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo in the declaration counteracting IPOB’s campaign for a boycott of the November 18, 2017 Anambra governorship poll: “Today, Anambra has the lowest poverty index in Nigeria. Today, Anambra has the highest growth rate of manufacturing outfits in Nigeria. Today, Anambra has the highest growth of import substitute endeavours in rice and vegetable production in Nigeria. Today, Anambra is the state with the lowest loan exposure in Nigeria with the capacity to meet its monthly obligation to workers timeously. Today, Anambra and Lagos are the only states involved in the building of new cities planned to meet the standard of any modern city in the world.” No issues here. But a less known dimension of the Obiano story is the patient cultivation of a pan-Igbo agenda.
A closer look at the pattern of Obiano’s momentum, however, indicates the presence of a native worldview; the dream of regional cooperation and the openness to sharing the Anambra experience on this community platform. It is common knowledge that the progressive advance Anambra has made under the watch of Governor Willie Obiano rests on a multiplier foundation of state security. The integration instinct instructed that better outcome lay in the network approach and Obiano would not fail to explore the composite view. Anambra State was not an island unto itself and her wellbeing was tied up with the fortunes of neighbouring states. The result was that on August 22, 2015, Anambra hosted the first ever Southeast – Delta States Security Summit in furtherance of regional stability and cohesion.
There is a subtle statement in the fact that the state’s agro export scheme was launched with a local plant, onugbu. The export of bitter leaf to Europe in 2015 signposted the dawn of an economic civilisation at once indigenous and universal. Hauling onugbu abroad rather than say, rice, potato, groundnut or any other global crop, represented a cultural message that the Igbo nationality at home or in the Diaspora would easily connect to.
And shortly after, Governor Obiano announced a project for reviving husbandry of efi igbo, the local cow specie that some of us saw last in the village in our childhood days. Armed with a package of incentives, the state Ministry of Agriculture is currently searching for cattle rearers and interested persons who will key into the plan to restore a heritage as well as boost meat production.
A keen sense of the Igbo mission led to the Ozoemezina Memorial held in honour of the Igbo victims of the 1966 pogrom and subsequent civil war. Observed on the significant date of January 12 in 2015, the rite of passage was an Obiano initiative for pacification of a brutal past and coming to terms with its memory. Delivering his speech richly punctuated with compliments of umu nnem, [brothers and sisters], Chief Willie Obiano said: ‘We are bold enough to accept the cruel verdict of fate and bury our dead with fanfare.
Our culture upholds the centrality of ‘burial’ as a crucial epilogue in the narrative of life…My administration is committed to lifting up the standards of our shared experience. We shall continue our bold efforts to ensure that we are not only united in times of adversity and grief, but in times of victory and peace. With this ceremony, I urge you to mourn no more but rather celebrate the bravery of these great spirits who lost their lives yesterday that we may find peace today.’
We find a fraternal spirit of oneness in the inclusion of two Senior Special Assistants of Enugu State origin in the government of Willie Obiano from inception to date. There is likelihood of a tendency to brush this off as mere symbolism. But, in a milieu where the government of a South-Eastern state would not apologise for laying off pensionable workers from other South-East states in its employment on pure ground of discrimination, Anambra’s display of accommodation serves as an important unifying gesture. The same goes for the monthly welfare package extended to the old generation former Rangers Club players by the Obiano administration. In the same vein, the regime sponsored a musical fiesta featuring pop stars of the post – civil war decade at Awka in April 2017. The concert served the multi purpose of honouring the artistes, soothing the hunger of nostalgia, fostering fellowship beyond state boundaries and drawing the youth away from crime through inspiration to realise themselves.
This sense of Igbo civilisation was obviously what motivated the Anambra chief executive to inspect a police guard of honour adorned in chieftaincy regalia sometime in late 2014. Perhaps, it is important to remember that the Akpokuedike of Aguleri is a traditional, not honourary red cap chief. Obiano is another country boy; a native immersed in his roots; a Kunta Kinte for whom westernization cannot erase the allure of his heritage. In the countdown to the election that brought him to power, a columnist had described Obiano as ‘a man given to ceremoniousness.’ What the writer was trying to say rather vaguely was that here was a fellow to whom expression of the Igbo culture comes naturally.
There is, of course, the APGA question. With a South-East connection, APGA is on a mission to widen and deepen the democratic space, be a voice for the marginalised and broker the realisation of alternative models of social reconstruction. Obiano has kept faith with the APGA legacy, leading the party to extend its frontiers and gaining more electoral ground. Nevertheless, he is realistic enough to realise that the South-East’s political destiny should be collectively explored.
Consequently, at the 2016 World Igbo Congress in USA, Obiano invited: ‘We must come together and draw up a political plan that we shall all agree to invest in and pursue with the resolve of martyrs.’
Afuba writes from Nimo, Anambra State.