This week, I very happily dedicate this page to a man who, over the years, has earned my deep respect and admiration in no small measure. He's the former governor of Anambra State, Sir Gregory Peter Obi and it's his birthday. The first time I met him was in 2007 when I had him on my TV programme, during his first tenure. Then, he was about running for his second tenure in office. I remember being bowled over by his simplicity and directness in tackling his questions. He didn't try to maneuver questions like most politicians or try to play smart. No. He was just so very sincere and straight forward as he reeled off his answers to my numerous questions. While the interview lasted, I saw in his persona, a kind of simplicity that was very rare for a state governor. By the time we were done, I was convinced that Anambra state had someone in their seat of power that they probably would for a very long time to come, appreciate for all he stood for, even when he must have completed his term and stepped aside for his successor. I saw among so many things back then, a man who genuinely loved his home state and who had great vision for her. I saw a man who was passionate about making Anambra state an enviable one. Over the years, I saw in him, commitment, responsibility and respectability. I saw dignity. I saw a human face. I saw a good heart. I saw hard work. Sir Obi is in my rating, pragmatic, unassuming, humble and God fearing. He is one man who has left office and yet still contributes so much to a state he holds very dear to his heart. The piece you are about to read was written by his Media Aide, Val Obienyem and I loved it so much that I had to share it here with you all. Enjoy…
Today, the 19th day of July, 2017, the man regarded as one of the best in governance, at any tier, in the annals of our country turns 56. As usual, drums would be rolled out by some of his admirers who believe excellence ought to be celebrated. They contend that if for nothing else, it is a means of promoting merit as role models in name and indeed. In a country where even imbeciles garbed in purple fall over one another seeking attention, it is about time the society set up a clear template for granting honour to whom it is due.
In another vein, beyond panegyrics by his enthusiasts, most people will just wish him a perfunctory 'Happy Birthday'.
In this piece, I set out to re-examine, through the memories of his tenure, what good governance is all about and to encourage Nigerians to look up to him as the man who came into governance through entirely different route, with an entirely different mentality and left it as nobody has done in the history of governance in Nigeria. For me, this is decent birthday present that would also instruct those in governance on the right way to go.
Born on July 19, 1961, Peter Gregory Obi started his life in the rustic city of Onitsha, and obtained his initial formal education in Onitsha and Nsukka. He has since attended some of the best tertiary institutions in the world in his thirst for intellectual insemination to boost his competences.
How shall we rank him? Which of us possesses so varied the Knowledge to understand him adequately? As an experiment in perspective, let us see him through his dramatic entrance into government and what he did while there as distinct from business as usual.
Before him, news emanating from the State was not palatable at all. It was always stories of intrigues, squander mania, rape and rapine. Visions and memories of the State tormented all persons of goodwill; an involuntary gloom penetrated our souls, chilling their imaginations. The Bakassi group and their co-predators worsened the situation as they turned our dear State into a vast Golgotha of carnage, an arena for horror, where her children tore and destroyed one another with the clear conscience of nature. Concerned like other decent people, Peter Obi developed an urge to turn these barbarisms into civilization and this was what compelled him to seek election into public office.
He campaigned vigorously and was seen as the best candidate for the job. In many respects he was different: He was softened to tolerance by education and experiences as a top board-room man. He relied on persuasion and effective marketing of his programme of action to garner support and votes. Alas, his opponents, hardened by the streets and subterfuge, stole his mandate.
Evidently, Almighty God always has special interest in Peter Obi's affairs; and for every indignity he suffered, he came out stronger and as a reference point for the country and Nigeria-watchers. By regaining his stolen mandate through the courts, he became a locus calssicus in that regard, not just from the point of law, but from establishing a commendable precedent as the first Nigerian to have done so. A study of the circumstances that led to that feat will easily show that it was due largely to the grace of God and his perseverance and ability to remain focused.
A few months into his tenure, some renegades in the State House of Assembly led by Hon. Mike Belonwu contrived his impeachment. It was not hidden that the impeachment process that came to its peak on the visit of the then President Olusegun Obasanjo, had some of its roots in the swelling resentment against his parsimony; how, rather than business as usual, he was using the resources of the State to work for the State and her people. Consider one of the reasons why he was impeached: the House used to "add and share"; accusing him of re-building the burnt Government House with less than 50% of the actual money budgeted for that purpose. This may sound incredible, but it is true.
It was the mark of the rascality of the time that the house ended up impeaching him. Convinced of the rightness of his conduct in office, Peter Obi challenged the action of the House of Assembly in court; and set another record as the first State Governor to come back into office from impeachment.
As the Governor, he had many challenges, but as customary with him, his usually calm and thoughtful temperament often saved him from unsavoury situations. Despite his convictions that the condition of Anambra required early decisions and quick implementation of policies, Obi, in the freshman year of his government, submitted himself to robust debate over the State's many problems. He started with a profound bow to planning by establishing the Ministry of Planning.
He did not have to rush into new projects - mostly unplanned - when there were many projects started by his predecessor which needed to be completed.
As a board-room guru, he subjected his decisions to the Executive Council [EXCO] for proper debate and consideration. He did this because he was the captain of the ship and was in control. Till this day, his erstwhile Commissioners recall their exhilarating times with him. One of them is the highly-respected Dr. Patrick Obi who revealed that the then Governor was often “Prolonging Council meetings, always returning to the question – Is this just? Is that useful? He subjected each question to exact and elaborate analysis".
On Peter Obi's capacity for work, the cerebral & forthright Professor Chinyere Okunna says: "I have never seen him tired, I never found his mind lacking in inspiration, even when weary in body. Never did a man more wholly devote himself to the work in hand, nor better devote his time to what he had to do”.
He was yet to conclude his first term when elections were conducted. As far as everybody was concerned, that was his end. Dr. Andy Uba was already sworn in as the Governor before Peter Obi's erudite lawyer succeeded in his tenure interpretation case. I recall that as soon as Dr. Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN mentioned that, Femi Falana, SAN picked up the gauntlet and turned the matter into a forensic debate. Some intellectual charlatans have recently tried to appropriate the copyrights, but we have the records. The end of that saga was the successful interpretation of the tenure matter, which induced another significant political earthquake - the staggering of elections in Nigeria. Peter Obi thus became a key architect of the overhaul of the political landscape in the country.
One of the major challenges of his tenure was the issue of security. Though the entire South-East was having security challenges at the time he assumed office, the case of Anambra was horrendous as the State had little relationship with legitimate security agencies. In the first instance, he restored this strategic relationship with those agencies; supporting them as no other Government in the State has ever done, including donations of over 500 vehicles, among which were Armoured Personnel Carriers and Armoured patrol vehicles.
Reflecting on the far-reaching measures he took on securing the State, one has to admire Peter Obi's ingenuity of compelling a society to improve its ways of protecting itself from crime and criminality, including armed robbery, kidnapping, and cultism. For instance, while the likes of Ofe Awkwu, Ngwu Ekeluomu, Osisi ka Ngwu were literally parading as unchecked despots of the underworld, he came up with a legislation which enabled the destruction of buildings used to keep kidnap victims. To further enhance security, his administration provided at least one security patrol van to each of the 177 communities in the State as well as to various other organizations as markets and Churches. When one of the dare-devil kidnappers, Evans, was caught recently, he confessed the truth that propaganda has held hostage for long: that it was Peter Obi that made criminals to run out of Anambra State because he made the place an operational hell for them. At another event when Obi was asked about security in Anambra State during his tenure, he replied rather cryptically in Igbo: 'Woke nuchaa ogu, nwanyi enweluakuko' ('After a man fights the battle, the woman takes on the story').
With his overall achievements, the State, which until his tenure was treated as a pariah, was opened again to the world. It was at this time that several Envoys of countries represented in Nigeria started to visit the State for collaborative projects and programmes. These include: United States, Britain, Russia, European Union, South Africa, Belgium, Israel, The Netherlands and Canada. In the same vein, Development Partners such as UNDP, UNICEF, The World Bank, DfID, and UNESCO began to take active interest in the State. Indeed, hitherto, many of them had nothing to do with the State. Under the Obi administration, Anambra State was consistently adjudged one of the best States in development partnership and commitment to reforms for good governance.
Before his tenure, the manufacturing sector – not to be confused with commerce -- was comatose. The few operators that hung on groaned under the debilitating effects of an uncongenial environment of bad roads, low patronage, excessive [and mostly illegal] taxation, insecurity, no government support, among others. The Obi administration resuscitated this critical sector not by the inundation of propaganda, but by practical steps -- including development of an Industrial Policy for the State, consultations with operators and concrete enablement for them -- which yielded tremendous results and boosted the socio-economy of the State and environs. Link roads, other relevant infrastructure and logistic support were provided for such vibrant manufacturing outfits as Innoson Vehicles, Chikason, Cutix Cable, Juhel Pharmaceuticals, Krisoral, Orange Drugs, EkuloGroup, and many others. The administration also attracted giant manufacturers like Intafact, INNOSON, Neimet, and Distel.
To be Continued next week…