From the whistle blast of his inauguration on March 17, 2014 to the present, there has been no dull moment in Obiano's executive diary. It is striking that it took Governor Obiano just three weeks to put in place his cabinet and keep the machinery of government revving at full throttle. For someone coming into public office in Nigeria for the first time, this is a significant step, especially in the light of party and constituency balancing dictates, as well as carrying the legislature along. It is also the case that some of the notable programmes of the administration such as the agrarian policy; environmental renewal; investment campaign; youth employment/empowerment, were actually kick-started in the first few weeks in office. Security was of course top on the list. The earnestness is remarkable and marks out the Governor as an uncommon politician with regard for social contracts beyond their political value.
It should do to use the four pillars of Obiano's manifesto, namely agriculture; trade & commerce; industrialization; oil & gas, as well as the chief enabler, security, to illustrate the milestones of the administration. Clearly, the realization of some $5 billion investment in the state's economy in three years is testimony of a commitment to boost industrialization, trade and commerce in the state. Of the above figure, about $400 million is being invested in agriculture where at least six solo/joint ventures in rice, cassava, fish, and tomato puree production are at various stages of implementation. With the combined output of these agro ventures, the objective of making Anambra State one of the leading states in agriculture generally, and rice production in particular, is being attained.
In early 2015, the Anambra State Government signed an agreement with the consortium, West Africa Intercontinental Trade Centre, for the construction of an international market at Ogbunike valued at $320 million for the first phase of the project. This initiative in trade and commerce was beautifully followed up a month later with the Thailand trade delegation visit to Anambra State. The six day long tour was rounded off with signing of Memorandum of Understanding between the state government and the 13-man business mission on a diverse range of manufacturing and trade interests. Implementation of the regime's industrial plan has led to Richborn Nig Ltd establishing a $50 million vehicle assembly plant in Oba. It is worth mentioning that Oba is also the site for the proposed commercial airport for the state, the other being the cargo airport to be built at Umuleri site of the Orient Refinery. In the area of oil and gas, progress was made recently with Falcon Nigeria Limited's $100 million investment deal in natural gas distribution.
The strategic importance of these ventures in the quest for an industrialized economy cannot be over – emphasized. In the face of the nation's energy crisis and the statutory limitations of state governments on power, a gas distribution initiative represents about the best intervention in the power supply chain. With this facility, the Obiano leadership aims to shore up energy delivery to the state's industrial zones, thus, boosting capacity utilization of entrepreneurs. The agreement with Richbon shows that its automobile plant will assemble buses, light and heavy duty trucks, construction as well as agricultural equipment. It is of much significance that some of these ventures have capacity for ripple effect on other new and old investments such as the assembly plant promises to impact on the agricultural revolution in the area of equipment. It is also interesting to note that the location of the vehicle assembly plant is Oba, close to the Nnewi Auto Industrial Centre.
The second striking feature of the Obiano regime is a tendency to what approximates as welfarism. There is reason to think that Governor Obiano believes the primary purpose of Government should be to cater for the welfare of the citizenry. In much the same way that it takes courage to be a follower of Christ in a world that sees sophistication in a secular way of life, it also demands strong conviction to approach governance from a welfarist framework at a time the apostles of 'free enterprise' have almost elevated the economic theory to gospel. A man of standards and even class, Obiano certainly believes in the practice of social models that promote initiative, hard work and competition as can be seen from his target oriented governance. But what seems to distinguish Obiano from the classical capitalists is that he seeks to grow the state's economy not as an end in itself but purposely to uplift the standard of living of the people – and this in a manner that recognizes the plight of the weak and disadvantaged.
In the seventh month of coming into office, Chief Willie Obiano liquidated the debt of N1.9 billion naira owed staff of the State Water Corporation and a defunct sanitation agency for the past twelve years, which successive administrations had shirked responsibility. For the Governor, what was paramount was to bring to an end the untold hardship the victims had borne all these years rather than dwelling on legalistic and administrative considerations of the matter. Workers' salaries have been increased even without any increase in federal revenue allocation. Since 2014 every public servants employed by the state government have been receiving a bag of rice every December; a gesture presently being extended to pensioners. The series of youth empowerment programmes sponsored by the regime are partly driven by this charitable spirit.
As already gleaned from the network pattern in the agro – industrial scene, the Willie Obiano administration has a knack for a holistic view of developmental issues. Anambra has fast – tracked from a besieged state to one of the three safest states in Nigeria since the advent of Governor Willie Obiano. What changed? An extensive security action plan was introduced and continues to be intensively implemented. Beyond the usual support to security agencies with upgraded equipment, security has taken on a systemic approach that spans Intelligence gathering, synergy of operations and complement of food security. Hosea Karma, former Anambra State Commissioner of Police, sheds some light on the merits of the new formula:
'Governor Obiano has not only encouraged the security agents in the state, he has gone out of his way to ensure that all the security agents in the state work together….The unity that he has fostered among the security agents has gone a long way to achieving major results because instead of the security agents fighting each other, we now see ourselves as brothers.' [Daily Sun, March 2, 2016.]
The insistence on high standards has assured continuity of the policy on regular rehabilitation of schools and provision of equipment. Raising the bar of teaching and learning in Anambra's public schools has led to a harvest of laurels in national and international educational competitions. It is no surprise that in the past three years, the state's candidates took lead positions in WAEC and NECO conducted examinations. A Mathematics teacher from Anambra, Mrs Rose Nkemdilim won the best Nigeria teacher contest in 2015. The state's contingent to the World School Debate emerged victorious also in 2015.
About a week to Christmas in 2015, Governor Willie Obiano declared two of the three flyovers under construction in Awka, the state capital, serviceable and open to motorists. At ninety – five percent per cent completion stages today, the projects initiated by the Obiano regime, were on course for commissioning sooner than later. But the arrival of the Christmas season with its characteristic mass movement of people necessitated an immediate presentation of the facilities to the public. As it were, the unveiling of the flyovers to road users could not have been more timely, underscoring once more the priority nature of the projects.
Awka increasingly comes across as a town in two parts – the old and the new Awka demarcated by the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway. Consequently, the flow of traffic from the various axes finds intersections on the expressway. Inevitably, these meeting points have thrown up huge, safety and commuting concerns. Many are rightly placing great store on the utilitarian and aesthetic benefits of the three flyovers. Awesome in scope and invaluable in services, the three flyovers stand out as alluring landmarks of a long-neglected capital city. In a sense, their construction signals the beginning of the long-awaited transformation of Awka to the status of a modern capital city.
The state's mass transit scheme is thriving. To the surprise of some who gave the project a year to collapse, the scheme is in its third year with the buses well maintained and a ubiquitous sight on the roads. The subsidized fare charged on the mass transit vehicles prove that profit must not be at the expense of social welfare. There are plans to introduce light refreshment as part of the package. And these are distinct from the buses earlier put in place for the benefit of commuting public servants.
With a commitment to continuation of inherited projects, the Willie Obiano administration's first take on infrastructure was towards the conclusion of uncompleted road works. Under this scheme, the Amawbia-Nkpor Old Road and the Awkuzu-Igbariam-Achalla Road projects were quickly completed and commissioned. On the heels of the sprawling flyovers, the Ngozika Estate-Abakaliki Road and the Onwurah Street thoroughfare have also been delivered in the capital city.
The administration will be spending over N20b in the2016/2017 financial year on rehabilitation of 250 kilometres of roads. 12 of the roads are in the south senatorial zone, 10 fall within the central zone while 11 are of the north senatorial district. As it were, this sets a record unrivalled by any previous regime - military or civilian – in the state.
Prominent among these roads are the 27kilometre Amansea-Ndukwuenu Road; Aguleri Uno-Oil Rig 42 kilometre Road; Anambra Boundary-Agu Awka 12 kilometre Road and the 14 kilometre Umunankwo-Mputa-Ogwuaniocha project. The good news is not only that work is progressing at the various sites; communities have been primed to monitor the execution concurrently with government officials.
With a strong foundation laid in the agro allied chain; power generation; oil and gas; aviation and automotive industries through active partnership with the private sector, Obiano's intervention in the road sector at this time shows that he had not placed popularity before development. The outing is also a vote on the imperative of realising Anambra's city-state potential. It is important to note here that infrastructure maintenance has also become a distinguishing feature of the Obiano administration, with roads and street lights being serviced all over the state in a systematic manner.
In demonstration of its will to increase the scope and quality of healthcare delivery in the state, three specialist hospitals are coming on stream in Anambra State. The apex hospitals are located in each of the state's three senatorial zones to boost the training of doctors and other health workers, as well as enhance the expected take-off of the National Health Insurance Scheme. Towards realizing this policy, three premier general hospitals are being upgraded to meet the standard of specialist hospitals and complement the services of Amaku Teaching Hospital, Awka.
Not to be confused with the elitist constituency project, the grassroots scheme introduced by Anambra State Governor, Willie Obiano, in mid-2016, is a civic-driven approach to community development. The Anambra State Government's community project covering the 179 autonomous areas of the state is valued at N7bn. Divided into two phases, each community is entitled to the sum of N20bn for each round of the programme. The first phase of the scheme is projected to end February/March, 2017; with the second installment taking off almost immediately in March/April.
In conception and execution, the Willie Obiano intervention in community development is a departure from the government-dominated approach which had tended to distort the policy and indeed reduce the local populations to spectators. This is to say that the determination of the community's need; the choice of project, location and contractor is the community's, with the latter selected from one of their own. The communities assume full ownership of the projects, providing a safety net for monitoring of construction and maintenance upon completion.
By mid-February 2017, 30 towns, among them Agulu, Amansea, Umueri, Anaku and Ezinifite, had completed their tasks. Dozens of others are set to follow suit with the structures at various stages of execution. Five towns are at the point of resolving issues on project, site and contractual decisions. However, the services embarked upon assume an encyclopaedic breadth. There are health centres, market stalls, road construction, civic centres, erosion control measures, printing presses, skill acquisition centres, oil palm and crop processing factories and many more. For the more financially involving works, a new activity is ruled out in the second phase of the scheme; rather the second tier funding will be used to complete the unconcluded project. Many communities though are set to take on new ventures in the second installment.
These injections have the potential of stimulating local economic activity even to the diversification of the rural economy. It is the setting for increased productivity, higher employment opportunities and rising incomes. At a time of national economic recession, the merit of these socio economic interventions cannot be over emphasized. The community development investment becomes the needed infusion for reflating the state's economy.
The socio political gains of the programme are no less significant. There is a place for equality of communities in governance. It ensures that no town is left out on Government's empowerment mission and by fostering a sense of belonging, rallies the populations on the course of development and peaceful coexistence.
As some analysts have said, as impressive as the scope and pace of the three year old administration's physical projects have been, it is in the enduring intangible structures, in the reign of standards, that we locate the regime's greater accomplishment. From security to social services, from infrastructure to investments, Obiano makes the statement: we're here presently; why can't we move on to the next level? Proceeding from this plank, it is inevitable that the regime is concerned not merely with sustaining inherited legacies but in surpassing these and attaining greater heights. And since the people of Anambra State did not make a mistake in their choice of Governor in 2014, they will only do well to reap the full harvest by endorsing the same Obiano for a second term.
Ifeanyi Afuba wrote in from Awka