Anambra State marked its silver jubilee on August 27, 2016, emitting rays of brilliant colours that emphasize the uniqueness of its people as wonderfully crafted by God, continuously demonstrating to the entire world that they are endowed with the dominant infrastructures of greatness, unsurpassed pacesetters in all noble walks of life – the arts, entrepreneurship, leadership, scholarship, the sciences, sports, statesmanship, etc. How apposite that this land of a blessed people has as its slogan the revealing title of Light of the Nation! There isn't any aspect of national life in which Ndi Anambra do not excel.
Little wonder that Jubilee governor, Willie Obiano, waxed prophetically lyrical in, ''Please, let's do it together''; his speech to mark the anniversary:
He had continued, “Anambra State will be the food basket of Africa in the next 25 years. In the next 25 years, Anambra will not depend on federal allocation. It will be known as a state that transited to become the Taiwan of Africa. We are number one among states that were created 25 years ago. We pay salaries as and when due. We are the safest state, and we have attracted billions of dollars in investment to the state.”
Yet, Anambra State's great future, and the fact that its affairs are currently under the control of a pair of capable hands, belies the palpable dangers that lie ahead. The situation evokes the sort of apprehension that informed the late great poet, Christopher Okigbo's writing of his 1966 poem entitled, “Come Thunder”, the first four lines of which go thus:
Now that the triumphant march has entered the last street corners,
Remember, O dancers, the thunder among the clouds…
Now that laughter, broken in two, hangs tremulous between the teeth,
Remember, O dancers, the lightning beyond the earth…
The smell of blood already floats in the lavender-mist of the afternoon.
What seeks Anambra's negation? What strives to dim its brilliance and turn the people's joys into one long, dark night of bewitched recrimination and retrogression? The answer is FALSEHOOD. Deliberately manufactured falsehood! Let's illustrate.
I recently took a telephone call from an educated friend domiciled in the United States since the 1970s. To my astonishment, he exhibited a rage uncharacteristic of his calm and urbane nature. “Obiano will never have a second term of office,” he bawled, swearing that I had made a fatal mistake by recently accepting appointment as the Anambra State Governor's Media Director. On and on he railed, his voice rising to a crescendo. When I managed to put in a word edgewise, I reminded him that our friendship mustn't be confused with the relationship between a cane-wielding village headmaster and a recalcitrant truant. We were basically friends. Could he possibly hold his peace and take a listen? He agreed, having screamed three principal complaints: (1) He had heard that Governor Obiano ordered soldiers to gun down peaceful IPOB demonstrators. (2) He had read from a Nigerian-owned, UK-based online newspaper a July 25, 2016 story entitled, ''How Governor Obiano embezzled N75b in two years. (3) He was despondent at another newspaper report that widows had been “forced from their stalls” and consequently rioted in Onitsha.
I proceeded to provide him with the correct version of things. Although a national daily had so claimed, there never was a women's riot anywhere in Anambra State, including Onitsha. Here are the facts: there is a street market on the main road that issues into Onitsha through the Niger Bridge. It stands on a land owned by Nath Okechukwu, the boss of Interbau, the road construction giant. Chief Okechukwu had ceded the land to a younger sister for temporary business purposes, pending its conversion into his firm's headquarters. But the sister had leased it to agents who made an instant vegetable market out of the land, collecting “landing” fees and rents without remitting any taxes to government. Every so often vehicles plowed into the market, causing casualties. The place has no toilets, a veritable eyesore.
The Anambra Government constructed an alternative market nearby for the traders that guaranteed dignity, safety, security and conveniences. But the agent provocateurs reaping where they hadn't sown were indignant. They corralled hapless women by the scores and had them all decked out in black. Dubbing these hired women as “widows”, they had them brandishing empty plastic bottles and waving placards, claiming they had been chased from their sources of daily bread! The agent provocateurs, led by a man nicknamed Super, who isn't even from Anambra State, went to town, hollering that Obiano was heartless, having “divested poor widows” of their means of livelihood! How could hundreds of women trading in one market be all widows?
Yet, a national daily lied that there had been a women's riot. Nothing had been destroyed during the sponsored demonstration, not even a broomstick had been broken, and no injuries were reported. Yet, a mercantilist journalist filed a patently false story, which my educated friend believed and hastily added to Governor Obiano's “crimes”. That's one.
Two! I had carefully read the farcical online report that Governor Obiano had, in two years, blown the fabulous N75 billion “abandoned” in Anambra's vaults by his predecessor. It was a disgraceful washout; it contained not a single word, let alone a single sentence, to support the wild claim of its title. It merely listed what the author termed 29 Anambra State Government accounts in various banks, and posted the sum of N37.3 billion as the total funds in them on the morning of Chief Obiano's inauguration. That was all. Yet, the story's headline claimed that N75 billion had been embezzled, and blamed a Governor for the crime. But there was no scintilla of proof to support the allegation. Yet, an ostensibly reputable online publication went to town with it! Yet again, people, including the educated, believed the appalling provocation. Was there any justifiable reason to malign the innocent and impugn their integrity?
Now, this phantom story of embezzled billions requires to be further discredited. The basic thing to note here is the distinction between Wealth and Cash. If a man left his son an estate of N20 billion made up of N15 billion in properties and N5 billion in cash, the money in the son's possession is N5 billion, period. If the son hasn't sold any of the properties, it becomes fallacious to claim he has blown any of the N15 billion in properties.
No one has ever accused Governor Obiano of liquidating state bonds or treasury bills. No one has ever accused his government of auctioning inherited assets like the Agulu Lake Hotel, and the shopping mall and brewery in Onitsha. But Chief Obiano's administration has continued to service inherited liabilities, including subsisting contractors' certificates and a large workforce introduced on the eve of the inception of the present dispensation and whose first emoluments fell due under Chief Obiano's watch. The administration has continued with road construction. It has kept up with the payment of salaries and pensions. It has kept the wheels of government turning rhythmically. Yet the cranks' phantom 75 billion is, by some magic, expected to be incapable of depletion!
On the agitation for Biafra, I prefaced Governor Obiano's refutation of the accusation with my personal experience. Of Igbo writers and commentators, whether inside or outside the country, hardly any has contributed more to the media interrogation of the explosive subject than my humble self. Any perusal of Internet search engines would instantaneously throw up my incessant and consistent expression of outrage against heavy-handedness on peaceful and non-violent demonstrators.
That said, I relayed Chief Obiano's refutation of the specific accusation against him. This came from the governor's interactive session with 26 Lagos-based journalists on Monday July, 11, 2016, two days after he received the 2016 Zik Award for Leadership. It was Emma Onyejena, most recently of Thisday's editorial board, but now of the online publication All News and Reports, who had asked the governor to explain himself in the light of allegations that he had ordered Army troops and Police cadres to expend live rounds on IPOB agitators.
Responding, the governor made it clear that he had never thought of, let alone ordered the shooting of anyone. He didn't have a reason to direct the taking of human life. Besides, he lacked the constitutional powers to issue shoot-to-kill orders, or any orders for that matter, to commanders of military and paramilitary formations that were all federal establishments. That prerogative belonged solely to the President and Commander-in-Chief.
Governor Obiano described the allegation as “false and ridiculous”, recalling that in January of 2015, he had organized Ozoemezina (May it never happen again) – a memorial for all Igbo sons and daughters that perished during the civil war. Voices from all over had opposed him then, claiming that he was trying to “open old wounds”! No other South East governor had joined the exercise. But he persisted and went ahead with it as a way of bringing closure to the most difficult chapter in Igbo history. How, then, could he have conceived or ordered an increment in the numbers of Igbo casualties?
The following are six of the journalists at the interactive session that are easily contactable on the veracity of the foregoing: Ikeddy Isiguzo (ex-Vanguard editorial board chairman, now Editorial Director of TheLinkNG online publication); Steve Nwosu (The Sun); Steve Osuji (The Nation); Dr. Luke Onyekakeyah (The Guardian); Ikechukwu Amaechi (The Niche) and Maureen Chigbo (former Newswatch General Editor, now Publisher of Realnews magazine).
After these explanations, my friend conceded that Governor Obiano was clear of the charges against him. But, he couldn't place a finger on any achievements under Obiano's watch! Hadn't he heard that, thanks to Obiano, Anambra is today the safest state in Nigeria? I asked. “Except that!” he replied. Was it news to him that, whereas most states in the country were sweating under the backlog of salary arrears, Anambra sustains a regime of prompt payment of salaries and pensions? “Except that too.” What about Anambra's giant strides in agriculture? While a bag of rice currently sells at more than the national minimum wage, the Anambra State Government is encouraging the mass production of food crops, including rice, for sale at substantially lower prices. Was it not public knowledge that Obiano's administration had attracted agriculture-related investments to the tune of billions of Naira? “Well, except that too!”
My friend was gradually burying himself in a ridiculous deluge of exceptions. But he had one last puny punch to throw. He bemoaned Anambra's “impassable” roads. Laughing at his ignorance, I pointed out that the state boasted the best network of roads in the country. I told him that the deplorable Enugu-Onitsha expressway was a Federal project. I told him that there were other such Federal roads crying for rehabilitation in the state. It was public knowledge that Power, Works and Housing Minister, Babatunde Fashola, recently visited Anambra State, promising that, once the heavy rains abated, the Federal Government would start the rehabilitation of its bad roads in the state. That was besides the Federal Government's acknowledgement of its N43.8 billion indebtedness to Anambra for Federal roads fixed by the state. I made a promise myself, to the effect that, from the rainless prelude to Christmas, Anambra's primed road construction and maintenance machinery would comprehensively attend to what state roads were in need of attention.
My friend was unaware of the fact that the Obiano administration recently gave N20 million to each of the 199 communities in the State for attending to any projects specific to their interests. That's a disbursement of some N4 billion, a national precedent! Yet, naysayers call Anambra bankrupt…My friend went into mortified silence. But I added the coup de grâce by suggesting that he summon the courage to visit Nigeria, instead of abiding the incessant manipulation of his emotions by pirate bloggers and journalistic hirelings.
It is ironic that the most achieving governor in the South East geopolitical zone is today the most calumniated and vilified. It speaks to the consternation of serious-minded observers that three of the Internet bloggers responsible for the preponderance of the anti-Obiano fabrications are from Enugu State. They neither reside in Anambra nor pay taxes in the state, these miserable blokes that have never commented on any issue in their home state, including the activities of murderous herdsmen. It underscores the gullibility of human nature that easily detectable fallacious lumps against Obiano are readily masticated and swallowed hook, line and sinker by folks educationally equipped to know better.
I have scrutinized the mind-set of the manufacturers of falsehood against Governor Obiano. This is their game: claiming to have benefitted from ancient and modern history, they insist that mountains of anti-Obiano falsehoods will obliterate the governor's political future, and make Anambra's seat of power available for their seizure. Jesus Christ, they argue, was lied against, and he consequently had, even in his innocence, been crucified. The same vile propaganda, they maintain, had been employed against President Jonathan – and witness where the man ended up. Therefore, these liars believe that fabrications skyscraper-tall will force Chief Obiano from office.
Predictably, they seized on the most emotive topic currently on the Igbo psyche – Biafra! And they accused Governor Obiano of ordering soldiers to shoot IPOB demonstrators. What of those shot outside Anambra's borders for Biafra-related demonstrations? Had Obiano also given the orders? When did it become a state governor's place to double as Army, Air Force, Navy, Police, Civil Defence Corps, or State Security commander-in-chief? When did the President abdicate that constitutional responsibility?
The lies against Governor Obiano are legion. It is a matter of public record that he attended this month's World Igbo Congress (WIC) convention in New York by commercial aircraft. His traducers lied that he had chartered an airplane for the trans-Atlantic flight! He had gone with a handful of officials. They lied that his delegation had a 72-person roll call! He attended the opening session of the convention in a car provided by the organizers. His traducers posted the picture of a stretch limousine longer than six cars lined bumper-to-booth – the sort often seen in Nollywood films – and lied that it had conveyed Governor Obiano to the event at Anambra's expense. Against specific contradictions by Dr. Ike Ekweremadu, they lied that Obiano had walked out on the Deputy Senate President as he read a keynote address at the convention!
The young man who runs the state government's website sits alone in an office at the Government House press office, with no ancillary staff. They lied that he controls 41 graduate subordinates! They abuse the Governor's wife left, right and centre and force on her lips words she never uttered. They assert that this grand negation of truth, this unwarranted abuse of the democratic process, this unprecedented subversion of civility is imperative for their political end of annexing Government House, Awka. They deceive themselves by believing that nothing can be done to counter their infamy.
I have repeatedly entreated these fabricators to join issues with me in televised debates. I have often requested to square up to them on commercial radio. In all cases, they have declined and said No! Why are they against appearing at forums where their stories would be interrogated if not for the certainty that their tall tales would be systematically taken apart?
They wallow in soul-destroying darkness. But it was Eleanor Roosevelt, a former American First Lady, who memorably said that it was “Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.” We are, therefore, throwing the rays of Anambra's light at the darkness of these merchants of mendacity. Were it not for the fact people easily fall prey to fabrications, the best thing would have been to ignore all the lies inherent in the political formulations of Anambra's aspirant governors and “kingmakers”. But again, it was Edmund Burke, the Irish statesman, who warned that, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.” Our job is neatly cut out because citizens of Anambra State are discerning. Whether they profess Christianity, which is the dominant religion in the state, or are adherents to Igbo traditional faith, they believe in the philosophy of both the kite and the egret perching. They know that even the one primed for the gallows must be given a chance to put in a word in self-defence. They acknowledge that man cannot dethrone anyone crowned by God.
In credible politics sensible critics posit options for society's improvement. But Chief Obiano's traducers are bereft of alternatives. They represent no more than the listless apostles of Joseph Goebbels, to whom is attributed the saying that, “If you repeat a lie often enough, people will believe it, and you will even come to believe it yourself.” But they forget, to their hubris, a number of things that Ndi Anambra remember all too well. Anambra people remember that, although it is an act of piety to routinely receive Holy Communion, it is nonetheless sacrilegious to do so in defiance of the Eight Commandment – Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour.
Negative press will not hand Anambra's governorship to those intent on laying political foundations on the quicksand of falsehood. Any house constructed on such a foundation is bound to collapse. No, the good people of Anambra State will never allow the edifice of a light of brilliant rays to come crashing down on all their heads, and on account of the shameful lies of faceless hirelings shielding their true identities with deceitful masks of aliases and pseudonyms. It is not for nothing that Anambra State is the Light of the Nation! Therefore, all the shady characters who for filthy lucre are bathing in a cesspit of falsehood, and all the shadier blokes financing this new, repugnant culture of impunity and negation of uprightness will, in the ultimate, be rudely shocked by the affirmation of the age-old saying that “The head is bigger than the body!”
Iloegbunam writes from Awka