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 civilisation 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 organisations 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, Neimeth, and Distel.
Among others, Innoson Group has continued to acknowledge that the patronage of the Obi administration ensured the survival of its vehicle manufacturing company – with the purchase of billions of Naira worth of vehicles and personal introductions to The Presidency and other State Governors.
Easily one of the unsurpassed attainments of Peter Obi was in education. Here, he achieved another first on January 1, 2009, with his return of schools to their original owner-proprietors – Voluntary Agencies, including Churches – with commendable results. While the management of the schools was transferred to the agencies, the State Government retained the funding responsibilities, including capital projects, staff salaries and emoluments, and other recurrent expenditures. Such was the impact of this momentous decision that Obi administration stabilised basic education in the State.
Among other outcomes, Anambra State leaped from its usual 24th place of the 36 States in many external examinations to Number One in results of both the National Examination Council (NECO) and West African Examination Council (WAEC) examinations for three consecutive years. Indeed, this revolutionary partnership and phenomenal achievement informed the World Bank-commissioned study group led by the renowned Professor Paul Collier of Oxford University.
Under the Obi tenure, Anambra State was the first in the Federation to procure and distribute over 30,000 computers to secondary schools. These included 22,500 from HP, which the Managing Director HP (Africa and Middle-East) described as their largest such procurement in the Middle-East and Africa. In the same vein, Internet access was provided to more than 500 secondary schools, which the CEO of Galaxy Backbone then (Mr. Gerald Ilukwe) characterised as incomparable to any other in the country.
Microsoft Academies were also established in those secondary schools – a project the then Head of Microsoft in Nigeria (Mr. Ken Span) described as the biggest of such in Africa to date.
Similarly, secondary schools in the state got over 700 buses, while boreholes were sunk and classroom blocks constructed in several schools in the 177 communities of the state.
Having determined that the partnership with the voluntary agencies/Churches was working, he steadily extended the formula to other critical sectors. In the health sector, for instance, the symbiotic relationship resulted in a tremendous boost to health care delivery across the state with investments of grants, structures and supplies to the tune of several billions of Naira. Among the beneficiary-organisations – whose transformation made positive impacts on the sector – are: Iyienu Hospital, Ogidi; Our Lady of Lourdes Hospital, Ihiala; St. Charles Borromeo Hospital, Onitsha; Diocesan Hospital, Amichi; Holy Rosary Hospital, Waterside, Onitsha; and St. Joseph Hospital, Adazi-Nnukwu. The Obi administration also constructed the Joseph Nwilo Heart Centre at St. Joseph’s Hospital, Adazi-Nnukwu, where heart operations are now being performed satisfactorily.
The grooming of health-care professionals similarly received serious attention. By the end of Peter Obi’s tenure in 2014, over 12 health institutions, including two hospitals, had secured accreditation for their courses and programmes. Interestingly, prior to his assumption of office in 2006, no health institution in Anambra State was duly accredited.
Predictably, the achievements of Peter Obi as Governor elicited several authentic, verifiable commendations and awards. Among others, he won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation US$1 million prize for best-performing state in immunisation in the South-East. With complementary funding from Government, he used the money to construct 10 Maternal and Child Care Centres across the State, particularly in rural communities, in partnership with the Churches.
One of the acts of Obi that nobody would wish away is his ability, against the convention, to clear debts owed pensioners running into over 37 billion Naira; his consistency in paying workers’ salaries; and commitment to paying contractors on certificates generated – and yet being able to leave in excess of N100 billion (including set-aside funds) in the state treasury for his successor. This is one of the features that define him from others that seek the governance of the people. How he did it will one day become a topical issue in this country. Another marvel is that even with that huge savings, he still recorded more achievements than most others that owed hundreds of billions.
Commenting on Peter Obi inclination to hard-work, one of his Commissioners, Chief Joe Martins Uzodike, noted that “Mr. Peter Obi wore himself out as he did others; the engine was too strong for the body. He crowded a life-time of events into twenty years because he compressed a week into a day. He came to his desk about 7am. It is only those not in Nigeria that would not appreciate what he did for Anambra State and how he is sadly being repaid today. But like his other travails, he takes them with equanimity.”
On her part, his wife, the oil behind the strong engine, Mrs. Margaret Obi is perplexed that what he suffered has not driven him to insanity. She asserted that her husband remains the person he used to be: “He still eats well and sleeps like a baby. He could go to sleep at will, at any hour and in any place wherever he needs repose.”
The man himself revealed that he keeps different affairs arranged in his head or memory as in a closet with several drawers: “When I wish to turn from business, I close the drawer that contains it, and open that which contains another. If I wish to sleep, I shut up all the drawers and I am soon asleep”.
Rather than seek by what magic or inspiration Obi achieved all this and get close to him to achieve a fraction of his goodness by prestige imitation, they are busy running round the lunatic asylum. When they discovered it would not lead them to anywhere, they resorted to propaganda and elevated it to a State industry, almost a monopoly.
As he turns 56 and is increasingly relevant because he has something to offer, may we raise our glasses and cling to his continued good health and pray to God to always lead him aright.
•Obienyem wrote in from Lagos.