2008 was the first time I had a gun pointed to my head at close range. And that was in Awka. I had stepped out of Olde English Hotel where I had checked in after attending the opening of the Nigeria Stock Exchange in Onitsha. I was walking down the road to buy a recharge card when a cyclist suddenly pulled up beside me. As I turned to know why, his co-rider jumped down and pointed a gun to my temple. "Lie down," he barked. I obeyed. He moved with lightning speed, stripped me of everything I had. Seconds later, I watched him jump back onto the bike with my new Sonny Ericsson phone gleaming in his hands.
Two days ago, I was heading down town to Kwata Bridge, Awka at dusk. The decorative lights on the bridge sparkled with dazzling rays in the horizon to fend off the gathering darkness. I suddenly spotted my good friend, Mark Okoye in the distance, strolling leisurely down the road.
Mark is the Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budgeting. His personal assistant, Nonso Ndumuanya was walking beside him. As I drove closer, Mark's face suddenly lit up with a smile and Nonso's hands went up and down in animated gesticulations. They were having the time of their lives, walking. I envied the two.
Minutes later, I called Mark to ask where they were going. He told me that he usually walked about one and a half kilometres downtown to rejuvenate himself after work, taking in the sights and sucking in the fresh air that the city offers in abundance. His voice brimmed with ecstasy as he told me about his little habitual walks. As his excited voice washed all over me on the phone, my mind went back to the robbery incident in 2008.
In my mind’s eye, I could see the nozzle of the gun pointing to my head and the voice of the gunman barking “Lie down!” I shook my head ruefully as the moment struck home. To think that now in Awka, a commissioner can walk around leisurely in the twilight without looking furtively over his shoulders…that just about anybody can savour the spectacle of the gleaming roads and the shimmering lights at sundown and that thousands of open air bars and hangouts have sprouted across Anambra in the past three years. And that in the growing atmosphere of freedom that Governor Willie Obiano has ushered into the state, the night no longer hides with a knife! (Apologies to Nduka Otiono)
In almost three and a half years, I have yet to hear sporadic gunshots in the late night. I have yet to see pedestrians burst into sudden flights on busy roads. And I have yet to hear of bank robberies. There has not been one successful kidnap operation either. That is not to say that there is absolutely no crime in Anambra State. That would be an exaggeration. There is no human society that is devoid of crime. However, what Governor Obiano has achieved is a situation where crime is now seen as a rare occurrence…an outright aberration. Not as the norm. As was once the case!
And because Obiano has been quite successful in this regard, the Nigerian Navy was widely reported a few days ago to have visited Anambra to assess the clock-work security arrangement in place and take a few lessons away.
Because Obiano has done his work well, the American Ambassador, W. Stuart Symington could pay a state visit to Anambra and leisurely drive around Awka at dusk. Because Anambra is now a safe place, major economic powers across the world have started looking at Awka as the next axis of hope. Britain, China, the US and Germany have all sent their envoys to Awka in the past six months. These people come to confirm what they have read and their comments during the visits carry a great deal of hope.
The United Nations Country Representative, Edward Kallon has even gone a step further to describe Governor Obiano as visionary. And he is right. It takes nothing short of a strategic vision to move a state like Anambra 360 degrees from social deficit to social surplus.
In my reckoning though, no one else perhaps has been able to fully understand or brilliantly capture the almost phenomenal change in the security situation in Anambra State as Labaran Maku, the former Information Minister. Speaking of Obiano’s security success story at the Zik Prize ceremonies in Lagos last year, Maku observed that anyone who does not understand Anambra’s past security nightmare would never appreciate the atmosphere of freedom in the state today.
He further remarked that if one were able to remember that Anambra had widely been written off as a place where no meaningful activity could take place because of its crime problems, then one would fully appreciate the tremendous change that has occurred. According to him, Obiano had once again proven that the security of any state is in the hands of the governor. Finally, Maku advised all the governors of the Northern states to visit Anambra for tutorials on how to tackle insecurity. The recent visit of the Nigerian Navy shows that Maku’s advice may not have gone unheeded after all.
So, as the clock ticks away and the aspirants file out for the November 18 gubernatorial election in Anambra State, the electorate know that they don’t have a difficult choice to make. Some of the aspirants that have been prancing around the length and breadth of the state were severally fingered as the shadowy figures behind the dark clouds that once overshadowed everyone’s peace mind in the state. And when you ask the people to choose between light and darkness, they will naturally choose light. Not only because Anambra prides itself as the Light of the nation but because under Willie Obiano, Anambra has become the beacon on a hilltop, announcing the restoration of the glory of South East Nigeria.