Anambra’s N127B Inherited: Debt Tales by Moonlight?

By Jude Atupulazi

Nigeria is no doubt a land of tales of the absurd. Almost everyone is caught in the web, but the most bizarre seems to be coming from public officers and government. All through last week, Nigerians were treated to the stuff coming from the probe of the goings on at NDDC. It had been nothing short of drama, with some of the characters treating us to new dimensions of fainting.

Then it suddenly turned to those doing the probing almost fainting too when one of the people they were probing, Mr Godswill Akpabio, a former governor and now minister, pointed accusing fingers at them as major beneficiaries of his ”largesse”. You needed to see the speed with which the panelists wanted to hush it up. That’s by the way.

As if the drama at the probe was not enough, a few days ago I read a story attributed to the Anambra State Government in which it was trying to let us know that it inherited a debt burden of N127 billion. Yes, you read me right: N127B!

In one of the social media groups I belong, almost all the people there went into fits of shock. They asked the man behind the post, a government aide, where the government had been these past seven years that it never remembered that such a debt burden was hanging on its neck, to which the aide said they had earlier raised the alarm in 2015. He said the governor did not want to start making excuses too soon after taking over, a response that further sent the members of the forum into more shock.

Well, I think it’s time someone called Obiano’s bluff. There are things you tell people and it will begin to look like you are taking them for fools. And this latest ”alarm” is one of them.

In case, some people have forgotten, on the eve of the end of tenure of the former governor, Peter Obi, the who is who in Nigeria, including Aliko Dangote, Obiano himself and party members, were all gathered at Dora Akunyili Women’s Development Centre, Awka, to listen to Obi’s valedictory speech.

He told everyone how much he was leaving for his successor and the banks such monies were deposited. He clearly said they were verifiable and dared any doubter to ask the bank managers who were also all there. Everybody was impressed and started clapping. Obiano was also clapping. The next day, Obi quit the stage and Obiano took over.

Mind you, Obiano did not raise an objection the first week he took over. That would have been enough time for him to find out if Obi left money or not. That first week turned into months and then years; yet he did not utter a whimper of protest or denial.

To prove that there was indeed money in the coffers, he started building the three flyovers which the cost took a long time to come out. The construction of the flyovers came barely five months into his regime. To have embarked on the project that early in the life of his administration meant only one thing: there was money.

Indeed, I began also to notice a certain flamboyance in his governance style; a far departure from the almost Spartan style of his predecessor. I raised an alarm on this page and advised him against that. Part of what I had started seeing were long convoys which sometimes included horses; unnecessary appointment of people who did nothing (mind you, appointments are not bad but only people who can provide value should be so appointed). But we started seeing many people who merely collected salary even when they had no office, meaning that they did nothing.

Even before a year, he had appointed more aides than any other former governor before him. I advised him against that, telling him it was too early in the day for that. I also advised him against an element of vanity I was seeing in his style, something I warned that would backfire as the political jobbers would latch on,  to distract him with praises.

Then, already, many groups were trooping to Government House to describe him as the best thing that had happened to the state. I wondered how a man who had barely settled down could have already become the best thing. I thus advised him to stop those praise singers from coming to distract him but to face the business of governance.

A lot of people hailed that piece I wrote, a testament that they saw what I saw. But the government took offence and saw me as the actual distraction. Today, all that followed is history.

You see, our governor is a good man. Indeed, one of the best in goodness. But then, governance is not about being nice. It is about being firm, focused and serious. There is no room for sentiments in governance. You identify your goals and pursue them without looking back.

Former Gov Chinwoke Mbadinuju was also a good and nice man. But those virtues, rather than help him, destroyed him and today, the mere mention of his name evokes ridicule. All those who exploited his niceness to syphon the state’s resources are no more talking about Mbadinuju who has since been left to carry his own cross. There goes the story of a nice man.

Today, another nice man is on the throne. He is our amiable governor. I’m told by many of those close to him that he has a heart of gold. I’ve only been near him twice. The first was when he held the first and only media parley with real media men. Not what we see now where SSAs and SAs are gathered and addressed and they call it media parley.

The second time I was close to him was when, as a member of the Correspondents’ Chapel then, he hosted us one December in Aguleri. He came across to us as a nice man who did not want trouble.

Now, many years after, I can comfortably tell anyone that his niceness is being exploited by those around him at the state’s expense. In fact, our governor has not been benefitting from the right advice. It is either that, or he does not listen to advice. I wouldn’t know which is which but all I know is that he is a nice man.

However, as I noted earlier, governance is not about niceness. Things are not all they should be in this state right now. People have been grumbling. I don’t know if he has heard those grumbles. Recently, Nigeria’s oil mogul, Arthur Eze, came out smoking and accused the government of the day of poor performance and even threatened to sue him for appropriating local government funds without conducting local government elections and without showing anything tangible in the third tier structure.

Eze was immediately attacked by the government people. Some asked him how many industries he had built. They may be right, but then, Arthur Eze is just an individual. Nobody elected him into public office to serve them or to build industries. The person that was elected, and even twice, is the governor. He is therefore the one to provide basic amenities.

I have however noticed that the governor seems to pursue the shadow and leave the substance by constantly blaming his predecessor. This is an action that will get him nowhere. The sooner he stopped that and focused on the job for which he was elected, the better for him and for the state.

Coming now after almost seven years to cry that he inherited a debt of N127B sounds more like the kind of tales we hear on moonlit nights. He should just spare us that yarn because only government appointees can believe that. If the state is in debt, as we know it is, only he knows how it came about.

I cannot come to a village meeting as an outgoing chairman and read out my handover notes and my successor claps for me and agrees with all I say, only to return towards the end of his own tenure to tell the elders that he did not see what I said I left for him.

Such an action will just overheat the polity unnecessarily. A lot of neutrals are not happy with the way things stand in the state right now. This is the time everyone should have been hailing the government. During the time of Chris Ngige, he was praised to high heavens by the public to the extent that they started asking Obi to forget his mandate and allow Ngige to continue.

During Obi’s time, some people wished he could have a third term because they felt he did very well. Now that Obiano ought to be enjoying such support, only his appointees are the ones clapping for him. Something must be very wrong.

Anyone who doubts me should enter public transport from Awka to Onitsha and back and try raising the issue. They will hear for themselves what people will say.

My advice therefore to Obiano is to quit fighting with the past and stay focused. He should listen to the pulse of the real people and make amends where necessary. History would not be kind to him if all he could be known for was being a nice man. Governance is certainly more than that.

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