On Thursday, March 17, 2016, Governor Willie Obiano marked his two years in office. There were no ceremonies. No drums. No pomp and no pageantry. Not even the usual state banquet or the solemn high mass. In fact, the governor kept a busy schedule on that day, commissioning the House of Assembly Complex and playing host to some important Nigerians who happened to be visiting Anambra for the convocation ceremonies of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and the Odumegwu Ojukwu University. He later made a cameo appearance at the presentation of a collage of reports on his two-year administration, strung together by a childhood friend in a book form. The day was deliberately drained of ceremony, drained of meaning. It arrived unheralded and went by unnoticed, unmarked.
In doing so, Chief Obiano has deepened his enigma. And indeed, every-day, the governor of Anambra State makes it difficult for critics to typecast him; to pigeon-hole him. One recalls, that when he ran for election, some people had dismissed him as a mere stooge who would wait for orders from his master. But in less than three months after he was sworn in, Obiano swiftly established himself as firmly in charge; not only of the law abiding citizens but of the outlaws and the brigands, stamping out crime from the state. Obiano is like a moving target to his critics - One moment, they paint the picture of a wasteful governor and the next day, they are forced to report that his prudence has stood Anambra out as the only state, along with Lagos, that paid March salary before Easter. One moment they put up funny pictures of him on Facebook where he is fast asleep while standing on his feet (imagine that), and the next moment they are forced to acknowledge the three superb flyovers in Awka as worthy legacies of a hard working governor. And finally, when they hoped that he would roll out the drums to celebrate his two years of stellar performance, he withdrew into his shell and wiped away every hint of celebration in the entire state. Perplexity!
By keeping such a low profile on a day when everyone had expected him to roll out the drums, Governor Obiano had disappointed his critics. In a manner of speaking, he had wrenched the ‘vuvuzela’ of mischief away from their lips. But he had also made a loud statement with his silence. He did not only re-enforce the atmosphere of seriousness that has marked his two years in office but he also symbolically drove home the message of austerity that reflects the general mood of the country.
Indeed, to any intelligent observer, Obiano's two years in office are steeped in symbolisms and hidden meanings. While it is easy to see the flyovers and the gleaming roads across the state, his achievements actually stretch beyond physical infrastructure. Most people who praise him for a job well done do not often remember for instance that Obiano is one of the few governors in Nigeria who have a very modern approach to governance. They may not be aware that he is one of the few who have clearly defined mission and vision statements and a concise blueprint for leading his state. Neither do most of them realise that there is not a single programme he has executed in the past two years that wasn't conceived as a component of his blueprint. Obiano's blueprint is so thoroughly put together that Chief Emeka Anyaoku paid glowing tributes to him in a recent function when he observed that “there are very few leaders who have strategic capacity. And there we have in Anambra State, a leader who has strategic capacity.” The highly revered statesman didn't end with that acknowledgment but also thanked Obiano for giving him “the reason not only to be proud but to boast.” Those who know Anyaoku will remember that he is not given to a loud praise of Nigeria's leaders.
Again, for those who have the power of discernment, Obiano's most memorable achievements so far may not be the massive investment inflow to the state or the agricultural revolution raging in the food belt zones or even the impressive growth in infrastructure. To this rather small group of people, it just might be in the little touches that humanise governance. It might be Obiano's rather poignant declaration that “anaaluolu, anaalummadu.” This is loosely translated to, “while we are building physical structures, we must also build the individual who is the ultimate beneficiary of all development efforts.” In the past two years, he has walked this talk very well. That was exactly what he did when he donated his salaries to the poor in March last year, when he increased workers' salaries by fifteen percent while other states couldn't pay, when he offered scholarship to children of Boko Haram victims, when he offered automatic employment to the first set of medical doctors who graduated from Odumegwu Ojukwu University after exercising faith for ten years to bag a medical degree, when he granted amnesty to 25 prisoners and handed each N1m to facilitate their re-integration back into the society and when he introduced the mass transit buses to ease the suffering of civil servants who commute to and from Awka to serve the state. It must be said that Obiano has shown the subtlety and nuance that elude most leaders in Africa.
Nevertheless, another silent power in Obiano's two-years old regime is his ability to define the priorities of the people and pursue them with single-mindedness. In his inaugural address, Obiano had quoted America's Max De Pree, arguing that “the first responsibility of a leader is to define reality.” He went on to single out the challenges of insecurity and electricity supply as the twin dragons his administration must slay to build a better state. His reading of the socio-political milieu in which his administration would function was very apt, so was his superb handling of the challenges when he resumed duties as governor. Obiano did not waste time nor spare efforts in carving out a safer state when he launched a comprehensive crackdown on crime. He also went into credible partnerships with reputable companies like UDIPPCO, Falcon and Stanel to build independent power plants across the state that would wipe out the people's tears over poor power supply. But while companies like UDIPPCO are busy setting up on location, Obiano has made good his promise on security. In fact, he has done more than that. He has offered the people a new taste of freedom. Indeed, Anambra is free! The spectre of violence and fear that once ruled the state is gone. This Easter, people felt safe to roll out drums and set chairs in the open air to sip to the health of their families and friends. Elders watched with beatific smiles as their children tied the nuptials in their ancestral homes where traditional marriages are supposed to take place. Easter returnees criss-crossed the state to reunite with friends and loved ones they had not seen in decades. People no longer live in dread of what might happen if darkness caught them on the road; no longer fear of cut-throat kidnappers who fleece their victims and wipe out all trails by snuffing life out of them. Freedom is here indeed!
Yet, there are also some people to whom Obiano's most enduring legacy in two years is neither the new air of freedom nor the iconic flyovers. To this later group, the governor's place in history was solidly earned by the re-imagination of Anambra State – the new crest or coat of arms, the new anthem, the new colours and the new flag of Anambra State. To this people, the lyrics of the Anambra anthem ignite an unusual fire in their souls and inspire a heady sense of attachment to their roots, nudging them to make a silent vow of commitment to the state. The new coat of arms on the other hand comes across as a shield of pride; embodying the intrinsic values of a proud people. To these people too; Obiano has forced a new self-interrogation and self-belief. And when they look at the roll call of the state's illustrious citizens, they make a silent vow not to aspire for anything less.
In all, Willie Obiano has had a phenomenal two years in office. Away from the bridges, the investments, the rise in IGR and the rating of the state as Nigeria's safest state, there is a sea change in attitudes, in self-rediscovery and in the increasing feeling of the people that silently says 'oh yes, we can be great again.' Obiano said this much in his two-year anniversary broadcast when he declared – “My Team and I have demonstrated a strong ambition for greatness. We have shown that given time and resources, we can turn Anambra State into Nigeria's new postcard for excellence!”
James Eze is a writer and poet. He is also the Senior Special Assistant to Gov Willie Obiano on Media. He wrote in from Awka.