By Jude Atupulazi
In the brief history of democratic governance in Anambra State, two former governors have stood out for their kindheartedness. They are Chinwoke Mbadinuju and Willie Obiano. But interestingly, the two happen to be the only ones to be messed up after leaving office. While Mbadinuju was jailed for his part in the killing of the Igwe couple in Onitsha and later absolved of the crime, Obiano was immediately arrested after handing over power to his successor as he tried to leave the country from Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Lagos, just after handing over to Prof Chukwuma Soludo. His case is still being investigated by the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC.
So, why is it that kind governors in the state seem to always get into trouble, while the ”hard” ones like Chris Ngige and Peter Obi avoided trouble?
In Mbadinuju’s case, he could be excused for not benefiting from any hindsight. A jovial and jolly good fellow, Mbadinuju was always ready to please. But in so doing, he created monsters that devoured him, making his administration the most disliked because it owed civil servants their salaries for over one year, with schools going on strike for that period.
He was an unhappy man because of this but could do nothing about it. This was because, any time the federal allocation came in, the monsters around him would threaten to deal with him, and as I often heard, they would point a gun at him for him to sign away the state’s resources. They were able to control him, I was told at the time, because of a damning video they had in their possession which they used as a tool for blackmail.
Aside from that, Mbadinuju loved praise. Daily, hordes of praise singers would troop to Government House, often with drums and hired dancers. He would drink their praise and part with money at the end. There was nothing steely in Mbadinuju’s character. He was not built to be governor and was therefore never going to succeed in a complex state like Anambra. But those who knew him will still tell you unto this day that he was a very kind man. His kindness would however haunt him to this day.
Chris Ngige came next. Despite entering through the back door following a massively rigged election, he became somewhat popular before he left office for what the people described as letting them know for the first time, that there was money in government.
Ngige, while he remained in the saddle, did not pretend to be a Father Christmas for one day. He faced his business and did the needful. Not many politicians could say they had fat bellies during his time.
Then came in Peter Obi. He took frugal governance to another level. He banished also the praise singers and dealt only with those who had something to offer the state. Of course he became most unpopular initially, prompting him to famously declare that he was not in government house for a popularity contest.
Many saw his gospel of frugality and accountability as strange but would later begin to hail him for the new culture he brought to governance.
Both Obi and Ngige left office without blemish and no one harassed them.
It was finally the turn of Obiano to come. From the word go, it was clear he loved adulation and praise. He soaked these as a stage performer would welcome applause. Mind you, there is nothing in the book that says loving praise is bad. The only problem was that it soon became a distraction to him as those that lived off his large heart began to shout and sing that there was never anything or anyone like him.
He began also to reward such people with juicy appointments, such as executive assistants, special assistants and senior special assistants. Yet, it was good of him to reward people and to have a human face. But as the praise grew, he continued to appoint more people to the extent that soon, he made history as probably the governor with the highest number of political appointees in the country.
The snag however was that many of those people added no value to the state other than swelling the rank of his fan base. They were given more prominence than the few that did the actual work. No matter where they were, they kept getting their bank alerts. Any wonder they named him the alert governor.
But that was not all. Many of those he breathed life into and those he brought on board soon began to grow wings and to get very powerful. It was to such an extent that they soon formed an almost parallel government and began to take actions that brought a bad name to their boss. Those people controlled markets, parks and nearly everything. They also ensured that they shielded the governor from people. To get to Obiano became a very difficult task.
Even in church, his security would be glued to him. There was this occasion he came for Mass at the Federal College of Education (Technical), Umunze. I was billed to cover the event at the behest of the then Provost. When I came, there were stern looking armed security men at the entrance of the church. In the church itself were two security men sitting behind him.
When he went to the altar to take communion, they followed him and stood behind him to the consternation of many in the church. Of course, I was barred from taking pictures by the security men for reasons I didn’t know. I had to rely on members of his press crew for pictures thereafter.
Also to access the Governor’s Lodge as a journalist during his time was a near impossibility, except you were a member of the press crew that followed him. It was a far cry from what used to obtain before him when journalists could easily access the lodge any number of times they wanted.
People said it was part of the ploy by those around him to stop people coming close. It was believed they were intent to hide their deeds from getting to the ears of their boss. They were also doing many shady deals and capitalized on Obiano’s lack of assertiveness to commit many blunders.
One of such was the show of shame in Imo State in the days leading to the guber primary election in that state. Many of the contestants were shortchanged and milked dry after fake promises of ticket. Some may argue that Obiano was not the party chairman, but then he was the leader of the party in the state. Could one imagine a Victor Umeh as governor allowing such to happen?
His government also threw up some characters that had no business occupying the positions they were given and they used those positions to lord it over others, either as the governor’s kinsmen, relations or close associates.
In the end, their actions affected Obiano negatively, and, worse still, portrayed him as one incapable of stopping such actions. It is believed that was the reason why his government was unable to decisively deal with the incessant killings in Awka which were tied to the control of revenue, even when some of the lynchpins were known.
His lack of assertiveness was also said to be responsible for what many termed the unholy influence of his wife in the affairs of the government, even though it remained in the realm of speculation.
But in all of this, the then governor was still seen by many as a good and easy going man which he indeed was. But then, his goodness seemed not to have been enough to save him from the embarrassment he is getting today. Even though he had been given a warning early enough by the EFCC that they would come after him, he seemed not to have made any plans to confront that problem when it arose.
One of the allegations against him being that he had squandered the state’s commonwealth, it came as a surprise to many that he refused to disclose what he was handing over to Soludo publicly. Such would have shown a certain level of transparency; especially given that his predecessor, Obi, openly declared what he was bequeathing to Obiano.
This had given Soludo no option than to come out to say what he is inheriting as keeping quiet in the name of friendship would have rubbed off negatively on him eventually. And what a bombshell Soludo’s disclosure turned out to be.
Soludo had said to the world on an Arise TV programme that Anambra’s purse was virtually empty, with the state indebted to the tune of hundreds of billions of Naira; while only a paltry N300m was left. Soludo had described what was left as laughable.
Now, this shows that Obiano never bothered to keep his house in order before leaving. It seemed all he was interested in was jetting off abroad to cool off. But governance isn’t handled like that. That is why it has often been described as serious business. From all intents and purposes, Obiano did not have a contingency bowing out plan and when dealing with a stickler for due process like Soludo, Obiano was bound to end up holding the short end of the stick.
While it is true that Obiano kept faith by ensuring that Soludo, who supported him in his second term bid, became his successor, Soludo knows too well that keeping mum over what Obiano had left him would sooner put him himself into trouble. We can therefore say that what Soludo did was to extricate himself from whatever blame that may come tomorrow; for it would have been asked of him why he did not tell the world from Day One what he saw on coming in. That was the mistake Obiano committed in his own time when on the eve of his departure, Obi had announced what he was leaving behind and where they could be found. Obiano, who was among the many dignitaries that day, had joined in clapping for Peter, an action that indicated that he was happy with what Obi was saying and accepted it.
But nearly two years after, he came out to declare that Obi lied. Till date, many feel it was rather Obiano that was lying; for how could a man who accepted what he was told, come out after two years to say he did not accept. This calls to question the quality of the advisers he had.
As I wrote this piece, the news was that his bail conditions were being met and as you read this, it is possible he has returned home. But that’s just the first phase of a battle he could have well avoided. Yes, he is a good and kind man; but goodness or kindness isn’t enough in governance. That’s what he may just be brutally finding out.