At a time when leadership by example is a rarity, Peter Obi represents one of the best the country can boast of in terms of exemplary leadership, writes Valentine Obienyem
Today, the 19th day of July, 2017, the man regarded as one of the best in governance, Peter Obi, turns 56. As usual, drums would be rolled out by some of his admirers who believe excellence ought to be celebrated.
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.
Born on July 19, 1961, Peter Gregory Obi started his life in the rustic city of Onitsha, and obtained his formal education in Onitsha and Nsukka. He has since attended some of the best tertiary institutions in the world in his thirst for knowledge to boost his competences.
How shall we rank him? Who among us possesses the ability so 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.
Before he became the governor, there were not many good stories to share about the state. It was always stories of intrigues, corruption and other crimes including kidnapping, rape and a host of others. All people of goodwill from Anambra were genuinely worried about the state of affairs in the state. The Bakassi boys and their co-predators worsened the situation as they turned the state into an epicenter of carnage, an arena for horror, with no regard for humanity. Concerned like other decent people, Peter Obi decided not to just sit by and watch. Even though he was well aware of the danger associated with plunging into politics, especially in Anambra, he nevertheless took a decision to seek election into the office of governor. He was determined to turn barbarisms into civilization.
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, used to employing sheer force to take what did not belong to them, stole his mandate.
Evidently, God always has a special interest in Peter Obiâ€™s affairs; and for every indignity he suffered, he came out stronger and became a reference point for the country. By regaining his stolen mandate through the courts, his case became a ‘locus classicus’ in that regard and establishing a precedent that others who found themselves in similar situation have had to rely on. A study of the circumstances that led to this unusual 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’s 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 root in the swelling resentment against his parsimony; how, rather than doing business as usual, he was using the resources of the state to work for the state and the people. One of the reasons why he was impeached was that he refused to adopt the usual ‘add and share’ approach where additional money is added to the contract sum to be shared among some privileged people. The house of assembly accused him of re-building the burnt government house with less than 50 per cent of the actual money budgeted for that purpose. This may sound incredible, but it is true.
It was at the height of rascality at the time that the house ended up impeaching him. Convinced of the rightness of his conduct in office, 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 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 a robust debate over the ills afflicting the state. He started by establishing a 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 understood the importance of team work. In this wise, he subjected his decisions to the executive council for proper debate and consideration. He did this because he was the captain of the ship and was in control. Some of the commissioners who served under him, still recall with ease the exhilarating times spent with him. One of them is the highly-respected Dr. Patrick Obi who recalled that Obi would hold a very prolonged council meetings and would always ask the questions; Is this just? Is that useful? “He subjected each question to exact and elaborate analysis”, the former commissioner said.
On Obiâ€™s capacity for work, the cerebral and forthright Professor Chinyere Okunna said: “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 Obiâ€™s erudite lawyer, Dr Onyechi Ikpeazu, SAN succeeded in getting the court to truncate Ubah’s unconstitutional bid to unseat him.
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. The situation was made worse by the fact that the state had little relationship with legitimate security agencies. In the first instance, he restored this strategic relationship with those agencies; supporting them with donations of over 500 vehicles, among which were Armoured Personnel Carriers and armoured patrol vehicles.
Reflecting on the far-reaching measures he took to secure the state, one has to admire Obiâ€™s courage in compelling a society to improve its ways of protecting itself from crime and criminality, including armed robbery, kidnapping, and cultism. For instance, 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 for each of the 177 communities in the state. He also provided patrol vans for vulnerable institutions like 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 Obi that made criminals to run out of Anambra 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: â€œWoke nuchaa ogu, nwanyi enweluakuko.” (After a man fights the battle, the woman takes on the storyâ€).
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 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. Hitherto, many of them had nothing to do with the Anambra. Under the Obi, the state was consistently adjudged one of the best in development partnership and commitment to reforms for good governance.
Before his tenure, the manufacturing sector â€“ not to be confused with commerce — was comatose. The few operators that hung on groaned under the debilitating effects of bad roads, low patronage, excessive taxation, insecurity, lack of government support, among others. The Obi administration resuscitated this critical sector by taking practical steps — including development of an industrial policy for the state, consultations with operators and putting in place concrete enablement for them — which yielded tremendous results and boosted the state economic development. 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 other manufacturers.
Among others, Innoson Group has continued to acknowledge that the patronage of the Obi administration ensured the survival of its vehicle manufacturing company â€“ with the purchase of billions of Naira worth of vehicles and introductions to the Presidency and other states.
One of Obi’s unsurpassed achievements was in education. Here, he achieved another first on January 1, 2009, with his return of schools to their original owners. This singular decision produced commendable results. While the management of these schools was transferred to the agencies, the state government retained responsibility for funding including capital projects, staff salaries and emoluments, and other recurrent expenditures. Such was the impact of this momentous decision that Obi administration stabilized basic education in the state. Among other outcomes, Anambra state leaped from its usual 24th place among the 36 states to number one in many external examinations.
Under his tenure, Anambra became 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) characterized as incomparable to any other in the country. Microsoft academies were also established in secondary schools â€“ 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 bore-holes were sunk and classroom blocks constructed in several schools across the state.
Having determined that partnership with the voluntary agencies/churches worked effectively, he steadily extended the formula to other critical sectors. In the health sector, for instance, the symbiotic relationship resulted in a tremendous boost in health care delivery across the state.
Trainer of health-care professionals similarly received serious attention. By the end of Obiâ€™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.
For his achievements, Obi received several commendations and awards. Among others, he won the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation US$1 million prize for best-performing state in immunization in the South-east. With complementary funding from government, he used the money to construct ten maternal and child care centers across the state.
Apparently the most frugal governor the state had ever produced, Obi magically cleared debts owed pensioners which ran into over N37 billion. He paid workersâ€™ salaries consistently and would not owe contractors. Yet he left over N100 billion in the state’s treasury as at the time he concluded his tenure as governor. This is one of the features that distinguished him from others. How he did it will one day become a topical issue in the country.
Commenting on Obi’s inclination for hard-work, one of his commissioners, Chief Joe Martins Uzodike noted that â€œMr. Peter Obi wore himself out as he did others. He crowded a life-time of events into twenty years because he compressed a week into a day. He came to his desk at 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 equanimityâ€.
On her part, his wife, the oil behind the strong engine, Mrs. Margaret Obi said that her husband remained the person he used to be: â€œHe 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.”
Apparently the most frugal governor the state had ever produced, Obi magically cleared debts owed pensioners which ran into over N37 billion. He paid workersâ€™ salaries consistently and would not owe contractors. Yet he left over N100 billion in the state’s treasury as at the time he concluded his tenure.