Ebelechukwu Obiano

Obiano’s Houston generosity was neither misplaced nor hypocritic, writes Chuks Iloegbunam

Mrs. Ebelechukwu Obiano, the wife of the Anambra State Governor, has in recent weeks been subjected to trenchant criticism by the forces of sectional press and political blackmail. The objective of this intervention is to draw readers’ attention, especially Ndi Anambra, to a forensic examination of the multisided issues in question.

Take first Dr. Richard O. Nwachukwu. This gentleman is the Secretary-General of the World Igbo Congress (WIC). On January 4, 2020, he wrote an open letter to Governor Obiano entitled How Not To Demonstrate Humanity And Charity. Dr. Nwachukwu wrote the letter on behalf of the WIC that put him in office, and on behalf of “Diaspora Igbo” – Ndigbo living outside Nigeria – most of whom are unaware of his existence.

The WIC Secretary-General’s grouse is that on December 28, 2019, Mrs. Obiano, under the auspices of her NGO, the Caring Family Enhancement Initiative (CAFE), “fed homeless Houstonians and distributed gifts of chairs, electric fans, clothes, among others to them…” Although he conceded that the Anambra First lady was entitled to her charitable disposition, he likened her demonstration of that trait in Houston to “carrying coal to Newcastle” and “Emperor Nero frolicking (sic) while Rome burnt”!

Dr. Nwachukwu argued that the money used to assist a tiny fraction of Houston’s miserable could be more meaningfully deployed to fighting erosion in the Igbo country, and halting the hunger he claimed was ravaging half the population of Anambra State. He, therefore, called Mrs. Obiano a hypocrite.

After reading Dr. Nwachukwu’s open letter, it was impossible not to conclude that it was thoughtless and unbecoming of a WIC functionary. I hold the WIC in high esteem. I have attended many of its annual conventions – in London in 1998; in Houston, Texas, in 2002; in Nashville, Tennessee, in 2003; in Detroit, Michigan in 2007, and in Orlando, Florida, in 2012. I count among my friends many of WIC’s past elected officials. I have written articles in propagation of WIC activities that have not been deleted from the Internet. I cannot, therefore, fold my arms in good conscience and not react when the otherwise noble organization is converted to an instrument of frivolity and political blackmail.

Charity is often spontaneous. It is in specific cases – like the 1985 US Aid to Ethiopian famine victims – consciously orchestrated. Whatever its impetus, a comprehensive exposition of the meaning of charity is in St. Paul’s epistolary in 1 Corinthians 13. This charity is what Bruce Mayrock, a 20-year-old New Yorker and Columbia University undergraduate, exhibited 50 years ago. Mayrock set himself ablaze at the United Nations Headquarters in New York on 29 May 1969, to protest genocide against Biafrans during the Nigerian Civil War. He died a day later. Mayrock was white.

This charity was what John Lennon, the superstar songwriter of the Beatles fame, exhibited half a century ago when he returned the MBE (Member of the British Empire) he was awarded in Queen Elizabeth’s Birthday Honours of 1965. He took the action partly to protest Britain’s involvement in Biafra. Lennon was English.

This charity was what impelled the American Steve Jobs, a co-founder of Apple, to disavow his Christian faith as a protest against the genocide he saw in Biafra. This charity was what led to the Biafran Airlift, the hundreds of perilous, nighttime flights into Biafra without which millions would have perished because of war-induced starvation and malnutrition.

If foreigners sacrificed limbs, life, time, faith and funds to prevent Biafra’s annihilation, it goes without saying that genuine charity knows no boundaries. It goes without saying that Mrs. Obiano’s Houston generosity was neither misplaced nor hypocritic. To accuse her as such cannot be justified, especially as there are other important factors behind her charity. Before Chief Willie Obiano became Anambra’s Governor, his family members were Houston denizens. The Houston faces painted with smiles by Mrs. Obiano’s generosity belong to the same flotsam and jetsam she visited with charity prior to becoming Anambra’s First Lady. They belong in the ranks of the hapless that clustered around Gbagada, who were often assisted by the Obianos when they lived in that Lagos suburb. Would it have made sense for Mrs. Obiano to turn her back to the wretched of the earth simply because providence had landed her husband in the Awka Government House?

According to the US Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), there were around half a million homeless people in the United States in 2019. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation was always aware of this and similar statistics on America’s homeless. Yet, it did not prevent Bill Gates, the founder of Microsoft, and his wife Melinda, from devoting billions to the cause of charity in Nigeria and elsewhere around the world. No one has called Bill Gates a hypocrite for this; nobody has branded Melinda Gates as shameless for this. None of their parents has been denigrated because they gave succour to non-Americans. If foreign Christian missionaries had waited until the total conversion of all their nationals before proselytizing elsewhere, would Christianity have reached Nigeria?

Apart from the cruel joke that the cost of the Houston charity could contain the menace of erosion in Anambra, Dr. Richard O. Nwachukwu also said that it could quench fire outbreaks in the state, and feed the phantom half of the population he announced was on starvation diets. It is astonishing to find this kind of wishy-washy sentimentalism in other than a habitué of the Estate of Imbecility. Did the non-Africans that deprive themselves and donated their lives for Biafra not have other concerns powerful enough to have commanded their undivided attention? Should fighting Anambra’s erosion mean the automatic imposition of a moratorium on all other personal and governmental obligations? Is the Anambra erosion monster liable to containment by the less than $10,000 that went with Mrs. Obiano’s Houston generosity?

Contrary to Dr. Nwachukwu’s obsolete statistics, there are about a thousand erosion sites within the 4844 square kilometres of Anambra State. It is a problem that gives Governor Obiano sleepless nights and which he has valiantly combatted since he took office. During a press conference on June 7, 2016, the governor placed a finger on the problem while appealing for concerted efforts to fight the scourge. Said he: “It is clear that unless something is done quickly, the state will be washed away by erosion. In truth no other state in Nigeria has been ravaged by erosion on the same scale as Anambra. If the images that we generated from our aerial photography are anything to go by, then the world must come to our rescue before it is too late. Indeed, we are raising this alarm in the hope that the world will give us a chance to survive like a political entity that deserves its continuous membership of the human race.”

Yes. It is this problem of gargantuan proportions which experts estimate would require billions of dollars to check that Dr. Richard Nwachukwu wants solved with $10,000 from Mrs. Ebele Obiano’s CAFE. He forgot that CAFE’s money does not belong to Anambra State, that CAFE’s money comes from donations by pubic-spirited individuals. He did not reckon with the fact that CAFE deploys over 90 per cent of its resources to giving succor to Anambra’s widows, and other citizens with health challenges.

It trivializes the problem to index the solution to Anambra’s erosion challenge on a few thousand dollars contributed by individuals. What WIC and its Secretary-General ought to do is team up with Governor Obiano to solicit Nigerian Government’s commitment, and to raise international support, including that of the United Nations and its agencies, for the war against erosion in the Igbo country.

Unfortunately, that has not been the case. Dr. Richard O. Nwachukwu has been the Secretary-General of the WIC for two years. His membership of the Congress spans more than a decade. Yet, a diligent search did not reveal any trace of any effort he ever made, be it in terms of raising a memo or advocating a campaign to internationalize the anti-Anambra erosion campaign. He has hardly ever personally contributed a dime to erosion amelioration. Despite these negatives, no one has called him a hypocrite, the noxious adjective he wantonly employed to brand the wife of the Anambra State Governor.

Ndigbo have a truism to the effect that the cynosure of all eyes should not dab their face in charcoal. But what Dr. Nwachukwu has done by his puerile open letter is to dye the high standing of the WIC in the mud. It is enough reason to advocate increased circumspection in future elections of WIC functionaries. It is pointless peopling an organization of immense potential with middling officials bereft of the tiniest sense of dialectical analysis.

There is another angle to the ongoing Mrs. Obiano bashing, the one that issues out of the social media where the three A’s of Affordability, Availability and Anonymity coalesce for the multiplicity of scurrilous attacks on easy targets. A “Barrister Fabian Anigbogu” self-described as the “Co-Ordinator, Ayamelum Frontiers for Democracy and Good Governance” libelled the Anambra State First Lady in a post entitled Mrs. Obiano – The Substantive Governor of Anambra State. To begin with, the contents of the diatribe did not justify its title. The fact that it went viral underscores reader gullibility, and the herculean task necessary for the enthronement of critical thinking amongst the people. There is nobody called Barrister Fabian Anigbogu. At best, the so-called Ayamelum Fronteirs for Democracy and Good Governance is both an amorphous and a nebulous contraption, an instrument for misinformation and disinformation.

Chief Iloegbunam, a former Anambra State Chief of Staff, is the author of Ironsi: Nigeria, The Army, Power And Politics