SALUTE TO PETER OBI AT 54
Showering encomiums on the immediate-past Governor of Anambra State, Mr. Peter Obi, is usually distasteful to him. He would rather advise that anyone wishing to felicitate with him should do so through concrete support to promote education in the land. When he turned 50 four years ago, different groups fell on one another trying to organise what they considered as befitting birthday for him. Surprisingly, he declined, including that of his EXCO members. In fact, he requested one of the financial institutions that budgeted N50 Million to celebrate him to use the money to buy computers with full accessories, including printers, which he distributed to 20 schools in Anambra State. He persuaded one man that wanted to buy a costly wrist watch to use the money to buy a school bus which he gave to one of the schools in the State.
Be that as it may, as two of his closest former lieutenants, we feel constrained at this stage of the nation's history to “disobey” him and blow his trumpet just a little on this special occasion of his 54th birthday, to celebrate him as a great leader. From the outset, it is pertinent to note that references to his attainments are predicated on governance in Anambra State during his tenure as Governor.
Reminiscing on several EXCO meetings and personal interactions with him, we recall his persistent admonition that we were the custodians of public resources and must ensure their judicious utilization in the interest of the people. He emphasized the essence of savings, reminding us that “the resources we are enjoying today (oil inclusive) are diminishing assets, hence the need to save at least 10% for future generations.” He followed the admonition up by sending a Bill to the State House of Assembly, which was signed into law, that the State should save till the year 2050.
Mr. Obi also insisted on the imperatives of clear planning as a solid basis for delivery of good governance to the people, often reiterating the maxim:“If you have not planned, you have planned to fail.” A man of clear vision, his maxim was always: “If you don’t know where you are going, every road will lead you there – confusion.”
To actualize his vision for Anambra State, his administration adopted a programme of action incorporating the UN Millennium Development Goals [MDGs]. This unique approach to development was tagged “Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS)”, which enabled us to focus simultaneously on several target sectors. From all indications, Anambra was the only state that adopted the achievement of the MDGs as its vision at sub-national level. Having aimed at several targets and scored many direct hits, it was hardly surprising that for several years, Mr. Peter Obi emerged as the Best Governor in the implementation of the MDGs. As a matter of fact, he was invited to speak on thr MDGs at the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York in 2014.
Well, after he left Government House, the achievements of his administration continue to speak volumes for him and Anambra State. It will indeed bear repetition to recall some of the attainments that made him exceptional, more so to demonstrate that with clear focus and commitment, leaders of Nigeria’s States can deliver the proverbial ‘dividends of democracy’ to their people.
A glance at the Education Sector is instructive: At some point before the Peter Obi Administration, Anambra State was at the lowest point of its fortunes in education, as parents and guardians withdrew their wards from public schools in the State. For a full year, teachers were on strike, and life seemed to go on. With the strategic intervention of the Obi Administration, the education sector was resuscitated and enabled to great heights from 2012, and the State has maintained first position in WAEC and NECO examinations. One of his most courageous moves was to return the management of erstwhile Mission/private schools to their original owners, while Government retained the responsibility of recurrent and capital expenditures. This exceptional act of courage paved the way for a revolutionary partnership between Church and State that is still acclaimed nationally and internationally.
Under his tenure, Government provided 750 buses to schools across the State as well as 5 Million naira each to over 600 schools for the provision of functional laboratories, sick-bays, libraries, sporting facilities, bore-holes, ICT equipment [35,000 Laptop & Desktop Computers], and other infrastructure. In one case, he paid over 2 Billion Naira upfront to HP, which their VP in Africa said was the highest single order so far from Africa. He also Paid over 1 Billion to Galaxy Backbone for Internet connectivity in all the secondary schools in the State, which covered three years subscription, which the then CEO of the company, Mr. Gerald Ilukwu said was the highest in Nigeria. To encourage academic excellence, every indigene of Anambra State with a 1st Class degree between 2006 and 2012 was rewarded with a N1 million prize! More than 400 of them came forward.
The achievement of the Obi Administration in the Health Sector was equally heart-warming, as it strengthened the health foundation of Anambra State. His administration set up, built and equipped the ultra-modern Anambra State University Teaching Hospital at Awka. It also rehabilitated and equipped Government Hospitals; Schools of Nursing, Schools of Midwifery & Schools of Health Laboratory Technology in the state; its support to a number of Mission hospitals was unprecedented. No wonder the then Governor Peter Obi won the Bill & Melinda Gates Award for outstanding performance in the health sector. It is also noteworthy that under his watch, Anambra State was polio free.
The Roads Sector in Anambra State experienced an unprecedented boost under the Peter Obi tenure. His administration funded the asphalting of more than 900 kilometres of roads and over numerous bridges, such that the Federal Ministry of Works acknowledged that Anambra State has the best road network in Nigeria. Aspects of this feat include the reconstruction and incredible transformation of the stretch of road from Onitsha Bridge-Head through Upper Iweka to Zik Roundabout, with pedestrian bridges, as well as the collaboration with the Federal Government to construct a fly-over at the erstwhile impassable Nkpor.
The Obi Administration restored sanity to the socio-political environment and the economy. In the dark past, for instance, the institution of governance was shaky at best. Thugs [indeed, gangsters] literally dictated the character of governance, including taking charge of internally-generated revenue. Governance received unprecedented boost when Peter Obi initiated and constructed a Secretariat Complex [Phases 1 & 2] – the first since the creation of the State. Other institutions of governance that came into being and became functional under his tenure include a reconstructed Governor's Lodge at Onitsha, several Local Government Headquarters complexes and reconstructed Government edifices destroyed by reactionary forces. He was the first Governor in the State to provide official cars to such high-ranking public officers as Permanent Secretaries, Directors, Judges and Magistrates.
Even as its necessity is under debate, Peter Obi, in ‘emulation’ of the Federal Government Conditional Cash Transfer programme, initiated a social security system, paying each Anambra State poor indigene aged over 75 years a monthly allowance of N5,000! Another noteworthy pro-poor initiative of the Obi Administration was the Poverty Mapping of the state (the first of its kind) which guided the many poverty alleviation interventions of his Government.
Under his tenure, he provided over 600 brand new patrol pick-up vehicles to various Government security agencies and the reorganized Vigilante groups in the 177 communities of the State. This and other measures greatly improved security in the State; it is on record that in the last 5 years of his administration, no bank robbery occurred in Anambra State.
It is perhaps in the area of skilful management of scarce resources that the legacy of the Peter Obi Administration is becoming more and more acclaimed. Even as several State Governments complain about 'Empty Treasuries', it is worthy of note that the Obi Administration cleared all arrears of salaries and pensions owed in the State since 1999 [seven years before his tenure], to the tune of over N37 billion. ln spite of the impressive achievements of his administration and the attendant financial outlay, it neither borrowed money from any financial institution nor raised bonds; nor did it default on any contractual obligations to contractors in honouring certificates for projects executed.
Understandably therefore, it is amazing that Peter Obi ended his tenure on a note never witnessed in Nigeria – leaving in the State coffers/custody N75 Billion comprising:
*N27 Billion in stock and shares of quoted and unquoted companies (we hear this is valued at N40 Billion today, as one of the investments has quadrupled in value).
*$156 Million (N25 Billion as at March 17th, 2014) in Foreign currency denominated bonds and cash, which are today about $170 million (we understand it is valued at about N40 Billion today).
*N28 Billion Certified State/MDAs balances.
What manner of man therefore is Mr Peter Obi? It is common knowledge to those who know him well that underlying his impressive profile are his personal character traits and values, which he brought to bear on government and governance in Anambra State. Approachable, humane and humble to a fault, he demystified the cult of personality in leadership that has adversely affected the performance of several public office holders in all tiers of government. Many people now know that governance is about the people and not the incumbent.
In remembrance and appreciation of his unprecedented record as Governor of Anambra State (2006-2014), and with a sense of pride as his former lieutenants and indigenes of Anambra State, we say: “Hearty Birthday, Mr. Peter Obi”. It is our prayer that the Almighty God blesses him and keeps him alive & healthy to continue to serve humanity.
Written by Stella Okunna and Patrick Obi
**Prof Chinyere Stella Okunna is Head of the Department of Mass Communication at Nnamdi Azikiwe University and Director, UNIZIK 94.1 FM Campus Radio. She worked with Mr Peter Obi for the eight years of his administration, serving at various times as: Commissioner for Information; Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget; Chief of Staff; Chairman, MDGs Implementation Committee; Chairman, State Committee on Good Governance; Head of Development Partnership/Donor Agencies Coordinating Ministry.
**Engr. Dr. Patrick Obi is a lecturer.