ANAMBRA, MOST DIFFICULT STATE TO GOVERN -GOVERNOR OBI
In recent times, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State has come under a barrage of attack from political opponents for the failure of his administration to conduct local government election since he came into office. But Obi, in this interview, says that the problem predates his administration and fingers those who have now turned to accuse him of being the same people who have done everything to ensure that no local government elections took place in the state before now.
However, the governor points out that his administration and political party, APGA, have been at the receiving end of the situation and assured that council polls will hold in the state before the year runs out.
Obi also speaks about his misgivings about financing government projects with loans and insists that Anambra state is well on its way towards achieving the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) through his administration's initiative called ANIDS - an acronym for Anambra
Integrated Development Strategy. He says the focus of his administration on the development of rural infrastructure is his joker.
The local government system in Anambra state has been undemocratic for a long time, what are you doing to ensure local government elections are conducted in the state?
Ironically, the problem had been there before I became the Governor of Anambra state. The last time there was local government election in the state was actually in 1998. When we came, of course, people kept saying that it was a long time, but you will recall that before I could settle down after my election I was impeached; so I wasn't here in 2006. Then I came back about the end of first quarter of 2007 and before I could even settle down, I was removed again; which was why I went for constitutional interpretation.
So, I came back to meet with a House of Assembly which I didn't work with very well. If you could recall, by the end of that year I was still battling with my budget. This government actually started earnestly in 2008. The Anambra Independent Electoral Commission has tried everything to conduct the election last year; but people went to court. The House also passed a resolution that prevented them from using the old register for conducting the election. They insisted that a proper, updated voters' register must be used, which is what they have done now. They now used the new register for the election.
I told them, since this is what you have been waiting for, then you must conduct local government election at or before the end of this year. So people have seen it that I am not the cause of the delay. But nobody has sat down to look at it from this angle; that I have nothing to do with it. For me actually, it would have been better that we had the local government election because it would have helped me in the last election,because my people would have won the election being that we are on ground. If we had had that local government election in 2009 before my election in 2010, we would have done better; but unfortunately, the same people who are doing everything to stop it are the ones who are complaining.
What is the vision of your administration for the state?
Very simple. Our vision or call it our destination is to achieve the Millennium Development Goals by 2015. MDGs have eight clear points, and in order to achieve these, that is our destination. You must have a vehicle that will take you to your destination. So once you have a vision, what is the strategy for achieving that vision? Our vision is to achieve the MDGs; our strategy for achieving that is ANIDS. It is a process that allows us to plan properly, budget for the plan, execute the plan, ensure delivery and feedback from the people.
For example, the first goal is to fight extreme poverty or hunger. The first thing we did was to do poverty mapping, we established Bureau of Statistics. I can tell you the poorest place in Anambra state today and the richest area. When we had done poverty mapping, we decided on how we can now fight poverty in this area, we articulated plans to open it up.
That is why if you go to some of these places, government is opening up the villages, giving them access. By these, they now have access for their products, goods and services, and we go in there with all sorts of support. We have also involved them in FADAMA and NAPEP programmes. We continue to empower farmers and people in different ways through micro -credit support and grants in order to fight extreme poverty. We try to bring stability here and attract investors to invest and be able to employ labour. These are things we are doing.
If you go to second goal which is education, we took the schools; when we came, no school had a functional science laboratory. Today all the schools have functional science laboratories. There was no computer classroom, but this year alone, we have given out 7,000 laptops and about 3,000 thousand computers to secondary schools. There are over 120 secondary schools that are connected to the internet through galaxy; about 120 secondary schools are micro soft academy, the highest in the nation. Over 100 schools have buses.
We handed over schools to the missionaries; we try to provide them with library and we are improving educational facilities everyday. We provided over 2,000 teachers and so on. In health, the same thing; we are building a health centre in each of the villages, over 140 communities, to be manned by a nurse. And in each local government, we build a general hospital as well as a teaching hospital in Awka. We are pursuing all these simultaneously. If you go to environment, we did the same thing; we are doing erosion sites, we are putting water projects. So that is the whole essence of ANIDS, it is the grand vehicle for achieving MDGs, it helps us to measure what we are doing in the state, and their relationship with others.
Can you explain the idea behind ANIDS?
When I came here, there was no vision. Our vision is to achieve the MDGs, that is execute programmes that will impact on the lives of the people through a strategy. It is a process that allows us to plan properly, budget for planning, execute our plan and ensure delivery.
We moved our budget from being supply-driven to being demand-driven. And what we plan, we execute, because we have proper planning and proper execution, you could see the budgetary gaps and now approach the donor agencies to help us, because the gaps are there and you can see it. And when you see it, you try to fill it by asking people to support us. That is what we are doing.
Why have you not considered the borrowing option? As it stands now, Anambra seems to be the only state that is not borrowing?
Yes, we have not borrowed, but if we must borrow, it must be for a bankable project, so we know the way in and the way out. You don't just borrow for the sake of borrowing. And you can't borrow to finance social welfare. You borrow, first, for project that will pay itself back. Because when you borrow for financing social projects, the consequence is that you are actually bequeathing future anarchy. I don't want to do that. It is better to sacrifice today for tomorrow than sacrifice tomorrow for today. We are one of the poorest states and we are trying to manage our resources as skillfully as possible by again lowering the cost of governance to everything as possible to ensure that resources are used and applied as efficiently and effectively as possible. It has its own consequences, but I tell you, its consequences can only be better.
Is your attitude of not borrowing for development has anything to do with your life style?
I believe so. I never believe in borrowing as a person, I never believe in living above my income. Like here, we have brought down the cost of governance. Hardly will you see us engaging in things we can't afford.
For us the consequences are there. Here, we are not just trying to build physical infrastructure, we also try to build human infrastructure, which is critical in managing physical infrastructure.
What do I mean by that?
We try to change people, the way they think; the way they live by challenging their priorities, saying this is wrong; this is not what government should be doing. Like I said, it has its own consequences. When you bring a change into a system, all those who live in the old order will now be your enemies. So despite all developments in the state since I came in, there is still a problem, people don't believe in you. But who are those people; those who live on the old order.
Since you are talking about cutting down cost of administration, how does the capital budget of your state compare with the recurrent budget?
Everybody in government, especially the poor states have a huge recurrent budget, which is not good for the development of the country. And in terms of percentage, my target was to get 60 per cent capital, 40 per cent recurrent, but I can tell you it is the other way round.
So how do you cut the cost of governance?
You know Nigeria is expensive and you know that the success of any business depends on the life style of the proprietor.
How has your policy on education impacted on the level of enrolment in schools, given the peculiar situation of Anambra state?
I don't have statistics but it has improved tremendously. I wished you visited the state on a school day. You see what had happened in the past was that the school system was allowed to collapse; people didn't see reason to go to school. But when we handed over schools to missionaries, the schools started coming back and since then, enrolment is increasing. But you know this will not happen overnight, it will certainly get even better.
Is there any possibility of having free education in Anambra state?
Education is actually free in Anambra state. Universal Basic Education is free. As a matter of facts, there are structures in place here; but most of them have been overgrown by weeds.
You know, some of these projects were just finished and it is a process. Just like the new secretariat or the library, when you finish building, you start furnishing and so on. The priority is not to keep the compound clean but to first make it operational. Moreover, it also depends on who is managing the project. Now that you have mentioned it, we have noted and we will certainly do something about it.
What is the level of cooperation you get from the parliament both at the state and federal level in terms of constituency development, have they bought into your vision?
I just work with the people in the state. When it comes to vision, really, it takes time for people to believe in a vision. The first is the leader, you must conceive very clear vision and that is what we have done. But let me repeat again, when you bring a change, you will become an enemy with all those who live in the old order. For example, if you call the average politician in the state, they will tell you that Peter Obi is not doing anything. Reason: because they used to live on the government purse, those monies we are using to buy buses and roof the buildings in schools and do boreholes used to be theirs, now they are not. So that is why I said that I am changing their priorities, their values, and even all over the world people that have brought changes have been challenged.
When I came there was no Governor's House and there was no Government House.
Now that the President has passed the Freedom of Information Bill into law, the next hurdle is for the states to pass it, when are you going to pass it?
I believe in that, I believe we will do that. That is a good bill. The State Assembly has the bill already and they will deliberate on it.
But we have been practicing that law here, there is already free information here, whatever anybody wants to know, they are free to know. So that law is obsolete when it comes to what is happening here, because anything anybody wants to know is open.
In spite of these tangible achievements in the state, you have not done much to change the orientation of the elites about governance in the state, what are you doing about that?
That cannot be said of the youths, they are the people government are made for. But for the elites, they are the people that bring confusion, so all they do is to sustain the confusion. Confusion is their business. I have said it before, I am changing their priorities and values which is faulty. With them the state would have been indebted. I am now working for those the society will take revenge on.
The society we abuse today will take revenge on our children tomorrow. This generation must be given the best. This is the first government to hold a town hall meeting with secondary schools students. I am the only governor who has gone to an event of physically challenged people, spent time and ate with them. Government is not about the rich, it is about the poor and those who do not have. And that is why they could not appreciate why they cannot collapse government; that is why they are busy drinking champagne when the system is collapsing.
They don't understand why we don't have one guest house in the state again as was the case in the past. As a governor, I have never stayed in the Governor's Lodge in Abuja in the last five years. I can't even afford to carry retinue of aides when travelling and I do all these for the love of my people because we can't afford the luxury of wastages.
But how do you cope with litany of big shots and intricate politicking in the state?
You don't know what it means to govern Anambra state. Anambra is the most difficult state in the whole of Nigeria. Check; where do you have this kind of trouble; even in parties, you have three, four candidates contesting one election. This is where you have the largest number of siren blowing people. That is why I don't use it personally, because I have to give way for them to pass, so that there would be peace. They don't even visit me because I can't buy them champagne but I visit them because I also enjoy those good things of life they will give me.
You are in your second term, and very soon your eight years will be up; who becomes your successor will determine how all these legacies will be preserved. Are you concerned about who takes over from you?
I can only say I remain prayerful to Almighty God. When I was leaving the banking institution, I left an impression and they imbibed it till today. When I leave government, I will also leave an impression, a way of life and I am sure they will imbibe it. I am not against good things, but you must live within your means and you must be prudent.