In this interview with The News Chronicle, the Anambra State Commissioner for Information, C Don Adinuba talks about his experiences as a commissioner, the quarrel between former Governor Peter Obi and his successor Willie Obiano, the latter’s accomplishments in the education sector and much more…
TNC: First let me congratulate you on your appointment as the Anambra State Commissioner for Information. What are your experiences so far? And how has the transition from the private sector to the public sector of working for a State Government been? Any regrets?
CDA: Far from regrets. I am happy. And I am proud to work for my state. Since 1987, when Col Robert Akonobi was the military governor of old Anambra State, I had been offered different political positions by different governments, and I rejected all. I didn’t come to serve in Anambra State as a greenhorn in the public sector because in 1993 I was Special Assistant to the Minister for Science and Technology, Prof. Bart Nnaji, and served as his special adviser when he became the Minister of Power in 2011. By 2010 I had joined the Presidential Task Force on Power as a full-time consultant in Abuja.
It may be noted that before I became a commissioner, I was a consultant to the governor. So, you can say I came prepared.
Anambra State has a reputation of being tough to govern. What do you think are the bases for this reputation?
CDA: I am surprised to hear that Anambra State has that reputation. It is not flattering and it is not true. If you can demonstrate integrity of purpose and vision and provide leadership, people can follow you, even blindfolded into the battlefield.
Governor Willie Obiano won overwhelmingly in the November 2017 governorship election in each of the twenty (21) Local Government Areas in the state which earned him the sobriquet of “21 over 21 governor” simply because people, both the elite and the ordinary folk, were satisfied with his performance. In other words Anambra people voted like one man, rejecting Obiano’s opponents and their wealthy supporters not only in their home towns but even in their wards and booths.
At his inauguration in March 2018, some of the people that ran against him were present. It was unprecedented in Nigeria’s political history to this day. Leading members of the so-called opposition parties were there in solidarity with the people of Anambra State over the choice they made. The list included Sen. Ndi Obi who was a national secretary of the PDP; Sen. Andy Uba of the APC, Sen. Stella Oduah of the PDP, Mrs Josephine Anenih, a former Women Affairs Minister and a PDP leading light.
None of the candidates who ran against Obiano from a major political party contested the result but rather congratulated him in writing. No state had this record. Anambra’s social harmony is unrivalled anywhere in Nigeria. It is therefore odd to say Anambra is difficult to govern. Anambra State is a perfect example of Zik’s aphorism of “show the light and the people will find the way”.
TNC: In 2015, you wrote an article ‘How We Cheated Ourselves Out Of “Igbo President”’ which was published by Sahara Reporters on February 2 2015. You were critical of the massive Igbo support for Jonathan’s candidacy, and you claimed it was not a smart political move. In fact you claimed that Igbo support for Buhari’s candidacy would have ensured a President of Igbo extraction after his tenure. Is this not simplistic political analysis given that the South-West which sees itself as a strategic partner in the APC alliance, is also staking the same claim? More importantly, is supporting Buhari solely because of the possibility of an Igbo succeeding him not in line with the same philosophy of the ‘goat follows the man with the palm fronds’, which for long drove Igbo politics? Essentially was your position not a glamorization of the politics without principles for which the Igbo have, until recently, been ridiculed?
CDA: Many other media published this article before Sahara Reporters. Events have since proved the article to be truly prognostic, that is, farsighted. The article provided compelling reasons why an Igbo would have been chosen over and above a Yoruba as Buhari’s running mate. To recap, one of the reasons I gave was that a Yoruba has, in recent decades, been a military Head of State and later an elected president who served for eight years. Another Yoruba was Chief of General Staff in the person of Oladipo Diya. The second reason I gave was that Buhari chose an Igbo as a running mate in 2007 in the person of Dr. Chuba Okadigbo and another in 2003 in the person of The Hon. Edwin Umezeoke. So, choosing another Igbo to run with him would have been considered almost habitual and natural.
And his running mate would have been the vice president. The vice president is appropriately described as a heart- beat away from the president. In other words, the person should be expected to take over from the president. The Igbo situation today is most regrettable. It shows a profound lack of foresight, if not basic political intelligence, by the contemporary Igbo political class.
Just eight years after the civil war ended in 1970 it was clear when the ban on political parties was lifted in 1978 as a major step to the return of civil rule, that an Igbo would be either the President of the Federal Republic or the Vice President on return of democratic rule in 1979. Four out of the five registered political parties chose Igbo running mates, and the fifth political party – NPP (Nigeria People’s Party) chose Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe who led Nigeria to independence in 1960 as their presidential candidate.
This important achievement was made less than a decade after the civil war and when the Igbo had only two (2) out of the nineteen (19) states that made up the Nigeria federation then. Not only did Dr. Alex Ekwueme become the Vice President, an Igbo, Edwin Umezeoke, became the speaker of the House of Representatives. Igbos held many political positions like the Minister of Police Affairs Chairman, and Igbo elements became Ministers for Finance, Works, Education et cetera.
At the same time, Justice Obi Okoye from Ogidi in Anambra State became the Chief Judge of Plateau State. Mr. Lawrence Anoliefo from Awka-Etiti in Anambra State became the Director of Public Prosecutions in Benue state and later the Judge of the State High Court of Gboko. Today, we’ve five states in the South East and a considerable Igbo presence in Delta and Rivers states, yet we are nowhere at the federal level. That shows profound political failure.
TNC: Let us talk a bit about your boss, Governor Willie Obiano. The general impression out there is that Peter Obi literally made him the governor (though Senator Victor Umeh a former Chairman of APGA, repudiated that claim). Can you tell us about the quarrel between Governor Obiano and Peter Obi and why the quarrel appears to have remained intractable?
CDA: Peter Obi is one of the various people who contributed significantly to Governor Willie Obiano’s emergence. Having said this, I would like to be on record as stating that I’ve never seen Obiano speak against his predecessor either in private or in the open. I want to toe that line. What is at play in Anambra politics is the obvious determination of some people to play the godfather and the determination of the governor to reject that role in the interests of the people of Anambra State.
TNC: During the last Presidential election in March 2019, Governor Willie Obiano was clearly supporting the candidacy of Buhari, which appeared to be contrary to the popular sentiments in the State. Was this support because he truly shared the same philosophy you expressed in 2015 that such would widen the possibility of a president of Igbo extraction after Buhari’s tenure? Or was it really a way to get back at Peter Obi, who was Atiku’s running mate, and who determinedly campaigned against his re-election in 2018? And how does the Governor feel that despite his open support for Buhari, he did not do well electorally in the State? Was that a sort of referendum on the Governor himself?
CDA: Governor Obiano had a candidate he supported very well and that was Gen. John Gbor (retd). Yet, he was realistic enough to speculate that his candidate might not win, after all. That’s a mark of profound political realism. So, his advice to the Igbo was, as Sen. Onyeabo Obi put it approvingly, “do not to put all your eggs in one basket”.
Those who were politically astute knew that Buhari stood a better chance than any other candidate of winning the election. The smart thing to do was to realign forces, all the more so since Buhari had shown greater determination and sincerity in infrastructural development than the PDP administrations preceding his. Example are the reconstruction of Port Harcourt – Aba Road, the Port Harcourt – Enugu Road, the Enugu – Onitsha Highway; the Okigwe – Oba Road, the Second Niger Bridge, the Zik Mausoleum which had remained uncompleted for 23 years.
Now, the governor’s advice to Ndigbo to think twice about the tendency to put all their eggs in one basket was made in public long before Peter Obi was chosen as Alhaji Atiku Abubakar’s running mate.
Therefore, the insinuation that Obiano was guided by a sense of vengeance is not smart. Obiano does not have what Ali Mazrui, the most published African scholar, called a long memory of hate.
TNC: Anambra State is still doing well in NECO and JAMB examinations. But it is now taking third positions compared to the first positions it took a couple of times in both examinations under Governor Peter Obi. How would you explain this?
CDA: Anambra, on average, remains the most competitive state in education in Nigeria. It is reductionist to assess our performance in terms of only NECO and WAEC conducted examinations. Even on the basis of examinations conducted by these bodies, we have, on average, delivered a superior performance, dusting every state in Nigeria. Anambra has the least examination malpractices in the whole country.
Under Gov Obiano’s leadership, Anambra State teachers and students have won prizes both nationally and internationally which a few years ago were not imaginable. For example, on August 9th, 2018, students of Regina Pacis Model Secondary School, Onitsha, won the globally prestigious Technovation Prize in Silicon Valley, the headquarters and source of ICT innovation worldwide. They beat their rivals from the USA, France, Turkey and many other technologically advanced countries of the world.
The Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo welcomed the girls from Regina Pacies Secondary School, Onitsha who won the World Technovation Challenge at Silicon Valley in San Francisco, USA.
Just last March between 21st – 29th students, of St. John’s Science and Technical School at Alor won the third prize in the International Science, Engineering and Technology Competition held in Tunisia.
The Deputy Governor of Anambra State, Dr Nkem Okeke and the HC for Education, Prof. Kate Omenugha welcomed the four boys from St. John’s Science and Technical College, Alor, Anambra who won Bronze medal at the International Festival of Engineering, Science and Technology, held in Tunisia.
Anambra State students represented Nigeria in the 2017 World Schools Debate held in Germany and were placed in the third position. In a mock debate held earlier in Singapore, they defeated highly respected Catholic convent school which is more than 100 years old to win the first position.
Also the same year, Anambra State excelled in other educational competitions. A significant example is Loretto Special Science Secondary School, Adazi in Anaocha Local Government Area which won the first prize in a performance assessment conducted by the Federal Ministry of Education for all the senior secondary schools in Nigeria.
In the same performance evaluation by the federal ministry and agencies under its supervision, The Queen of The Rosary College (QRC), Onitsha, won the first prize in the Junior Secondary School category. Mr Clement Okodo of Central School, Abagana in Njikoka Local Government Area, won the first prize in the teachers’ category.
The following year, the state continued on its trajectory of excellence. It clinched the overall best prize in the assessment of school administrators.
The prize went to Amala Ezenwa, headmistress of Awada Primary School Four in Obosi, Idemmili North Local Government Area. The state also clinched the fourth prize which went to Vera Uju Ikegwuani, principal of Anglican Girls Secondary School, Onitsha.
Anambra is the first state to have won in four consecutive years the School Debate Competition endowed by the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
Having won it for three years consecutively, the federal educational authorities decided that the competition be held in the state in 2018. At the last debate held last December, Anambra defeated Benue State by 4 points to once again to win the first prize.
Anambra State has been leading in examinations conducted by the West African Examinations Council (WAEC), Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB), and National Examinations Council (NECO).
No state in Nigeria’s history has ever had this record of educational excellence. Let me even add, that Gov. Obiano sponsored last year the participation of an Anambra indigene, namely, Toochukwu Anyigbo from Ihiala in the International Robotics and Artificial Intelligence competition held in Mexico and her team came third worldwide.
TNC: Some Igbos are calling for a new planned and secure city in Igboland to stem the routine practice of prominent Igbo men and women choosing to live or set up their businesses elsewhere in the country. What is your take on this?
CDA: On coming to office in 2014 Governor Willie Obiano unveiled his vision to make Anambra State the first place any investor would consider for business. This vision has caused what may be described as massive capital importation into the state. There are new investments of between $4bn and $5bn.
Anambra rice is now consumed in Lagos and other places. Even my hometown of Ihiala, which people didn’t know for rice production, is now doing well in the rice value chain. Anambra State is doing so well that the famous LAKE Rice in Lagos, which is a product of a joint venture between Lagos and Kebbi state governments, is milled by Stine Mills Ltd in Amichi, Nnewi South Local Government Area. So we have not just enunciated the “Aku lue uno – Think Home” philosophy, we have put it in practice effectively. Other states can borrow a leaf from us.
Let me add that the impressive investments in Anambra State have been made possible by the acute security which Obiano has provided. Before Obiano assumed the leadership of Anambra State, kidnapping for ransom, contract killings and other violent crimes like bank robberies were rampant. The traditional ruler of Ihembosi in Ekwusigo Local Government Area was kidnapped and has unfortunately not been found to this day. We are glad that today, Anambra is the safest place in Nigeria according to the Inspector General of Police who made the declaration on Thursday March 29th, 2018.
TNC: What would you consider the five key achievements, and five key challenges of the Obiano government?
CDA: I don’t want to talk in terms of numbers or figures; I would rather talk in summary. Obiano has succeeded in making Anambra the most competitive state in Nigeria. Whether you are talking of Education or agriculture, or security or social harmony, the outcome is the same. We even assist neighbouring states like Kogi and Enugu with security. Some of their kidnapped indigenes including priests and nuns were rescued for them by Anambra State – thanks to our sophisticated gadgets and dedicated personnel. Anambra has in the last two or three years become synonymous with excellence. And the Governor has obviously become the most decorated governor in Nigeria. As the British would say, he is worth everything in gold.
Still, challenges abound. Take funds. We don’t have enough. Our monthly wage bill will increase by N2.5bn anytime from now on account of the new minimum wage bill which has been signed into law. There is also the problem of land scarcity. Many of the cases in court up to the Court of Appeal in Enugu involve land matters in Anambra State. We are the second smallest state in Nigeria after Lagos in terms of land mass. We may well be the smallest now because a considerable portion of our land has been lost to soil erosion. It is very expensive to control erosion. In fact, there are over 1,000 active erosion sites in Anambra State, making our state the erosion capital of Africa. In addition, internally generated revenue is a challenge. Most people in the informal sector are cooperating with the government but there are vicious gang members who milk the state dry. They have been gaming the system for several years, but we are going to end the messy situation soon. Capacity is another huge challenge on its own. Products of present-day Nigerian higher institutions are unfortunately not competitive. We are addressing this huge challenge through training and retraining. Like Governor Obiano I am a firm believer in continuous learning and lifelong learning.
On the whole, we thank the people of Anambra State for giving the opportunity to provide effective and efficient leadership. We thank them for being so grateful and for believing very much in this administration. We are proud that Anambra has become the most competitive state in Nigeria, in at least quite a number of areas. Anambra is truly the Light of the Nation.