For those who were not yet in secondary schools when HE Peter Obi became governor, you might truly have physically missed the beginning. I had already graduated from the university over a decade before he started campaigning towards 2003 gubernatorial election.
But I didn’t give him a thought then. I waved him aside as one of them! Dr. Chinwoke Mbadinuju had performed so abysmally that I concluded nobody should ever be trusted if a PhD holder could equally fail the people.
Despite dumping my engineering practice for writing, I had already won an AAMA for best writer in Africa in 2005 before the man we later started calling Okwute regained his stolen mandate to become governor a year later.
So I am not one to be accused of hearsay in matters concerning my dear state since the coming of this great man to political prominence. Thank God for Chris McCool Nwosu, who made me understand what this man was doing for our dear state in less than three years into his first tenure. I became deeply interested and started visiting home regularly from Lagos to see for myself.
Yes, he was building roads and other structures but I consider such infrastructural development as sometimes meant to hoodwink the masses.
My major areas of interest were what Obi was doing in Education, Health and Civil Service departments. It was marvelling! How he transformed the civil service, particularly the teaching profession that made teachers to be accorded their due respect impressed me greatly.
And above all, I saw this completely different politician bring back values of the people of my dear state. To me, that is his greatest achievement – making people to do things the right way by living by example.
I didn’t just wake up to call him the man who came far ahead of his generation. With my engineering eyes I dissected him beyond the surface. And with my writing perception I permeated his philosophy beyond word of mouth. He is not a saint but if 5% of the world’s population could be like him, there would be no need for sainthood.
I decided to assist the society in my own little way by preaching the gospel of this man to Nigerians and even beyond. I have no financial power to influence the society. I have no political opportunity. But I have my writing ability. I have to use that to add my own quota towards making our society a better place. I eventually got close to him after nearly a decade of promoting him everywhere without his knowing I ever existed.
When I got closer to this one of the greatest of men, I observed what I hadn’t noticed from afar. He observes people more than people do observe him. He has a photographic memory that he misses nothing and remembers all. What he observes most in people is their relationship with money. Once you show him money is your sole interest in life especially when in politics and is your reason to aspire for public service, you enter the book he reserves for mercantile politicians. He carefully selects those he believes could be trusted with delivering real service to the people when empowered and files away.
Of course, he works with everyone because he can’t do everything by himself but he knows those that are catch-and-carry and exactly where and when to involve them.
Okwute is very careful with his own money but when it comes to public funds, he’s more than careful. And that is even an understatement. His philosophy is that no amount should ever be wasted. So spending any public fund without gaining gives him migraine. And how must you gain from spending public money? By making sure the people you’re spending for benefit from it. And not just benefitting but in its equivalence or even more wherever possible.
And he is an expert in prioritising projects. For instance, Okwute is not one to have dreamed of building an airport in present Anambra State.
It is not that having an airport in Anambra is an abomination. Rather he’d reason that anybody who could benefit from landing in Anambra could afford to land in Enugu, Owerri or Asaba and drive home for the mean time. He’d prefer to use the funds for such projects to take millions in his dear state out of poverty by offering qualitative education and assisting small and medium businesses to substantial growth. Those who can afford the luxury of flying can afford the available alternatives. That is how his mind works. A man who is a multi-billionaire but forever thinks of how to uplift the poor masses.
Now, without provocation or any discernible reason, a man he had worked with for over a decade grants an interview, attempting to paint this man in devilish colours.
Antecedent is the basis of perception. So let’s look at things.
Okwute promised to hand over schools to missions and fund the schools as well as continue paying teachers’ salaries. He more than delivered to his words, bringing Anambra State to number one in Education.
He promised to settle arrears of pensions and gratuities owed by his predecessors, amounting to over N35 billion and not only delivered but also paid for all the eight years he was in office before handing over on a clean slate.
A bank once wanted to celebrate his birthday for him in a big way. He requested for the fund. The bank gave him N100 million, which he used to reconstruct three secondary schools(one from each senatorial zone) to marvelling standards.
His government won Bill and Melinda Gates award as best state in the fight against poliomyelitis. It came with a prize money of one million dollars when exchange rate was at N150 to the dollar. He added another N150 million to make it N300 million to build 10 health centres (N30 million each) spread evenly amongst the three senatorial zones.
He met a state with no accredited health institution. He promised to turn it around and after eight years, not less than eight in the state were accredited.
None of the 21 local government areas in the state was left out in Okwute’s even development. Having the best network of roads in the country meant every LGA and almost every community was interconnected with tarred roads.
He promised to leave the state treasury in healthy state and left behind N75 billion by diligently saving the people’s money, despite his very long list of achievements. He was able to achieve the remarkable feat because he lived his years in office by drastically cutting costs of governance and strictly using the people’s money for the people.
Above all, he promised equity and despite all challenges and sabotage, did everything to hand over power to Northern Anambra.
Is there anywhere this man made any worthwhile promise in office that he left without fulfilling?
How come Senator Victor Umeh is now trying to make it appear that the vice presidential candidate in the last election deliberately refused to conduct Council election and that it was his (Umeh’s) insistence that generated their feud that he termed betrayal?
When the former governor came into office, he decided to face governance and allowed his party’s national chairman to run the party. With such freedom, the national chairman knew he had the sole power to install all 21 LGA chairmen and the attendant councillors. In mercantile politics that meant substantial monthly gratification. Any wonder why the only thing that the national chairman saw as wrong in Okwute’s government was the not conduct Council election?
The bigger question is – if indeed Chief Umeh believed that without Council elections there was no democracy, why hasn’t he one day fallen out with the present governor over the same crime? He answers that it is because he is no longer the national chairman. And believe me, Umeh is saying the truth and nothing but the whole truth. Without being the national chairman, he cannot put the LGA chairmen again and hence will lose the monthly gratification to another chairman, especially when he is not in the best of relationships with the new order.
Like I said, antecedent fathers perception. Anyone will remain a perpetual enemy to Okwute once you exhibit the tendency to greedily enrich yourself with public funds. And he won’t ever offer any apology for that. And worse, he won’t even bother to respond to any name you call him based on this enmity.
Take this home – That man came far ahead of his generation.
•Tai Emeka Obasi, Author and Filmmaker, writes from Lagos.