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Articulating Obiano’s economic revolution

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PENULTIMATE Sunday morning at  Prof. Dora Akunyili Women Development Centre, Awka, I found myself in a forum of over 50 young workers of Anambra Signage and Advertising Agency (ANSAA) where I made a lead presentation on some of  the feats posted by the government of Anambra State, especially the trail-blaizing successes of its economic templates.

Some young people there keenly listened and expressed their surprise at the level of thought and pragmatism that inspired these policies introduced by  Gov. Willie Maduaburochukwu Obiano apart from their socio-economic potentials in both current and future development instruments.

About three days after, I read some pieces in social media that obtusely insinuated that Gov. Obiano’s records were unclear. I marvelled at the travesty, if not arrant misinformation and misapplication of rhetoric, for purposes, yet unclear to me. Though the level of mundane appraisal of politics and archaic understanding of state development exhibited is baffling, the real worry is how odium blindfolds otherwise discerning minds in the commentaries.

But without running into a trap, possibly set to lure the naive, it pays to articulate Anambra State’s social rejuvenation and growth on the the ideological planks upon which Dr. Obiano builds his ongoing renaissance – creative economics. Through this economics philosophy, backed by his straight-talk engagement; ‘doing more with less’ financial maxim; unrepentant pro-grassroots initiative-and-all-expense-in-communities infrastructure development approach and ‘think home’ advocacy, he retools the state’s bureaucratic policies to attract more funds, retain credible financial liquidity and boosts standard of living as well as knowledge in Anambra.

Back in March 17, 2014, when the All  Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) candidate, Willie M. Obiano, assumed the office of Governor of Anambra State in South East, Nigeria and unveiled a vision and mission statements that dwelt heavily on  improving the business environment, the reason was not well understood by many. Some who bragged about being authorities on the economy and politics of the state dubbed it mere showmanship and typical “private sector person’s” display.

His government buttressed the goals with clearly defined administrative planks and guarding tenets, dubbed ‘Four Pillars’ which comprise: Industrialisation; Agriculture; Trade and Commerce and Oil and Gas. Mid-term into his first tenure, the need for a fifth pillar was obvious and ‘Logistics’ became the latest bastion. Twelve facilitators of the pillars were captured under the tag of ‘enablers’. Among them are Security, Education, Health, Roads and Social Infrastructure, Housing and Urban Development, the Environment, Transport, Finance, Electricity, Women’s Welfare, Tourism, Youth development and Entrepreneurship. Through these thrusts, his government launched a hands-on approach to governance that projected vivid keenness for economic growth, social security, knowledge expansion and food sufficiency.

Yet not just a handful of such self-effacing ‘we-know-homeland-more-than-them’ pundits dismissed it as just initial gragra (showboating). Some went to town with very vocal critiques, some in the form of mockery and contemptuous jeer. Months ahead the November 20, 2017 gubernatorial elections in which the governor vied for re-election, the pulse of upbraids, verbal attrition and fury targeted at him rose to frenetic level.

When the results emerged and he swept the polls in an unprecedented victory in all the 21 local government councils of the state, even the most embittered critics swallowed their angst and paused to appraise the factors behind the phenomenal political feat, now popular as 21/21, which hitherto was unimaginable in Anambra State.

What the people saw was not just governance based on well-focused ideology but a purpose-built ship of state that rowed confidently in the manner of a trend solidifying into a movement. Social mobilisation fittings such Anambra State’s Core Values, new state anthem, new state moniker, rebranding of the state’s symbols among others joined the Obiano vision and mission statement to give momentum to the movement.

The Dr. Obiano’s years in Anambra State are marked by smart key-ins into the core aspirations of Anambra People (ndi Anambra) and a peculiar personal style of human person engagement which bothers on emotional intelligence and smart reading of the handwriting on political walls. That is why the people voted overwhelmingly for him during the November 2017 gubernatorial election in which he dusted a large field of over three dozen candidates of other political parties to emerge the landslide winner. Obiano, the candidate of APGA won 234,071 votes (55.43 per cent), APC got 98,752 votes while PDP scored 70,293 votes. The reading: Obiano had more votes than all the other 36 contestants put together.

Why that feat? Less than three years in his first term, the banker-turned governor explained his approach  to his work in Awka as a voyage aided by clear study of the roadmap before setting out at dawn.

“My team and I started our journey in Anambra State with a clear definition of the reality of our people,” explained the governor in his speech, ‘Eyes on the Prize: On the Threshold of Excellence,’ delivered to the Anambra community in Federal Capital Territory, Abuja on July 22, 2016.

Elaborating, he said: “We asked ourselves questions like: Who are we? What is our Story? What are our fears, our hopes and our aspirations? The answers to these questions helped us to articulate our Vision and Mission for Anambra State. We therefore declared that our Vision is to make Anambra State the first choice investment destination and a hub for industrialisation and commercial activities. We also defined our Mission as to make Anambra State a socially stable, business-friendly environment that would attract both indigenes and foreigners to seek wealth-creating opportunities. From these two statements, it is clear that my administration truly wants to build a strong and prosperous state, not from the riches that lie underneath the soil but essentially, from the infinite possibilities that lie between our ears. It is clear that we want to challenge our people’s famous enterprising spirit by creating a conducive environment that would enable their diverse talents find expression on home soil.”

The reality that Chief Obiano understands and keys into is that ours is a land of people with smart business acumen – a sprawling land of raw skills and fervent innovations. Anambra is always an abode of a plethora of enterprises emerging simultaneously and a cluster of youthful energy, passionately seeking opportunities for public expression.

Ndi Anambra’s unique gifts in various spheres of business and industry are such that with a good sense of discernment, you can spot an Anambra person from a crowd even in the Antarctic. Somehow, that distinctive trait is manifest in the desires of the populace in the realms of politics and governance.

Since the return of Nigeria’s Fourth Republic in 1999, especially since 2003, Anambra has been lucky to have an unbroken chain of governors who understood her socio-cultural peculiarity and strove to explore it politically.

In the words of the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Xerox, Anne Mulchahy, “leadership may have to come in a different package. It has got to be credible…. Overall, it’s about credibility, walking the talk.”

Obiano did exactly thist. But he revved up the gears from where his predecessors plateaued by smartly establishing initiatives that will keep the state’s economic tap always flowing while endearing himself to the populace with a brutal frankness demonstrable in  standing solidly against those who toy with the people’s safety, prosperity and happiness. that’s why the entire Anambra populace can vouch for him. Hence, when the voices in the street chant: “Akpokuedike!” (meaning “when a hero is called upon!). They mean it.

He comes across to local folks as an epitome of the strait talk political strategist whom Stephen M.R. Covey and Rebecca R. Merrill summed his attributes thusly in their book ‘The Speed of Trust… the One Thing that Changes Everything’:  “Be honest. Tell the truth. Let people know where you stand. Use simple language. Call things what they are. Demonstrate integrity. Don’t manipulate people or distort facts. Don’t spin the truth. Don’t leave false impression.”

The governor’s personality captures these behavioural traits. His governance understands clearly that his people’s prime endowment is business, enterprise and knowledge. He therefore, regularly raises the vital support-frames of small and medium scale enterprises by establishing projects and statutes that make their businesses sustainable through smart funding. He links them to relevant national and international institutions and developments. Conscious of the state’s limitations in mineral resources, he concentrated on human resources, services and attraction of investments from local and global sources to the benefit of Anambra businesses. With mission on attracting such funds and making entrepreneurs and fund agencies who want to  “invest Nigeria…Think Anambra” as the “first choice investment destination and most preferred location to site new industries” the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA) was established in 2014. For ease of healthcare and quality, the Anambra State health Insurance Agency was set up in 2017. Workers and non-workers in the state were given access to it.

Anambra further burrowed into counterpart funding opportunities such as United Nations’, World Bank’s, IMF’s, CBN’s, Bank of Industry’s among others.

A desire to make gains of the investments go into the streets and the citizenry, led to the establishment of Anambra State Small Business Agency (ASBA) on December 8, 2014 “with the mission to establish a structured and efficient hub for micro, small and medium enterprises” and “to facilitate easier access to resources required by entrepreneurs and investors of MSMEs in Anambra.”

According to Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of ASBA, Clement Chukwuka, the agency which helps the MSMEs get access to market; connect with local and global financial intermediaries for funding; equip them with knowledge of their business environment and to build capacity has attracted and disbursed over N150 billion naira to small scale venture in easy-to-refund financial instruments. He describes Obiano as a master of creative economics adept at applying it in governance in a way that makes the people of state benefit even when the money is coming from elsewhere. So he knows how to tap into dormant funds somewhere else to finance liquidity in Anambra. Perhaps, this explains why the state did not experience inflation when other states in the country were reeling in 2014 and 2015. Similarly, Anambra, unlike other states never had to apply for bail out fund from the federal government yet it has continued to pay her workers’ salaries as at when due.

Anambra State under Obiano also became very active with development partners and grassroots-oriented local and international projects that directly raise the quality of life in communities. Hence, since 2014, such agencies as the Value Chain Development Project (VCDP), Anambra State Community and Social Development Agency (ANCSDA), Anambra NEWMAP, FADAMA III,  ADB projects among others are actively working in the rural areas, reviving erosion sites, building health centres, helping farmers, helping schools, opening boreholes, constructing roads, markets, civic centers and other basic facilities for communes.

Another reality which Obiano understands and utilises is that Anambra is a big state in Nigeria but her paths to greatness are not naturally paved with gold and diamond. The state merely presents a case study of rewards from hardwork and dividends of persistence and perennial commitment to exploration of economic opportunities for the good of the people, not a reward for being a bearer of one rich resource or the other.

He knew that though many Nigerian states with twice Anambra’s natural records are languishing in poverty issues, she excels by dint of her stubborn refusal to join the league of states in want perennially going cap in hand to Abuja every month.

The tradition of celebrating enterprise makes things such that her particulars point towards hard times while her reality tends towards richness. Nigeria’s national Census of 2006, records Anambra State’s population at a little above four million (4,177,828) which makes her the 10th largest population of Nigeria’s 36 states. Being a land challenged by land mass and ravaged by the largest network of gully erosions in Africa, the state has the second smallest earth space in Nigeria, ranking 35th among Nigeria’s 36 states. Her annual population growth rate of 2.21 per cent per annum makes her a fast-growing demography with over 60 per cent of the populace now living in urban areas.

But the same state habours scores of high-rise building springing up week-after-week in her metropolis, apart from being home to the highest number of per-kilometre square of billionaires in a developing country (as communicated by UNDP) even as it plays host to a plethora of resilient start-ups. Same Anambra is now one of the most urbanising states in Nigeria.

How the governor reconstructs these dynamics to reconnect the people facts is to evolve governance model and politics that prop businesses, placated the billionaires in politics while consciously raising new urban centres. His projects such as the N10 million facility construction fund in all the major markets in the state raised their standard of operations. With his unwavering focus on smoking out criminals and the almost 70 per cent executed project of erecting self-lit street lights in all major roads across the state, businesses took no time to boost as patrons, partners and clients now flood the state. It is such that at nights in some towns, market women who hitherto use lamps use the illumination from ‘Obiano (street) Lights’ to sell their wares while we now have streets that run 24-hour business, in such cities as Awka. Pundits have also predicted that soon, with the completion and continued maintenance of the across-state street lights, Anambra would evolve into an all-urban state. Already,  signs of urbanity in suburbs that were hitherto tickets are visible.

Aside the major urban centres such as Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka, the state capital,  there are also rapidly urbanising areas in Idemili, Ogbaru, Ihiala, and Aguata. So the state has significantly evolved beyond what it was 28 years ago when it was created; then, the main areas where signs of urbanity were manifest were only Awka and Onitsha.

Onitsha remains the fastest growing commercial city in the country transformed into a gigantic expanse of middle class habitat extending to distances as far as Oyi and Anambra East local council areas, with one of the largest markets in West Africa. While Nnewi (sometimes called the Taiwan of Nigeria) is a rapidly blossoming industrial and commercial centre where men and women with raw skills are ‘performing magic’ with auto parts and technical refabrication of tools and automobiles. Designated as the state capital, Awka has regained its pre-colonial administrative eminence.

Smartly, Dr. Obiano’s government is building a cargo airport, in Umueri, a town in Anambra East, that is located between Awka and Onitsha. Thus buttressing the projection that if this momentum of development is sustained, the entire Anambra state will eventually be a sprawling metropolitan arena of business.

To push farther this stride in 2017, the governor activated a regime of ease-of-doing business practice domiciled in the Ministry of Lands. Same year, setting up a Ministry for Creative Entreprises domiciled in the Ministry of Youth as well as a Ministry for Indegenous Arts and Crafts, Culture, Tourism and Diaspora Affairs in the same year.

From 2018, getting certification for land and business in the state was radically improved, all dovetailing at enhancing the state’s business environment to a level hitherto un attainable.

Notwithstanding the very conspicuous roads, flyovers, schools, hospitals, new markets among others continues to spring up everywhere in Anambra within the last five years of Obiano’s government, a feat which even his most fixated adversary cannot ignore and have a good sleep, the biggest factors in the renaissance that has emerged in the state since his coming are his creative economic thinking, his unique style and his visionary approach.

In an article, ‘Why Obiano Won’, published in his weekly column of December 7, 2017, in The Guardian newspaper, veteran journalist, Ray Ekpu noted his master stroke approach to community development which underscores his smart exploration of creative economics.

Mr Ekpu wrote thusly: “I am, however, thrilled by the “choose-your-project initiative” adopted by Chief Obiano’s government. The various communities in the state were asked to choose projects that were very dear to them. The government would then give them N20 million for the execution of the project. The project must be executed by a local contractor. Once the project is successfully executed the community can be rewarded with another N20 million for the execution of another project of their choice.

“The advantages of this development paradigm are several. One, the community chooses the project it feels it needs badly so no one from outside drops an unwanted project on its laps. Two, the community owns the project. This makes for inclusive governance. It guards that project jealously. Three, the project is not likely to be abandoned or executed poorly since the contractor comes from within the community. If he abandons or does a poor job of it, the people will skin him alive. Four, this approach is perhaps the best strategy for rural communities. Since the projects are small and easy to manage, there will be no expensive after project servicing and no high-flying consultants are needed.”

A deeper comprehension of the socio-economic import of those community-chose-your-projects may actually emerge years later. Suffice to establish now that it is an ingenuous government-to-people initiative that many states have borrowed.

All these strides are made possible despite the governor’s operation in highly turbulent political clime. Truth is that Obiano’s is a first class government by any benchmark of governance in a developing country’s economy.

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