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Anambra: Building a more humane society

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GOVERNOR Willie Obiano of Anambra State is leaving office on March 17, with the reputation of a public officer who executed mega projects in a very short time without borrowing a kobo from any bank anywhere in the world, even when oil-producing states are mired in debt in their quest to deliver projects.

Everyone knows how Obiano built one of the most sophisticated airports in Africa in practically 15 months. Everyone knows how he has delivered an International Convention Centre in Awka, with 13,000- seating capacity, the largest in West Africa. The center is about to be commissioned. Everyone knows he built Nigeria’s most modern stadium in Awka, which has just been commissioned.

Many remember how he built three bridges in Awka in his first term, thus dramatically enhancing the aesthetics of the state capital, apart from tremendously improving traffic flow. There are many other major achievements like building the longest bridge in the Southeast and providing street lights in many towns and villages in the state.

Obiano’s reputation as a mega projects builder is earned. No person’ll dispute this fact, not even the crassest of his critics. But the truth is that the image, good and attractive as it may look, doesn’t tell the whole story of his leadership in Anambra State. There is the nonphysical side of both his person and his administration, which is often glossed over in the public space. This article seeks to draw attention to Governor Obiano’s commitment to the creation of a more caring or humane society.

As wise persons have noted over the years, we know a kind society by how it treats its weak members. The weak members include the infirm, the elderly, the downtrodden and, of course, the physically challenged and the historically marginalized, as well as minorities. This is why it is hugely significant that Gov Obiano in 2017, promoted to permanent secretary, a dutiful and intelligent civil servant who had many times been bypassed for years for the simple reason that he is visually impaired. Azuka Offomata, an attorney at law, thus became the first blind person to become a permanent secretary in the state and the country.

More significant is that Anambra has become the first state in Nigeria to establish a commission for people with disabilities in the state. Governor Obiano constituted, on February 2, 2022, the membership of the commission.  Chuks Ezewuzie, a visually impaired lawyer who has for the last two years been the Governor’s Special Adviser on Disabilities, is the chairman.

The governor could not have chosen a better person. Articulate and tireless, Ezewuzie, who was practising law in Massachusetts, United States, before the governor brought him home, has an unquenchable passion for the radical uplifting of the welfare and living standards of persons with disabilities. He was initially the governor’s Senior Special Assistant on Disabilities, but got quickly raised to the Special Adviser on Disabilities on the strength of his uncanny performance.

It has been reported many times that Ezewuzie is probably the closest member of the state Executive Council (EXCO) to Obiano. It has been claimed, though with understandable hyperbole, that even if the governor is moving in a convoy in town and sees Ezewuzie, he is mostly likely to break security protocol by getting down from his vehicle not only to greet his Special Adviser on Disabilities but also hug him excitedly. The governor hardly overrules him at official meetings. If a lot of hands are raised at an EXCO or any other meeting and Ezewuzie’s is among the hands, Obiano will certainly ask everyone to wait for this special adviser to speak.

All this is a reflection of Governor Obiano’s deep concern for the weakest members of society. Even when there was an embargo on employment into the civil service arising out of the profound economic challenges in the country, the governor insisted on massive employment of persons with disabilities.

Hundreds of them were hired last year alone. His policy is that no physically challenged person with the benefit of a higher education in Anambra State should be unemployed. After all, it is enough that they require assistance to perform basic functions like walking in the street or driving a car or reading and writing. To add joblessness to their fate after a good education will be heartless.

It need be pointed out that Governor Obiano’s wife is not different from the husband in this regard. Her Caring Family Initiative (CAFÉ) has been providing for the abandoned and neglected. It has a centre for the mentally challenged at Nteje in Oyi Local Government Area. Mrs Ebelechukwu Obiano, three years ago, reunited a mentally ill woman who had for 30 years been living in markets and streets in towns in Anambra State unknown to her family who presumed she had long died. The woman was quickly treated and is today fully rehabilitated.

Other states in Nigeria, as well as the federal government need to borrow a leaf from Anambra State in the formulation and implementation of strategies of inclusiveness. As experience and history have demonstrated, countries and territories which practise inclusiveness are the most economically competitive in the world. They are also the most stable and the happiest. To leave any section of society behind for whatever reason is to create a time social bomb. It also offends conscience and the tenets of every religion.

Jesus Christ makes it crystal clear in the Book of  St Matthew 25: 31-40 that the people who will, on Judgment Day, be considered God’s children are not miracle workers or those who preach or pray ceaselessly from morning till night but those who do the will of the Almighty by providing shelter to the homeless, food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, cloth to the naked and care to the sick as well as freedom to the captives.

All Nigerians have a moral responsibility to cater for the marginalised in society, so as to have a more equitable, caring and humane society. Governor Obiano’s strategy of mainstreaming persons with disabilities in Anambra State is a bold and imaginative measure. It is a profound challenge to all Nigerian leaders, whether in the private or public sector.

Ifesinachi, a lawyer and retired director in the public service, lives in Onitsha, Anambra State.

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