As someone who served in Anambra State as Chief Press Secretary to the Governor and later as Special Adviser on Media and Publicity and as someone who has consulted over the years to national and international organizations, one can say without any fear of contradiction that Governor Willie Obiano has successfully emerged as a statesman, and not a politician. A politician sets his sights on the next election while a statesman is keen on his or her place in history.
The congresses of the political parties interested in participating in the November 6 gubernatorial election in Anambra State and the outcomes, for example, have presented an excellent opportunity for Chief Obiano to play extreme politics, but he has elected to be a statesman. Immediately the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and the All Progressives Congress (APC) held their eminently controversial congresses on Saturday, June 26, most Anambra people began to pray that they would not sort out their huge differences so that the ruling All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) would have a walk over, rather than a contest, in the impending election. But not Governor Obiano. The Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Mr C. Don Adinuba, on Sunday, June 27, issued a well-publicized statement advising both the PDP and the APC to put their house in order before the deadline for the submission of their candidates to the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC).
Indeed, the PDP and the APC conducted controversial congresses. The PDP held two parallel congresses in the state capital, Awka. One faction led by Chief Chris Ubah, the controversial politician and businessman, conducted its own at Paul University where his elder brother, Dr Ugochukwu Ubah, a former senator, was chosen to fly the party’s flag while the other faction supported by the national leadership chose Mr Valentine Ozigbo, a respected corporate player, as its candidate. The Obiano administration advised the two factions to meet immediately and resolve this grave misunderstanding, so that Anambra State could have healthy and competitive democratic politics. But the tow parties unfortunately ignored Governor Obiano’s statesman-like advice.
The APC obviously has a bigger problem. Thirteen out of the 14 aspirants on the party’s platform signed a joint letter to the party’s national leadership stating that no congress or election took place anywhere in the state on June 23. The only person who didn’t sign the letter is Andy Ubah, a former senator, who was to be declared winner of the supposed primary election with thousands of votes which almost everyone in the state considers phantom. No journalist covered the election. Not even INEC participated in the congress. Dr Chris Ngige, the Minister of Labour and Productivity who has at different times been a senator and governor, quickly called for a proper congress to hold on Tuesday, June 29, so that there could be enough time to submit the name of the winner to INEC as its gubernatorial candidate. Minister Ngige’s call was in line with the advice by the Anambra State government which Commissioner Adinuba made public.
Anambra people regret the advice was not heeded. As things stand today, both the PDP and the APC may not participate in the November 6 governorship election. Should this scenario play out, the two parties have only themselves to blame. They rejected Governor Obiano’s statesman-like counsel without providing an alternative trajectory, let alone a superior one. As you are reading this piece, INEC cannot accept Mr Valentine Ozigbo as its candidate because the High Court in Awka has given an order barring it from doing so based on a prayer by the pro- Dr Ugochukwu Ubah group. As for the APC, it is doubtful that it can take part in the election because it conducted no congress anywhere and INEC did not attend any. The legal and constitutional implications of this lack are huge. On the contrary, the electoral commission accepted on July 2 Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo as the APGA candidate without controversy. Yet instead of capitalizing on this situation and ensure an easy victory for his party and its candidate, Governor Obiano asked the APC to get its acts together to enable it to participate in the November election.
Chief Obiano has well-established credentials as a statesman than many Nigerians may realize. Most presidents and governors are lame-duck officials in their last year in office. In places like Nigeria, most state governors don’t do much in their second tenure. In fact, many spend the last two years making money for themselves. But Obiano, who is leaving office next March, is telling a different and compelling story. He has in his last year built one of the best international airports in Africa. The magic is that he practically delivered the airport in a mere 15 months, without borrowing a kobo from any bank anywhere in the world. He is also completing Africa’s biggest international conference, with a 10,000 sitting capacity. And with no kobo credit from any bank! In addition, he is completing anytime from now a modern stadium in Awka. As usual, without borrowing! Only a statesman can do any of these things, all the more so in a particularly difficult economic time in the world.
One would like to cite another example. Obiano is the first and only governor in Anambra State to recognize all his predecessors and give them their dues, regardless of their political leanings. Things would have been far more difficult for his predecessors today, but for his policy of inclusiveness. Still, Obiano has never spoken in public about the courtesies he extends to all former governors, including Dr Chukwuemeka Ezeife, the first elected governor since the state was created in 1991. This act is still unknown to most ndi Anambra.
Lastly, one would like to emphasize that Governor Obiano relates well with his opponents and others who belong to other political persuasions. History cannot forget his starring role in the funeral of the venerable Alex Ekwueme, Nigeria’s first vice president who led the PDP nationwide in its most critical time. No wonder, at Obiano’s re-inauguration in March, 2018, leaders of all parties were present. Even the very candidates who ran against him in the election, in which he won in all 21 local government areas of the state, were physically present. Political violence in Anambra has understadably become a thing of the past. We now have social harmony more than any state.
The good news is that Professor Soludo, who is taking over from Governor Obiano, is steeped in the same tradition of peace, inclusiveness, solidarity and rapid progress. He has not uttered any negative sentiments against anyone in private or public. He has rather been preoccupied with the strategy for Anambra’s rapid development. Soludo recognizes that Anambra can become an economic miracle like Taiwan, Dubai or Singapore only when there is tremendous peace and solidarity in society. He and Obiano are cut out to be statesmen. These are really good times for the people of Anambra State.
–Chief Chukwube is Ichie Ugwumba of Ihiala, Anambra State