Written by Obi Ogbunugafor
The dramatic advent, in 2003, of Dr. Chris Ngige as Governor of Anambra State, under macabre circumstances that are now part of national political lore, brought to Anambra a revolution of sorts. In the end, in 2006, some roads had been built and, I dare say, built well. The Ngige regime truly opened the eyes of Anambrarians in more ways than physical accesses could attest. Under Ngige, the good people of Anambra began to objectively perceive the range of possibilities available to their aspirations. It took Ngige’s stint to summarily estimate our erstwhile disenfranchisement, to alert us to the shocking magnitude of it.
It is also to Ngige’s credit that teachers, civil servants and pensioners, for whom all hope had been lost, were paid in arrears and progressively. With the limited but pioneering road network, the geography of Anambra became compressed somewhat, enabling workers living in some distant places to make it to Awka in time. Nobody in his right mind could have expected more of the embattled repentant. Considering the time available to him, Ngige did a yeoman’s job, and that is a fact.
Anambra before Ngige was virtually brain-dead. Even with the much vaunted intellectual and human abundance in the State, rogues had ruled the roost, until that mythical honour-among-thieves snapped, and Anambra’s salvation had to come via one of the most brazen, bizarre and diabolical phenomena in Nigeria’s troubled political history. Ngige nonetheless became our own Robin Hood; a veritable folk-hero. And when the pay-loaders, the earth movers and tar trucks started rolling, many rose as one and hailed “Onwa! Onwa!! Onwa!!!” Thus, Anambra condoned – nay – celebrated his abnormal path to power.
When the courts removed Ngige as Governor, I felt a loss. I could not help believing, in spite of my moral sense, that given time, Ngige could have sustained the driven momentum to other sectors of the social and economic life of Anambra. All one cared for was the development of Anambra; how or by whom seemed all but irrelevant.
There were doubters. I could not abide the myopic and mischievous denials of some people I knew, who insisted that Ngige’s achievement in the road construction sector was mostly restricted to his Idemmili area of the State. I got into numerous quarrels with Ngige-baiting friends.
While the anti-Ngige observation about the concentration of roads may be empirically probable, the truth is that the man had only three unsettled years. In any case, the critics simply blindly refused to note some of the strategically important roads Ngige laid in other parts of the State. I was able to drive from Nimo to Owerri, Imo State in just over an hour via the Awka Etiti-Ukpor-Ameke road. I could access the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway through either Ukpo, Awkuzu or Abagana. I was spoilt for choice there. Note, please, that I hail from a town where Ngige did not lay a single meter of road, or anything else for that matter! It did not prove that he “did nothing”.
Change of Guards
Then, enter Mr. Peter Obi in equally dramatic, if morally converse, circumstances. His coming fulfilled the Igbo article of faith that “O-ji ife nwata wenyie aka enu, aka lobe ya, o’wetue, nwata e’welu ife ya”.
Mr. Obi immediately enunciated what he called the Anambra Integrated Development Scheme (ANIDS), which in a nutshell entailed detailed planning and multi-faceted roll-out of infrastructures – roads access, potable water, educational, health and economic structures – across the long-suffering State. His methods were intended to put an end to the long-standing, imposed ad hoc approach to development in Anambra.
Today (2011) Obi’s administration claims to have laid out 500 km of roads in its five years so far, rebuilt or equipped as many as 100 schools with computers, lab equipment, electric generators, buses; advanced the structures of the State University and the Teaching Hospital; built secretariats and business houses; upgraded hospitals and installed water supply in places, controlled erosion, etc. As Mr. Obi himself makes clear every chance he gets, it is yet work in progress.
What baffles me to no end however is that the government’s claims to infrastructural achievement meets with spirited and unrelenting denials from a certain strain of critics who unabashedly identify themselves as pro-Ngige. These Ngige elements seem possessed of holding the truncated shadow of Dr. Chris Ngige over the looming person of Mr. Peter Obi. In almost all cases, their criticism, strangely enough, tended to be aimed, not at imprudence but at frugality on the part of Governor Obi. I started to get the impression that Obi’s ‘crimes’ really border on the fact that he has not left the State treasury open to marauders.
Beyond the fact that Obi has built two roads and a bridge in my own community, as well as equip the secondary school with computers and electricity generating equipment (not seen since 1970!), I cannot say that that qualifies me to validate all of Obi’s claims. On the other hand, however, the fact that Obi’s focus on multi-faceted, mainly rural, approach is not as emblematic as Ngige’s erstwhile Appian preoccupation does not conclude the matter in favour of Ngige adherents.
I have observed with misgivings that pro-Ngige partisans single-mindedly insist that Obi’s achievement lags that of Ngige. They say that Obi’s claims are mere propaganda, no substance. To be sure, disingenuousness by incumbents is not unknown in Nigeria. But such deception is today easily shown up, what with the internet and independent information management capabilities. Until somebody is aggrieved enough to do an objective rebuttal of the Government’s claims, I cannot help but consider anti-Obi sentiments in this regard as ill-motivated.
If it can be verified that Mr. Obi in fact has achieved just half of his claims, I would be one proud Anambrarian indeed. That Anambra, under Obi, has scored a universal recognition for financial probity is a marvel in itself, in a State historically dogged by ‘godfathers’ and rogues. One has to wonder at the principled exertions and strength of character it takes to keep the desperate hyenas away from State funds.
What, in all earnestness, I am trying to do (with admittedly much difficulty) is show up the absurdity of the Ngige-Obi confrontation. It all sounds idle, even dangerous, especially reckoning the intellect and professional pedigree of the protagonists.
For the avoidance of doubt, the Executive Governor of Anambra State is, by the grace of God and will of the people, Peter Obi, not Chris Ngige (barring appellate court contrary decision, or force majeure). I think our Governor deserves the respect that is properly his, in the way and manner we criticise or oppose him. No one is anointed to hound the Governor in the noble, if contested, work he is trying to do for Anambra. And I think Dr. Ngige ought to distance himself from such roguish acts.
I am quite sure that there are imperfections in Obi’s programmes, especially in the overall quality of some of the structures he has executed. I only advocate constructive criticism or opposition. A virile, pointed opposition can only be to the benefit of Anambra. The State after all does not belong to Mr. Peter Obi, less still to Dr. Chris Ngige. It behoves Ngige therefore to see that he does not in any way constitute himself a dissembler, or an “alternative” Executive Governor, but conduct himself as is required of any good citizen. Ngige as Governor of Anambra State is past tense until and unless he wins an election to the position.
One thing is incontrovertible: Peter Obi has brought to Anambra a stability and civilisation that were, to our collective shame, heretofore lacking in the governance of the State. This may not sound spectacular, and Obi may not build Anambra into the 25th Century with ANIDS, but he would have, at the very least, laid a sound moral and structural foundation for governance and rural empowerment in Anambra State.
Given the esteem which Dr. Ngige has enjoyed, and given his extant aspiration to Government House, I find it counter-productive, even unethical, that he should be the totem of mindless distractions to the Executive Governor of Anambra State. If the good doctor allows his name to be associated with rabble-rousing, he may sooner find out how fleeting this thing called ‘popularity’ can be. On the face of it, no one stands to lose in confrontation but Ngige. While Obi will have only to await the verdict of history, Ngige could have demystified his intrigued popularity and squandered his goodwill, for what they were worth.
The supporters of Ngige seem to confer upon him a messianic status. I sincerely hope that that is not how the feisty doctor sees himself. I have heard some people say that he ‘saved’ Anambra. As ridiculous as it sounds, they never tire of bandying it. Ngige owes the good people of Anambra an eternal debt of gratitude. Given the auspicious blend of circumstances and providence, Ngige, in his incurred distress, had thrown himself into the bosom of Anambra and was received as a repentant prodigal. Anambra forgave and adopted and protected him. At another time, another place, he could have as easily been stoned as a common criminal. But, as the great Ndigbo say, the enemy of my enemy is my ally.
Comparisons between the two consecutive regimes are reckless, and not in Ngige’s favour. Since roads are the only common denominator between the two of them, it is easy enough to tape out the lengths of roads constructed by the respective regimes and, if prudence is a parameter as well, tag up the respective cost per kilometer of them. As for works in the Health, Sanitary, Water, Educational and Business sectors, Obi would have to be judged independently of Ngige. How can any sane person compare 150 km of roads built by Ngige with ubiquitous works in health, education, agriculture, erosion control, government infrastructures, electrification …embarked by Obi? Would it not amount to counting up oranges and coconuts together?
In conversations I have had with some of these pro-Ngige clansmen, I discern that perhaps what they mean by that Obi “has done nothing” is that Awka, Onitsha and Nnewi have remained eye-sores. These are supposed to be the “faces” of our State. Asii na, ana e’li oma-iru nwata tupuu e’lie ife o’ji naka. Very true. And I quite niggle at the sorry sights of Onitsha and Awka. I would personally have loved nothing better if these main towns were uplifted, all things being equal.
Since, however, one must choose, I would rather have rural roads access to my town and others, running water, upgrade of our schools and local health centre, etc. If Obi’s claims of achievement are even just nearly true, no one should assume that he is done yet. The reasonable assumption would be that he would get to the facades of Onitsha and Awka in good time. In fact, he has just announced a programme for restructuring Nnewi – our industrial centre.
As I write, I cannot say as I know what Ngige’s vision for Anambra is. After all, the doctor is a strong contender for the Governorship after Obi. I think his “supporters” should be advancing his thinking on the development of Anambra rather than indulge in futile Obi-baiting rhetoric. The Ngige camp act as if their man is averse to a planned, integrated approach to developing Anambra; as if Ngige is merely a compulsive road builder. I am sure Dr. Ngige must have his dream for a greater Anambra. Well, then, what is it?!
With the vehemence of the raging controversy, one is given to think that should Ngige become Governor again, he would spitefully discard Obi’s theoretically laudable and indispensable integrated approach to development, in favour of constructing roads, more roads and still more roads, until we would have many layers of pavement piled upon another. Give Dr. Ngige a break! The man must be good for more than mere road contracts.
As one recent, blatant anti-Obi article seemed to imply, God and the Pope, upon whose wings Peter Obi rode to his multiple victories, have fled his corner. Nothing is farther from the truth; to some sensitive ears it might smack of sacrilege. God and the Pope are, always will be, on the side of piety over diabolism, prudence over profligacy, humaneness over irascibility, couthiness over rascality, humility over prima donna-ism.
Bear this in mind also: Ngige, if given another chance, would not have the same motivations that drove his limited achievement in roads, as he had in his quondam gubernatorial stint. This time, we hope, he would be coming through the front door, without the pack of wolves he had had the misfortune of running with, at his tail.
I sincerely hope that Anambra is not unwittingly heading toward another debilitating bout of geo-political Dichotomy, on account of two illustrious but non-indispensable personalities.