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, 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.
Many remember how he built three flyovers in Awka in his first term, thus dramatically enhancing the aesthetics of the state capital. 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 disputes 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.
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.
Governor 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.
Articulate and tireless, Ezewuzie, who was practicing law in Massachusetts, United States, before the governor brought him home, 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 performance. This is a reflection of Obiano’s deep concern for the weakest members of society.
In addition, the governor ensured massive employment of persons with disabilities. 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.
Furthermore, 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. Dr 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. To leave any section of society behind for whatever reason is to create a social time bomb.
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.
WRITTEN BY JOHN IFESINACHI