I was attending the 1st Media Summit of the Anambra State Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) in Awka on March 28 and 29 as a resource person when Governor Willie Obiano invited me to the Governor’s Lodge later in the day. I understood later both NUJ officers, including National President, Waheed Odusile, and other resource persons were invited. I couldn’t honour the invitation because I was missing the deadline for a paper in an international academic journal interrogating the worldwide belief that government has no business being in business. The next day, the governor sent for me. He was keenly interested in, among other issues, how the Nigerian media could be made to focus on national development rather than politics and sensationalism.
Early last year, he and I had spent time in his official residence, and he was, unknown to me, very impressed with the angle I gave our discussions when I discussed it in the media. “It was one of the very few occasions a media person did not bother to ask politically divisive questions or questions, which would give him or her dramatic headlines like ‘Obiano Blasts the Opposition’ or ‘Obiano Bombs Noisemakers’, he said. “The tremendous success of John Momoh’s Channels Television, as a business shows that journalism can thrive without sensationalism.” He said he had become an apostle of development journalism after reading my remarks that international political economy experts in the United States have now accepted that the developmental state ideology helped Southeast Asian nations like South Korea, Singapore and Malaysia leapfrog economically within a generation, and it is assisting Ethiopia to become Africa’s fastest growing economy.
Obiano is very masculine, and it seems his second nature to dominate the environment. Before I could respond to his observation about the Nigerian media proclivity towards the dramatic, he recalled: “The day you and I spoke alone for long in this very place was in February, last year. I had just returned from the ceremony where the first set of doctors trained at the state university hospital took their Hippocratic Oath as doctors. They were in medical school for about 10 years, instead of six years, because the school did not meet the basic requirements for accreditation until I came into office in 2014 and took the bull by the horns. We have already graduated the second set, and like the first set, I offered each of the young doctors automatic employment; they all did brilliantly in the final professional exams. The good news now is that we have already begun to train medical consultants in the state university, which I hope will soon be among the best five medical schools in Nigeria.”
Obiano was this time far more relaxed last year. He was playful, personally changing the popular records, playing on the CD and humming along as music was playing. This might not be expected of someone going for re-election in November. “Anambra is doing very well in various spheres,” he said with pride, adding, “these are good times for our state”. The latter sentence is reminiscent of President Bill Clinton’s reelection campaign theme music in 1996 when the American economy was doing well and the unemployment rate reduced to a mere 3%. “Yesterday,” the governor continued gleefully, “the Commissioner for Education was here with students of Loreto Special Secondary School in Adazi, Aniocha Local Government Area, who beat all schools in Nigeria to win the first position in all science subjects conducted by both the West African Examinations Council and the National Education Council.” Obiano himself clinched the first prize in the 1974 President John F. Kennedy National Essay Competition organised by the American Embassy then in Lagos.
An accountant and professional banker, who, at every opportunity, speaks with evangelical fervor about his strategic vision of making Anambra State the first choice of investors through the implementation of four economic pillars and 12 enablers.
Obiano was at this meeting veering into a new area, which caught my interest: Entertainment. He expressed satisfaction that three persons from Anambra State received awards at the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards (AMVCA) held in Lagos, which was beamed live on television across the continent last March 5. He had asked his special assistant on the arts, Bob-Manuel Udokwu, to monitor the event and report to him.
The governor commented on the awards: “I am glad Chief Chika Okpala, alias Zebrudaya, from Nnobi in Idemmili South Local Government Area was recognised, as a foremost veteran. Izu Ojukwu from Nnewi won the Best Director Award and Mrs. Ebele Okaro-Onyiuke from Ogidi and married to the famous Onyiuke royal family in Nimo, Njikoka Local Government Area, won the Best Supporting Actress Award. The one, which surprised all of us is the highly prestigious Africa Magic Viewers Choice Award given to Sambisa Nzeribe from Uli in Ihiala Local Government Area, which saw him defeat such giants as Olu Jacobs, Richard Mofe-Damijo and Ramsey Nouah. It means that the young man is stepping into the shoes of Chief Pete Edochie from Nteje in Oyi Local Government Area of Anambra State, who is arguably the most famous actor in Nigeria, if not Africa”.
When I told him that Sambisa Nzeribe is my wife’s first cousin, Obiano became emotional, exclaiming: “I have always said that Anambra is the state most blessed in Nigeria with talent in every field. Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie is a few years from the Nobel Prize in literature, as Venerable Cyprian Michael Iwene Tansi is a step away from becoming the first West African to be canonised. No Nigerian can be as famous as Zik of Africa. No African writer, dead or alive, is as widely read in schools as Professor Chinua Achebe. No Nigerian mathematician can compare with Prof Chike Obi or Prof James Ezeilo. No Nigerian constitutional law professor can rival Prof Ben Nwabueze and no Nigerian artist rivaled the late Prof Ben Enweonwu. No agency director general is as famous as the late Professor Dora Akunyili and no Central Bank governor has been as revolutionary as Prof Charles Soludo. No beauty queen is as famous or successful as Mrs. Bianca Ojukwu. No African leader can attract as much as tumultuous crowd at his burial as Ezeigbo Chukwuemeka Ojukwu, the late national APGA leader. No musical album in Nigeria has sold as many as Chief Osita Osadebe’s Osondi Owendi.”
He paused. Turning to the direction of one of the speakers of the musical set in the living room and humming some lines in Phyno’s hit track Father, Father, as if in appreciation of God’s blessings to the state, Obiano said that “Anambra is so blessed that it has produced Nigeria’s most famous musicians today like Flavour, Phyno, KCee and P-Square; P-Square who are Nigeria’s only musicians to own a property in Banana Island in Lagos are in my opinion the best dancers in the world today.” He continued: “Perhaps, the most enduring pop track by any Nigerian musician played in the early 1970s is Fuel for Fuel by Dan Ian and Wrinkars Experience.” I wasted no time announcing to the governor that Dan Ian is my cousin.
He quickly replied: “Please, come to Awka on Easter Sunday where we shall celebrate your cousin and nine other musical groups, who ruled the waves in the 1970s and 1980s. We call it the Resurrection Concert because we want to bring them back to life, a fitting thing to do during Easter when Christ resurrected from the dead. The other groups are Sweet Breeze, Founders 15, Wings, One World, Soki Ohale, Semi Colon, Aktion, Funkees and Apostles.” Reminded that all of them are not from Anambra State, Obiano replied, “But they all came from the former Eastern Region. They helped us overcome the effects of the Civil War. They remind us of how Emmanuel Okala, Christian Chukwu, Dominic Nwobodo, Dominic Ezeani, Ogidi Ibeabuchi and others in Rangers and those in Vasco Da Gama Football Club of Enugu like Mr. Ogbonnaya Onovo, the ex Inspector General of Police, and Chief Patrick Ekeji, the retired Federal Director of Sports, helped us overcome effects of the Civil War by conquering the Nigerian football scene in the 1970s.”
The governor stated that his main interest in the development of the entertainment industry is in what he calls its political economy. Explained he: “If Chief Osadebe, Ikenga Superstars of Africa, Prince Nico Mbarga of Sweet Mother fame, Okukuseku of Ghana, Ashanti Boys of Ghana and Black Chinese also of Ghana as well as the great Celestine Ukwu and His Highlife Band lived and prospered in Anambra State as great musicians, we can make the place good enough for Phyno and the rest to live, work and prosper here. Everyone doesn’t have to live in Lagos. Lagos is becoming overpopulated, and it is difficult to cope with the pressure on its infrastructure. I would like to see the six geopolitical zones in the country become economic development theatres instead of mere partisan platforms. Anambra can lead the charge in the South-East.”
As I was leaving Obiano to return to my hotel at almost midnight, it was self evident that the man is a true believer in his state.
*Adinuba is head of Discovery, public relations consultants.