By HENRY AKUBUIRO Ikeogu Oke has been announced the winner of the 2017 NLNG Prize for Literature. The author of the poetry book, Heresiad, beat stiff competition from Prof Tanure Ojaide, the author of Songs of Myself: Quartet,and Ogaga Ifowodo, the author of A Good Mourning. Announcing Oke the winner on Monday, October 9, in…
By James Eze ([email protected])
Against the backdrop of recent mischievous reports in segments of the media, alleging that Anambra was owing arrears of salaries and pensions, it has become imperative to cast a beam of light on the nature and texture of the cordial relationship between Governor Willie Obiano and civil servants in the state.
If truth is of any use to us in these parts, it needs to be said with strong emphasis that Obiano has never owed salaries since he took over the reins of leadership of Anambra State. In fact, since he assumed office as governor on March 17, 2014, Chief Obiano has slowly worked his way into the deep affections of civil servants in the state. So, there is absolutely no doubt that Obiano is well loved by Anambra workers, who have unanimously rechristened him the “Alert Governor.” Someone says that among all the governors who had presided over the affairs of the state since creation, Obiano is the workers’ number one favourite. He may well be right.
There are many reasons Governor Obiano is loved by Anambra workers. Top of mind in this regard is his leadership philosophy of ana alu olu, ana alu madu, which emphasises that every development concept must never lose sight of the well being of the people. In other words, a good leader must devote as much time and resources to fixing lives as he devotes to building physical structures. The implied meaning here is that Obiano would not be satisfied if he turned the physical condition of Anambra State into a fairyland while the ordinary people starve to death. He is for a balanced and even development paradigm that places heavy emphasis on people’s welfare over and above every other consideration.
Guided by this philosophy, Governor Obiano began his overture to Anambra workers with the donation of commuter buses, which were designated to special routes in order to ease the suffering of workers who had to commute from Otuocha, Onitsha, Nnewi and Ekwulobia to Awka on a daily basis in the service of the state. These buses brought instant relief to hordes of workers who suddenly realised that it was possible for a governor to look at their welfare beyond the usual payment of salaries. But Obiano had not even started yet. He quickly followed that up with the launch of a proper mass transit system, which took off with dozens of big mass transit buses popularly known as “Willie” and hundreds of taxi cabs. The buses connect the three big cities of Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka seamlessly, charging rock-bottom fares that made road travels easy and economically friendly to low income earners. Indeed, when the mass transit scheme started in Anambra State, many sceptics thumbed their noses at it, arguing that Anambra cities were not cut out for such niceties and that the people had no patience to wait in queues for buses. Today, the story is different. Commuters conduct themselves with dignity, waiting in line at bus stops to be carried to their destinations in safety at almost zero cost.
Governor Obiano also showed good faith when he ignored all the warning signs of the ailing economy and increased workers’ salaries by 16% in January 2015. It was a very audacious move that endeared him to workers in the employ of the state who had thought that such things as salary increases belonged to another life. It soon dawned on them that contrary to the notion created by previous administrations that civil servants were something of a deadweight dragging progress downwards in the state, their new governor saw them in a different light; he saw them as critical stakeholders in the state’s emerging narrative of excellence. This new perception kindled a great deal of enthusiasm in the civil service that has never been seen before, as workers began to demonstrate their appreciation with improved commitment. Their faith in the Obiano administration was further reinforced by regularity in the payment of salaries. It was something of a novelty to them. Their salaries were not a subject for predictions. They knew when it would come; 25th of every month is pay day. With that, they could do a realistic financial planning and put their lives on a stable track. Obiano had unwittingly built a home in their hearts and moved in for good! He is the ALERT governor!
The governor also demonstrated an admirable strength of character in his capacity to look back at the past and make everything look good again. For eight years, workers of the Anambra State Water Corporation as well as staff of Anambra State Environmental Protection Agency (ANSEPA) were owed salaries. The past administration was reported to have dismissed their repeated demand for payment with a wave of the hand and described them as “deadwoods.” That had led to a running battle, which culminated in a law suit against the state by the aggrieved workers. But barely four months after he took over, Governor Obiano cleared up the N1.9bn arrears of salaries that were in contention. This gesture calmed troubled waters and restored the belief of the injured workers in the capacity of their beloved state to take their plight seriously. It did more than that though. It endeared Governor Obiano to them.
Similarly, local government workers in the state who were groaning under the weight of pensions and gratuity that the state owed them, which amounted to N940m also had a great reason to be thankful to Governor Obiano. He swiftly cleared the huge debt and put smiles back on their faces. The most pathetic of the stories of debt in Anambra State before Obiano, however, is the case of National Light, the retired workers of the state’s newspaper publishing house as well as the Anambra Broadcasting Service, who had never received their pensions in 26 years. Governor Obiano swiftly cleared the humongous arrears of pension penultimate week and sent the pensioners reeling with joy. Many observers had marvelled at the ease with which Obiano had settled debts in a time of recession, which his predecessors had stoically ignored in the days of surplus. This has also endeared Obiano to more people.
On account of his antecedents as a humane leader who takes workers’ welfare seriously, his promise of a salary increase in 2018 has also been received with fanfare. At an event marking this year’s Women’s Summit in Awka last week, Obiano had assured Anambra workers that he would give them a raise once his 2018 budget had passed the statutory checks in the legislative assembly. So, for the Anambra worker, tomorrow will even be better. They could see the signs all over the place. In appreciation of all the friendly gestures of the Obiano administration members of the organised Labour in the state have unanimously endorsed the governor’s second term bid. They did that during the activities marking this year’s celebration of the Workers’ Day. In endorsing Governor Obiano’s second term bid, the workers recalled that even in the midst of recession, the governor had never failed in his promise to ensure a prompt payment of salaries. They, therefore, unanimously honoured him with the award of “The Best Labour-Friendly Governor of Anambra State.”
This is why Obiano is the favourite governor of Anambra workers. This is also why no candidate will defeat him in a fair election in Anambra State.