My story of focus, determination, triumph in Anambra—Obiano

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•How Peter Obi made me governor
•Why I went after my childhood friends who were kidnappers 

By Onochie Anibeze

ANAMBRA State governor, Chief Willie Obiano is one the few governors, who rarely talk to the media.

  But that does not imply that he is not well heard, as the various policy actions in the state ensure that issues about Anambra are always in public domain. 

In fact, the slogan ‘’Willie is Working,” which is on the lips of Anambarians and those in touch with the realities of the state resonates quite often.

However, at a rare encounter recently in Lagos, the banker-turned-politician, interfaced with senior Editors providing in-depth insight into his journey so far. Behold the words of Obiano, who is widely reputed as one of the most performing governors in Nigeria.

‘’Those that will take over from me after eight years of this administration would find institutions that are enduring. The only things that they would do are the things that a new governor does. But the structure will be there for them. For example, ANSIPPA, in less than three years attracted over $5.2 billion in investments from 27 companies, nine of which are currently working. 

•Chief Willie Obiano

Recession didn’t frighten us

‘’Among all the governors that have ruled Anambra State, my time is the worst in the history of the economic development of Nigeria. This recession hasn’t frightened us because we saw it coming. We knew the price of oil as at when I took over on   March 17, 2014, would fall.   We were able to predict the future prices and the effect it was going to have on allocations from the Federal Government.   We considered what we should do differently at that point. So in the second week of my administration, we had already anticipated what would happen and had begun to do something about it. As an Accountant, when you are faced with these kinds of difficulties, you only do two things. The first one is production and you will reduce the cost of production. And you will reduce the cost of governance. The second one is to increase your revenue so that you can apply it to either the public or the private sector. By so doing, you will remain afloat, while others are drowning.

That was exactly what we did. We had a lot of ghost workers and being a lover of technology, we computerized our processes. We had a lot of uncoordinated efforts and when we came, we tackled them and made sure that our collection processes were computerized. That and the biometrics we did to throw out all the ghost workers. We regularly pay salaries by cheques, instead of the usual bank deposits. I am called ‘alert governor’ in Anambra because, on the twenty-fifth of every month, salaries are paid into workers’ bank accounts, just like I was paid when I worked in the bank, and not at the end of the month. The civil servants were used to being paid on the 30th, 31st, 1st, or 2nd of every month, but I changed all of that and has continued to maintain that status quo.

 Paid contractors with cheque

‘’I was the first governor to carry out the Treasury Single Account ,TSA. We harmonised all the accounts in over 15 banks, into one. I froze all the accounts because there were cheques of over N30 billion waiting to fly as soon as I took over and I stopped them. If we had waited for another two weeks, all those accounts would have been cleared. We called each Ministry, Department and Agency, MDA, and asked them to give an account of the monies in their bank accounts. And at the end of the day, some MDAs that used to have many accounts didn’t even have one account, and we insisted that the Accountant General must pay the contractors through cheques directly, rather than going through the intermediaries of the Ministries. ‘’And we were able to save quite some money to enable us to carry out all that we had been doing. Today, we will open operational accounts for relevant ministries that will require them. And these accounts will be closely monitored so that I have a full grip of all the accounts.

On security

‘’We also have good news. Anambra was almost a no go area at some point due to the high rate of criminal activities. As the Executive Director of Fidelity Bank then, my daughter never went to Anambra for over fourteen years, and when I went to Anambra, I went with over twenty policemen, and didn’t   spend time in my country home. Weddings were never held in Anambra State. Such things always happened either in Lagos or Abuja.

‘’For the records, I never aspired to be governor. I had a successful career as a banker and had prepared my retirement very well. I am a very comfortable fellow and I basically live well in the US, London, and here in Nigeria. I was swimming in my house in Houston when I received a phone call. And I recall that when I retired, the former governor treated me to dinner with his wife and when he signaled that something was in the offing   the only request I made was an Ambassadorial or head of a parastatal post. When he called and asked me to come with my CV, I refused, telling him that I wouldn’t come until he told me the exact parastatal that he had found for me. I didn’t arrive until a month later because my wife and daughter were having a vacation in Rome. And when they returned, I told them that we had to return to Nigeria. So when I saw myself on this assignment, I took it as a call and gave it my best.

 I’m not enjoying this job

‘’ I have not enjoyed this job because there really is nothing to enjoy. In the past, on Sundays, I used to have fun, play Congo music, but there is nothing like that anymore. I am one-fifth the size I was when I left Fidelity Bank, I eat once daily and I hear confessions more than a reverend father. But someone has to do this job. I am doing this job well to the best of my knowledge and capability. I don’t take salaries but they deduct tax and forward the rest to the less privileged. My wife and I had a vocation in which we take mad people off the streets and help them, but now that God made me Governor. It is an opportunity to do it on a larger scale, and about 20 percent of these people we pick up are from Anambra. And by the time we give them a haircut, food and drugs constantly, in one week they are all well and only a few really have serious psychiatric problems. After treatment, we train them to acquire a skill, and the most popular skill they acquire is cell phone repairs and they are doing very well.

‘’For me to consider myself a successful governor, three things must happen; infrastructure must be available and in less than three years, we have renovated and equipped 1726 schools, and they now use whiteboards instead of blackboards. The second requirement is the comfort of the students which could be in the form of fencing the property, and adequate water supply, electricity, amongst others. We have paid particular attention to that in all our schools. The training of teachers and their welfare are important to us.

‘’That is why despite the challenges of the country, Anambra remains the only state that pays salaries as at when due without borrowing from the bank or taking overdrafts. What I also met when I came in was a lack of the plan for payment of pensions and gratuities, unlike in the banking sector. And over 2,000 teachers who were retired were paid without any plan and we also had to correct that. People think that the state runs on local government money. That is an absolute falsehood.

Three hundred million

‘’Every month, I give three hundred million to the local governments to enable them to pay gratuities. The same goes for health. But security is the first of the enablers. When I came, the police who are the key instruments for security didn’t have enough equipment to work with. Their seven base-stations were dead. The DPOs spoke to each other on cell phones, which was not an effective way for the police to work and their vehicles were old although my predecessor gave them some vehicles. So we started by giving them 150 vehicles.

‘’From my stay in the US, I knew that you have to equip the police so that they can speak to each other. And this helped us when we formed ‘OPERATION NKPOCHAPU’. Of course, we showed no mercy to the criminals by pulling down houses where kidnap victims were kept.

Obiano

‘’I started from my village where two of my childhood friends were into kidnapping. I warned them when I came down but they did not listen, and they paid heavily for it. We pulled down four of the heavy structures they built. It was on television. And when people saw that I started from my village, they became careful and took to their heels. And I started winning the war on psychology. In Anambra you are safe.

‘’Anywhere you see a sandbag and a security tent has a story. It is either a place where someone was killed or kidnapped or where someone’s handbag was snatched. We put about 52 sandbags which are a set of sandbags with a roof on top, manned by six policemen and one vehicle and they drive around once in a while to show they are present. It has immensely helped in curbing criminal activities to the extent that today if you give me the details of any criminal anywhere, I could tell you the exact location of the person in less than 10 minutes. I will monitor and apprehend him whether his phone is switched off or not.

On agriculture

‘’Beyond that, we transformed the agricultural sector in Anambra. I was in office before Buhari came into power and agriculture was my number one priority. So we were doing very well before they came and all the things they are now doing, I had already started doing.

‘’We started by appointing 14 agronomists from Anambra who studied the soil pattern and by the way, Anambra used to be the second smallest State in the federation after Lagos with a land mass of 4,484 sq.km, but today, Lagos is growing into the Atlantic Ocean, and Anambra is shrinking from erosion. We have the worst erosion sites in Africa, 972 active erosion sites that have eroded most of the state. I went to the President and asked him to declare a state of emergency on erosion in Anambra but no announcement has been made so far. The World Bank has been helping, though, and I met four project sites in eight years that they were doing with my predecessor, but in less than three years of my administration, they are about to work in 12 additional sites.

‘’That shows what we have been able to do to get them on board. So, from the soil study, we knew where cassava will grow best, where maize will grow best, and where rice will grow best. Of course, we have cooperatives in these areas, and then we appointed a rice prefect who is an expert on rice to advise the rice cooperatives on the best technology in this area. Before me, the yield in Anambra was 3.5 tons per hectare, but now we are achieving 7.5 tonnes.

‘’We started in 2014 with 80,000 metric tons per annum, but today we have 250,000 metric tons per annum. Our target is to push higher above 500,000 metric tons and in the next three years, I intend to beat Kebbi State which is producing about 1 million metric tons through the structures that I have set up. As you very well know, if you visit Coscharis Farms, you will see that he has 2,850 acres of land, but has only been able to prepare 800 acres because, land preparation is the most expensive thing in agriculture if you are into mechanized farming, seeing that you will need to uproot stumps to avoid damaging the equipment during the tilling process. Today, we have the Anambra Rice which is one of the best brands. It is stone free.   And if you eat this rice, you will never touch any foreign rice because it is fresh, it’s cool, it’s white and it’s stone free.

On Anambra rice

‘’We are also doing very well in many areas.   I have commissioned Lynden Farms, and in a very short while, they will be the largest producer of any poultry product in the South East. We just commissioned one phase and it is currently producing 54,000 crates of egg per day, and by the time they are done with the remaining eight, they’ll be doing well over 500,000 eggs per day and that is the largest in the South East. ‘’Before now, the day old chicks were brought from Ibadan, and when I came, I wanted Anambra to supply day old chicks to all the poultries in the South East and we are already actualizing that. We are also doing well in industrialization,

Oil and Gas

“In our oil and gas pursuits,   we are leveraging on the only oil and gas company in Anambra State, Orient Petroleum Limited. I am using my banking background to see if we can get investors because they need money to extract oil from the oil wells.

We have two prospects. One is a Chinese firm and another one is   South African. My interest is in the refinery at Nsugbe, which will produce 55,000 barrels per day when it is completed. We are working on the international airport and the three main roads leading to the airport, have been constructed but not asphalted for now, and what we have in mind, is to pump the ATK into a dump at Umueri which is a short distance from Nsugbe, so that international flights that unfortunately take fuel from Ghana, will take fuel from Umueri and you can imagine the multiplier effect that would have on our economy.

Where Anambra wants to be

‘’It takes only 3.5 km stretch of road to do an international airport. At Nsugbe we have 7.5 km. Where Anambra wants to be, is the first position. We are already doing that in education and have consistently been number one for three years in external exams like WAEC and NECO. We want to sustain and improve on what we are doing in the health sector. The President has acknowledged that Anambra is the safest place in the country, as he told other governors during the inauguration of the NEC meeting.

‘’At the moment we have orders to supply five million tubers of yam to the United States of America, and the money will go to Ndi Anambra because I want my people to be comfortable. When the federal government announced the recession, they did so with a note of finality. When there is a recession, people should also be assured of the plans to tackle the recession and that is what we did in Anambra. As soon as the recession was announced, we checked our strengths and weaknesses and came up with the Economic Stimulus Package.’’

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