By James Eze (firstname.lastname@example.org)
When the dust finally settles on everything as it often does, history will be kind to Governor Willie Obiano. And there is just one reason this is so. Since he took over the reins of leadership in Anambra State, Obiano seems to have handed enviable pages to history with each remarkable deed he has done in office. And there is not even the slightest attempt at hyperbole here. This is verifiable!
From his epic stamping out of kidnappers and violent criminals, through the highly acclaimed agricultural revolution, to his turning Anambra into an investment destination and transforming Awka into an emerging beauty, Obiano has left his imprint on the hearts of the people where the greatest pages of history are written.
But even so, Obiano may well have added a great new chapter to the history books when he rolled out the Choose-your-Project initiative for the 181 communities in Anambra State. Under this initiative, each community in the state is at liberty to select a development project that is dear to it, which the state government would execute with a sum not exceeding N20m. Each community has the sole responsibility of deciding what is best for it, determining where to cite the project and supplying the labour that would execute it. The state government merely provides the specification and ensures the strictest compliance to standards and commitment to the contractual terms of each project.
Gov. Willie Obiano of Anambra State
Introduced in the middle of the raging recession, the Choose-your-Project initiative seems a most unlikely scheme to be undertaken by any government in Nigeria. Most state governments have yet to fully understand the economic realities of recession and seem totally unprepared to tackle it. However, Governor Obiano has not only spent time in studying it but has gone ahead to roll out an initiative that would make his government squeeze out funds for capital intensive projects.
Against this backdrop therefore, the Choose-your-Project initiative is unique. A bold challenge to governments at all levels to rise beyond the common pale. But perhaps more importantly, it is a whole new development paradigm in governance!
Under this scheme, different communities in Anambra State opted for different projects according to their scale of preference. Some communities in the state including Umueri, Nkpunando-Otu, Anaku, Agulu and others are some beneficiaries of this scheme whose projects have already been completed. Some of these communities have already started putting these facilities to use while many of these projects are in advanced stages of completion.
Where there is a delay, it is mostly due to either indecision or lack of agreement on what to choose by some communities or lack of consensus on where to cite the projects. Fortunately, these projects have taken off in most of the communities. As a result, most breadwinners in these communities who are involved in the construction of these projects are able to put food on the table.
All things considered, what actually sets the Choose-your-Project initiative apart is not necessarily the timing of its implementation. Nor is it the obvious benefits it brings to the low income households who supply labour to the various construction sites. To my mind, what stands the initiative out is the new vista it opens in democratic governance in Nigeria.
I am impressed by the very fact that the initiative seeks to bring equity to governance; to make sure that every community in Anambra State has a government presence or the symbol of affection from the government in its domain. It ensures that everyone is given a sense of belonging and that every community in Anambra State matters to Governor Obiano and his team. This is ingenuity at work!
It must also be mentioned that beyond the need to touch every community with a government presence is the fundamental question of choice. The scheme allows each community to decide what is best for it. There is no arbitrary imposition of a white elephant project by a presumptuous government who postures as though it understands the needs of the people better than them.
There is something democratically liberating in being asked to choose what is best for one. Nothing can be exhilarating than the freedom of choice! In its finest manifestation, democracy should give us the liberty of choice. Democracy should offer us freedom from the tyranny of executive omniscience and arrogance; the assumption that the masses are not wise enough to know what’s best for them.
On the strength of this initiative alone, Governor Obiano appears to be breaking away from the mould of archetypal leaders who whimsically determine what is best for everyone. He is boldly and competently pointing out a new future for democracy in the developing world. Obiano’s model of Bottom-Up development paradigm will make for a good case study in the school of developmental economics and a fitting model for countries that desire a new approach to governance that tilts slightly away from the Western model that presupposes that the elected representatives of a people know what is best for them at the grassroots level.
And this is why the buzz is on about Governor Willie Obiano!