Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Willie Obiano Shines In Governorship Debate

 By Chuks Iloegbunam
 Governor Willie Obiano displayed a sense of purpose all through the debate. He was first asked the nature of the quarrel between him and ex-Governor Peter Obi. He brushed it aside, saying that Mr. Obi was not a candidate in the governorship ballot. His preference was to state his work and his plans for Ndi Anambra. In the course of the debate, the Governor was asked if he could authenticate the story that Mr. Obi had demanded a refund of the N7.5 billion he claimed to have invested in his election. Yes, indeed, the demand had been made but Obiano declined to pay any such money because Anambra was not indebted to anybody on campaign funding. These underscore his clarity of thought on the night.
*Gov Willie Obiano 
The issue of probity was raised. Mr. Oseloka Obaze accused Governor Obiano of selling off dollars “they” had saved for “future generations.” This was the Governor’s masterful response: “First, that’s Anambra’s money. In banking, we call it ‘liquidity management’. You don’t leave an idle fund when you desire to put funds into activities. This guy (Peter Obi) left a debt of N127 billion. Contractors have to be paid. While you are balancing your act, you won’t have money sitting in the bank and you are looking for money to pay contractors. That’s a legitimate transaction. It is not a personal fund. So, in liquidating only $10 million (out of over $100 million) in four years to be able to pay contractors in a recession is good. That’s money management.”

There was another argument in support of selling off some dollars to keep the wheels of government running. Money kept in the bank can only provide a baseline interest of below 5 percent in most cases. Why should Anambra State go borrowing at 25-27 percent interest rates to pay contractors when it had funds sitting in banks? It was clear that the Governor had dealt with the issue squarely. But Chidoka and Obaze turned his response on its head and claimed that Obiano didn’t believe in saving for posterity. Did those who cheered at this inanity actually understand the Governor’s thought flow?

Chidoka was no more than faux pas packaged in fluent speech. But elocution is not an ingredient of good governance. In Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the point is made that those whose palm kernels are cracked by benevolent spirits hardly understand the task involved in the cracking of kernels. This is applicable to Chidoka.  In making the point that he deserved reelection, Governor Obiano jibed at Obaze and Chidoka, saying that the former, having worked at the United Nations, should be drafted Syria for humanitarian work, and the latter, previously of the Federal Road Safety Corps should be engaged in controlling traffic at some road intersection. Riled, Chidoka claimed that it wasn’t much of an achievement that Obiano ended his corporate career as the Number Two Man in a “medium sized bank”! He had headed the FRSC at 35!     

Well, Mr. Chidoka missed the point completely. His headship of the Road Safety Corps was not by dint of hard work. It was a political appointment from two benevolent spirits that showed up in the forms of the late Ojo Maduekwe and ex-President Goodluck Jonathan. Such preferment cannot be compared to the sterling qualities of Obiano who, with first and second degrees in Accountancy and Business Administration respectively, went on to attain the position of Chief Internal Auditor at Chevron Oil Nigeria Plc before veering into banking where he retired without professional blemish as the Executive Director of Fidelity Bank, one of the leading financial institutions in the country.
It is normal that, in a competition involving many contestants, opinions may vary as to those that came out tops. After all, perspectives are often as many as there are individuals. It is possible to find people screaming that Tony Nwoye performed excellently in the debate. It is also possible to see folks swearing that Godwin Ezeemo carried the day. But, from where I am standing, the duo might as well have skipped the evening. They put up dismal performances, Nwoye much more so. The fact that APC e-rats,” commanders” of the social media, have been maintaining studied silences since the debate speaks volumes on the debacle that was their man’s outing.

Let’s start with fact checking. Tony Nwoye claimed to be the first Igbo to head the National Association of Nigerian Students. But, during the First Republic, Osita Okeke headed NUNS and led the students’ body to occupy Parliament in Lagos, a demonstration that led to the abrogation of the infamous Anglo-Nigerian Defence Pact. Much later, Orji Nwafor Orizu headed the national students’ body in 1976-77, and Emma Ezeazu from 1986 to 1988. Tony Nwoye was also wrong to claim that the Federal Government would not pay the N43.8 billion it owes Anambra State because permission had not been obtained from Abuja before all the work done by Governor Obiano on Federal roads. How could a Federal legislator be so ignorant of the fact that the Federal Government has, on several occasions, publicly acknowledged that it owes Anambra the sum of N43.8 billion on its projects in Anambra that the state government carried out?

Nwoye went on to criticize the APC Federal Government for declaring IPOB a terrorist organization, forgetting that he belonged to the same party. His gaffes didn’t stop there. He called some IPOB members irresponsible, and aggressed the moderator for merely cautioning that his time was up. Yet, Ezeemo and Nwoye had some flashes of inspiration. For instance, Nwoye hit the nail on the head when he conceded that Governor Obiano had done well in the area of security. Ezeemo was also spot on when he stated that the “APC has denied the South East their national cake”, adding that “Our brothers that occupied juicy positions in the previous administration, like my brother Chidoka, the former Aviation Minister, could not represent us well.”

Let us now look at the other two interlocutors – Chidoka and Obaze – given that the chattering classes have been harping on their “superlative” performances. This verdict is not surprising because there is something called MERETRICIOUS, which was what the two opposition candidates turned out to be. People who ranked them high simply based their fleeting judgment on oratorical prowess. During the late 1970s and early 1980s, the rooms of undergraduates in our campuses used to be decorated with a poster with this message: “When Cicero Senghor had spoken, the people said, ‘How well he spoke. But after Demosthenes Neto had spoken, the people said, ‘Let us march!’” A content analysis of the overall input of Chidoka and Obaze in that debate marked them out as people you dare not ask for directions if you wish to reach a destination. This is because they will tell you that there is a roundabout three kilometres away, without telling you whether to head straight or turn left or turn right when you get to it.

Anybody who cares can go play back the recording of the debate. There is no point at which these politicians mentioned what they would do if they attained power. All they did was criticize options posited by Governor Obiano. Of course, this was due to a flaw in the format of the debate. The correct arrangement would have been thus: on the first question, go alphabetically by party names thus: APC, APGA, PDP, PPA and UPP, as was done. Then, on the second question, start from the UPP back to the APC. This was not done. Rather, the audience had Nwoye and Obiano always answering first for Chidoka and Obaze to move in with thoughtless criticism.

The moderator asked whether Anambra State needed an airport at this time. Mr. Obaze replied that the people he wishes to govern couldn’t have their own airport because there are airports in Asaba, Owerri, and Enugu! His answer was disingenuous. It was the late Air Commodore Emeka Omeruah, as military Governor of the old Anambra State, who conceived the idea of an airport in what is today’s Anambra State – the Oba Airport, Onitsha. As Governor, Peter Obi sustained the interest but moved the location of the proposed airport to Umueri. As SSG to Obi and Obiano, Mr. Obaze knew this and fully supported it. But it became convenient for him to shift the goalposts, instead of praising the good sense of Governor Obiano who expanded the vision of the airport into an airport city or aerotropolis.

 Mr. Chidoka also said the state he wishes to run does not deserve an airport because the Asaba Airport “is seven miles away.” He didn’t say whether it was seven miles from his hometown of Obosi or seven miles from Alex Ekwueme’s hometown of Oko? Coming from a former Aviation Minister, this was appalling. The asinine position of Chidoka and Obaze on the Anambra airport grates the ears, despite their vaunted elocution. They kept claiming that the project would cost an arm and a leg when it was made clear from day one that Anambra isn’t putting a dime into the airport’s construction. Chidoka gleefully announced that, as Aviation Minister, he “received” the airports constructed in Bauchi, Jigawa and Kebbi. But he did not attract a single airport to the entire South East during his tenure. Yet, his predecessor, Princess Stella Oduah, made Enugu an international airport to the overwhelming Igbo acclaim.

It made little sense for Chidoka and Obaze to have kept saying that the percentage of takeoffs from the Igbo country was low. It was low because international airports are not in the region. It is generally acclaimed that Ndigbo constitute about 50 percent of all airborne trips in and out of Nigeria. Ethiopian Airlines started operating international flights from the Enugu Airport on August 24, 2013; it commenced cargo business there on August 23, 2016. Would these have happened if the route were not viable? Has there been any time the Ethiopian Airlines took off from Enugu with less than profitable load factor?

Igbo businessmen mostly use Lagos Airport for conducting overseas businesses. When they picked their imports, whether from the Apapa ports or the Lagos airport, they run a gamut of intractable problems moving them to Onitsha – traffic jams, multiple checkpoints manned by the military, the Police, the Customs, the Immigration, and they face armed robbers and sundry bandits. Now that their monumental problems are about to be alleviated by the Umueri Aerotropolis, out come Obaze and Chidoka to say the project will be scrapped if they are elected governor. What a shame.

Have they bothered about the hundreds of thousands of direct and indirect jobs that will issue from the airport? Did they consider that Umueri is conceived as a refueling station for local and international aircraft, using ATK or Aviation Turbine Kero cracked at the Nsugbe refinery by Orient Petroleum? People have been in great shock since the debate, wondering why any Igbo politician will kick against an airport close to Onitsha and Nnewi, two of the largest market in West Africa.

Dr. Ugo Egbujo, a constant Facebook commentator has made this comment in respect of the debate: “Ordinarily Nwoye is the sort of thing that happens to an unfortunate local government. But he is here running forcefully for a second time without ideas. Once with Chris Uba. Now propelled by multibillionaire Arthur Eze. Nwoye seeks to rely on federal might and Eze’s money. I would like to see how the VP would sell Nwoye this week. Tony Nwoye cannot be sold by anyone that has a church mind. A party that stands for something cannot field Tony Nwoye to run for anything more than ward chairman.”

To my mind, nonetheless, Osita Chidoka and Oseloka Obaze, who would scrap the Umueri Aerotropolis, appear like more dangerous customers. Their schemes are inimical to Igbo interests and too hazardous to contemplate.  The rational intent on Anambra’s continued march to greatness will not vote for these men. Specifically, Obaze is operating from a dysfunctional ambit as Peter Obi’s boy. The moderator asked if Mr. Obi was his godfather, he replied by saying that he got to know Dr. Alex Ekwueme when he was only seven years old, and had sought the legend’s views before joining the governorship race. But Ekwueme has not been leading him from pillar to post. Ekwueme has not sunk money into his campaign as Peter Obi has done. Even in the PDP advert that fronted each segment of the debate, Peter Obi was the focal point. It didn’t occur to Obaze that the Obi achievements mentioned in the commercial were straight out of APGA’s manifesto!

There is one more intervention from Governor Obiano, to end this piece. Said Obiano: “The previous administration made N17 billion in IGR during its first three and a half years; it made N40 billion in its eight years. In three and a half years, my total IGR was N50 billion. Another point I want to make is this: check the last four years of the last administration and my first four years; if you check the amounts collected and put them in Dollars, you will see that he (Peter Obi) collected $2.7 billion while I collected only $.8 billion. Therefore, during the same period, I got only 40 percent of what the previous administration got from statutory allocations.” If people pondered this, they will inevitably conclude that Governor Obiano is masterfully piloting the affairs of Anambra State. People will vote for his reelection rather than mortgage their future to flowery speeches and fabulous builders of “portable roads.” Anambra people, perceptive as they are, will not abandon the circumstance of a royal celebration for the propitiation of Agwu, the minor god of Recklessness. People will vote for Chief Willie Obiano, the only candidate who constitutionally cannot govern Anambra beyond 2022, which will deliver the governorship to Anambra South in four years.

Mr. Chuks Iloegbunam is the chairman of Governor Obiano’s Media Team.

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