Social Cohesion in Nigeria: The Anambra Example

With a gross domestic product (GDP) of $13.77 billion out of Nigeria’s $375.8 billion, and with GDP per capita of $2,295 as against Nigeria’s GDP per capita of $1,968; Anambra State has the fourth healthiest economy among the 36 States in Nigeria plus the Federal Capital Territory. If it were a nation, its GDP per capita would be the 17th biggest in Africa, ahead of countries like Ghana, Tanzania, Kenya, Senegal and the Democratic Republic of Congo. The recent national recession had a minimum impact on our State because the government introduced a stimulus package which caused the most vulnerable in our midst to be exempted from tax and some other official payments. Our upward salary review- the only State to do so in the last six years-  as well as the regular salary payment ensured constant  circulation of money in the State.

Willie Obiano, Executive Governor of Anambra State.

The massive influx of investments into Anambra State, amounting to some $4 billion, is another significant factor in the impressive economic performance in recent times. To state the obvious, all these would not have been possible if the security situation in Anambra had not been exemplary. Our State is today adjudged the safest in the whole of Nigeria. Our new status is a huge leap from what the security situation was, less than six years ago. We were almost overrun by kidnappers and armed robbers, who were variously reported to be better equipped than most policemen.

Our most successful men and women were compelled to abandon their communities. We saw entrepreneurs like Sir Elvis Emecheta from Abatete in Idemili North Local Government Area take their factories to places like Abuja. For the first time, we saw even custodians of our culture conduct their daughters’ traditional marriages in faraway places like Lagos. An example is Chief C. C. Ifeanyi, an Ichie in Ihiala and a former President of the Association of Anambra Town Unions (ASATU) in Lagos. Umunne m, I regret that even to this day, we have not known the whereabouts of the traditional ruler of Ihembosi in Ekwusigo Local Government Area who was kidnapped six years ago.

Within two years of assuming office, the present administration made, not just kidnapping, but also armed robbery and other violent crimes practically a thing of the past. A lot of thinking and innovations went into making our beloved Anambra Nigeria’s safest State within a short period. This is a noble example of the difference which effective leadership makes in every society. Anambra is no longer just the safest State in Nigeria; it is the most peaceful, the most united and the most socially harmonious. Let the facts speak.

On March 17, 2018, when Governor Willie Obiano was sworn in for a second tenure, the impressive crowd was indeed a rainbow coalition. It comprised the everyday people who made him Nigeria’s first “21-Over-21” Governor, and instructively included those who ran against him in the historic March 17, 2017, gubernatorial polls. Godwin Ezeemo, the Progressive Party Alliance (PPA) candidate, was one of them. In the VIP Stand were also distinguished politicians from the so-called opposition parties like the All Progressives Congress (APC) and the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). Quite a number came from outside the State like Senator Ken Nnamani, a former Senate President, as well as various state governors. Most leading entrepreneurs from Anambra State like Dr ABC Orjiako, Chief Allen Onyema and Mr Cosmas Maduka, who, as a matter of principle do not associate with any political party, were there in solidarity with- not just him- but the good people of Anambra State. It was the first time in recent decades in our country that leading members of the opposition, including the very candidates who contested against the winner, demonstrated such magnanimity and solidarity. It is needless to mention that, for the first time in our recent history; candidates of the main political parties did not challenge the election result but rather wrote congratulatory messages to the winner. Hitherto, our politicians and candidates would go all the way to the Supreme Court on flimsy grounds. Olusegun Adeniyi, Chairman of Thisday Editorial Board, reported ex President Goodluck Jonathan as stating, in an interview for his book on why Dr Jonathan lost the 2015 Presidential Elections that Anambra politicians used to obtain contradictory court judgments, making each person the candidate of his or her party in an election. The court action in most cases lasted throughout the term of office in contention. But things are now different. A new spirit is at work in Anambra State.

This spirit signifies another massive leap from the dark days of bitter partisan politics in the State. Anambra is so peaceful and cohesive today that many have forgotten that this is the same State where, only a few years ago, a sitting governor was abducted by his own party men over political differences. This is the same State where the governor-elect was taken to a shrine in the dead of the night by his own party leaders to swear an oath of perpetual and uncritical allegiance to so-called godfathers over spoils of office. This is the same State where some politicians carried out mayhem for three days- destroying in broad daylight such institutions and facilities as Government House in Awka, the Governor’s Lodge in Onitsha, the House of Assembly Complex, the Judicial Complex and the Anambra Broadcasting Service. We thank God that our State is today an oasis of peace, tranquillity and growth. A new spirit is, indeed, at work!

The new spirit is reflected in the elegant and elaborate farewell which the Anambra State Government accorded former Vice President Alex Ekwueme (GCON) early last year. He was deserving of the great honour. Dr Ekwueme was one of the greatest statesmen ever produced on the African Continent. In rolling out the drums for him, the Anambra State Government, controlled by the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), did not mind that the fallen former Vice President was a member of a rival party (PDP), a party which he led and practically founded. In fact, Dr Ekwueme’s first child, Mrs Chidi Onyemelukwe, practically ran against Gov Willie Obiano in the November 17 election. She was the PDP deputy governorship candidate. Dr Ekwueme died only two days after the election. In the new Anambra State which is now evolving, we do not discriminate or harbour bitterness. The late Professor Ali Mazrui, the most published African scholar, would refer to the new Anambra State as a good example of what he called ‘Africa’s short memory of hate’.

In the new Anambra State, we make reconciliation, peace, tranquillity and harmony a way of life. This is why Obiano extended the Olive Branch on Friday, August 4, 2016, to his friend and predecessor, Chief Peter Greg Obi, CON, KSG, when it was reported in the media that the former governor was bearing a grudge against him over an issue which he still has not been able to comprehend. Chief Obiano chose to show the Olive Branch on an auspicious occasion: the burial mass of their common principal at Christ the King College in Onitsha, Reverend Father Nicholas Tagbo, which was attended by a large crowd.

The governor was inspired by the golden words of Pope John Paul the Second expressed during his visit to Nigeria in March, 1998, to beatify Venerable Michael Cyprian Iwene Tansi, a proud son of Anambra State. It was a tense moment in Nigeria’s history. Chief M.K.O. Abiola, the winner of the June 12 1993 presidential election, and many other prominent Nigerians were in incarceration. In his homily entitled “Be Reconciled”, Pope John Paul admonished the General Sani Abacha military government and other African governments to reconcile their peoples, “All Nigerians must work to rid society of everything that offends the dignity of the human person or violates human rights. This means reconciling differences, overcoming ethnic rivalries, and injecting honesty, efficiency and competence into the art of governing… when we see others as brothers and sisters, it is then possible to begin the process of healing the divisions within society and between ethnic groups. This is the reconciliation which is the path to true peace and authentic progress for Nigeria and for Africa. This reconciliation is not weakness or cowardice. On the contrary, it demands courage and sometimes even heroism. It is victory over self rather than over others”.

Reconciliation, peace and equity are, to us, articles of faith because of the far-reaching effects. We believe passionately in Onye aghana nwanne ya. Our administration decided to pay two of Governor Obiano’s predecessors, Dr Chinwoke Mbadinuju and Dr Chris Ngige, their pensions and other entitlements denied them for years for unexplained reasons. Frankly, I do not think we did them a supreme favour by paying them. The law provides for their pensions and other entitlements like other former governors. We merely obeyed the law, fully conscious that doing so would help bring about reconciliation, peace and harmony in the State. We not only believe but also practise the philosophy of Onye aghana nwanne ya.

Our deliberate peace efforts helped to make the November 17, 2017 gubernatorial election free of violence. There were no violent incidents leading to the election or during the election or in the aftermath. There was no acrimony over the result even when the people of our dear State voted for APGA as one man. Indeed, it is a mark of the unity and cohesion in today’s Anambra State that the result in each of the 21 local government areas in the State was basically the same. The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) conducted its freest and fairest and most transparent election ever on November 17, 2017. We are proud it was held in our homeland.

Anambra State is today a perfect example of a place where different ethnic groups and religious traditions exist in harmony. The Fulani herdsmen, for example, have testified on different occasions that they feel very much at home in our State. We got them to sign an agreement with crop farmers as well as communities with significant Fulani settlements on how each group could conduct its business peacefully. This agreement is applied strictly, regardless of whose ox is gored. Any person whose crops are destroyed by animals is quickly paid an adequate compensation and any person who injures or kills a herd of cattle is made to appropriately pay for it. All stakeholders acknowledge that the policy is just and works for the benefit of all.

I am glad that the atmosphere of sectional distrust which we inherited a little over four years ago has now given way to solidarity and camaraderie. We received our baptism of the fire of religious politics and suspicion when Ebenezer Anglican Church at Nkwelle Ezunaka in Oyi Local Government Area was destroyed in August, 2014, owing to a communal misunderstanding. Politicians who wanted Anambra State to become Africa’s Northern Ireland quickly began to spread the dangerous lie that the new Anambra State Government, headed by a Catholic, was responsible for the demolition. Even some religious leaders who should know better fell for the horrible lie. The atmosphere was tense. But our people were to discover the truth shortly, and embraced it because, as the Holy Bible says in John 8:32, “you shall know the truth, for only the truth shall set you free”.  We have in the last three years fought religious dichotomy successfully. We fought it with justice, fairness, transparency and commitment to the common good. We now have a very peaceful, united and harmonious State. Let me quickly state here that one of our greatest supporters in this campaign has been The Most Rev Dr Nicholas Okoh, Primate of the Anglican Church in Nigeria. The people of Anambra State will ever remain grateful to him for being an apostle of truth, justice and courage. He is a very wise leader and true servant of God. He embodies the ecumenical spirit, the spirit of togetherness, the spirit of live and let live.

It says a lot about the level of social cohesion in our State that whereas the relationship between organized labour and the government in many a state is frosty on account of non-payment of long salary arrears, gratuities and pensions and on account of sundry issues, our relationship with labour unions is, in one word, excellent.  I wonder if any Nigerian political office holder in Nigeria’s history has been paid the kind of compliments which Gov Obiano received from the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) and the Trade Union Congress (TUC).

They know we are the only government in the last six years in Nigeria to review workers salaries across the board. They recognise we are the first government in Nigeria to provide a stimulus package to help our people fight the terrible effects of the recent recession. They know we are the only government in the country still employing people into the public service; 1, 500 teachers are about to be employed for primary and secondary schools.

Umunne m, I would like to bring to your attention that the social harmony in our State is also felt in the relationship between the Executive arm of government and the Legislature. We work in close collaboration with each other for the good of our people. There have not been in the past five years reports of squabbles between the two arms of government, unlike in the recent past when the legislators impeached the governor or when the Executive-induced the suspension of legislators or when there were two Speakers of the same House of Assembly following an Executive-induced crisis. The Executive arm of government and the Legislative counterpart are on the same page in Anambra State.

Let me cite another example to demonstrate the unprecedented social cohesion in our State. You are all familiar with reports of incessant fights between state governors and their deputies across the nation, but not in today’s Anambra State. Admittedly, the relationship between the governor and his deputy in our State has not always been cordial since the return of democratic governance in 1999. Dr Mbadinuju had a nasty relationship with his deputy, Prince Chinedu Emeka, before they made up. Dr Ngige quarrelled with his deputy, Dr Okey Udeh, leading to the latter’s removal. Chief Obi quarrelled with his deputy, Dame Virgy Etiaba, which resulted in her being dropped as the running mate in the 2010 gubernatorial election. It says a lot about the present level of social harmony in Anambra State that all these former deputy governors are today with Gov Obiano, working tirelessly for the good of NdiAnambra. May I also add that I have noticed that Gov Obiano has from Day One enjoyed an excellent relationship with his deputy, His Excellency, Dr Nkem C. Okeke, Ugogbuzue n’Enugwu Ukwu na Umunri. Dr Okeke is the busiest Deputy Governor in Nigeria. The relationship between Gov Obiano and Deputy Gov Okeke is far superior to that of a boss and his subordinate. They are more than colleagues. They work like siblings. They are brothers.

Our investments in safety, unity, togetherness, camaraderie and solidarity have been yielding impressive results. We have recorded $4bn investments, mostly in agriculture. We are also beginning to see good investments in the Services Industry even in rural communities. An illustrious son of Anambra State, Dr Godwin Maduka, is about to complete a 17-storey complex in Umuchukwu, Orumba South LGA, which may house Africa’s most advanced medical research centre. Dr Obiora Chukwuka has built a five-star hotel in his hometown of Nnokwa, Idemili South LGA, which is always fully occupied. The list goes on.

I have never seen NdiAnambra so proud of their State as in recent years. I have never seen our people so optimistic of the future of their State. I have never seen our people repose so much confidence in the leadership of their State. An increasing number of wealthy persons working outside their state now pay their taxes in the state because of their growing faith in their State’s leadership. They are confident that their taxes will be used strictly for the development of their homeland. We thank such persons for their faith. We thank them for their patriotism. History will be kind to them.

Umunne m, we are committed to reconciliation, unity, tranquillity and solidarity because we recognise that investment, like finance, is a coward. It does not go to where it is likely to be threatened. It rather goes to places where it is desired, that is, places of peace. We are committed to social cohesion because it is central to the realization of our vision to make Anambra State the number one investment decision in Nigeria. We are already on the trajectory.

The organisers of this key conference, I thank you from the depths of my heart for the opportunity to address this august body on the conscious efforts we have made over the years to make peace, reconciliation, unity, camaraderie and solidarity a way of life in Anambra State and the vision which drives these efforts. We have gone beyond the call of duty because nke a bu nke anyi. May God bless you all and all the good people of Anambra State. Thank you, thank you very much!

C. Don Adinuba is the Commissioner for Information & Public Enlightenment in Anambra State.  The paper was originally presented  at a conference on ‘Criminality and Violence as Growing Phenomena in the 21st Century Globalised World’  organised by the Grace Uzoma Okonkwo Foundation in collaboration with the Department of English & Literary Studies, University of Nigeria Nsukka, on Monday, July 29, 2019, at the University of Nigeria.


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