Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Anambra and the Road to Dubai -- The Real Issue

By Chuks Iloegbunam, Daily Champion/All Africa

I was one of those in the audience in June 2006 when my friend, Prof. Chukwuma Charles Soludo, delivered the keynote address entitled Anambra 2030: Envisioning the African Dubai, Taiwan and Silicon Valley.

The occasion was the 2006 Anambra Development Summit. An abridged version of the lecture took up the entire back page of ThisDay of Monday September 21, 2009, among other newspapers. I do have a problem with the method of that abridgment which I must, first of all, go ahead and set aside before discussing some of the points investigated by Professor Soludo in the said piece. True, and as the learned professor and former Governor of the Nigeria Central Bank pointed out, he delivered that lecture under the auspices of the League of Anambra Professionals (LAP). But that is not the whole story.

The summit took place in Awka, the capital of Anambra State. It was hosted by Governor Peter Obi, a fully paid-up member of the LAP, who actually facilitated Soludo's participation at the summit, alongside countless other Igbo intellectuals from within Nigeria and abroad. Had these salient facts not been curiously deleted from the abridgement, a more composite picture would have emerged from what the highly-regarded Nigerian readers were allowed to glean.

It is this foundational disharmony that probably blinkered the cause that the distinguished Professor of Economics attempted to espouse. For his abridgment pretended that society is static, that in the nearly four years since his presentation, not one stone has been lifted and placed atop another stone in the state of his birth.

I am making the point that Soludo ought to have gone beyond the motions of recycling obsolete thought; he should have updated his 2006 disquisition. Has Anambra moved forward since 2006? Or remained motionless? Or retrogressed?

These are pertinent questions that his article should have answered. Failure to broach this fundamentality needlessly painted the picture of a man of intellectual means engaged in the futility of barging into open doors. How can we have had foisted upon all of us solutions of the analogue variety when we are solidly in the digital age? "We do not have reliable data on the size of Anambra's GDP", opined Professor Soludo in 2006. How could a Governor of the Central Bank for five whole years let off this bleakness in 2009 when he is in the best position to tell Nigeria what the Anambra's GDP was four years ago and what it has become or should have become today?

I find this shyness in the hard-scissoring face of statistical reality entirely indefensible. It blows a whistle. A whistle on foul play. Soludo claims that "Basic statistics are lacking." And he posits a set of questions: "How many people are we planning for? What are the demographics? What is the level of unemployment? How do we measure the impact of various government programmes and projects on poverty?

I don't know of any state with a reliable State Statistical Agency (SSA). Is Anambra going to be the first - perhaps working in collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics?" When Professor Soludo asks how many people we are planning for in Anambra State in 2009, it means that he does not recognize the figures of the last national census posted by the National Population Commission. It is as simple as that. If Soludo doesn't recognize the national census figures, his query about its demographics are merely academic.

Elsewhere, Professor Soludo praised the Anambra Integrated Development Strategy (ANIDS). Well, that happens to be the basic instrument with which the administration of Mr. Peter Obi is developing all sectors of Anambra State simultaneously. ANIDS is also the veritable instrument with which we measure the impact of Peter Obi's administration on Anambra State. It is the lonestar that has guided every positive pronouncement on Anambra State under Peter Obi by both local observers and international donor agencies and developmental organizations.

"Is Anambra going to be the first [with a reliable State statistical agency] - perhaps working in collaboration with the National Bureau of Statistics?" I have good news for Professor Soludo. Mr. Peter Obi, the Governor of Anambra State, recently received an award from the Nigerian Statistical Association, for being the first Governor in the country to sign into law the Statistics Bill, and for placing due premium on the imperative of working with undivided attention to data.

It is because of the already mentioned fixation with abridgement that Soludo represented a dated, 2006 installation that discountenances some of the more significant moments in Anambra's developmental history since the inception of the Peter Obi administration? It explains why Professor Soludo rendered the following sentence: "We urgently need to recover whatever is left of Onitsha, Nnewi and Awka, and the entire state through a Master Plan which must be implemented faithfully."

It isn't in the nature of things in this world to 'urgently need to recover' something that is self-evidently in place. After all, it is a matter of public record that Governor Peter Obi launched during May 2009 the Anambra State's Master Plan - conceived and commissioned by his administration - at the Women Development Centre, Awka.

The Master Plan in question was not manufactured at the Ochanja or Jankara market. It was produced by the UN-Habitat, which is an arm of the United Nations. Readers of this piece may wish to refer to page 33 of The Guardian of June 1, 2009 which is the papers Homes/Property page, for a detailed write-up on this development.

They may also wish to refer to the front page of The Nation of May 29, 2009 which carries a photograph of Governor Obi receiving the three large volumes of the Master Plan from Dr. Alioune Badiane, the Regional Director for Africa and Arab States of the UN-Habitat. Other newspapers reported this landmark event around the tail end of May/the beginning of June 2009, including the Sun which carried it on page 84 of its edition of May 29, 2009.

What Obi made on that historic day was a plaintive appeal for all to join hands with him for the successful implementation of the Master Plan. His appeal is already being heeded. Only on September 23, 2009 and at the Okpoko area of Onitsha, Governor Obi flagged off the Urban Upgrade Programme of the slum, an exercise that is a part of the recommendations contained in the UN-Habitat Master Plan drawn up for Anambra State at the very instance of Mr. Peter Obi. Yet, Professor Soludo is saying during the same week that Anambra State requires to draw up a Master Plan! This cannot be just and proper. It certainly does not wash.

I agree with Professor Soludo that Anambra State is the hub of the South-East geopolitical zone; indeed it is the major commercial centre of Eastern Nigeria. But, until Peter Obi came into the picture as Governor, Anambra was a hub with broken spokes, a hub that hardly had any real values in terms of communications.

The roads were treacherous and hardly passable. But, in less than four years, the Peter Obi administration has asphalted over 400 kilometres of roads - more than the combined achievements of all previous administrators of Anambra State in this vital sector. Perhaps, I should zero in on the Anambra North Senatorial District to consolidate my argument. Anambra North was until the arrival of Peter Obi, treated as pariah territory, with no visible federal or state presence. But the Obi administration has since constructed the Amaeze-St. Joseph Church-Stadium road in Aguleri. It has completed the Awkuzu-Umueri-Aguleri-Out Ocha road

It is constructing the Umueze Anam-Mmiata road - the very first time this vital road that leads to the breadbasket of Anambra State has been tarred since time! The Obi administration has constructed the Omo-Ifite Ogwari-Omasi road in the Ayamelum Local Government area. Given all the roads constructed by the Obi administration, it is obvious that it has met its responsibility regarding the "linkage roads to strategic locations" that Soludo has only just begun to promote! Except the distinguished professor is saying that the Federal responsibility for the "West-East road; East-Abuja road; Anambra-Port-Harcourt-Warri road" has devolved to Awka. Be that as it may, I must not fail to point out that the contract for the Atani-Ogwiekpele road, right up to Anambra's border with Rivers State was awarded in 2006 by the Obi administration. Work on it is ongoing.

Perhaps Soludo's solution suffers its saddest setback from the inherent and embarrassing misapprehensions in his theoretical formulation. Claims Soludo: "The demographics of Anambra have two major defects which affect its capacity to develop. The first is the separation of the educated elite from the traders; and the second is the continued drain of the best brains from the state into other parts of the world."

Looked at casually, Professor Soludo may seem to have a point. But the instrument of critical analysis unambiguously underscores the bluntness of his point. To take his second point first. The world has become a global village.

This setting clearly abhors the sedentary intellectual who may not venture outside his homestead for fear of draining its patrimony. In our experience as a government, Anambra people have benefitted invaluably from the contributions of our brothers and sisters spread and scattered across the centres of scholarship on the five continents.

Just as Professor Soludo did, a good many of these foreign-based Ndigbo presented papers at the 2006 Anambra Economic Summit, and at the ones that followed subsequently. Some of the best contributions we have received in the health sector in the past three and a half years have come from Ndi Anambra domiciled in the United States.

Some of those who have given pep to our football - people like Mikel Obi, who is from Anambra State, operate in Europe, a fact that has not meant a devaluation of the beautiful game in our entity. In contradistinction, there are Anambra folks who live right inside Onitsha, for instance, who have never bothered to contribute anything to whatever is being done to develop the state. In other words, distance is not the issue. Nor is it absence. It is all a matter of presence of mind. And I dare say that our people in the Diaspora are contributing their quota to the development of our beloved Anambra State.

Again the line between town and gown in Anambra State is not only thin but also tenuous. Igbo republicanism ensures the right of speech and the right of participation to both the professor and the peasant. Many of the town union presidents-general hold multiple university degrees. Yet there are others of them who scarcely posit scholarship as their strongest point.

Yet again they work in harmony. Therefore, it is hardly profitable to dichotomize a people along lines since obliterated by the movement of transition. There isn't a single example of a community in Anambra today which is not moving forward on account of contention between the educated elite and the traders. As a matter of fact the configuration of this problem discounts the high percentage of today's Igbo traders that hold down degrees from tertiary institutions.

Soludo preaches to the converted in his campaign for institutional development, public expenditure and land registration reforms. The Elders Council which dissuaded the Anambra State House of Assembly from continuing its contrived stalemate on the 2008 Budget was a Peter Obi creation. Peter Obi has received a number of awards as the most fiscally responsible Governor in Nigeria. Land registration in Anambra State has been computerized by the Peter Obi administration.

In sum, Soludo created the impression that Anambra's road to Dubai is an uncharted course even though it is obvious to dispassionate observers that Peter Obi's plane has cruised through African airspace and is already in contact with the control tower of the Dubai International Airport for imminent landing. This cannot be just and proper. It certainly does not wash.

Politics may have to do with yesterday; it certainly strains to master the challenges of tomorrow. Still, politics is essentially about today. Without the present the past cannot continue to make a meaning. Neither would there be any necessity to speculate on the vagaries of future. I advise Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo to pay more attention to the present.

He should discard antiquated assumptions and presumptions, most of which have been quite thoroughly discredited by the giant strides of the Peter Obi administration. The Igbo say that when the corpse of another man's son is being conveyed to the cemetery, it looks like it is a piece of wood that the funeral procession is bearing.

For this reason I should conclude on a note that homes in on the importance of fairness in interpersonal competition. Nobody is going to register success as the Central Bank Governor by denigrating Professor Soludo's tenure as Nigeria's Number One banker. In like manner, the road to Government House, Awka, should not be paved with macadam that denies the achievements of Governor Peter Obi.

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