By Emma Agu
“Many people are calling me to come and contest, but the point is, if Anambra has not broken, why mend it? This is a time of crises, and you don’t change a general in the middle of a war. Anambra, Obiano is your general. All of you planning to spend billions to contest governorship please bring your money and come and open factories and industries here to support the state economy. There will only be vacancy in Anambra government house in the next four years.”
-Professor Charles Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria while endorsing Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State for second term.
As preparations for the Anambra State gubernatorial election gather momentum, various candidates and interest groups are deploying every conceivable strategy to score as many political points as possible. To those against incumbent Governor Willie Obiano, the battle cry is to label him a Biafra hater who should not campaign with the name of Ikemba Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the late leader of Biafra, who remains the symbol of the All Progressive Grand Alliance, APGA, on whose platform the governor was elected. Their argument is that Obiano has not supported the Biafra cause and has not done enough for Nnewi, the industrial pearl of Anambra and home of the late leader of defunct Biafra.
It is a paradox that while there are those who would wish the Biafra dream away, the phenomenon remains as strong as it was when it started fifty years ago, to the extent that invoking it can be a formidable electoral asset in the south east. The same goes for the late Ikemba Nnewi who, for all practical purposes, remains a hero in Igboland. Therefore, it makes political sense to identify with Ojukwu the way politicians in other parts of Nigeria identify with their heroes.
But does Obiano qualify to ride on Ojukwu’s name to political stardom and electoral victory? Put differently, what qualifies one to be an Ikembarite? Is it simply Biafra sloganeering which, in some cases, amount to a subterfuge for self- validation, self-enrichment and political fame? Is it by promoting the dismemberment of Nigeria into flag-hoisting new geographical entities, each singing a new national anthem at the United Nations? Or are we talking about the legitimate demand for restructuring to save the country from self-destructing?
From an entirely different angle, wouldn’t the establishment of a new socio-economic force that creates new opportunities at home, that catalyzes a think home mentality and promotes aku ruo ulo, which places the Igbo nation on a strong political pedestal at home and commanding global recognition, meet the yearnings of the Igbo nation and by extension the Biafra ideal?
There are as many different answers to these questions as there are individuals and groups. However, to put the discussion in its proper perspective, it is advisable to recall that, in later years, Ojukwu had said that he would not hesitate to pick up arms, if the need arose, not to carve up Nigeria, but to defend the country from being dismembered! He was no longer the gladiator of old but the benign strategist who knew that most times, there could be many different routes to the same destination. He pushed for a political arrangement that guaranteed equity and fair play for all ethnic groups in Nigeria. But of greatest concern to him, also, was the enthronement of progressive governments driven by the highest ideals that would restore the lost glory of Igboland epitomized by the globally recognized economic miracle of the defunct eastern region of Nigeria.
Considered from that angle, one can say without equivocation that Obiano is serving creditably in pushing the frontiers of that ideal. Enumerating the usual deliverables such as good roads, educational infrastructure, hospitals and security of lives and property would be adjudged commonplace in today’s Anambra State. Since Chris Ngige’s era, such indices of growth have been taken for granted with Peter Obi setting a pace in infrastructural development that is now cited as the reference point of good governance all over Nigeria. Ask the average Anambrarian and he or she will proudly tell you that Anambra is on the rise. On security, the transformation of Anambra, from its previous unenviable reputation as a dangerous enclave to a state where there is now zero tolerance for crime testifies to the giant strides recorded in establishing a safe zone for human habitation and investment.
So, in what sense does Obiano’s Anambra approximate Ikemba’s dream? To what extent can it be said that his administration has contributed to creating the psychological and physical environment of the new Biafra? That is, if, we accept that, the Biafra, of our dream, should be an investment-driven economic proposition guided by a clear-sighted political vanguard that gives the Igbo in the Diaspora the confidence to invest at home; that reverses the migration of the Igbo to other parts of the country where, time and again, they are placed in jeopardy and ultimately, to confer the political clout that only a strong geo-political bonding can generate. I think that is where Obiano is making a difference, where he has created a new political economy.
The city airport project at Umuleri is the latest and perhaps, the most profound illustration of the profundity of Obiano’s vision. To be sure, building an airport is nothing new. Imo, Delta and Gombe States have all built their own airports. So, there is nothing new in a state government building an airport. What is novel in the Obiano paradigm is that he is not just building an airport; he is developing a new city, with an airport as its hub. The Umuleri International Cargo Airport is conceived as an “Airport City Model” comprising an airport with dual runway, a shopping mall, industrial and business parks and an airport motel. Perhaps, most significant in the business model is that, for the first time in airport development in Nigeria, the project affected people have been factored into the conceptualization and life of the project. Believe it or not, for the life of the project, host community, Umuleri will receive 4.3 percent of the yearly profit. If you are looking for the definition of democracy dividend, here is it!
Much more reassuring, three years from today, a new city will emerge in Anambra State. Think of the huge effect of this project in redrawing the critical demography of the state. Imagine the multiplier effect of this on the state, the developmental impetus that it would trigger, spreading far beyond the boundaries of the state to far off locations in Kogi, Imo, Enugu and Delta States? What about the predictable inflow of investment capital from thousands of Igbo men and women in the Diaspora who would confidently invest in real estate, travel and tours, ICT, hospitality and haulage, and the security and stevedoring services that would necessarily flow from this well though-out project, this visionary step? Not to mention the huge job creation opportunities that, for many a young school leaver, will mean the difference between a life of self worth and existing on the fringes of discrimination, groveling and frustration in climes that could be palpably disorienting? This, to me, is a resurgent Biafra without a gun!
The dream Biafra of the average Igbo is a congenial environment where he will not suffer discrimination because of his ethnic background, where he has equal access to the bounties of nature with other people of other nationalities in the Nigeria project, where he can hone his skills and ply his trade. He yearns for a return of the halcyon days of regular power supply, of reliable means of transportation, where government can guarantee the safety of lives and property and he can worship his Maker the way he deems fit. It is in that sense that Biafra is at once a geographical as well as a mental construct. I am persuaded to argue that Obiano, more than anyone else, is pushing the frontiers of the Biafra that will emerge without firing a shot, without any acrimonious debate and without Nigeria losing an inch of its territory.
It is in the place of Anambra voters to decide whether or not Obiano should be re-elected or who their next governor should be. I do not have that locus. But I hope that I have the liberty to state that since the time of Ngige, Anambra has continued to provide laudable leadership in good governance. I also strongly believe that, given a say in the matter, like Professor Charles Soludo, former governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Ojukwu, who I had the privilege of meeting at solemn moments that challenged the Igbo identity, would have endorsed Obiano as a true son of Biafra!
*Agu, publisher of Zest Traveller magazine, is a fellow of both the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE) and the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ).