The trouble with Anambra

By Casmir Igbokwe

 Published: Sunday, 13 Apr 2008

THERE is a Christian song that the Catholic Prayer Ministry, Elele, in Rivers State, popularised in the 90s. When translated from Igbo, it means: “Today is a joyful day, everyday is not for weeping. Today is a joyful day, everyday is not for supplications.” Thousands of miracle-seeking faithful usually sang this song with faith and happiness.

This song came into my mind immediately I set out to write this piece. But realising that there is little to cheer about in our country today, I decided to reverse the lyrics. And so, for me, “Today is a sad day; everyday is not for laughter. Today is a day for sober reflection, a day to cry for Anambra State, nay, Nigeria.”

On Easter Sunday, Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi, was at St. Patrick‘s Catholic Church, Isuofia, in the Aguata Local Government Area of the state. In his speech at the service, he urged the congregation to pray for him. What is the reason? There are many wolves in and out of government, who are guided only by their selfish interests. These characters will not allow him to do the work the people of the state elected him to do.

I did not grasp the full import of this statement until the latest crisis over the state’s 2008 budget surfaced. Penultimate week, the House of Assembly Committee on Finance and Appropriation slashed the state’s budget from N84.2bn to N57.6bn. This generated some furore, which led to exchange of blows and throwing of chairs and tables at the assembly chambers. Media reports indicate that the committee reduced recurrent expenditure from N24.2bn to N21.9bn and capital expenditure from N60bn to 35.7bn. It also reduced the allocations to some other sectors, but reportedly increased the allocation to the House to N1.235bn from N284m.

To the House Leader, Mrs. Njideka Ezeigwe, the face-off between the lawmakers and Obi was because some of them purportedly refused to collect a plot of land and N50m each to facilitate the passage of the budget. According to her, “The governor has been rushing us to pass the 2008 budget without scrutinising it, but we have refused to be intimidated or blackmailed.” These lawmakers must be saints!

The executive/legislative altercation in Anambra did not start today. Recall that some legislators once organised themselves and claimed to have impeached Obi. He challenged it in the courts and won. Towards the end of 2007, the legislators also flexed muscles with him over the implementation of the 2007 Appropriation Act of the state. At a stage, the lawmakers alleged that the agents of the executive were threatening their lives. The governor denied this charge.

Incidentally, that state is home to many prominent Igbo citizens. The late Nnamdi Azikiwe hailed from the state. Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu is also from there. Other prominent citizens of the state are former Vice President, Dr Alex Ekwueme; former Commonwealth Secretary-General, Chief Emeka Anyaoku; foremost author, Prof. Chinua Achebe; the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Prof. Chukwuma Soludo; and the Director General of the National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control, Prof. Dora Akunyili.

The questions are: why is Anambra always in turmoil in spite of this array of personalities? And for how long will the state make headlines for the wrong reasons? In the days of Chinwoke Mbadinuju as governor, development flew away from the state. Civil servants could not take home their salaries. A terror gang masquerading as a vigilance group held sway. The people cried out but nobody heard them. Emeka Ngige replaced Mbadinuju as governor. He tried to work for the development of the state. But the powers that be did not give him any breathing space. At a point, they tried to abduct him just to intimidate him into submission.

Yet, this is a state that needs harmony and all the resources at its disposal to fight underdevelopment. Some of the roads in the state are still not what they should be. Though the Nnobi-Awka Etiti Road has been repaired, for instance, the Igbo Ukwu- Isuofia-Ekwulobia axis of the road is still in a terrible state. Public water supply is virtually non-existent in most towns. What most families resort to are wells and overhead tanks where they store rainwater for eventual use during the dry season.

There is also the challenge of erosion. Some parts of the state such as Nanka, Oko and Ekwulobia are the worst hit. The menace has swallowed up some houses there. One may not appreciate the enormity of this problem until one visits any of these erosion sites. The devastation is horrendous.

Besides, a litre of petrol in that state is between N90 and N100, instead of the N70 official price. A litre of kerosene is about N90. I understand the Pipelines and Products Marketing Company Limited no longer pumps products to the depots in Aba, Enugu and Makurdi. These are the issues a people-oriented assembly should be debating.

The trouble with Anambra is greed. Most people always look at things with business eyes. Hence, they see government as a business enterprise that must dole out dividends to stakeholders. Those dividends do not come in form of general development that will benefit everybody. They are expected to come in form of personal patronage to line the pockets of a few individuals.

Though the governor is a member of the All Progressives Grand Alliance, the 30 members of the assembly belong to the Peoples Democratic Party. And there are powerful interests in the state, who wish that the PDP also controlled the executive arm. It is time these divergent interests sank their differences in the general interest of the state.

Happily, some elders of the state have decided to wade in the crisis. People like the former governor of the state, Chukwuemeka Ezeife; former Health Minister, Tim Menakaya; former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Agunwa Anekwe; and the Catholic Bishop of Awka, Simon Okafor, among others, met with the lawmakers last week. Their mission was to find amicable ways of settling the budget impasse. The problem is that in a state where some people have little or no respect for elders, nothing much may come out of the intervention if it does not serve the selfish interest of some individuals.

The citizens of the state must be alert at all times. They must take a cue from Onitsha traders, who closed their markets last Monday to protest the budget delay. They accused the legislators of colluding with an erstwhile governor of the state to starve the incumbent governor of funds and hence prepare the grounds for his impeachment. The traders vowed not to fold their hands and watch a group of supposedly elected persons turn themselves into tin gods and hold the entire state to ransom. They urged the assembly to pass the budget as presented.

In all, the governor and the assemblymen should begin to see themselves as partners in progress. They should carry one another along in their programmes and activities. Collectively, they should inspire hope in the citizenry most of whom have placed all their hopes in miracle centres. Anambra people must begin to see everyday as a day of joy.

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