Sir Willie Nwokoye is the Principal Secretary to Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State. In this interview with IZUNNA OKAFOR, he discloses how the Governor has impacted on the social and economic lives of Ndi Anambra, among others over the last seven years of his administration in the state. Excerpts:
Izunna Okafor: In the last seven years, Governor Obiano has committed himself to securing lives and property of Ndi Anambra. How has this impacted on the social and economic life of Ndi Anambra?
Willie Nwokoye: In the last seven years, Governor Obiano has defined that public safety is a fundamentally adaptive challenge for Anambra State. Before he came in Anambra state, as a huge community, had been living with what you could call an extended period of disequilibrium in public safety. Things were not as it should be. People were unsure, not confident that when they went out that they would return safely. There were all kinds of crime, kidnapping and asking victims for ransome. There were bracing arm robbery, very organised, targeted at institutions (most especially financial institutions). The consequence of that, that is, one measurement on how public safety had deteriorated in Anambra state was that cultural festivals and activities that ordinarily would have taken place in the homeland then were being relocated and hosted elsewhere outside the state. That was the situation then —the public safety had crumbled.
So when Governor Obiano came in in 2014, he clearly stated that of all things that anybody in leadership position could do for Anambra state, the anchor, critically, would be on the reestablishment of public safety in public consciousness. People must feel safe. Property in Anambra state must feel safe. Institutions, corporate organisations must feel a sense of safety, for him to be able to deliver the things he had articulated in his developmental blueprint. So he brought public safety, security of lives and property to the fore.
Now, I want you to listen very carefully. How do you know a leader? A leader is not he who is occupying the Chairman’s seat in a gathering, or who is always appearing on TV — TV is speaking about him, talking about him, radios are talking about him. That does not conclusively make a leader. What makes a leader is he who has been able to identify the most confronting realities of a community, a society, a group, a state, a local government, a country or some multilateral or bilateral organisations, global organisations. Anybody that has been able to identify the most confronting realities of those people is a leader. So, Governor Obiano shows that he is a leader because he identified the most confronting reality of Anambra State at his inception of office, which was in 2014. And that most confronting reality is public safety. So he designed his own average to address the issue of public safety.
There people who are engaged to this government, whose primary function has been to handle that aspect of activities of government, which is security. So I would not say much on it, but I can make some high level comments on security to tell you what Governor Obiano has done on security, theoretically, on the strategic side. He didn’t consider security as one of those fleeting technical problems or crises that you just throw in some conventional solutions to. He didn’t do that. He did something else. He appreciated that it was a fundamental challenge and therefore designed an unconventional solution framework to it. How? The conventional things we see, the relationship, organization of their security agencies, their security apparati, their brick and mortar, their hardware, the software, their logistics resources, their operational resources, their personnel morale and their operatives. He resigned them, renegotiated the attention and their faithfulness and all other such things. He designed a funding approach, a funding framework that has made sure in seven years, that those aspects of conventional security work have been operating optimally. And those fundings are from this office which is answerable (directly) to the Office of the Governor. Funded very adequately, the conventional art of Obiano security architecture… These security agencies, there are about nine of them. Before him, there was what we called the Joint Task Force. We were limited in number. But now in his architecture, they are very very generously funded. The Nigeria Police Force, the Army, the Directorate of the State Security, the Navy (because Anambra has some riverine geographical areas), the FRSC, the Correctional Services, the Civil Defence, the Immigration, the NDLEA. So a lot of people didn’t know that it was in Obiano’s administration in 2014 that these agencies came under one roof; and they are coordinated by the Commissioner of Police. So, that is one aspect of the strategy in his security architecture. Before they were acting differently and uncoordinated. But Obiano united and brought them under one roof, for optimal performance, with many good results in return.
Today, go to the 179 communities and 326 political wards in Anambra State, there is presence of security personnel there. Shortly, he made it obvious that criminals were being pursued. If you commit crime, you are pursued, you are nabbed, you face what is called the long arm of the law.
The fixed sight to it is: in the grassroot communities, people who commit crime are known, because they live among people and people live with them. So, if you are committing crime and living in a community, there is a big eye that sees you and reports to the security agency or network of surveillance in question. So, it is difficult for you to commit crime once, twice, thrice, without being nabbed. And these criminals are smart guys. So when they know that there is a big eye that actually sees and monitors them, they flew. So, the result of Anambra comprehensive security architecture is that you’re caught when you are committing crime, or the environment is too hot for you and is created for the to flee. So that’s why ordinary people keep saying that 50% of the calmness of Anambra State now is because people who are committing crimes have fled or taken flight to other places or neighbouring states that have not instituted the kind of the comprehensive security architecture that we have here. So dealing with the ones that remain… You can see that there numbers are not much any longer. Anybody that lived in Anambra state before Obiano came in will know that most people that have been into crime no longer live in the state; they have fled. So, that is the Obiano Comprehensive Security Infrastructure.
Now, going farward, if you were here last year… I was part of the team that went to Boston when Obiano started getting some smart security cameras. I think the pilot number was 9. You’ve seen the security cameras being moved around. When there is a sign that this place is going to be a flashpoint for something, they move it there, right? That is the next level of adapting 21st century technology to address crime. He may conclude it with his tenure or may not, but anyone coming after Obiano would know that that is a 21st century way to address crime, because that camera revolves 360°. So, if you’re standing here, it’s just 360°, east, west, north and south, you will see clearly, good resolution, either in the day or at the night —resolution of up to three football fields ahead, right round. Resolution here means that it can pick you for who you are, your eyes, your nose and whatever act you just committed; and the images are being downloaded in the designated places where people are trained, and they are interpreting the images in the laptops. A lot of people do not know that that thing is on. So, these are the things that we have. And so, hardened criminals know that the big eye is seeing them; and they flew. Functionaries that are involved in primarily delivering security goals will give you the details of all these things. But what I just gave you is the strategic thoughts, the leadership aspect of Obiano’s security in Anambra State as a Governor.
Izunna Okafor: You’re one of the key motivators of cultural renaissance in Anambra through encouragement of creativity and exhibition of talents; what is the main goal in that? And what has been the result seven years after?
Willie Nwokoye: You know, one of the things that people tune their eyes to see and their ears to hear in accessing the performance of a public leadership figure is to look at whether he’s done roads, whether he’s done roads bridges, whether he’s done roads hospitals, whether he’s done roads schools, whether he’s done roads electricity, whether he’s done roads public water supply and other such things like that. Hardly do people think one important element —what of the state craft in creating the social behavioural pattern of the people that are being led, of the society, of the community? If you have good roads, beautiful bridges, beautiful hospitals, beautiful schools; and then you have a stock of citizens whose psychology is whapped, who are whapped in their sense of value, who are whapped in their social values, the things, the philosophy that rule their lives, that detects their actions; you would have a beautiful community, a beautiful city; but then, you would have have a terribly disastrous community.
Therefore, it is also important to build in the mind of the citizens, what I call ‘some-soft infrastructure’. Just as bridges and roads are infrastructures that you can touch, there are also a very important component of genuine prosperity, genuinely developing a community, a society of people. Before Obiano came in in 2014, you never had anything about poetry readings, art events, cultural events, the things of that art that fertilise the mind, that sculpture the citizens mind into behaving like human beings of 21st century. It’s difficult to put your hand in it. But the way to know that that has happened now is: if you knew Anambra seven or eight years ago and the Anambra now, just check the social behaviour; you’ll see a great change in the way people conduct themselves. This is because people have been exposed to the things they were not exposed to –things that were very familiar in Lagos. For those of us that lived in Lagos, you would see all kinds of drama, art events and all that. Now the way to illustrate this better is: if you have a family of three children who are exposed to piano playing, poetry readings, literary evening, all stuffs like that; and these have become part of their growing life; it is unlikely that out of those three would be created an armed robber, because you’ve moulded their minds into being human beings that are sensitive to values that are elevated.
In Obiano’s administration, there have been some opening up of the society to the things of art. There have been concerts, musical concerts, there have been all kinds of talent hunting events that have been redirecting the fertile mind of the young people into things that are creative, than just wandering about and being attracted to things that are socially undesirable. This is a kind of craft that requires someone with some intellectual capacity that is brought into leadership. You cannot get it if you are not intellectually elevated. And that is why it is important to have people who are intellectually elevated to come into office, because that aspect is very tricky —the aspect of crafting out a community of human beings that live in 21st century society.
Izunna Okafor: From an economic point of view, what is the macro economic thrust of Governor Willie Obiano’s administration, and how does it rub off in the visible economy of the state?
Willie Nwokoye: Governor Obiano came in as governor, as an accountant, as a high finance person, as an investment banker whose life has been defined by analytical bent of focus over things that are financial, over things that are economic. In 2014, he hit the ground running by defining what his blueprint would be, the things that he was going to focus on. These include agriculture, trade, industry, oil and gas, and later, he added logistics. What are these? In the course of this interview, let us redefined those things. He called them pillars; economic development pillars. For the sake of this interview, let us redefined those pillars and call them root factors, fulcrum, livers that pull the economic activities of a state, knowing fully well that you could divide Anambra State randomly into areas that have strategic advantage over these growth factors.
There are areas that have strategic advantages regarding agriculture. The northern flank of Anambra State (if you want, you can call them the Omambala area) are riverine, fertile and mass agrarian area. The southern area, that’s the Nnewi side has advantage over industries, that’s the technical growing of industries, manufacturing, and other such things. In the central part and part of the north, Onitsha axis, the same Nnewi, and Awka, people are involved in trade in the way they have understood it. So part of the things done is to begin to recreate the market to be in tune with the way commerce is happening now, changing the movement from the brick and mortar trading to trading on the digital space, so that the Igbo people that have been involved in commerce over decades would not find themselves that they are no longer in tune with the way commerce is being done in the 21st century. That is the development of trade and commerce as one of these development pillars.
Then, logistics. This place is a natural gateway, a natural commercial hub, through which people migrate from one state to another. Therefore, part of the Governor’s idea to pull economic development is go develop this natural hub, develop the industry of logistics, the monument of logistics as a critical contributor to growing the economic activities of this place. The Commissioner(s) involved can give you more details about these. In other words, what I am just telling you now is the philosophy that underpins the actions of government in these areas.
Now, there is another aspect of Governor Obiano’s management of Anambra State macro economics. A lot of people don’t know that until COVID-19 came and chased people back to their house, Anambra State, from Thursday, Friday to Saturday and Sunday (every weekend), used to be one big state that is bubbling with all kinds of reveries, carnivals, celebrations, burials, marriages, ozo title taking, and all kinds of festivals. People were flying into the state, A-class people were flying in from Lagos and Abuja, some from abroad, and so on and so forth. As we have 179 communities in the state, 50% of those communities have events during weekends. That is another critical arm in the macro economic management. And what did the man do? The Governor is not the one handling those events, but he did something. He created a stable, safe and social environment that encourage those this things to take place. Now, where is the macro economic component aspect to it? Simply, he opened up the place for money to fly in. I must tell you, that time (by random calculation), every weekend, what comes in from socio-cultural economy was not less one billion naira, in drinks, in food, in hotels, in transportation, in asoebi, in firewood, in bottle water, in satchet water, in cultural groups that are engaged, in migrant flutist and all kinds of people that contribute to the reveries. If you take a calculator and punch, you would agree with me that not less than one billion naira comes into the state.
Now, the result: when Nigeria went into recession about two or three years ago, Anambra State was the oasis in the desert. The GDP, meaning the totality of economic activities (that’s the totality of monetary value of economic activities) in Nigeria started getting negative, meaning that it started falling from a height it had attained. But Anambra was positive, and was moving 1% growth, that’s, N1.5 billion coming into Anambra every year, among neighbouring states and Nigeria itself. So, that’s one outstanding result that showed clearly that there was something the state was doing differently in managing its macro economics. And that is what I have just explained to you.
Izunna Okafor: What do you think Governor Obiano has brought on board as the Governor?
Willie Nwokoye: Generally speaking, Obiano has changed the grammar of governance. In other words, the grammar of governance has changed. Anambra citizens, before Governor Obiano, had been satisfied with threshold performances. Their idea of a good and performing governor started and ended with expectations for good roads. So, when you came and built good roads, you would be rated a performing governor. But when Obiano came in, he changed that grammar. People now realised that and were like ‘Come on, it’s not just about good roads; but about lifting the state to look like a 21st century state, looking like where human beings live, where you can go out at night, you would not be afraid of being kidnapped, where good money would have a clear channel of view, private money have a clear channel of view. You know private money now has a clear channel of view. And they are seeing that there are asset here that have potentials to yield more, because there is safety, there is institutionalised way of private money coming in and having a partnership relationship with the state, and having access to assets that they can work. Governor Obiano institutionalised it by building that institution you see at Aroma, called ANSIPPA.
Before Obiano, there was nothing like ANSIPPA. ANSIPPA is an institution that midwifes the relationship between the state government and private money. By that institutionalisation, private money and investors now has confidence to come in. The fate of their investments does not depend on the Governor anymore, because even when the Governor leaves office, the institution remains. That is why you see people like Coscharis Farm come in and invest huge amount of money in agriculture and rice production. There’s also the Lindel Farm, Stanel World, and so on and so forth. These investments and many others came in, and more are still coming in, because there is a clear channel of view, and this environment was understood.
Look at Awka Capital Territory Development Authority (ACTDA), which does not only cover Awka the capital city, but about 24 other communities, with the central point being the roundabout at Amawbia. You’ve seen what he (the Governor) has done on lifting the capital city. Some ordinary people don’t understand what he is doing. They said he build three flyovers in the capital city. Do you know what that means? Futuristic thinking! This is the core of the Capital Territory.
Awka is one city where a Trunk-A Federal Highway passes through the capital city. And therefore, you need to build this, because if you do not build, by the this capital city get built up, it will be chaos. So that is all about changing the grammar of governance. But people who do not know or understand ‘He just built flyovers’. No! What you should say is that he built the foundation for the creation of a worthwhile 21st century capital city, being the thing that if he didn’t do, in years down the line, the place will be chaos.
Izunna Okafor: In your mind, what will be the best way to move forward after this seven years and beyond?
Willie Nwokoye: Let me tell you the best way to move forward. There are two ways available for a leader (a governor) to exit office —you can pander to the emotions of people, meaning to be very popular in the short time; or you can do what is right. When Obiano came in, we had this number of streams of revenue. But when he is going, he is going to extend and multiply the number of streams of revenue that the incoming Governor will enjoy. Let me tell you one thing: he is using money that he has to build three critical assets as his exit legacy monuments. What are these three critical assets? The Cargo Airport that he is building in the northern part of Anambra, that’s in Umueri. It is Cargo and Commercial Passenger, with the complementarity possibility for optimised oil and gas, because there is a deposit for high grade aviation fuel in that flank. One of the principal outstanding key players in the aviation industry is an Anambra man —Allen Onyema of the Air Peace —who has expressed interest in integrating to the Cargo Airport, a mechanic workshop for the servicing and maintenance of planes. This means that the frequency of landing and taking off there would not depend only on passenger traffic or lifting or landing of light cargo goods, but also on landing and taking off of planes for different grades of maintenance, for certifications, etc.
So, in response to your questions, this is a legacy that he’s going to hand over to someone who will take it to next level. Do you think this state is going to remain the same? Do you think that this state will not feel that someone with a critical mind came into leadership? You may go and make enquiries about the revenue model for any airport that is so conceived. For every landing and taking off, there is a revenue (in dollars) that accrue to the state, including taxes of the staff of Federal Aviation Authority that are going to be working there. More importantly, it would create a critical mass for the development of exportable agricultural products and perishables from the area, because that is a riverine, agrarian huge market that is docile, people have not seen it; but that’s what you’re going to see. My brother, is this a Grade-C leader? This is not a Grade-C leader, but a Grade-A leader; an outstanding one at that!
So now, let me tell you the one that eyes don’t see, especially most of us who work in the government. People keep saying ‘Obiano is an alert Governor’. Every 24th, 25th, 26th or before the last day of every month, people receive alert. Oh yes! People would say ‘Any fool can do that’; but not all fools can do that. So, why does he do it? Governor Obiano has restructured, revolutionalised the financial system of Anambra State. How money comes in and how money goes out…
If Obiano does not sign with his red pen, no kobo goes out. The way to know that a man is applying his skills as an auditor, as a Compliance Executive in the bank (that was his career part) was to see how much he has applied that in managing the public finance. What people see is that every month, there is alert, still, work is going on at the Airport, work is going on at the International Conference Centre, contractors are being paid; so why? and how? The answer is simple! It is because the man is standing at the junction box of the financial flow of this state. He is like a traffic man controlling the traffic ‘in’ and ‘out’. So a penny in the coffer of the state serves the purpose of a pound. Anambra does not receive the derivation percentage of the federal allocation, therefore, it is one of the states that have very low federal transfer. But the state is optimising her internally generated revenue.
More importantly, the Governor is controlling leakage, as an auditor that he is. That is why, even people like us who are part of the government still wonder ‘How does this man make this money?”
So finally, in response to your question, what the Governor is going to leave behind is for you and me and every other person to interpret. But for there to be a continuity in the level and quality of leadership that has come in, from technocracy, from exposure in the bank, going forward, governance should not slip into the hands of any person who does not have the equivalent adaptive capacity. It would be anti climax. I haven’t said who; but the person must have the equivalent adaptive capacity to be able sustain and forge ahead in this; otherwise, anti climax will follow.
Izunna Okafor: Thank you very much, Sir.
Willie Nwokoye: You’re welcome.