Competitive Governance and Abia Transformation

Kanu Ohuche

Competition remains the harbinger of progress in every human endeavor, be it politics, governance or the economy. It is the tonic that brings out the best in individuals and by extension, nations. Unfortunately, not a few people enjoy competition as most people are naturally scared of failure. Characteristically, cowardice becomes ingrained in the hearts of those who fear failure. Such people prefer to remain the way they are rather than risk uncertainty- the result, often, is lack of progress at the end.

There is no gainsaying that Nigeria’s development, since independence has been “kidnapped” by the fear of competition. The 1999 Constitution remains a product of fear- fear of domination of the north by the south and vice versa, fear of marginalization, of minority tyranny and majority dictatorship. These fears produced some constitutional provisions that completely destroyed competition-Federal Character principle; educationally disadvantaged states; absolute representation, 36 ministers from 36 states; geopolitical balance in appointments that completely ignores merit; a hermaphroditic political structure that is neither unitary nor federalism; a fiscal structure that celebrates “sharing” rather than “baking” the national cake etc. In spite of these impediments, people still want Nigeria to make progress, albeit in chains everywhere – what an irony!

Today, this fear of competition remains the root cause of underdevelopment at states and local government levels. Governors would seize local government allocations for fear that they would empower them to challenge their authority; State Assemblies are like “concubines” to governors – they even direct them to reject their own autonomy during constitutional amendments. Governors ensure their successors are “Zombies” who would either cover their corrupt tracks or perform worse than they did for fear of trumping their own records. Abia State had more than proportionate share of these fears that completely undermined its development in the past 16 years. How does Abia break away from this cycle of fears? Anambra State offers some instructive lessons to behold.

Something refreshing happened in Anambra state in 2003 that unwittingly introduced competition into their political process- what I might call the “Ngige Revolution”. In 2003, Senator Chris Ngige rode on the back of a cohort of Political Tigers, otherwise known as “godfathers’ to become the Governor of Anambra State. Before then, Anambra was at the verge of becoming a failed state, appropriated by political merchants who held the government of Chinwoke Mbadinuju and others before him to ransom. Dr. Mbadinuju’s resistance produced a stalemate that led to teachers being owed several months of unpaid salaries and halted infrastructural development ad infinitum. The stalemate was sustained because the annual budget of the state, including borrowed money, could not satisfy the insatiable and rabid greed of Anambra’s political traders. It was sad and scary!

Senator Chris Ngige saw this gaping greed among the political merchants and seized the moment with a silent resolve to confront “godfatherism” with all its fangs and venom. But he needed to be governor first, and for that to happen, he was confronted with two Hobbesian choices: a “narrow” gate paved with ‘thorns’ and threats to his life, but one that leads to the liberation of Anambra state or much easier and “wider” gate that sustains the status quo with lots of filthy lucre to self, but one that leads to permanent state failure. He chose the former and rewrote the history of governance and development in Anambra state till date.

While contemplating the choices, Ngige figured out that what is important is getting executive power first and what he will do with it thereafter remains in the “belly” of his chest. He was smart enough to understand that executive power and the audacity to exercise it remains the total prerogative of the Governor, and until you become one, negotiating that power is a one way traffic flowing from the “godfather’s” greed only! Later events and anecdotes that produced him as a governor could make a Nollywood thriller and remains well known to all and sundry- the physical kidnap; the oath with the Bible in his pocket; the telephone call from his gulag to Radio Nigeria and the mindless arson and destruction of properties that followed his strident opposition to a deeply entrenched and thriving politico-commercial industry.

By dint of God’s grace and determination, Chief Ngige triumphed, and left no one in doubt, including the “godfathers” about his preparedness to confront their greed with only one portent instrument-legitimacy through commitment to development. He moved fast, he constructed roads, rebuilt schools, paid salaries promptly and galvanized popular support with his Integrated Rural Development (IRD) model, even when it ran against the grain of his “oath” to the “dark powers”. Senator Ngige gave meaning to governance and purpose to development with his style of political leadership and shrewd fiscal conservatism. By sheer bravery, he quickly reclaimed the dimming hope of a better future for all Anambrarians, and they applauded him everywhere.

Clearly, the “godfathers” felt outfoxed, bruised and angry at their inevitable kiss of commercial loss. They were not ready to give up easily. In their trade they often left a flank open- the courts, where they will support the opposition with facts to prove that the election was actually rigged and perhaps, kick out the “traitor”. They found solace in the prospects of Governor Peter Obi reclaiming the mandate perhaps with a new agreement in their favour. Little did they reckon that Governor Obi- a young and talented entrepreneur who had cut his teeth in the corporate world with lots of “war chest” to sustain his political interests, had a burning desire to serve his people. They easily forgot that Governor Obi had been their victim just a few months back when they rigged him out using their connections in political high places. Governor Obi intelligently played along and savored the opportunity to get back at them mercilessly. He did not miss!

The change in tactics by the “godfathers” presented two scenarios that were confusing to Anambrarians – should Ngige continue with his revolution anchored on his desire to establish legitimacy and acceptance by the people or should Governor Obi be allowed to claim his mandate which was sacrosanct and freely given by the people. If the first option played out, a tradition of service and governance had been established by Ngige and Anambrarians will not feel any sense of loss. On the second option, if Mr. Peter Obi reclaims his mandate, he cannot detract from Ngige’s precedents. Head or Tail, Anambra State was in for a swell time.

When Governor Obi eventually claimed his mandate, Ngige’s developmental strides actually challenged him to up- his- ante in delivering dividends of democracy to the people. It was obvious that Anambrarians were not prepared to take anything less. The challenge before Governor Obi was not only to sustain the tempo of development as set by Ngige, but to surpass it in a grand style. The interplay of these revolutionary events produced Anambra State as a “shining star” in modern democratic governance and development in Nigeria today.

If we transpose the experience in Anambra State of 2003 to Abia State of 2015, the semblance is stark. I was motivated to pen this piece when I saw Governor Ikpeazu announce that work had begun simultaneously in five roads in Aba even when he is yet to receive a kobo from the Federation Account, I remembered Ngige’s first week in office doing the same thing in Awka township roads in 2003. I said to myself, the Anambra experience is about playing out in Abia. It will not be surprising if Governor Ikpeazu in the coming months moved fast to clear the backlog of owed salaries, clean Umuahia- the state capital, recall sacked non- indigenes, upgrade health care and move to reclaim the state from her captors. In fact, what Abians did not see in 16 years they will begin to behold in 6 months? Abia’s transformation had found an anchor on competitive governance produced by the desire to gain legitimacy and support.

Notwithstanding, the true hero and “change agent” of the Anambra experience is not Ngige per se, but Governor Obi’s political sagacity and courage to confront electoral malfeasance in the state. Governor Obi’s courage produced formidable electoral challenge that goaded the “godfathers”to forced electoral errors that ultimately nailed them. In Abia that hero is Dr. Alex Oti- an avuncular scion of the corporate world with enough “war chest” to pursue his political interest- rooted in his divine call to serve. By sheer force of his transformative dreams and persistent broad- based political appeal, he challenged the status quo so forcefully as to create doubts about the sanctity of the electoral outcome.

No matter where the pendulum of judgment swings, what Abians will get from the interplay of these competitive forces will be entrenched irreversible transformation and development experience driven by first, competitive governance geared towards gaining legitimacy and second, the prospect of revalidation of claim to a sacrosanct mandate rooted in transformative agenda, which if regained, will aim to surpass current efforts. Perhaps, with this, Abia state, like Anambra state, may have, by default, ushered in an era of competitive governance that will galvanize its transformation in many years to come. Or what do you think? See you again!

About author

Kanu Ohuche Ph.D

Mazi Kanu Ohuche holds a Doctorate in Development Economics, specializing in Institutions and growth, from University of Nigeria, Nsukka ( UNN). He holds a first degree in Economics and Masters in International economics from the same University. Dr. Ohuche also holds a post graduate Certificate in Budget and Public Expenditure Management from Duke University Sloan’s School of Public Policy in Durham North Carolina, USA and was a University Lecturer .He was the IMF Country Economist for Nigeria for four years and has been Adviser to Four Economic Advisers to the President of Nigeria. Currently, he is the Special Adviser to Dr. O. J Nnanna, the Deputy Governor in charge of Financial System Stability in Central Bank of Nigeria. Dr. Ohuche is married with four kids and resides in Abuja.

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