Anambra and the Politics of Propaganda

Last week, Governor Peter Obi of Anambra received unflattering epithets when he intruded on a rally where state workers were discussing his unpopular proposal on the implementation of the new minimum wage. A wise governor would have sat down to listen to the concerns of the workers. Not Mr. Obi. He commandeered the microphone, talked at the workers at length, and then proceeded to leave. That’s when the workers unleashed a torrent of insults.

Governor Obi’s behavior at that rally typifies his rather unfortunate style. This is a man who believes he has all the answers, and that the governed – much like serfs – must indulge his long-winded speeches. If his audience appears less than willing to swallow his fancies and decrees, then the gubernatorial words must be forced down their throats – to quote the motto of one of the governor’s fans.

In the campaign that preceded the February 6, 2010 governorship election in Anambra, Mr. Obi recruited many Catholic priests to champion him from the pulpit. Some of the priests told their congregants that Mr. Obi was God’s and the pope’s choice. It was a terrible moment for the priests who permitted themselves to be used in a deplorable scheme. Many of them, I am aware, have since openly expressed regret for the untoward role they played.

Politics in Anambra was already beset by several maladies, including the horrific plague of “godfatherism” and violence. Mr. Obi’s exploitation of combustible sectarian sentiments compounded an already bad situation.

Once ensconced in office for his second term, Governor Obi appeared determined to surpass the middling – in fact mediocre – record that defined his first term. He has brought little or no imagination to the task of governance. Some in Anambra would argue that he has brought the wrong kind of imagination to the job.

Obi’s performance would be uninspiring by any measure, but his failure is magnified both by the odds he overcame on his way to Government House and the grand scale of the hope that they people invested in him.

Rigged out of an election he won in 2003, he took his case to court and fought doggedly, admirably, to reclaim his mandate. In pursuing that stolen mandate, Mr. Obi stipulated, rightly, that he had a moral duty to claim what the electorate had given him. On account of what we saw as his principled stance, some of us applauded when he rebuffed entreaties to abandon his case.

Mr. Obi would later return to court again when the machinery of the PDP orchestrated his impeachment, seen as part of a larger plan to clear the path for Andy Uba, a particularly close aide to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, to wangle his way onto the governor’s seat. Anambra exploded in euphoria the day Obi triumphed. Much later still, when he persuaded the Supreme Court to sack Mr. Uba from his illicit occupancy of Government House, Nigerians – not just Anambrarians – stood up and saluted. The feeling was abroad that here was a man destined for great political acts.

Alas, it’s been a season of great fizzling acts. And the people of Anambra, as well as fans from elsewhere, are deeply perplexed.

Mr. Obi’s undoing – apart from the aforementioned paucity of imagination – lies in his increasing confidence that propaganda is a substitute for solid governance and verifiable achievements.

With little to show for his years so far in office, the governor has taken to trumpeting and advertising hollow accomplishments. His signature “accomplishment” is the tarring of 500 kilometers of roads. Missing in that claim – assuming the accuracy of the figure – is the poor quality of the roads. Last June, I traveled on Ifite road in Awka, one of the most recently tarred roads, and an important traffic artery that leads to the state-owned university. Despite the recentness of its construction, the road was already filled with potholes.

In fact the state capital, Awka, is so rundown and wretched that it would do war-ravaged Mogadishu no credit at all. What’s clear is that the governor believes his image to constitute aesthetic asset. Wherever you turn in the state capital, you’re bound to see some billboard, always with an image of Mr. Obi’s face. Some billboards carry cheap exhortations. Most tout the governor’s ostensible accomplishments. And what are these achievements? In one, Mr. Obi boasts of distributing 10,000 computers to schools and communities. In another, that he has provided some transformers. One was compelled to ask, what kind of computers? Did Mr. Obi ensure that the recipient schools have Internet access? Do they have qualified computer technicians? Do they even have electric power?

A pattern that seems to define Mr. Obi’s approach to governance is a relentless pursuit of the elephantine but hollow project. With fanfare he invited President Goodluck Jonathan to commission the Kenneth Onwuka Dike e-library in Awka. But there’s neither a single book nor computer in that so-called library. During my visit in June, the building was skirted by overgrown bush. Looking at the sign announcing the library, one was amazed. Does an empty building become a library – an e-library, for that matter – simply because a governor named it as one?

I drove past a huge structure under construction in Awka that the governor has named a teaching hospital. I am no medical expert, but I knew that the building was ill suited for a hospital. A hospital needs a lot of ventilation and light. The alleged teaching hospital in Awka has only its bigness going for it. The windows are horribly small. In fact – judging by their poor ventilation – it would be cruel to house prisoners in those structures.

At any rate, one couldn’t figure out Mr. Obi’s obsession with building a teaching hospital when he has remained nonchalant in the face of a long-running strike by state-employed medical doctors. If he’s averse to offering his doctors a relatively small wage increase to persuade them to call off their strike, how and where is he going to attract doctors to fill the positions in all the departments of a teaching hospital?

Governor Obi’s depleted political fortunes illustrate the certain hazards of cultivating an imperial mindset. Obi’s troubles are self-inflicted, for he started out with tremendous goodwill, in Anambra and beyond. He alone can arrest, and hopefully reverse, his political downfall. It would take a recognition, one, that the people of Anambra deserve far better than he has given them, two, that propaganda can take him nowhere, three, that the people he governs are wise enough to distinguish between a governor who serves them and one who serves self, and, four, that the best form of leadership is one that weds imagination and action.

Written by
Okey Ndibe
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