Onitsha- the commercial city of Anambra State wears a new look. The hitherto rowdy, dirty city noted mostly for activities of men of the under-world has become, in a every sense, a bustling modern city safe and with thriving commercial activities.
A few meters from the Niger Bridge, parked an Innoson Van marked ‘Anambra State Police Command’ has under the bold police letters, ‘Willie is Working.’ The van, like many of such that litter Onitsha, Awka, Nnewi and beyond, were procured from Nigeria’s first indigenous car maker, Innocent Chukwuma by the state governor, Chief Willie Obiano to ensure safe and secure Anambra. And the result, for Onitsha residents have been positive.
“I would say that security has improved significantly in Onitsha, especially since the Okada ban,” said Mr. Nwafor Chidi, a business owner at Emeka Offor plaza. “But more importantly, the rate of accidents has dramatically reduced.”
However, for a man who has stepped on toes in the course of his effort to ensure an orderly state, it is perhaps not unexpected that Chief Obiano appear to be coming under growing criticisms. When last year, he took the difficult decision to ban commercial motorcycle operation, popularly called Okada in the cities of Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha, it was a direct confrontation with the state’s motor bike merchants.
Anambra has a thriving spare parts market in Nnewi, and the bulk of the dealers, including Chukwuma and sundry others, had since graduated to become manufacturers. The ban was, from their perspective, an attempt to stifle their business. Pressure mounted, but the governor stood his ground. It has been the singular most contributing factor to the drastic reduction of crime rate in Onitsha and elsewhere in the state.
But the ban had, indeed, raised genuine concerns. Many suggested that as opposed to checking crime, the policy may in fact, increase criminality because Okada riders who have nothing else to do may take to crime. To ensure that such was never the case, the governor provided them with over a thousand mini buses on hire purchase at between N750,000 and N800,000. The bulk of the riders have since become owners small buses and tricycles, and the government says the state is much better for it.
“These people were okada riders, not owners. They were riding okada that do not belong to them. Willie Obiano is turned them, overnight, into bus owners. So, instead of having one passenger on their okada, they now have seven passengers. Thus, they are making more money and living a more dignified lifestyle,” said C Don Adinuba, the state’s Commissioner for Information.
“It’s part of the urban renewal programme of the government. The intention is to upgrade these people from being okada riders to being bus owners.”
Obiano has an obsession, it would seem, with security. On Friday last week, the administration, as part of its smart city project, launched super smart closed-circuit cameras (CCTVs) in the three cities of Awka, Nnewi and Onitsha, an initiative called ‘Operation Kpochapu’ (Wipe out crime).
“The Smart City Security Project was inspired by the governor’s visit to Massachusetts, United States, in October, 2018, when he toured places like the Cambridge Innovation Centre, Boston University and Industrial Video and Control in Boston,” Adinuba said.
“He was struck by, among other things, the sophisticated surveillance cameras from Industrial Video and Control, developed in conjunction with researchers at the Cambridge Innovation Centre and other research centres in Massachusetts.”
The governor, according to Adinuba, was particularly inspired by the fact that the products proved effective in helping the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to identify the two brothers from originally Kyrgyzstan, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, that on April 15, 2013, bombed participants in the annual Boston Marathon, killed three persons and injured many others, including 16 who lost their legs.
“Though the advanced surveillance cameras from Industrial Video and Control are not yet in some American cities and even states, Governor Obiano felt that they should be installed in Anambra State so that it will remain Nigeria’s safest state and as a result attract considerable investments,” he noted.
“To operate effectively for 24 hours daily, these gadgets require electricity which unfortunately is not always available in Nigeria. The governor consequently opted for the solar-powered type.
“You now see how peaceful and how safe our cities are. If you go anywhere in Awka, there is not one incident of robbery. We have forgotten what is called kidnapping in the state. We are the safest and the most peaceful state in Nigeria. Everywhere you go, come at night, the streetlights eluminate the entire city. The programme is to cover every town in Anambra State, indeed, every village with streetlights. No state has that kind of project anywhere in Nigeria. Yet, we are not borrowing.
“We are on the way to creating a Dubai in Anambra. We are the only state government in Nigeria crafting a 50-year development plan. The closest is Lagos with 25 years. We are on it.”
Obiano has not neglected infrastructure. Awka, the state capital, was in many ways, a glorified village before his government came on board. However, he has since changed the face of the city. With three flyovers, one each at Aroma, Unizik and Amawbia junction – all along the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway – Awka has had huge facelift. The governor has also on his own, built sizable parts of the expressway. Other parts of the capital city, and indeed other parts of the state have witnessed road and bridge constructions, some of which include Ugwuorie-Umulike-Ezinifite Road; Kisa Bridge, Umunya; Enugwu-Ukwu Bypass, Njikoka.
Others are Nenge River Bridge, Nteje; Nkpor Bridge; Governor’s Lodge Road, Awka; Umueje Bridge, Ekwusigo among others.
“I will say that Obiano really changed the face of Awka,” said Chy Nwokorie, a banker in the capital city. “We have now a worthy capital city. He has also done project in other places. But I think he ought be doing more.”
Local communities have not been left behind. The government has periodically given N20 million to each of the 183 communities that make up the state to do community projects, be it pipe born water, health centres and sundry others. This, however, has been mired in some sort of controversy as some of the projects remain uncompleted.
Worthy of mention, too, is that while a number of states are unable to pay salaries as at when due, Anambra under Obiano has not only continued prompt payment of salaries, but has also reviewed salaries upwards twice in the last couple of years.
Education wise, the state continues to blaze a trail, appearing in top three positions in virtually all national exams. The state had indeed achieved a feat last year when students of a high school in Onitsha won first prize in a STERN competition in Silicon Valley, San Francisco, USA in global robotic competition.
Fortnight ago, the state emerged top winners at the 2019 President’s Teachers and Schools Awards for Excellence in Education organised by the Federal Government through the Federal Ministry of Education, taking four out of 24 awards bestowed on institutions and individuals to mark this year’s Teachers Day.
The state won prizes for the best public secondary school in the country, the best secondary school administrator, and for producing both the first and second runners up in the Best Administrator category. Last year, Anambra also won first position in the immunisation campaign all over Nigeria.
Commerce has continued to thrive. With security and other enabling business environment being provided, Anambra is fast emerging as one of prime investment destinations in the country. Within the past few years, the Obiano administration has grown the state’s IGR from a paltry N400 million to about N1.5 billion monthly.
Still, however, for a state with three thriving cities, numerous suburbs, and about the highest number of billionaire business men of any state in the country, it’s obvious that it is punching below its weight in terms of revenue generation.
“There are indeed leakages in the system,” Adinuba admitted. “But we are addressing them well. We are targeting N3billion.”
But managing a state like Anambra is no small task. Large portions are erosion prone and Onitsha with its teeming population is a strain on infrastructure. With the rains have come some damaged roads and streets filled with port holes. The administration, through the Anambra Road Maintenance Agency, is battling to keep pace, albeit with limited resources. But in Nigeria where only a few appreciate the limit of state governments, criticisms have begun to mount.