By Emma Ujah, Abuja Bureau Chief
Public outcry against financial recklessness and high cost of governance continues to soar.
The vexatious jumbo pay for federal and state legislators draws attention to the impunity of the nation”s political leaders. Many governors have borrowed severally from either the capital market through bonds or from banks for invisible projects and left huge debts for their successors. Against this background of squandermania among the various tiers of government Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State narrates how he has made a difference. In this interview in Awka, the Anambra State capital, he explains how his administration has eliminated wastage and kept the cost of governance low in his state. He says that his administration has never borrowed and yet is heavily investing in infrastructure across the state.
Gov. Obi who spoke with a group of journalists also admitted the challenges of navigating the difficult political mines in the State concluding that Anambra is unarguably the most difficult State in the country.
Going to the bond market to source funds has become a vogue of some sorts among governors but it appears different with you. Are you also planning same?
Yes, we have not borrowed, but if we must borrow, it must be for a bankable project, so we know the way in and the way out. You don”t just borrow for the sake of borrowing. And you can”t borrow to finance social welfare. You borrow, first, for project that will pay itself back. Because when you borrow to finance social projects, the consequence is that you are actually bequeathing future anarchy.
I don”t want to do that. It is better to sacrifice today for tomorrow than sacrifice tomorrow for today. We are one of the poorest states and we are trying to manage our resources as skillful as possible by again lowering the cost of governance to ensure that resources are used and applied as efficiently and effectively as possible. It has its own consequences, but I tell you, its consequences can only be better.
Has your policy of not borrowing for development got anything to do with your life style?
I don”t believe in borrowing as a person.
I don”t believe in living above my income. That was how we were able to bring down the cost of governance in the state. We don”t engage in things we can”t afford. But for us the consequences are there. Here, we are not just trying to build physical infrastructure, we are also trying to build human infrastructure which is critical in managing physical infrastructure. What do I mean by that? We try to change people- the way they think; the way they live, by challenging their priorities, saying this is wrong; this is not what government should be doing. But like I said earlier, it has its own consequences. When you bring a change into a system, all those who lived in the old order will now be your enemies. So despite all developments in the state since I came in, there is still a problem, people don”t believe in you. But who are those people; those who lived on the old order.
How did you cut the cost of governance in your state?
You know Nigeria is expensive and you know that the success of any business depends on the life style of the proprietor.
Sir, how does your capital budget compare with your recurrent?
Everybody in government especially the poor states have a huge recurrent budget which is not good for the development of the country. And in terms of percentage, my target was to be 60 percent capital, 40 percent recurrent, but I can tell you it is the other way round.
Do you have enough money to finance projects of your dream Anambra State since you would not want to borrow?
Well the way I will put it is: what is your vision? When I came here, there was no vision. My vision is to achieve the MDG goals, on developments that will impact on the lives of the people through a strategy. It is a process that allows us to plan properly, budget for planning, execute our plan and ensure delivery. We moved our budget from being supply-driven to being demand-driven. And when we plan, we execute because we have proper planning and proper execution. You could see the budgetary gaps and now approach the donor agencies to help us, because the gaps are there and you can see it. And when you see it, you try to fill it by asking people to support us. That is what we are doing.
Can you explain the vision behind Anambra Integrated Development Strategy?
Very simple. Our vision or call it our destination is to achieve the millennium development goals by 2015.
MDG goals of eight clear points: in order to achieve this, what is our destination? You must have a vehicle that will take you to your destination. So once you have a vision, what is the strategy for achieving that vision? Our vision is to achieve the MDG goals. Our strategy for achieving that is ANIDS.
Like I said before, it is a process that allows us to plan properly, budget for the plan, execute the plan, ensure delivery and feedback from the people. For example, the first goal is ““to fight extreme poverty or hunger””. The first thing we did was to do poverty mapping in the state. We established Bureau of Statistics and now I can tell you the poorest place in Anambra state today are the richest area. After the poverty mapping, we decided, how to fight poverty in this area- articulate plans to open it up. That is why, if you go to some of these places, government is opening up the villages to give them access.
By these, they now have access for their products, goods and services, and we go in there with various types of support. We have also involved them in FERDAMA and NAPEP programmes, we continue to empower farmers and people in different ways through micro credit support and grants in order to fight extreme poverty. We try to bring stability here and attract investors to invest and be able to employ labour. These are things we are doing.
If we go to the second point which is education- when we came, no school had a functional science laboratory, today all the schools have functional science labs; there were no computers for students but this year alone we have given out 7,000 laptops and about three thousand computers to secondary schools. There are over 120 secondary schools that are connected to the internet through Galaxy, about 120 secondary schools have Microsoft academy services, the highest in the nation. Over 100 schools have buses. We have also handed over missionary schools to their original owners; we try to provide each school with a library and we are improving educational facilities everyday. We have also employed over 2000 teachers and so on.
In the health sector, we are providing Health Centres to over 140 communities. These centres are manned by a nurse each and in each local government, we are building a general hospital, while we are building a teaching hospital in Awka. We are pursuing all these simultaneously. If you go to the area of environment, we are doing the same thing. We are doing erosion control in various places, while providing water for the communities. ANIDS is therefore the grand vehicle for achieving MDGs. It helps us to measure what we are doing in the state.
Your state used to have the problem of school drop-outs, especially among the boys. What is the current situation?
I don”t have statistics but it has improved tremendously. I wish you visited the state on a school day. What happened in the past was that the school system collapsed. People didn”t any see reason to go to school but when we handed over schools to missionaries, the schools started coming back and since then, enrolment is increasing. Our massive investment in the sector has also helped greatly in that. However, you must appreciate this will not happen overnight.
The newly inaugurated APGA government in Imo state has announced free education up to secondary school level. Is there any possibility of replicating same in Anambra state?
Education is actually free in Anambra state. Universal Basic Education which is from primary to JSS 3 is free.
What about the welfare of workers and their emolument?
I have increased salaries of workers three times since I came. Such a thing has never happened before. Of course workers will continue to agitate for salary increase and we are now waiting for the bigger one which is N18,000 minimum wage.
Will you implement it?
Yes, I am a Nigerian.
I don”t know, it is a challenge, we have to look at the income. If it is law, there must be a way which the federal government will allow us to obey it because I know many states cannot afford it.
But can you afford it?
When we get to the bridge (general laughter)
So how have federal lawmakers helped in the development of the state through constituency projects?
Well if you went round, I have shown you what I have done, I didn”t show you any constituency projects (laughter), if you want to go for constituency projects, you may have to come back and move around with the parliamentarians to see their own projects. I only want to talk about Peter Obi”s government.
Now that the President has passed the Freedom of Information Bill into law, the next hurdle is for the states to pass it, when should we expected it to become a law in your state?
I believe in freedom of information. That is a good bill. The state Assembly has the bill already and they will deliberate on it when we inaugurate the new assembly. But we have been practicing that law here. There is already free of information here- whatever anybody wants to know, they are free to know. So that law is obsolete when it comes to what is happening here, because anything anybody wants to know, is open.
In spite of these tangible achievements in the states, you have not done much to change the orientation of the elites about governance in the state, what are you doing about that?
That cannot be said of the youths who are the people government is made for. The elites are the people that bring confusion. All they do is to sustain the confusion. Confusion is their business. I have said it before that I am changing their priorities and values which are faulty. Left to them, the state would have been indebted. I am now working for those the society will take revenge on. The society we abuse today will take revenge on our children tomorrow. This generation must be given the best. This is the first government to hold a town hall meeting with secondary schools students. I am the only governor who has gone to an event of physically challenged people, spent time and ate with them. Government is not about the rich, it is about the poor and those who do not have. And that is why they could not appreciate why they cannot collapse government.
How do you cope with the litany of political big wigs in the state?
You don”t know what it means to govern Anambra state. Anambra is the most difficult state in the whole of Nigeria. Check, where do you have this kind of trouble; even in parties, you have three, four candidates contesting one election. This is where you have the largest number of siren blowing people. That is why I don”t use it personally, because I have to give way for them to pass, so that there would be peace. They don”t even visit me because I can”t buy them champagne but I visit them.
How do you see the articulation of the interests of the South East zone in the unfolding national politics?
It depends on how you engage, dialogue and make your demands. Whenever I hear of marginalization, the question I ask is who is marginalizing whom? You don”t have to go to a competition as a spectator and be demanding the trophy at the end of the game; you have to face the competitors. Are we, as a people, out there as a competitor or do we go there for our individual selfish interests? You read my position when some people said that South East should engage President Jonathan for positions. We didn”t negotiate for any position but interest. I am not saying that position is bad but tell us what you will do for us. You see, in politics, you always look at the greater interests of greater number of people.
In politics, you must define selfishness; in politics, you can”t mix power and money at the same time. When you see people acquiring properties in all the choice places, they get so preoccupied that they have little time for the people.
Greed must have a limit in all you do and I believe that reasonable number of politicians are sick because most of the things they are acquiring, they don”t need them. So, one of the greatest challenges of government in Nigeria is human resources.
You cannot be a governor for ever, and very soon your eight years in office will be over. Who becomes your successor will determine how your legacies will be preserved. Are you concerned about who takes over from you?
I can only say I remain prayerful to Almighty God. When I was leaving the banking institution, I left an impression and they imbibed it till today. When I leave government, I will also leave an impression, a way of life and I am sure they will imbibe it. I am not against good things, but you must live within your means and you must be prudent.