Why is Anambra looking up?
After years of rejecting claims that he was a giant, Nelson Mandela, famous for disarming humility, admitted that he was actually a giant. “I am a giant because I am standing on the shoulders of other people,” the legendary Madiba stated. Mandela went on to mention great South African freedom fighters like Walter Sisulu, Oliver Tambo and Chris Hani, among others, as the people he was standing on. Truly, any adult standing on the shoulders of others is most likely to look like a giant.
The recent celebration of the Silver Jubilee of Anambra State has brought to mind the Mandela statement on leadership. Frankly, Anambra State deserves celebration. There is hardly any state in Nigeria which has so much a large concentration of successful writers, statesmen, professionals, academics, businessmen and women, traders and public servants as Anambra. From the Great Zik of Africa who led Nigeria to independence in 1960 to erstwhile Vice President Alex Ekwueme, to the late Nigeria’s acting President Orji Nwafor Orizu, to the late Senate President Chuba Okadigbo, to Prof. Chinua Achebe, to Olaudah Equiano who in 1789 became the first West African to write a book, to Chief Emeka Anyaoku, to Prof. Gordian Ezekwe, to Prof. Chike Obi, Sir Louis Mbanefo, Dim Emeka Ojukwu, Chief Osita Osadebe, Chief Oliver de Coque, Kenny St George, Christopher Okigbo, Francis Cardinal Arinze, Prof. Chukwuemeka Ike, Prof. Ben Nwabueze, Power Mike Okpala, Emmanuel Okala, Chief Arthur Mbanefo, Ajie Ukapbi Asika, Cyprian Ekwensi, Prof. Ben Obumselu, Dr Pius Okigbo, to contemporary stars like Prof. Charles Soludo, Mrs Oby Ezekwesili, Flavour, Innoson, Dr ABC Orjiako, Engr Boniface Madubunyi, Kaycee, Dr. Benneth Omalu, Dr. Emmanuel Egboga, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie, P-Square, Emeka Okwuosa, Joe Anyigbo, Chief Allen Onyema, Dr. Ernest Azudialu, Cosmas Maduka, Chief Chidi Anyaegbu, Prof. Ben Aghaji, Chief Christopher Eze, the list is endless in various fields.
Besides, Anambra State has in recent times become a model in governance. As Senator Ben Murray-Bruce from Bayelsa State has noted more than once, Anambra is the best example of how Nigeria or any component of the federation can develop without oil money. In fact, the monthly allocation from the federation account will soon cease to matter to the state. Yet, Governor Willie Obiano does not take credit for the state’s exemplary performance. He rather ascribes it to the people, starting with the founding fathers. In a gesture reminiscent of Mandela, he recently paid a glowing tribute to each former governor of the state. He called each by name and summarised his or her achievement. They included, of course, Mrs Virgy Etiaba who remains Nigeria’s only female governor.
In place of this framework is a leadership approach known as distributed leadership which scholars like Prof. Peter Guy Northouse describe as a more democratic approach because it recognises the contributions of other leaders to the achievements of a society or organisation. Thus, Mandela is considered one of the greatest leaders in the world, alongside personages like President John F. Kennedy and Pope John Paul 11 in Northouse’s popular textbook, Leadership: Principles and Practice. It is worth mentioning that our own Francis Cardinal Arinze endeared himself to the world when he was asked how he was able to discharge his duties so efficiently when he was appointed to head the Vatican’s Council concerned with improving relations with the non-Christian world and he replied: “Others do the job and I take the credit.” No wonder, Cardinal Arinze was seriously considered to be the successor to Pope John Paul.
No one likes to be denied credit for work done successfully. Former Anambra State Governor Chris Ngige, who is now the Minister of Labour and Productivity, has been criticising his successor, Obi, for not crediting him with the accreditation of the Onitsha General Hospital for the one year internship of pharmacists and doctors and for the return of missionary schools to their original owners. Ngige says that as a medical doctor and retired director in the Federal Ministry of Health, he knew the steps to take to get accreditation for the hospital, and he did just that. He also says that as a senior prefect in a missionary school in his hometown of Alor, he has experienced firsthand the benefits of missionary management of schools. The minister argues that before he could formally announce the two new developments he was removed by the courts as governor in 2006. Ngige’s observation about his successor contrasts with Obiano’s continuous acknowledgement of his predecessor’s work like starting the Agulu Lake Hotel which he has continued to develop in earnest. Obiano could have done like most other governors by abandoning or cancelling projects begun by his predecessor.
An important lesson which our politicians need to learn from leaders like Mandela is the need for teamwork. African leaders are often paranoid, that is, they suffer from siege mentality which makes them see every person as an enemy. They fight even those who could be of assistance to them. Chief Obafemi Awolowo stated in an interview in the early 1980s with Peter Enahoro of Africa Now magazine that he asked a respected radical African leader in the 1960s why he put an influential opposition leader in prison and he replied that he saw the opposition leader in a dream chasing him! But good leadership requires that you recognise the talent in other people and try to bring it to the table. This is what Nigerians generally call carrying everyone along. It is a point Obiano has made with good results. His government is composed of the finest brains around, including those from the World Bank, IMF, top global universities, etc, because he does not see them as rivals but as partners. Oby Ezekwesili, the immediate past World Bank vice president who has been the Minister of Education as well as Minister of Solid Minerals, stressed this fact recently in Abuja in her assessment of Obiano’s government which she notes provides evidence-based results.
The last point one would like to make in this brief essay about leadership is that Nigerian leaders must learn to stress the positive. Organisations and societies where the leaders are obsessed with the negative end up dispiriting their members. Low morale is a recipe for disaster. In contrast, organisations and societies where leaders emphasise positive things inspire and challenge members to achieve greater heights. Obiano’s message since the Jubilee Silver celebration has been quite encouraging. This is why people like the former Central Bank governor, Prof. Soludo who was his rival for the gubernatorial nomination of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in the last election, have been participating gleefully in the 25th anniversary of Anambra State. On the contrary, some other governors have been using the celebration of their anniversary to demonise their predecessors and political rivals, thus alienating them from the events.
For Anambra State, it is sunshine on its 25th anniversary.
• Nzeribe was until recently manager of First City Monument Bank, Ihiala Branch, Anambra State.