I was at the burial of an auntie in Okija, Ihiala Local Government Area of Anambra State, on Tuesday, February 2, 2016, when Joseph Asike, on a leave of absence at Government House in Awka from Howard University in Washington DC where he has been the chair of the department of philosophy, called. Surprised that I was in the state, he requested we meet. Soft spoken, self effacing and well organised, Asike would have been a good priest if he had continued with seminary studies. He was classmates with the outstanding Catholic Bishop of Nnewi Diocese, Hilary Okeke, as well as my uncle and guardian, Rev. Fr. Chris Adinuba, who is currently carrying out his pastoral duties in the United States. Asike earned a doctorate in 1978 from the University of Louvain, the top Jesuit university in Belgium set up by the Catholic Church in the Medieval Age to rival the universities at Oxford and Cambridge in protestant England.
Like quite a number of people, my recent article on how Anambra State is now leading the country in the return to education and adoption of the right social values struck a harmonious cord with him. But his interest this time was not so much in the merits of the arguments canvassed in the article, which catalogued recent acts of educational excellence by the state on both national and international scenes as in how I could have an interactive session with a media and communication group called the Information Management Team (IMT) of the state government. “Your article communicated effectively the outcomes of what the state government has been doing to reengineer secondary school education”, the chief of staff said. “Our governor is leading the charge to show it is possible to have a Dubai in Nigeria. I would like you to meet him”.
If his chief of staff appears shy, Governor Obiano is a forceful personality, who shoots straight from the hip. Hardly had we exchanged pleasantries in our second meeting in several years when he remarked: “I want my media team to engage the public space the way you do. Your article on the social significance of our efforts in education is compelling. It should interest you that it is not only in secondary school education we have made a bold mark. This morning (February 3), students of the state university, who had been in medical school for far more than six years because their school could not obtain accreditation took their Hippocratic Oath. They are now doctors. All 13 new doctors graduated brilliantly, and we have offered them automatic employment. Our next step is to make the school start postgraduate studies so that consultant physicians, general surgeons and the rest will be trained there. The provost of the medical college, Frank Akpuaka, is an internationally renowned Professor of Plastic Surgery and Applied Anatomy.”
Obiano, an accountant and erstwhile executive director of Fidelity Bank, regards himself as a technocrat working in the midst of politicians. He bemoans what he calls the permanent mode of electioneering. “Once an election is over, everyone should join hands with the government for the good of society and engage in politicking only when an election is around the corner,” he argues. “But the opposite obtains in Nigeria. The danger with this kind of politics is that those involved do not distinguish between Willie Obiano and Anambra State. They want to compromise our collective future. I have always advised the media to focus more on the socioeconomic development of society rather than power politics, which is divisive and diversionary. Let the media, as a great mobiliser of people, play a deeper role in society by becoming a partner with the government in socioeconomic transformation. Given that Nigeria is in a hurry to develop, should we continue on a trajectory, which has failed us?”
Perhaps, unknown to the governor, he has touched on an issue, which has in recent decades preoccupied scholars. In the 1980s, there was a movement by mass communication researchers for development journalism. It was argued that for poor nations to leapfrog developmentally, its communication practitioners should not indulge in adversarial journalism, which defines the relationship between the media and the government in most Western nations. Development journalism in which the media and the government see themselves as development partners, was advocated for the emerging world. This advocacy came under excoriating criticism, with critics saying that development journalism would make the media an accomplice in the iniquitous administration of nations in Africa and elsewhere. The campaign for development journalism quietly faded.
But a similar idea has in the last decade been making a wave in the Western scholarship of international political economy and development. The phenomenal growth of Southeast Asian nations like Singapore is sometimes attributed to developmentalism, that is, the adoption of an ideology, which emphasises the stupendous enhancement of the people’s living standards within a short period, even without respecting political pluralism. Ethiopia has adopted developmentalism. Interestingly, its economy, galloping at 10 per cent annually, has become the fastest growing in Africa. But then there are unresolved political issues.
Obiano must be Eric Hoffer’s true believer. Stoutly refusing to be drawn into local or national politics, he is enthusiastic to talk about what he calls concrete governance issues. He proudly declares Anambra the safest state in Nigeria, a long leap from only two years ago when rampant kidnappings and robberies caused individuals and businesses to flee the state. He says as a result of the new safe environment as well as a sound economic policy, $2.8 billion investments have come to the state in two years. The governor names Emeka Okwuosa, an engineer and major player in Africa’s petroleum sector, as well as Cosmas Maduka, Chairman of Coscharis Group, top investors in agriculture. He declares “economic prosperity is emerging from our far-reaching security steps and good infrastructure like the best road network in the country as well as an impressive workforce”.
Information Management Team members also seem more interested in creating economic and business opportunities than in politics. Led by Uju Nwogu, a law teacher, who is Commissioner for Information, Culture and Tourism, they are abreast of every business coming into the state like Best Western, a European multinational, which has just opened a hotel in Awka, a town already awash with hotels; Awka is suddenly bustling with night life. The team members disclose government efforts to have state of the art cinema theatres in Awka, which they hope “will check the practice of, at least, 1,000 young people leaving our state every weekend to see movies in neighbouring Enugu State”. It is axiomatic the team members enjoy what organisational science theorists call person-organisation fit, that is, they genuinely believe in the mission of the organisation, which is to use their communication competence to create business and economic opportunities.
“The governor has given us a mandate that Anambra must be among the first three states in Nigeria in every development index in the next three years,” Nwogu states. “Ours is one of the only four states still paying salaries as and when due because we foresaw the present economic crisis and consequently took proactive measures to dramatically increase internally generated revenue. In fact, we are the only state to review salaries upwards in the midst of the ongoing economic crisis. We are still building bridges and constructing roads, yet we receive modest amounts from the federation account. We are building a new Anambra State.” Time will tell if a better state is, indeed, in the works.
•Adinuba is head of Discovery Public Affairs Consulting