Professor A.B.C Nwosu, First Class Commonwealth Scholar and academic, joined the political arena with his appointment in 1986 as Commissioner for Health in old Anambra State. He served four military administrations in that capacity including the new Anambra State. At the return to democracy in 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo appointed him first as his Political Adviser and later as Minister of Health. Professor Nwosu spoke to Global UpFront Newspapers (GUN). Excerpts:
As a major stakeholder in Anambra State, is the State where it is supposed to be today and what is the way forward?
I am very emotionally attached to Anambra State because I was one of the pioneer Commissioners in old Anambra State. When the new Anambra State was created, those of us from the new State had to come back to become the pioneers. There was no point appointing new people since we had about three or four months left to serve and the Governor then, Commodore Joe Abulu, chose to be kind to me and I was his very good special friend.
I know that we came down immediately to start building a dream State and I know I played a role in persuading transporters from my hometown Nnewi, Ekene Dili Chukwu, Eekeson, Izuchukwu, and other transporters from Anambra State like Young Shall Grow so that they would help in lifting civil servants who were living in Enugu and now had to work in Awka at special rates and taking them back.
They did it for free for two weeks and started charging ten per cent of the actual cost.
You could see the spirit of our people because there was nothing. We were the new State. Enugu State is not new as it inherited the old Anambra State infrastructure in the capital. I had to make my office as Commission of Health, new Anambra State at Amaku General Hospital which was built by the Awka community. And we had to start building a place for the House of Assembly who would be at the Enugu-Ukwu town hall. And we relocated to the Lodigiani Nigeria Limited road camp where incidentally the Government House still stays till today. Lodigiani built the road from Awka to Onitsha.
In the spirit, we were offered Zik’s Government House in Enugu to live as the Governor’s befitting house so he would go down to Awka every day and come back. He asked what I thought and I said we cannot govern a people from outside the State. We started looking for a place and I remembered a Sunday, we woke up Honourable Justice Uyanna of blessed memory. That was how the home of the administrative Judge for Awka, who later became Chief Justice Uyanna became the Government House and it is still the Government House till date.
We allowed him (Justice Uyanna) to move away with all his furniture. The Governor said he could not deprive him of his house and furniture. Where to sleep became a problem. We had to buy mattresses. Commodore Joe Abulu and some of us he chose to stay with him, slept on the floor in those mattresses in order to govern Anambra.
We immediately decided to capitalise on the spirit of the people to launch Anambra State Development Fund in the spirit of Governor Emeka Omeruah for old Anambra State, which I had also the privilege of serving continuously. We also launched the Anambra State Education and Technology (ANSET) fund. Professor Chinua Achebe gave that acronym, to bring the people in a composite spirit and we launched the Anambra State Development Fund.
You can see the spirit with which the new Anambra State was accepted and moved with wisdom. The State Hospital Management Board was at Enugu-Ukwu General Hospital. The people didn’t mind. There was no Psychiatric hospital.
The spirit was high. We were expecting to build a Centre for Adaptation for Technology at Awka. We had ordered the foundries, both metallic and non-metallic foundries. But I believe that subsequent governments handed it over to the federal government and nobody has heard anything again about it.
We were thinking of building our own Silicon Valley. We had very lofty dreams. So, I feel very sentimental about Anambra State and am happy it has now been renamed from Home for All to Light of the Nation.
With this sentiment, are you fulfilled with the level of governance in the State?
Anambra has had a checkered history in terms of governance. In 1999, the Appeal Panel of PDP (Peoples Democratic Party), before the elections, changed my name and it was handed over to Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju. I didn’t mind. It was an Appeal Panel. My views were not heard in taking this decision. It was on a petition and because Dr Alex Ekwueme came from my State, I didn’t think I had to make a mountain out of it because Dr Ekwueme was still contesting for President. From there, Chinwoke Mbadinuju became the only Governor of the PDP that was not allowed a second tenure as children didn’t go to school and people who had to take School Certificate exams did so from other States. That did not go down well with the dreams of Silicone Valley and excellence in education.
When we came to Dr Chris Ngige, Chris Ubah will tell you that I refused to be recalled back even in the election. How can I ask to be the Governor? I could not be running against Ngige except I am one of those who says this and turns back and say another thing.
Peter Obi was alright in everything and was ready to work. So, why should I, an older man, enter a masquerade when a younger man who can dance better, except it is to discredit him.
PDP brought Ngige and Ngige sprang a surprise in infrastructure. With all the problems he had, he was not bad. He came a long way. But the person who pushed the dream to where we were going was Peter Obi. He came and did the one thing that we would have done before, handing over schools to the Missions with money to run them. And Anambra State, within a space of one or two years, came from the bottom to the top. For me that is how governance should be measured.
It was terrific. It was the dream of the founders of Anambra. Peter Obi started this but where Peter Obi excelled also was in prudent management of the lean resources. But Peter Obi, being a businessman, made sure the resources were there and made sure that he didn’t borrow. He also saved a lot of money especially foreign exchange and got us to invest in new things like the brewery at Onitsha.
Where I would have differed is that I am not a realist, much like Peter Obi. I am more of a dreamer. I would have bought the Machine tools and Centre on Adaptation of Technology, coupling engineering which our people excel in. You will get a machine to use their work, you pieces it and reproduce it. That’s why Innosson, who didn’t go through secondary education, can produce cars of the highest quality.
If Anambra people make tiles or marbles for you, you can’t get it better. Before Peter Obi left, I had convinced him to make me chairman of Anambra Education Board. He agreed. We would have got 210 persons who have Masters degrees and above from the different Local Government Areas and we will send them to some of the best institutions in China, Japan, Germany, United States and Britain. If you fail you will come back, we will do a repeat so that we can be leaders of tomorrow’s technology and creativity.
We still need a dreamer who would look at that dream and not go away from that dream because of the cost. If you have to give your people the skills they require that are not available locally, you have to pay foreign exchange to India to learn software engineering, or to America to learn cutting edge technology; Britain for anthropology from Cambridge, etc. That 210, by now, they would have been out. It is also part of the dream that anybody who must teach in the university in Anambra State must not only have a doctorate degree from a reputable university, but should also have something they have accomplished.
Yes, I am a dreamer. I accomplished guinea worm eradication. My PhD is from University of London. I attended Imperial College Science and Technology from University of London. But that’s not my major achievement. It was my prayers to God when I came back to Nigeria that the people sentenced every year for punishment and imprisonment of guinea worm disease become a thing of the past. Not that it was globally, but Nigeria became guinea worm free and I don’t think anyone in good conscience can mention guinea worm eradication without my name.
So, back to Anambra State, I am very pleased at the infrastructure revolution that Chris Ngige began. I am especially proud of Peter Obi for this humility in high places, frugal management and building up of resources especially opening up of education to the highest level and for laying the foundations for industrial development and investment of Anambra’s resources.
Peter Obi’s frugality and ability to manage resource is legendary. Some say he is annoyingly stingy. I would not have matched him in frugality but I would have beaten him in dreaming and actualising the dreams. We need someone who will close his eyes and imagine a smart city that we can build this, have a Silicon Valley. Our people can never match others in farming, but give them computers and software, they will develop softwares and crafts that will become worldwide. We can’t do all these machine tools without all these things, these plastics that we throw away. You recycle them and all you need is appropriate modes.
My town Nnewi, at some point, were producing most of the items used by Peugeot Automobiles in Kaduna. It pains me that factories like Ibeto Industries are not working now and Ibeto, who was famous for his batteries that were outlasting those that we were importing. He is now selling cement. Awka is known for blacksmiths and there’s a saying that the Buckingham Palace gate had some Awka smiths involved. One of the most important statue of the Queen of England is by late Ben Enweonwu from Onitsha.
In the past seven years, we have a Governor but you hardly mentioned what he has done.
I don’t know the present Governor. I don’t feel him. How can I comment on what I don’t know, don’t feel, don’t see. It would be unfair for me to give comments on him. Of course, Peter Obi introduced him to me when he was trying for him to be Governor. But he had been Governor for seven years. Fashola was Governor. I didn’t see him in person but I knew him. I could pass by the Lekki bridge.
I was in class four when Nigeria gained independence in 1960. Am not a young man. Why should I not praise a young person if that person has done well? Do I belong to same political party? If we have elections tomorrow, I will not be found anywhere near Chris Ngige. But you are asking me about what he did and he did well. If I give him good, I will give Peter Obi excellent.