Posted by James Eze | 13 February 2015 | 3,703 times
Although the recent visit by a 30-man-strong business delegation from Thailand to Anambra State has come and gone, the full significance of its five-day stay in what used to be the crime capital of South-East Nigeria will linger for a long time to come.
For obvious reasons, the Thai Trade Mission to Anambra could be seen as the final proof that Governor Willie Obiano’s acclaimed exploits in ridding the state of crime and criminal elements as widely reported in the media is no fluke. In a sense, it is the longest test of the efficacy of Obiano’s prowess in finding a lasting solution to an otherwise intractable challenge that had blighted the stated and stunted the economic growth of the entire south-eastern region for several decades. There is nothing hyperbolic about this claim. Anyone who is familiar with the economic map of Nigeria can attest to the pre-eminence of Anambra as a major hub of economic activities in West Africa in spite of the state’s profile as a crime-ridden wasteland carved into several fiefdoms by vicious gangsters.
It is a known fact that like the phoenix, Ndigbo rose from the ashes of the Biafran War to reclaim their position as the pillars of commerce and trade in Nigeria through a robust sprouting of outstanding entrepreneurship in the industrial and trading outposts of Onitsha and Aba. The once acclaimed Igbo ingenuity that manifested in the flourishing of manufactured goods in the seventies that were aptly tagged “Igbo-made” came from these two illustrious towns in the Igbo heartland. A carry-over of the inventive Igbo genius that sustained the prolonged armed resistance of the region to the relentless bombardment by Nigeria and her allies of world powers for 30 long months, the Igbo inventive and entrepreneurial spirit was to finally surrender to relentless regimes of arid economic policies that left it comatose for decades.
The colossal dispossessions of the war followed by a climate of scorched earth economic policies targeted at areas where they had a comparative advantage meant that an otherwise proud and industrious people had to seek diverse outlets for the kinetic energy that lay bottled up in them. The middle to late seventies witnessed the runt of this energy show itself in the sprouting of auto-parts manufacturing companies in Nnewi while the bulk of the energy found expression in the successive waves of criminal regimes which came to a climax with the rise of Boys Oyeah – the first feeble attempt by Onitsha to cleanse itself of vicious criminal overlords. Boys Oyeah was an epochal revolt by a society that had grown weary of the ineptitude of its leadership. That was in the eighties.
History was to repeat itself a decade later when Chief Godwin Okeke of G.U.O Group of companies led the popular Onitsha Market Amalgamated Traders Association (OMATTA) in another revolt against men of the underworld. It was again another indictment on the government of the day. The Aba equivalent was to come decades later with the emergence of the dreaded Bakassi Boys whose cancerous influence spread across Igboland like brushfire and left the region soaked in blood spilled from extra-judicial killings.
A continued lack of vision and endless tentativeness by successive administrations ensured that Anambra State which hosts the largest pool of self-driven Igbos never quite shrugged off the specter of criminality which later took a sophisticated shape at the turn of the century when Niger Delta militants began to keep expatriate oil workers in the region in captivity in exchange for huge ransoms. Criminal elements in Onitsha soon saw in it a more creative way to make more money from Anambra’s many rich indigenes without the usual spilling of blood that came with violent armed robbery. In came the kidnapping business – the ugly phenomenon that drove away investors and anything of value from Anambra State as many well-to-do citizens relocated their businesses and loved ones out of the state.
Indeed, for a long period of time Onitsha, which hosts the largest retail market in West Africa, and the surrounding commercial areas were better known for the scandalous headlines that spewed forth from them. For the same reason, Upper Iweka, which gained popularity for the preponderance of many business concerns with territorial ambitions that stretch across Africa, soon assumed the status of the crime capital of the South-East. For many decades, it was difficult to remember Onitsha for anything beyond the absurd. Even when the bizarre security outfit known as Bakassi Boys took roots in Onitsha, things took a grotesque shape with the horrendous public execution of crime suspects that looked very much like what ISIS has brought to the world stage today.
In the intervening years, many Ndi Anambra slowly became disinclined from returning home. They were disenchanted by the inability of the government of the day to secure them from the torment of kidnappers and violent armed robbers. Sadly, what the state lost to their disinclination became the gain of other states, especially the neighbouring states. The massive growth in real estate in Asaba and Enugu and other equidistant cities can be traced to this scenario as wealthy Anambra indigenes sought to set up half-way houses to home.
It is within this milieu, this bleak landscape, this marshland of broken dreams; that one begins to fully understand what Governor Willie Obiano has done in Anambra State. That a 30-man Trade Delegation from Thailand could spend five long days in Anambra, moving around freely and visiting Onitsha of all places without an incident, speaks with unmistakable clarity of the change that has come upon Anambra State. There is a climate of freedom that pervades the state. No longer do we see long security convoys trailing wealthy citizens who spend heavy sums on personal security each time they decide to visit home. Where they exist at all, the personages simply retain them to maintain their social status; not that they expect any surprises as was once the case.All around the state, citizens now come out of their homes at whatever time of day and night to test their new freedom. There is a growing feeling everywhere that this miraculous change has come to stay; that Anambra is on the rise again.
But seriously, that Willie Obiano has thoroughly cleansed the Augean Stable that was Anambra State in less than one year of his regime, speaks to the dearth of quality leadership that the state had experienced in the last 30 years. One can’t help but wonder the priorities of those before him. What mattered most to them? What could be more important to the chief security officer of a state than the safety of lives and property of the citizenry? And what exactly did Chief Willie Obiano do to conjure the miracle that is the New Anambra State? These are the questions that will continue to ring through the portals of time.
•Eze writes from Ifite, Awka. Photo shows Governor Obiano.
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