Open, liberal and accommodating societies make far greater economic progress than closed, parochial and clannish ones. Lagos state is a good example in Nigeria. Bola Ahmed Tinubu led the foundation for the phenomenal development we all have seen in Lagos since the restoration of democratic rule in 1999, and Governor Babatunde Fashola has turned the state into a role model with his impressive commitment to the emergence of Lagos as a megacity, or a world class metropolis. What a lot of Nigerians do not seem to appreciate as perhaps the most critical reason for the stunning growth is the cosmopolitan outlook of both Fashola and his predecessor. Tinubu took the unusual step of appointing a number of non-Lagos Yorubas to high positions. Dele Alake, his powerful and competent Commissioner for Information and Strategy, is from Ekiti State. And in his second term, Tinubu appointed Ben Akabueze, an erstwhile bank chief executive, the Commissioner for Economic Planning and Budget , and Joe Igbokwe, an engineer, the general manager and chief executive the Lagos State Infrastructure Maintenance and Regulatory Agency. Both Akabueze and Igbokwe are from Anambra State. Not to be forgotten is that Tinubu gave Mrs Grace Onyeabo, a native of Ozubulu but married to a person from Awkuzu, both in Anambra State, the eminently powerful position of Director of Public Prosecutions.
Fashola has since taken the Tinubu liberal initiative to new heights. Not only are Akabueze and Igbokwe retained in the current dispensation, Fashola has appointed Igbo people to the Lagos State judiciary in numbers. His biggest and most modern housing estate, located in Ikeja GRA, is named the Emeka Anyaoku Estate, after the highly respected first African secretary general of the Commonwealth of Nations who is from Anambra State. Fashola last year held a state burial for General Odumegwu Ojukwu, the only non-Southeastern governor to do so. He was the only governor who participated in the annual Chinua Achebe Colloquium in the United States last March where he proudly declared that his generation is not held hostage by the Nigerian civil war. When four naval ratings beat up an Igbo female banker from Imo State named Uzoma Okere in 2009 for not clearing the way for Rear Admiral Harry Arogundede, it was the governor who personally led the protest and directed the state Ministry of Justice to sue the officer and men, leading to the award of 100million naira damages against the military men. When famous actress Ngozi Nwosu needed N4.5m to treat her life-threatening ailment in England, Fashola provided it. Now, the governor has just honoured the ace Nigerian radio sports commentator, Ernest Okonkwo, an indigene of Anambra State.
Those who think there are no significant economic great benefits to the Fashola liberal disposition are mistaken. Several thousands of Igbo people are making unprecedented investments in Lagos State. Not just the Leo Stan Ekehs and Pascal Dozies of this world are building institutions in Lagos, there are hundreds of thousands of Okafors and Okekes in the unorganised private sector operating at Idumota Market, Balogun Market and Alaba International Market who are fast developing the Lekki Peninsula, Okota District and elsewhere. Most of the new pharmaceutical firms in Lagos are owned by Indians and Igbo people; the Igbo investors are people who only a few years ago would not build a manufacturing plant outside their region. What the Southeast is losing, Lagos is gaining. And the gains are no peanuts.
As I reflect from time on Lagos status as Africa’s fastest growing city and the Igbo contribution to it, I am appalled at the development pace of my state. Anambra has no reason to move at the speed of snail. I am saddened by the fact that a substantial percentage of the Igbo investments ought to have been in the East which is in dire need of investments and development. Indeed, the investments would have flowed to the East if Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State, for instance, had been a bit imaginative and accommodating like his Lagos State counterpart. Whereas the Anambra people are accommodating and liberal, as reflected in their original slogan “Home for All”, which is in the fine tradition of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, their present governor is unfortunately discriminatory. The governor excels in playing dangerous politics between Catholics and Protestants. He also plays politics of balkanization, as reflected in the attempt to create a wedge between the Omambala people and the rest of Anambra state which could end up making the people of Omambala sub ethnic culture an isolated and despised group.
Gov Obi’s parochial politics recognizes no bounds or off-limits. Four years ago when he was contesting for re-election, he launched a sustained tribal campaign against his most formidable opponent, Dr Chris Ngige. He relentlessly made a show of Ngige’s membership of the Action Congress of Nigeria (ACN), which he called a Yoruba party and said things capable of profoundly damaging Igbo-Yoruba relations. Yet, Mr Obi built his business empire in Lagos, which is in Yorubaland. Even as governor, Obi kept on sending Anambra State’s money to Lagos. On Sunday, June 7, 2009, policemen arrested an official vehicle belonging to the Anambra State government carrying N250m cash which was being laundered in his private business Next International office at 7, Aerodrome Road in Apapa. The case will someday be tried in court. Gov Obi should have known that his anti-Yoruba rhetoric could work against him when he is out of power from next March. The Lagos State government could prosecute him for money laundry offences committed in its territory.
Gov Obi has been given an excellent opportunity to turn around fortunes of Igbo people, but he blew it. As the long serving chairman of the Conference of Southeast Governors, he could have convinced his colleagues to ensure the appointment of non-indigenes who are Igbo into political offices as a way to promote Igbo unity, as is the case in Lagos State where many Yoruba people are given high offices irrespective of states of origin. Obi failed. As a result, governors like Theodore Orji of Abia State became more clannish and primitive so much so that they sacked all Igbo elements in the public service, including teachers, who are not indigenes. These dismissals did take place because of the poor leadership of the Conference of Southeast Governors which Obi has provided. Obi himself is not imbued with cosmopolitan values.
The Southeast governors have a lot to learn from the phenomenal success of Fashola’s Lagos State. Gov Obi cannot learn such lessons by acting like President Goodluck Jonathan’s personal assistant, ever enthusiastic to stop a world class material like Professor Chukwuma Soludo from running for the governorship on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), a so-called Igbo party, simply because Jonathan, an Ijaw, is uncomfortable with Soludo’s psychological mak-eup. The only consoling fact is that the next Anambra State Governor, Senator Chris Ngige, is not only independent-minded and posseses the heart of steel, but also visionary and development-oriented. God does love our state, after all.
Dr Ifenatuora, a strategic management expert, lives in Onitsha GRA, Anambra State.