Coming at a time the “Not-Too-Young-To-Run” campaign has gained some traction in the media, there is a sense in which the birthday of an elected public officer may invariably serve as an assessment backdrop.
Of course, while the experience in the case of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State who turns 54 on Tuesday, March 20, may hint at the benefit of youthful zest in politics, it is nonetheless a reminder that political office is never offered on a platter – it is often earned.
Prior to his election as Enugu State’s helmsman, he had earlier been elected thrice to the House of Representatives, the first time while in his early 40s.
So, how was a youth with a work experience entirely honed in the private sector able to defeat more established individuals that flaunted intimidating political resumes? The answer lies in understanding the power of the grassroots, their challenges, and the importance of earning their trust and realizing just as well that personal involvement in politics is the surest path to getting elected. That keen interaction with the grassroots imbued Gov. Ugwuanyi with a worldview where the interest of the people sits always on an enviable perch.
Several “hows” have similarly arisen out of the remarkable accomplishments of the governor. For instance, a Facebook post about the intensive urban renewal being implemented by the Ugwuanyi administration had yielded this from a senior journalist and former editor of The Guardian on Saturday, Mr. Felix Abugu:
“There would appear to be so many projects going on simultaneously in Enugu that one cannot but ask: just how does the man do it?” he wrote. “Here’s a N100b budget economy besting the ones with near-to-trillion naira budget economies in virtually every development index. And I ask again: how does he do it?”
I replied that the answer lay in his sensible deployment of resources. This mindset means the paradox of blighted suburban communities – the notion that they are places politicians visit only during election campaigns – has been experiencing a paradigm shift in Enugu with some ambitious urban renewal projects launched across many such neighbourhoods. This drive is unlike the tokenism which residents of fringe communities had lived with for decades. The current experience is rooted in deep planning, not the perfunctory gestures of the past that lacked both conviction and sustainability.
The intervention, as conceived presently, comes with a clear social and economic development plan that incorporates the state government’s immediate, short and long term goals. For instance, the extension of pipe-borne water into parts of Abakpa-Nike arose out of the state’s water board’s expansion of its capacity from 4,000 cubic metres to 18,000 cubic metres. The goal is to achieve 40,000 cubic metres by year end and extend water supply to all parts of Abakpa and indeed every neighbourhood in Enugu metropolis and substantially cover other parts of the state.
The renewed vigour is consistent with Mr. Ugwuanyi’s often-stated vision to implement an even spread of infrastructural projects to give rural residents a high self esteem, banish feelings of alienation and create new cities to reduce the current pressure on the state capital.
“We will continue to direct our policies and projects towards these locations because that is where most of our people reside,” the governor said at the flag-off of a road rehabilitation project at Ngenevu, a high-density suburb straddling the foot of hills across which lies an abandoned coal mine.
This declaration is as much driven by belief in the public good as it is by the knowledge that an improved living condition is an incentive for payment of taxes. Such conviction is at the heart of the N5 million-project-for-every-community initiative, a grassroots development programme conceived by the Ugwuanyi administration to ensure government presence in the 450 autonomous communities in the state.
Indeed, with its status as one of the least recipients of the monthly federal allocations, nothing short of sensible deployment of resources could result in the sort of transformation seen across Enugu State today and the fact the state has never failed in the payment of salaries and pensions. A little over a year ago, Enugu was actually adjudged one of just three states – including Lagos and Rivers – still able to meet their recurrent obligations in a report published by BudgIT.
Although some may frown at the tendency to laud elected officials for performing functions that are more or less statutory, however, in a clime where the performance of such duties or willingness thereof is on a perpetual decline, the propriety takes on a compelling tone.
That is not suggesting the governor is himself pleased hearing his many laudable deeds spoken of in a manner that might be deemed exhibitionist. Besides the fact he simply considers those as the raison d’être for governments where ever they exist, his unassuming outlook baulks at such.
But in this social media age defined by so much half truths and outright falsehood that make objective assessments of elected officials a near impossible task, how else can one deal with the emergent public cynicism and not be guilty of a self-serving agenda?
It’s a dilemma Governor Ugwuanyi obviously has no problem resolving. For him, there is no better response to cynicism than good governance. That is a point he sufficiently proves on a daily basis, drawing praises across party divides for the inclusive governance he has enthroned in Enugu State from individuals such as former Senate president, Ken Nnamani, and former governor of old Anambra State, Jim Nwobodo, both chieftains of the All Progressives Congress, the opposition party in the state. The bipartisanship bred by such governance philosophy has fostered an agreeable atmosphere, resulting in the state being cited as one of the safest states in Nigeria.
Such impressive scorecard would typically make the birthday of its brainchild an occasion for revelry. But there will be no such indulgence for Governor Ugwuanyi as he believes the needs of humanity do not simply vanish on account of anyone’s birthdays. His birthday is as much an inspiration to the aspirations of youths as it is about a celebration of service.
It has been quite rewarding experiencing such refreshing philosophy and inspiring work ethic up close. Happy birthday, Gburugburu!
- Ani, formerly editor of ThisDay, The SaturdayNewspaper, and later Saturday Telegraph, is a senior communications aide to the governor of Enugu State.