Obiano has done excellently in one year – Onyima, Commissioner for Information, Culture & Tourism

Since cutting his teeth in the media as a youth corps member at The Guardian newspaper, Chief Tony
Onyima had been in media prac­tice before his recent appointment as a commissioner in Anambra State government in charge of in­formation, culture and tourism. HENRY AKUBUIRO caught up with him at the state capital, Awka, moments after the one-year anni­versary of the state governor had ended, where he filed questions on his media career, his new responsi­bility and the overall performance of the Governor Obiano adminis­tration. He declared emphatical­ly: “I can say His Excellency has done well. I keep telling people that, in governance, you assess po­litical leaders by the promises they made.”
One year in office as the Commissioner for In­formation, Culture and Tourism, Anambra State, how has it been adjust­ing from life as a media practitioner in a pri­vate establishment and managing information, culture and tourism for a state government?
I think my experience and back­ground has been very helpful. It was very easy to adjust, because the nature of newsroom and media management has been of great help in my new assignment in public service. It was easier for me to quickly bring the zeal, urgency and deadline of newsroom into things I do. At the same time, it has also been an excitingly new expe­rience for me. It has opened new vis­tas. I now appreciate process of pol­icy formulation and execution much more than I had before. I now know what informs certain government de­cisions; I now know that things are not done on the whims and caprices of one individual; policy formulation is a whole lot of processes before it comes out. And with that knowledge of be­ing on the other side, as it were, and now in public service, I can appreci­ate things, particularly public policies much more and see why certain poli­cies work and some don’t work.
What do you miss about the media?
Well, I can say I am still, in a way, in the media, because I do media-related issues. One of the es­sential parts of newsgathering, news management and media management is deadline. The deadline has not left me –and for that, I wouldn’t say I miss much. But, of course, when you move from an industry you have been in for the past 25 years, you will miss certain things, but that does not mean you miss so much. The fellowship and spirit of camaraderieship that exist in newsroom is something you always cherish. It is my candid advice that, once you get to the apogee or certain level of your career in private sector, there is need for you to have some measure of public service expe­rience sometime in your life; because it gives you a total sense about gov­ernance issues in Nigeria. It is always a very good experience, from what I have seen now.
You were in the media for 25 years, what do you consider the highpoint of your career as a journalist?
I have a number of milestones in my career. One of the things I will tell you right away is that my entire career has been marked by God’s hand, be­cause, at any point in time, I see God’s grace doing wonders. It is not because I am particularly the best, but I make efforts to do things very diligent­ly and, at the end of it, you will see God’s touch. Right from my school days, I was one of the best five grad­uating students from my department. And the department then had under­standing with The Guardian newspa­per to be taking their best five students each year. That’s how I went to The Guardian to do my youth service in 1985. I went there with three of my colleagues. At the end of the service, I didn’t even have one week respite; I just started work seamlessly.
From there, my career moved to ThisDay and to The Sun. At any point in time, I have always been invited over. I have never written an application for a job –that’s God’s grace. It is not of my making or me being a super star, so to speak, but I see God’s grace in my life. At The Guardian, I had mentors to look up to, and I was always work­ing hard to see how I can be like them or how I can surpass them. The Guardian, in those days (1985-92), had big names that resonated from outside. If you came into the news­room, you would sit with them, and you would be just asking yourself, ‘Is this same person I read every day?’ And you work very hard to be like them.
The very first week I walked into The Guardian, I met a very young man, very diligent –as far as I am concerned, a journalists’ journalist, total newsman –Nduka Iraboh –and he took me unto his wings. From him, I learnt news writing and, from there, I moved to the subediting desk, and other places, like production. From the moment I moved to editorship (I was the editor of Lagos Life, a publi­cation of The Guardian that looked at social life), I looked at Nigerian news­papers in those days –Concord, New Nigerian, Daily Times, etc. –they were mostly managed by accountants, and the journalists confined themselves to newsroom. I started asking ques­tions, and I discovered that journalists do not take interest in the business of journalism. So, I started early to take interest in that, nay I went back to school to acquire knowl­edge in business management. Any interest I developed, I go back to school to acquire the degree. That’s why I have three masters de­gree.
With the knowledge I acquired, any time the opportunity comes, I discov­er or people discover that I have the necessary skills. Apart from my me­dia background, I have administrative skills and marketing, too (because I have an MBA in Marketing), and those skills that the accountants have in managing media organizations, I could easily combine the two. From there, I moved up to the point, in 2010, that I was made the managing director of The Sun. With sense of modesty, I can say that, with the support of my colleagues and the board, I discharged that assignment very creditably.
The Governor Obiano admin­istration has just celebrated its one year in office, how has the journey been?
It has been an eventful and boun­tiful year and promising future. The Obiano administration came into being with a clear-cut mission and vi­sion. In governance, you look at the total gamut of things to be done and prioritize what you are going to do. He has the benefit of time to plan what he intended to do and during the cam­paigns he made specific promises. He also had the advantage of coming from a financial background. So, before he took his oath of office on March 17, 2014, he had assembled a team of ex­perts, young smart guys, who sat and put together his economic blueprint. So, it was, therefore, not surprising that, as soon as he was sworn in, he hit the ground running, implementing those items in the blueprint.
In the last one year, a lot has happened along the line of the promises he made. If you take the vision of the state –making Anambra State to be the first choice destination for local and foreign investments – one year down the line, the scorecard has been impressive: he has attract­ed investments worth over 2 billion dollars with 13 strategic investments across different sectors of the econ­omy: agriculture, hospitality, power, name them. He has signed MOUs with strategic investors to invest in Anambra. Again, more than half of these have moved beyond MOUs in getting to the stage of implementation. By Friday (last week), the power and gas will move to the next stage of im­plementation.
If you look at the second area (he chose four major things to do –we call it Four Pillars –Agriculture, Trade and Industry,Industrialization and Oil and Gas. These four pillars were delib­erately chosen, taking into account the comparative advantage which the state has. In the area of agriculture, the state needs to take care of the supply gap in rice production. Rice consumption in the state is currently at about 300,000 metric tonnes whereas we produce only 80,000 metric tonnes annually. So, you can see the gap. COSHED Farms (owned by Coscharis Group of Companies) has invested in agricul­ture in Anaku. With that and another, Excel Farms, they will take care of that gap and the state will even be a net exporter of rice within the next one year. 51 percent of the state’s econo­my is controlled by trade and indus­try. The government is modernizing existing markets and building ones. Facilities like modern food courts, so­lar lights, CCTV and toilets have been provided in the old markets. New and modern markets are being been devel­oped in Umunze, Ogbunike and Oba. The Ogbunike one has taken off; it is being financed by a group. That mar­ket is a modern market with shopping a mall that will give shoppers delight to go to.The fourth pillar is oil and gas
Why oil and gas?
When Anambra State talk about oil and gas, some people don’t real­ly understand it. Currently, Anam­bra has oil wells in Aguleri area. Orient Petroleum Ltd has been given licence to drill the oil. As we speak, they are drilling oil there and getting some crude. They have been increasing from 1,000- 5000 barrels per day. What this government has done is to open access roads to the oil rigs. The Obiano administration has awarded a contract to build the longest road in the state that will get to the oil rig. Before now, we used to access the rigs through Kogi State, which has created wrong the impression that the oil belongs to certain people. That road has about four long bridges across the Omabala River. With that, it is expected that ac­tivities in that area will pick up.
The Orient Petroleum, it must be noted, is a private company. The Obiano Administration is just creating the enabling environment that unleashes the State’s huge potential s in oil and gas. For instance, the state is trying to encour­age investment in Orient to enable it to build a 15,000 barrel per a day refinery it is planning. With that refinery, a lot of activities will begin to happen. Much more importantly, govern­ment has set up a very powerful oil and gas committee headed by an illustrious son of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Egboga, who was a presi­dential adviser. He is easily one of the best brains in Africa on oil and gas, and currently advising many African countries on oil and gas. I am told that Anambra has the largest gas reserve in Ni­geria from their report. When all these plans are put together, it is our expectation that the state will be enlisted as one of the oil producing states in Nigeria. The same Orient Petroleum also got the licence to build an airport in Umueri. So government is creating enabling environment by awarding a 6-lane road leading to that airport. It has been flagged off. Work has started and, currently, government is negotiating with two serious investors to build the airport on BOT ba­sis. It is going to be a cargo airport. Some of the perishable agricultural produce being produced, will be evacuated through the airport.
The second reason an airport is being planned for Umueri is that the refinery will specialize in producing aviation fuel. The aviation fuel will be stored at that airport. Most of the international flights will be expected to be refueled in Umueri. Currently, most of the big go to Ghana to refuel. And there is a common denominator for all these things: job opportu­nities for our people. And these investments are coming here for the simple reason that His Excellency tackled one thing: security. Before he came to office, there was this notoriety Anambra had over security issues.
How did he tackle that successfully?
It is because he has the political will to face it, and he faced it squarely. Within a few months, he recorded successes in that area, and that gave many people the confidence to invest, not only that, but also to return home. Last Christmas was the best this state has ever witnessed. I have been coming home to Anambra every Christmas for the last ten years with my family, but last year’s was the best, because you could move around freely at any point in time, and we had a series of activities that engaged the atten­tion of our people who returned. The kind of traffic I witnessed and the nature and size of cars I saw on the road, had never been witnessed before in Anambra State. Peo­ple had the confidence to bring out their limou­sines and other vehicles, and were freely driving them around, because there was that confidence that nothing would happen, and we didn’t have any reported incident to my knowledge through­out that Christmas. Summarily, I can say His Excellency has done well. I keep telling people that, in governance, you assess political leaders by the promises they made.
Still on security, what magic was used in transforming the state from a dread­ed, den of outlaws to a conducive envi­ronment?
You can call it magic, but it has to do with political will and courage, which His Excellency has demonstrat­ed. A number of things that needed to be done at Upper Iweka required leadership, and he provid­ed that leadership. For instance, a section of that place had been annexed by private individuals over the years and turned into a private park, but he insisted it was an access road and gave a directive to demolish illegal structures. The open space has been turned into a beautiful pub­lic park. From the Head Bridge to Zik’s Round About, a major work is being done by IDC.
Unlike in the past when travellers going to Enugu and Owerri spent hours and even sleep­ing over at Upper Iweka, there was no such incident last Christmas, coupled with traffic management put in place. Also, those noto­rious urchins at Upper Iweka were taken care of. Previously, there was no political will to do this. So, the magic is that the governor provided the leadership and resources to turn that place around, yet he keeps saying it is not yet the Upper Iweka of his dream, and in the days and weeks to come, work will still be going on. The same goes for Zik’s Round About, where, at the end of the day, you will see waterfall and other adornments.
Coming over to your ministry, a new ABS Studio has just been commis­sioned by the state government, what’s the need at this point in time?
Once we came into office, the governor re­alized that, for him to achieve what he set out to do, there was need to communicate with our people. To do that, ABS is the only state owned broadcast outfit, and it has been in a state of dis­repair and neglect over the years. If you recall, ABS was burnt down during the locust. The governor just decided to give the place a facelift for two reasons. Aside the first reason I just stated, the second is that the dead­line for digitalization of all broadcast outfits globally is June, 2015, and if you don’t do that, you will be left behind.
The first thing we did was to appoint a new management. We advertised it, and many peo­ple applied. A panel was set up, and, at the end of the day, we narrowed our choice to a very vi­brant young man bubbling with ideas and com­ing from a private sector. The second thing we did was to purchase brand new equipments that would give the station a new lease of life. These equipments have started arriving, and work, as we speak, is ongoing. We expect that, in the next few months the studio will have been com­pleted. His Excellency, in his wisdom, advised that we separate the studio from the admin­istrative building, and work is ongoing. It is a 3-storey building. By that time we finish that, ABS will be a world standard and try to see how it will be on the bouquet of DSTV. The other good thing happening to ABS is that three weeks ago, a board of directors was set up to supervise the implementation of all these things enumerated. The board is headed by Mr. Eme­ka Maduegbuna, a veteran journalist. The board has already swung into action.
At a time when many governments are complaining of flight of internation­al investors, the Obiano administration has already attracted over 2 billion dol­lars worth of investment; what makes Anambra the beautiful bride?
There are a number of reasons: investors go to a place where they are not given hassles – money flow to where there is security. As I said, one beautiful thing that has happened here is that His Excellency was well prepared for the assignment he was going to do. Few days after his inauguration, one of the first actions he did was to set up Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agen­cy (ASIPPA), a one-stop shop for inves­tors. If you are a potential investor, and you walk into Anambra State, you don’t need to move around to the Ministry of Trade, Land or Environment, and all that, to get the necessary approvals and permits you need; you just go to this agency and discuss your proposal. If the agency finds your proposal very interesting and do their due diligence, in a matter of days, you will get all the approvals you need. That’s what investors are looking for and that’s what we call enabling environment.
The second reason Anambra is a beau­tiful bride is that investors go to a secure place. Anambra is safe and secure, and they can feel it when they come; and the kind of packaged incentives created for these investors are world-class that, if you look at it, you have no choice than to invest your re­sources. Another factor is that His Excellen­cy’s passion, commitment and fidelity. When he makes a commitment he keeps it. Given the lean resources available to the state, he believes that, by attracting investors to the state, he will increase the state’s GDP and eventually the in­ternally generated revenue.
The state government intends to build a multi million naira, five-star hotel in Onitsha; don’t you think this is another white elephant project, given the number of similar abandoned projects across the country?
That is a wrong impression. Onitsha is the biggest commercial city in Africa. If you look around Onitsha, there is no five-star hotel in the city, neither is there any convention centre. There­fore, this project has potentials, and it is going to be managed by one of the best brands in the hospitality industry. What the state has done is to restructure that project and Cardinal Devel­opers have come in –it is a private investor –to take over the project, finish it and manage it. The government has little equity now in it. It is the duty of the investor to complete it, and work is fast moving. At this point in time, discussion is even on to find a franchise manager that will manage the hotel. By and large, Onitsha alone has the potentials to make the hotel profitable.
Finally, the former state governor, Chief Peter Obi, was missing at the one year anniversary of Governor Obiano, fueling speculations that his relation­ship with Governor Obiano has gone sour….
The former governor was duly invited to the one year anniversary events. You were at that event when the governor openly acknowledged what his predecessor had done. If they were not in good terms, he wouldn’t have done that. People don’t know that these distinguished cit­izens of Anambra have come a long way, and they have many things in common that you don’t know. As far as I am concerned, people make a mountain out of their relationship. I think some people are trying to create a busi­ness out of the relationship between these re­spected Ndi Anambra. Because they gain, they have continued to spread all kinds of rumour about their relationship so that they can sustain their business. As far as I am concerned, they are still friends. The only difference is that one has moved to continue his political future on a different platform. Governor Obiano has consis­tently maintained that under his watch APGA as a party will grow from strength to strength con­trary to the impression being created that Obi’s exit will spell doom for APGA. The objective of these rumours is to distract the governor from his good work so that, at the end of the day, they will say he is a failure.But the governor has re­mained focused on his job, and the result has shown already.
Accusing fingers are being point­ed at the state governor and his APGA party for sponsoring the dam­aging documentary on Peter Obi, at a time he is not running for any political position in the country…
One of the lessons I learnt as an editor is not to believe the many rumors that circulate around this country at any point in time. I speak for the Obiano administration; so, if you say pointedly that the Obiano administration sponsored that documentary, show me the evidence. I don’t like commenting on rumours. There are a lot of rumours in Nigeria that, if you continue to comment on them, you will get tired. Again, the governor is a decent man and very busy. Like I said, the governor doesn’t want to be distracted.

Obiano has done excellently in one year – Onyima, Commissioner for Information, Culture & Tourism Obiano has done excellently in one year – Onyima, Commissioner for Information, Culture & Tourism  Reviewed by Unknown on Saturday, April 11, 2015 Rating: 5

No comments: