Mr Oseloka Henry Obaze, until mid last year, was a United Nations employee. He is one of those who responded to Governor Peter Obi’s call to Anambra State indegenes in diaspora to come home to assist in building the state. He was appointed secretary to the state government in June last year. In this interview, Obaze speaks on the challenges of changing the mindset of the people in taking ownership of government.
As the coordinating office between the governor’s office and other ministries as well as members of the public, how has it been?
I didn’t know I was coordinating the activities of the governor. I thought I was coordinating activities of government just to ensure that there is coherence in policy, coordination, delivery and implementation which is the running of basic bureaucracy. The challenge is that every bureaucracy creates its own weakness and what we encounter here is a national issue, one of the mindset where you have to convince people on what they are supposed to do and that is a challenge. Other than that, it is like running any other government. So you have to do what you have to do and hopefully get the rest of the team on board and that is basically what it is. Of course it entails very long hours and, because His Excellency the governor, Mr Peter Obi, works extremely long hours, we just toe the line and that is basically where we are.
At the time you were taking up the appointment, did you envisage it would be this enormous?
Yes. Running a state, no matter how small, is and will always be a big challenge. Running a state where you have institutional and infrastructural challenges is even a bigger challenge. You must therefore anticipate that such challenge will be enormous but you also hope that you bring some degree of added value to problems solving which is basically what we do. The governor has the vision to do the things he does and our role as technocrats is to assist him to make sure he realizes that vision. But as someone said, the biggest challenge here is that sometimes you encounter a situation where there is a disconnect between the vision of the governor and those of the bureaucrats, even some of the political appointees and where that synergy is lacking or where there is a lacuna , you don’t move as fast as the governor wants you to move, the realization of the vision and the set goals are not articulated and pursued not for lack of vision or wherewithal but for lack of mindset and will of the people. One thing I encountered here, and I am sure the governor knows about it and it is not about the government but about the mind set, is that in trying to run government operation or business, everything has become so transactional. When you say you want to build a road, the contractor, the sub-contractor, the consultant, everybody is looking at what is in there for him, financially. When you say you have a policy to alleviate poverty, people are looking for what is in it for them. When you say you have an MDG grants or programme to run, people are looking for what is in it. Nobody is talking about what added value does this policy bring. That is a challenge. Other than that, we do what we need to do and sometimes we have to swim against the tide and still do what we need to do. And the governor is very supportive in what we are doing.
How sacrificial is this job to you as some people said you were practically dragged to Nigeria to take up this appointment?
Chinua Achebe once said that if God, in His infinite wisdom, decided to make him African, Nigerian, Igbo from Ogidi, he has no intention of changing that. Likewise, if God, in His infinite wisdom, decided to make me African, Nigerian, Igbo from Anambra, I don’t intend to change that. I think I owe a lot to my people in my village, they did not train me, I did not go on scholarship, my parents did but to bring added value by being able to represent them and like wise for every person who comes from Anambra State and for everybody from this country. I have travelled around the world in over 60 countries and I have enjoyed the immense benefits of what developed countries have to offer.
I have also gone to countries that are not by any stretch of imagination comparable to Nigeria in terms of access to resources and infrastructure and even governance. And so you begin to ask yourself, those privileges and infrastructure we enjoy abroad did not happen overnight, some people built them. The efficient roads, airports, industries, some people made them happen. But there comes in one’s life and you begin to ask yourself, what have you done for your country? And if one were to paraphrase it, I am here because I grew up at the era when JFK was a role model to us. And remember, getting the Americans to be focused on the greatness of their country and its sustainability had to do with the question he asked, “ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country”. What can I do for Nigeria to make it a better place for my children and grand children? There are generations ahead of me who have considered that theirs is a wasted generation. I don’t want to be part of that generation. I have served and have a fulfilled life. And I think a life of contentment will even be richer and better enhanced if you can look back and say, “before my twilight years, I was able to give back to the society that gave me so much”, and that is why I am here. It is not about money, it is about the realization that the elite in this country which I consider myself one have not done sufficiently enough. They have taken the rights of the masses for granted. And the privileges we have enjoyed, we have not allowed it trickle down to the masses. I don’t just want to go to bed bearing the burden and the guilt of not having done what I am supposed to do.
What would you say are the high points of this administration?
Since I was appointed, I think there is better coordination, better focal point focused on policy, implementation. There is a better focus on synergy, making sure that there is certain degree of completedness in the things we do. There is better articulation of ensuring that public expenditure is done in such a way that it has added value. We just submitted our budget for 2013 and we are looking at how we can have a result-based budget where what we budgeted for is accomplished and where we do not have the resources to attract grants and the only way you can attract grants is by showing what you are doing and how effective you are before your partners can buy in. Governor Peter Obi is efficient to attract international donors and our job, my job and my colleagues in the executive council is to ensure that every penny we get from outside is accounted for, is reflected in what we do. The other aspect is to look at where the pitfalls are and begin to plug those holes whether it is policies, in execution or even in every day life.
I was sworn-in, in June last year and on July 2, which was my first executive council meeting, the question I asked the governor was, who was responsible for the cleanliness of Awka?, and we found out that there were a core of people left, right and centre who the issue falls within their purview and they were not taking ownership of the process. Everybody assumed the other person was going to do it. And, at the end of the day, nobody did. And the first thing we did was to make sure that we cleaned up the capital and made sure that the waste management was up to speed in trying to do what they ought to do because they were not being challenged. Also I found out that we had a television station which had a bloated staff of about 400 and they were running programme from 4pm to 10pm. They have the transmitter, they had all the necessary equipment but it did not dawn on them that they could run programmes in the morning and, in doing that, attract advertisements. I spoke with the managing director about it and I told him that within a week I was going to be his first guest on the morning show.
And, within the week, they were running programmes in the morning. By the third of the programme, I was the first guest that showed on the programme and ever since they have been running. I also asked them why they were not broadcasting on satellite? I am glad that the challenge I put to them, within six months, Anambra State Television is now on satellite and we would probably go on DSTV which means you can garner revenue from people in Lagos, Ibadan because they can watch you and those abroad too.