Coming just a few days after securing a resounding reelection in the gubernatorial election, a birthday anniversary offers some compelling reason to permit oneself an indulgent splurge.
But for Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who turns 55 on March 20, there is no such inclination.
As has always been his tradition, he would rather spend such day on a sobering note in the company of persons whose lives make only a fleeting presence in the public mind; persons whose welfare has decidedly been left to the benevolence of religious bodies, non-governmental organisations or individuals with a heart for charity.
So even long before celebrating birthdays with children in orphanages became a fad among preening celebrities, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had been doing so quietly away from the cameras.
And such visits are hardly ever a one-off affair for him, like it often is with the limelight-obsessed celebrities of the social media age.
They have overtime become an overarching moral obligation nurtured before his foray into politics, inspiring regular visits, for instance, to the Little Sisters of the Poor’s Home for the Elderly, the secluded world of prisons and other such places that are not the usual haunts of society’s elites.
Such visits have, not surprisingly, imbued him with empathy. But, above all, they have also served as a rallying call to action. As he had noted two years ago when he spent his 53rd birthday in the courtyard of the Enugu Prisons:
“It is indeed cardinal responsibility of the government to cater for the wellbeing of everybody and every segment, group or class in the society.” This inclination was brilliantly captured by Rev. Fr. Benignus Ugwu, the presiding priest of the Enugu-based Little Sisters’ Home for the Elderly, among whose residents the governor sat unobtrusively during the Easter of 2017. “Where your treasure is, there your heart is.
We can see where his heart is; it is with the poor and vulnerable and we can only pray for him,” said Rev. Fr. Ugwu.
His acts of charity are by no means exhibitionist. Neither are they carried out in ways that diminish nor further dehumanize the beneficiaries. For him, everyone has a right to a decent living.
That basically underpins the inclusive philosophy adopted by his administration from the outset, and which has been so scrupulously implemented.
And while it helps to directly assist charitable causes, he is convinced that addressing the social and economic conditions which fuel social exclusion and breed abject want and utter dejection through policies are just as important.
One can also deduce that conviction from the fact Enugu was among the first few states where the Child Rights Act became fully operational, having been signed by Governor Ugwuanyi after the passage of the executive bill by the Enugu State House of Assembly.
The signing of the Health Sector Reform Bill conceived to comprehensively address the contemporary challenges of public health also comes to mind.
This law has also enhanced the scope and administrative operations of the state’s Free Maternal and Child Health programme, a highly successful inclusive scheme that offers free, quality healthcare to segments of society where such would have otherwise been absent.
The benefits of the revamped health programme have been huge, not the least of which is the fact Enugu State is arguably the state with the lowest maternal mortality rate in the country today.
Born on March 20, 1964, in the Enugu metropolis, Ugwuanyi came into public service with a glittering resume from the private sector, rising to become the chief executive officer of Premier Brokers Limited, which was in its heyday the prime insurance brokerage firm in the entire South East.
That, plus his academic qualifications (a bachelor’s and master’s degrees in finance and marketing with a bias for public relations, respectively, from the University of Nigeria, Nsukka; MBA in finance and banking, and another MBA in accountancy, both from the Enugu State University of Science and Technology) apparently prepared him for the challenges of a career as a public servant, strengths that became indubitably obvious at the height of Nigeria’s economic recession when all but three states in the country were unable to meet their obligations to civil servants and pensioners.
Feats like this attained despite Enugu being among states that receive the least sum from the federation account sealed Governor Ugwuanyi’s reputation as a prudent manager of resources.
Growing Enugu’s internal revenue profile to a level where the state could conveniently execute its monthly recurrent expenditure without the federal allocation, as demonstrated mid-2018 during stalemated meetings over monthly earnings accruing to the Federation Accounts Allocation Committee resulting in delayed release of funds to states for two months, is also testament to his business acumen and financial discipline.
Such insight reflects entirely in the running of the state, enabling the governor to solve challenges which had once seemed intractable.
The accolades which these accomplishments earn him have been understandably high, sometimes coming in droves and almost in unison as was the case with the recent conferment of Governor of the Year awards on Ugwuanyi by four national newspapers – Vanguard, Daily Independent, Leadership, and The Sun.
Such unanimity is quite rare in the publishing industry and even more so when the recipient is a self-effacing public servant that abhors publicity. That is essentially the Ugwuanyi paradox.
He desires to stay away from the news, but his astonishing works continually frustrate that wish and draw attention to him inevitably.
It was certainly this splendid performance record that voters in Enugu State considered while casting their ballots during the gubernatorial poll, to hand him what was perhaps that election’s most emphatic victory in the country. Such are the rewards of dedication and fidelity to the social contract. Yet, he betrays no sense of entitlement.
The more the accolades, the more obligated he feels towards the people, it seems. That is the true spirit of public service – an ethos the governor espouses not just on his birthday, but tirelessly everyday.