“She walks in beauty…”
So begins the immortal poem written by Lord Byron way back in 1814.
Like a goldfish that has no hiding place, Sally Uwechue Mbanefo can never ever escape attention anywhere she shows up.
Even while taking a quiet walk in the woody byways of Awka, Anambra State, the personable Sally Mbanefo is the cynosure of all eyes.
Her simplicity belies all her intimidating achievements: top corporate player, company secretary, distinguished lawyer, former Director-General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation (NTDC) where she introduced the Domestic Tourism Revolution.
She has recently been endowed with a new portfolio as the Commissioner for the Ministry of Mineral Resources, Tertiary Education, Science and Technology & ICT in Anambra State.
She was the immediate-past Anambra State Commissioner for Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism.
Amid all the high-flying, how does she relax?
She answers: “I do make out time to practise and sing in the choir of St Thomas Aquinas Parish, Awka, and to keep out of trouble, I also engage myself by reading at the altar as a lector in two churches, St. Edwards Amawbia and St. Thomas Aquinas Parish GRA, Awka.”
She continues: “I am also a prayer coach for fellowships in Lagos, Abuja and Anambra, and I mentor the youth. Because of the safety in the state, I do go for long walks in the evenings in Awka while I pray my rosary for peace of mind.”
Under her watch in the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, Indigenous Artworks, Culture and Tourism she created the Homecoming Festival lasting 7 to 14 days every December.
The homecoming fiesta was a kaleidoscope of events that featured a Masquerade Parade and an International Reggae Concert.
The Friends of Anambra Day was graced by such eminences as her great friend the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi, Ojaja II.
The Diaspora Day brought together Anambra dignitaries in the Diaspora to mix with their brothers and sisters at home.
There was the Chinua Achebe Day in which the inimitable author of Things Fall Apart was celebrated with readings, drama and poetry.
The Palm Wine Festival Day featured the tasting of different kinds of palm wine from the diverse towns of the state.
Sally Mbanefo’s unprecedented Anambra Homecoming Festival also showcased Tasty Cuisine Day, Art Exhibition Day, Street & Cultural Carnival Day, Folk Songs Day, Christmas Carols of 9 Lessons Day, Musical Concerts Day, Tourism Day and Entrepreneurs Day etc.
The musical concerts featured 2Face, Rude Boy, Funny Bone, Flavour and Davido.
An unrelenting workaholic, Sally Mbanefo undertook the renovation of the Owerre-Ezukala Caves and Waterfalls, and the Ogbunike Cave through the construction of prototype structures/buildings to provide conveniences and changing rooms, bars, souvenir shops, tourism information desks for tourists, and creating better access roads.
She transformed the ministry into a walk-in Art gallery endowed with amazing paintings and bronze works of an internationally renowned artist, Chidi Okoye.
After her sterling achievements in tourism and arts, she now takes charge of a new ministry. According to her, “My new ministry covers Oil & Gas, Solid Minerals, which also includes scrap metal and glass sand excavation. We are also in charge of Tertiary Education, Science & Technology & ICT. We also handle hydro-meteorological services, you know, the weather forecast required for safety in geological surveys. Our Ministry is erecting a Kaolin factory for Kaolin processing at Ukpor, Nnewi South LGA, in collaboration with the Federal Government that has already supplied Kaolin processing machines to the state as we speak.”
She has special words for Governor Willie Obiano and his beautiful wife: “Our governor is very youth-friendly, and very young at heart. His Excellency is a strong advocate of gender equality, and his appointment of women as commissioners, heads of agencies (DGs) and other leadership positions is a testament to this fact. Not forgetting her Excellency Ebelechukwu Obiano, the loving mother of all Anambra women, who advocates for women’s rights and welfare through her Caring Family Enhancement Initiative (CAFÉ) program. Her Excellency is also very gender supportive.”
The discovery of oil in Anambra State gladdens Sally Mbanefo’s heart, as she says: “Yes, we do have oil in commercial quantities and the best crude quality you can imagine. We also have gas in an incredible commercial quantity. The truth is that the federal government will soon embark on a Gas Revolution to drive increase in usage of gas in the country. Anambra State Government has strategically poised itself to key into this initiative to improve the state revenue since Anambra Basin is very rich in gas.”
She goes on thusly: “Our Ministry in collaboration with the Oil and Gas Committee, and with the strong support of His Excellency has provided an enabling environment to ensure that Anambra is recognized as an oil producing State. We are now looking forward to the federal government officially recognizing Anambra and declaring it an oil producing state, especially now that we are very rich in Gas, and Gas is the future!”
She doubles as the Chairman, State Gaming Board, and she informs: “Before I became the chairman of the Gaming Board, the revenue that was remitted to the government account was only N10m (Ten Million Naira per annum), and in almost one year since I took over as chairman of the Gaming Board, the revenue generated has skyrocketed to over N480million (Four Hundred and Eighty Million Naira) in spite of the Covid challenge when Gaming was slow.”
She thrills with song over Governor Obiano’s “Legacy Projects: Anambra International Cargo Airport at Umueri, Agulu Lake Hotel expansion, Onitsha Hotel, Awka Shopping Mall, Awka Millennium City, Nnewi Shopping Mall, Century 50MW Power Plant, Lynden Farms Phase II Expansion and many other projects.”
As Sally Mbanefo walks on, praying her rosary, Lord Byron’s poem ends:
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!