God and chief executives share many things in common. Like bees attracted to nectar, people of all walks of life curry for their attention. They struggle for vantage positions at all events so that the particular chief executive might see and know they are “loyal” (whatever that means and what it is worth). People struggle, would even fight and ready to “kill” just to see the state chief executive. This is the gesture distinguished personalities from Ukwa West and East local governments in Abia State had on Saturday, January 9, 2021, when they had the chance to share moments with the very amiable governor of Abia State in his country home in Obingwa Local Government Area of the state.
The occasion was to say thank you to the governor, for the appointment of their son, Professor Maxwell Onyemachi Ogbulu as the eight Vice Chancellor of Abia State University, Uturu. The central theme was academic, but the timing of the visit was enough reason for the event to spill far beyond academic boundaries. It is New Year, and people of this area celebrate the new year. So, you can imagine the atmosphere, especially if you know that Governor Ikpeazu’s church, The Seventh Day Adventist Church, does not observe the Christmas ceremony, they make up with grand ushering in of the new year.
So anyone could visualise what the setting was like. Governor Ikpeazu’s composure reflected the mood. He was relaxed and full of smiles and warmth. An eagerness to receive was written all over him. He was elated his people took time to move over to share moments with him. Beside the social angle and the bonding that could come from it, the matter at hand had deep political implications and I will analyse it briefly and we move ahead.
Ukwa area is the reason Abia is clothed with the tag, “oil producing state”, an appellation that goes with increased income earnings from the Federation Account, yet the area and her people are down in all areas of human development indices: human capital development, infrastructural turnarounds, industrialisation, name it. Beyond statutory public positions, the people are neglected and even marginalized. The area was hitherto a humongous unity with trappings of a big group with influence, but not any longer after the Federal Government soon after the civil war balkanised the clan, taking a huge chunk including the city, Obigbo, into Rivers following the Mamman Nasir Boundary Adjustment Commission resolutions which chose to use natural boundaries like rivers as boundary between states. Today Ukwa people have become something beyond minorities with attendant loss of voice and influence that goes with such.
Anyone reading this can now properly situate the thank you visit. Governor Ikpeazu’s gesture appears a bold step towards bringing back a sense of worth to people of the two areas. Prof Ogbulu is of Asa stock, the predominant population found in Ukwa West but Nasir Commission took his area into Ukwa East, dominated by the sister clan, Ndoki. You see why his elevation is significant to the two. Ikpeazu did not influence the choice of Ogbulu who is brilliant and progressive in outlook, but we know that given the way things are done in our society, the intrigues. A leader with a poor mindset could join the intrigues from behind and the outcome could be something different.
In this particular case there were narrow interests who as usual exerted pressure. Theere were maneuvers to change rules and extend tenures, to alter structures which the governor rebuffed with ignominy, casting his lot for excellence from where Ukwa came into the picture, Ogbulu having served meritoriously as Deputy Vice Chancellor (Administration) for years.
Dr Asiforo Okere, People’s Democratic Party (PDP) state Chairman, son of Ukwa land who spoke first went into issues and landed on the beautiful conclusion that Ukwa people were happy. President General of Asa Development Union, Dr Ngozi Dike, who gave the second speech reinforced the first one, but added, “This is the beginning, we are returning to talk about other things, today is Ogbulu’s day.”
I have had the rare privilege to hear Gov Ikpeazu speak to audiences recently and I am of the view he is turning into a philosopher with useful tips for harmonious relationship. “Go back and learn how to work in unity with one another”, he told his guests, maintaining that this has come between them and progress for the area. Any appointment to be made would be challenged vehemently, same for projects to be executed. “Groups only want their desires to prevail,” he said, adding, “Such challenges is not peculiar to Ukwa people alone, but the other zones have worked very hard to get over it. SSamechallenge used to afflict my people but we have learnt our lessons and are acting far better now.”
He said if he knew of the details of the visit, he would not have allowed it because as governor it is part of his responsibility to put smiles on the faces of all the zones and to ensure governance ran on the platform of equity and justice. He disclosed that he was spiritually and physically attached to Ukwa people whom he described as decent and reliable, pledging that more will be done for the area development wise before the end of his tenure in 2023.
As said earlier, Ukwa is the goose that is laying the golden eggs, yet it is starved. The oil bearing communities in the area don’t look like where gold is found, they are neglected and stripped of facilities for modern existence. The road infrastructure is horrible including the main road arteries owned by the federal government. As you are reading this the high way traversing the area into Rivers and Akwa lbom states is impassable. Niger Delta Ministry and the Niger Delta Development Commission are there talking but no mention is given to the Ukwa situation.
The two local governments have been without power supply from the national grid for months running now into two years and yet no succour is in sight. Not to mention provision of potable water and improvement in health facilities given that environmental pollution and degradation are common place. I know a committee is in place and would soon be meeting with the state governor and federal authorities, intention being to reverse what ought not to be in the first instance. Am sure the governor will receive them having himself expressed his eagerness to share views on the way forward.
It is also important to appeal to Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio, to look into the Abia situation especially as it affects Ukwa people. Nobody has told Akpabio but it is a word he must hear and must do justice to Abia State. Abia case is very unique in the sense that not all the state is oil bearing and oil producing. Producing communities are restricted to Ukwa area and they should be the prime beneficiaries of what God has blessed them with. It is not the case currently. Bigger projects have been done in areas without a drop of oil than have been done all these years in Ukwa land. No sane people can bear with such for long. It is the earnest expectation that this ugly trend will change with the coming of Akpabio, a man who has record of doing things very right.