By Chinyemike Torti
Ever since Dr. Alex Otti, the seasonal politician, serial election loser, inflicted himself on the Nigerian political space, in 2015, he has been a metaphor for the emergence of bohemian aspirants who pretend to be imbued with the DNA of political praxis to beneficiate the polity. In all his career, trajectory and engagements, both in private and official capacities, he is always a manifest poster boy of trust deficit that keeps him fleeing from one party or the other. At the last count, he had round-tripped all the political, parties from PDP, APGA, APC and now Labour Party (LP).
When Otti is not spewing some hocus-pocus of the people-oriented dividends or dubious low-hanging fruits in his kitty, he resorts to the pernicious hobby of the inane castigation of Abia State government and the person of the governor. As a retired banker and economist, one had expected him to provoke a debate or dialogue on the policy direction and economic blueprint of the government of his vision.
In a recent, desperate effort at besmirching the PDP and Abia State’s Executive Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, the erstwhile banker that carved a niche for himself in the heroic book of gubernatorial failures did not make any pretense at enlightened commentary but oozed out rancid and wishy-washy hoopla, fuming with street language, intellectual thuggery and conversational terrorism. He betrayed a pathetic narrative when he likened Abia State to an economic holocaust. Otti literally gloated on the recent “misfortunes of Ariaria, Aba, traders who were bludgeoned by the recent flooding, which was a nationwide phenomenon. Flooding has inundated southern Nigeria in recent weeks. According to the NASA Earth Observatory, the 2022 rainy season has been especially harsh and deadly and destructive. According to the Earth Observatory dated October 11, 2022, “In September and October 2022, flooding in the country’s south submerged homes and farmland, and displaced hundreds of thousands of people.” In case of doubt, kindly google Earth Observatory.
Ikpeazu is not a rainmaker and cannot be directly or vicariously held responsible for the flooding. That notwithstanding, he set up mitigation and response initiatives of succour to all those affected by the flooding.
Otti’s grumbling is similar to that of an abandoned, marginally attractive spinster bereft of a spouse. The civil societies have always turned up their noses to his false narratives because of his penchant for inveterate falsehood, ignorance, reckless, dumb and illogical appraisals.
The centerpiece of his conversations since his 2015 and 2019 misadventures is to dwell on theatrics rooted in demagoguery, distortion of history and barefaced misrepresentation, which has been his nemesis and will always be. In his recent outing last week, he oozed out his trademark tissue of lies about ‘tacky’ Abia infrastructure, civil servants’ unpaid salaries, healthcare, Enyimba City and a litany of salacious beer parlour gossip.
In trying to denigrate Abia, he made heavy weather of Aba roads as deficient with an epithet of infrastructural decay. He lied that we have the worst road networks in the federation. We state without any fear of contradiction that, for the first time in the history of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu set in motion and pioneered the Caterpillar revolution, an audacious, vigorous engagement to endow Ndi Abia with top-of-the-range, well-paved roads.
What Ikpeazu promised at the election campaign platform has matched the lived life in the communities. For instance, he was sworn in on May 29, 2015, which was a Friday. By the next working day, Monday, June 1, 2015, he flagged off seven roads within the Aba metropolis. By the next day, Tuesday, June 2, 2015, he reverted to Umuahia where three roads were flagged off. Time and editorial space limitations will not permit a complete disclosure of the road inventory. Suffice to say that more than 300 road projects are either completed or ongoing. The list of of completed road projects are not limited to Kaduna Street, Umuahia, Kamalu Road, Umuwaya Road, Umuahia, Road II, Federal Low-cost Housing Estate, Umuahia, Niger Road, Umuahia, Ukaegbu Road, Aba, Umuola Road, Aba, Umuocham Road, Aba, Umule Road, Ommene Drive, Aba, Jubilee Road, Aba, Ehi Road, Aba, Hospital Road, Aba, Ube Street, Aba, Adazi Street, Aba, Okon-Aku main bridge, Ohafia LGA, George’s Street, Aba South, Echefu Road, Enuc Road, Osisioma LGA, St. Michael’s Road, Aba, Azikiwe Road, Aba, and Pound Road.
Ikpeazu’s administration introduced the use of rigid pavement (cement) technology in road construction to guarantee a minimum of 30 years lifespan for concerned roads. Most of the roads under review were beneficiaries of this technology, with double drains to boot. It is on record that Ikpeazu’s administration commenced the construction and completion of the first Abia interchange (flyover) since the creation of the state at Osisioma, Aba. This facility has since been inaugurated.
The hot air regarding “collapsing health infrastructure” is another parody of “constructive criticism.” A simple fact-check reveals that, upon assumption of office, Ikpeazu released funds for the total rehabilitation, reconstruction and upgrading of all the schools of nursing in Abia State. Consequently, the School of Midwifery, Abiriba, and the schools of nursing in Aba, Umuahia and Amachara were upgraded, leading to their re-accreditation by the Midwifery and Nursing Council of Nigeria. Admission into these institutions have since resumed. Ikpeazu’s administration went into partnership with the MTN Foundation to fund the reduction of maternal and infant mortality and morbidity in the state. Under this arrangement, the maternal wards of four general hospitals were equipped and upgraded. They are Abia State Specialist and Diagnostic Centre, Umuahia, Abia State University Teaching Hospital, Aba, General Hospital, Okpuala Ngwa, and Cottage Hospital, Owaza. As well as the infrastructural upgrade at the Abia State University. The icing on the cake is the Abia State Tele Health Support Centre, inaugurated by the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbanjo. The state-of-art geriatric medical outreach established by Ikpeazu is a free service run in-situ that caters for elderly and senior citizens who are treated in their homes. The Abia State Emergency Health Service is linked to a dedicated call centre and ambulances.
Talking of industries, the mealy mouthed, defrocked banker raised posers on the quantum of foreign direct investments attracted by the present administration. We’ve got good news for him. Turkey and China are here on ground with groundbreaking multinationals, a product of Ikpeazu’s tireless investment drives. And Enyimba Economic City, a global business hub in the South East region of Nigeria, which is a brainchild of the Governor Ikpeazu administration, has landed.
It is an audacious and ambitious project conceived with the intention of connecting South East states and four out of the six states in the South-South of Nigeria.
The beauty of it all is it has been designated as a Special Economic Zone by the Federal Government and will have Free Trade Zone status. Abia State, under Ikpeazu, is the new economic frontier of Nigeria.
The motive force is to leverage Abia into the global matrix of trade, finance and production ipso facto the South East. In brass tacks the mission is to create a nerve centre for the nine South East and South-South states linked with high-grade access roads, rail, airport and seaports that will transform the region into a manufacturing and industrial powerhouse, with ancillary drivers of commerce, logistics, entertainment, education, health and lifestyle living.
The beauty of it is it will be developed through a public-private-partnership (PPP) company of private sector investors, Abia State Government and Federal Government of Nigeria but will be solely managed by the private sector. Enyimba Economic City will be developed over an area of approximately 9,803ha, spanning three local government areas of Ukwa West, Ukwa East and Ugwunagbo in Abia State. Because of the foresight of Ikpeazu in attracting attention to Aba, the city is receiving special attention for the provision of uninterrupted power.
The Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, through the Rural Electrification Agency, has commissioned the construction of a 5 megawatt power plant to provide over 37,000 shops at the Ariaria International Market with uninterrupted power supply. This was after a pilot test-run with 1,000 shops over an uninterrupted period of six months. Ariaria Market traders, shoemakers, fabricators and inventors now have uninterrupted power supply. One can only imagine the opportunities that will be unlocked for creativity and inventions. The imminence of uninterrupted power has leveraged Geometric Power, the pacesetting private licensee of a power project in Nigeria. It signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Ruyi Group of China for equity investment in Geometric Power, which will enable it reinforce its energy grid trajectory. The Ruyi Group is the world’s largest producer of garments and allied products and they are set to invest at the Enyimba Economic City.
The Ruyi Group already has power plants in China, Pakistan and Ethiopia and are looking to become the dominant players in the world in the energy sector. This investment in Geometrics will lead to the activation of not just the already completed power plant at Osisioma, but also ensure speedy work at new plants at Ugwunagbo and Ukwa West.
Ikpeazu is diversifying the economy through agriculture and diversifying vide technology. Sampler: mushroom production and training programmes are already yielding great results. A venture, which young Abians have keyed into. Ditto for rice farmers who have boosted production with the target of producing enough to feed all Abians. His administration has established a massive palm plantation with over 4,000,000 tenera species seedlings grown and sold across the state. The target is 7.5m seedlings at the end of 2019. It is expected that, in no distant time, Abia State will no longer depend on FAAC as cash crops and other programmes are expected to diversify the economy of the state.
Grants and soft loans are available to farmers who have the facilities of mechanized farming equipment across the state through leasing at affordable rates, less than 50% of the previous lease cost. Commercial production of cocoa and cashew have been boosted through deliberate investment by the government. The objective is to ultimately establish processing plants for the primary products to further enhance benefits within the value chain for the cash crops. The administration is directly providing fertilizers to farmers at subsidized rates alongside other free extension services.
The administration embarked on enhanced poultry and fish production with Phase 1 of 100 poultry pens of 2,000 birds executed. By the same token, it constructed a 165,000 birds-capacity poultry processing plant at Umuosu Nsulu, in Abia Central senatorial zone. An additional two units for Abia North and South are currently under construction. Following the provision of counterpart funding for FADAMA III projects, 300 young Abia farmers benefitted from N2.5m per person grant as part of the Farmpreneur project of the World Bank (FADAMA). Also in partnership with the World Bank, Abia commenced reactivation of the long moribund Igu Dam to ensure all-year-round rice production in the state. Abia State is currently in partnership with the Bank of Agriculture and the Federal Government in the enhanced eggs production project.
As part of the administration’s capacity-building agenda, the state launched the Education for Employment (E4E) scheme that has already produced 472 graduates with relevant skills in ICT, at Phase 1. Phase 2 of the programme, which is aimed at training 36,000 unemployed Abians in different skills, has commenced at the multi-skill acquisition facility at Umuobiakwa, in Obingwa LGA.
For the first time in Abia State, a database of unemployed Abians has been compiled and the government is taking verifiable actions to provide them with jobs, using the recently launched Abia State Job Portal. In partnership with Dangote Group, a modern job centre is under construction at Isiala Ngwa.
To further enhance the capacity and productivity of Abia teachers, the administration is partnering with Australian education solution providers to retrain them and enhance teaching efficiency. More than 800 teachers have benefited from this programme. A new teacher-training facility has been opened in Umuahia to ensure continuous training of primary and secondary school teachers.
Under Ikpeazu’s watch, Abia State has maintained first position in WAEC and NECO examinations for three consecutive years as a result of increased monitoring and enhancement of private and public sector educational resources.
To motivate our teachers for better performance in our schools, Governor Ikpeazu donated cars to best-performing teachers from the three zones and also built staff quarters in Umuahia. In consideration of the current socio-economic situation in the country, the government reduced tuition fees at ABSU, Abiapoly and College of Education, Arochukwu, to support Abia parents and guardians. Abia’s homegrown free school feeding programme was launched in 2015 and is ongoing across the state. Abia State, under Ikpeazu, is the only state in the federation providing food for primary one to primary six school pupils.
Also, Ikpeazu’s administration partnered with the private sector to provide free Made-in-Aba school sandals for over 2,000 schoolchildren in the state. More will benefit from this programme, which also supports Ikpeazu’s Made-in-Aba promotion agenda.
In order to boost ICT education and stimulate interest in that area in our children from an early age, Abia State launched Free ICT and Coding training for primary and secondary schools in the state using the e-library at Umuahia as hub. For the first time in Abia state, the ministry of education launched and deployed a unified education platform for all schools in the state. Results and activities of all Abia schoolchildren can be monitored from one platform for private and public schools.
In fulfillment of the governor’s electoral promise, Abia State is constructing four model schools (Abayi Aba, Obingwa, Umuahia and Ohafia) with nursery, primary and secondary schools in one location, alongside sports facilities and teachers’ quarters. This we are able to execute because we paid our UBE counterpart fund of N2.8b. And 359 new school classroom blocks are under construction in the state, with more than 100 completed and ready for inauguration. In addition, the state’s ministry of education renovated/constructed 67 classroom blocks across the three senatorial zones of the state, sank nine boreholes and reticulated water supply to 43 school toilets.
To support regular monitoring of schools in rural and urban areas of the state, Governor Ikpeazu launched a new statewide education inspectors’ scheme and provided 42 motorcycles to enhance efficiency. The administration has reconstituted the state’s scholarship board and awarded tertiary education scholarships to best performing WASCE students in all the LGAs for two years.
A new education hub is emerging around the Owerrinta area with the government providing necessary infrastructure support to ensure the development of the biggest education cluster in Africa.
The state is set to establish the first ever kidney transplant centre in Umuahia, in collaboration with a diaspora medical team that recently performed the first kidney transplant in the state. Abia implemented WHO/FMOH model of one primary health care (PHC) per political ward. Abia State now has 292 WHO-recognized PHCs across the state alongside Primary Healthcare Under One Roof (PHCUOR), which is in keeping with international best practices. Ikpeazu’s deliberate actions and policies attracted the Basic Health Care Provision Fund (BHCPF) beneficiary pilot state status, attracting N1.5bn (July 2017), from the World Bank following the successful hosting by Abia State in January 2017 of the 59th National Council on Health. These funds are to be applied at the 292 PHCs for qualitative services at that level of care.
Ikpeazu’s administration also provided the N100 million counterpart funding for BHCPF, the first in the history of Abia State, and attracted the $1.5 million grant for the Saving One Million Lives programme for results now being implemented in Abia since June 2017. At the risk of repetition, Abia State’s Tele-Health Initiative (ASTHI) concluded the six months of pilot tests in 15 PHCs and was launched in March 2018. The service has been rolled out across the whole 292 PHCs in the state to help bring life-saving care to all Abia communities. It is a first of its kind in Africa.
On Ikpeazu’s watch, the Canadian government partnered with the state for the Integrated Community Case Management (ICCM) of the three childhood killer diseases of malaria, diarrhoea and pneumonia being anchored by Society for Family Health (on behalf of WHO/Canadian government). This project is now in its transition phase to full management by the state government. The organized private sector in Nigeria is lending support to Ikpeazu’s focused healthcare improvement effort with MTN Foundation funding two PHCs in their new programme, the What We Can Do Together campaign, in Ikwuano and Arochukwu LGAs. They also helped to build four brand new, world-class maternal and child wards at Okpuala Ngwa, Owaza, ABSUTH and Abia Specialist Hospital in Amachara, Umuahia.
Nestle Plc is collaborating with Ikpeazu’s administration in the areas of infant nutrition and maternal care services. Already, an MOU with Nestle Nutrition Institute in Africa has been signed. The first phase of capacity-building training/development for our medical personnel has been concluded. It is expected to continue with the aim of further improving our health indices. Ikpeazu’s administration opened a General Hospital in Obingwa, complete with accommodation facilities for medical personnel. The remaining three new general hospitals located at Arochukwu, Ikwuano and Okeikpe are at 95% completion.
The long-abandoned Aba General Hospital has been reactivated by Ikpeazu and already providing healthcare services to Abians.
Within this period, Ikpeazi also re-furbished maternal and children’s building at ABSUTH, Aba, as well as executed a PPP arrangement to procure cutting-edge medical equipment at the tertiary healthcare institution.
Furthermore, the state obtained re-accreditation of undergraduate medical training for new doctors at ABSUTH and is currently working on the re-accreditation of postgraduate training schools in obstetrics and gynaecology, surgery and paediatric medicine.
Abia State recorded improved health indicators, compared with other states and national averages, as can be verified from data available with WHO.
To further improve healthcare services and curtail medical tourism, the administration is collaborating with The Hospital Group in the USA for the establishment of Obuaku Medical City and The East Coast Medical Group in the USA for a specialised organ transplant centre in the old Aba General Hospital ,while Capital Health Surgical Group is upgrading the Specialist Hospital, Amachara, to an Urgent Care Centre.
In general, referral medical facilities are at a level never witnessed in the past because of the focused interventions of the governor. Abia State also launched the first-of-its-kind free home care services for senior citizens, with vehicles provided and personnel trained to reach senior citizens in all the senatorial zones of the state to offer care and contribute to the government’s healthcare objective of improving life expectancy above the national average. A new Mother and Child Specialist Hospital is set to open in Umuahia.
Sports and youth development, a new paradigm in youth empowerment. In sports, Abia is the only state in Nigeria maintaining three top-performing premier league status football teams: Enyimba FC, Abia Warriors and Abia Angels. Enyimba FC of Aba is currently playing in the continent and representing Nigeria very well. Enyimba International Stadium at Aba is undergoing remodeling with Astro-turf and new stands almost completed. For the first time, toilet facilities are being constructed within the stadium for the comfort of sports loving people of Abia State. Ikpeazu is aggressively re-introducing school sports to develop new talents. We can go on and on to showcase Ikpeazu’s record for posterity, which is on display live and direct in Abia.
But as they say, he who comes to equity must do so with very clean hands. It is relevant at this juncture to interrogate Otti: what developmental narrative is he endowed with? The Abia civil society are wont to ask, what was he doing in Lagos before he started his career in the bank? His trademark signature in the money market will transmute to a fund recovery mission in Abia.
Why should a banker who, under his watch, allegedly wrecked the fortunes of Diamond Bank in the rank order of Nigeria’s money market architecture be trusted? He told lies about some bogus loans from IFC he secured for Abia. This turned to be a fib. Under his watch, at Diamond Bank, Modern Ceramics, Umuahia, sought a lifeline of N250 million, which escalated to a cumulative debt of N1.6 billion, which Abia State Government is seeking to unbundle now.
Otti has always left a trail of sorrow and tears along his path. Unfortunately for him, Abians will ask about his pedigree and track record. The 2023 elections will be about what you have achieved and not only castles politicians build in the air.