For the better part of last year, Abia State, a state christened “God’s Own state,” was in the news for the wrong reasons. Apart from the activities of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which at some point forced some northern youth groups to threaten to sack Igbo from the north, by October 1, 2017, the governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpaezu’s seat was also threatened.
But Ikpeazu said that he was at no time distracted by that cacophony. He disclosed that he was one man who does not wallow in self pity, insisting that “I rather want to be judged as if nothing happened. If the devil wanted to distract me in any way, he failed woefully.
“Even in the midst of the supposed distraction, couldn’t I have found an easy alibi not to perform if I had wanted? Yet our people can judge us and see that we never stopped working and never gave them excuses because we were at all times focused on the things that are important to our people.
“I will continue to do my best because there is need to serve my people with commitment. Things got to a point in the legal battles that I had to pray and ask God to genuinely search the minds of everyone contesting for the Abia governor’s seat with me and let whoever loves Abia more than me win. God prevailed and used the Supreme Court to reaffirm us.”
Three years down the line, Ikpeazu and his team not only believed that the government has lived up to the promises it made to the people of the state at inception, even the residents and other visitors to the state could readily feel and see some of the infrastructural development that have taken place in the state.
Excited by the governor’s performance, most of the communities visited during a recent tour of the state were of the view that to win a re-election, the governor would not need to campaign in the areas, as his achievements so far were enough to speak for him.
One of such persons is the Leader of Isiala Ngwa South Council, Chief Chidi Nwotie. He not only praised the governor for his rural development projects, which he said has opened up most of the rural communities, but told the governor not to bother to embark on any form of “stomach infrastructure,” for his re-election in 2019.
He said: “The road has opened a lot of opportunities for the people of the area. The governor does not need to give the people rice, salt or anything again before they vote for him in next election.”
Apparently satisfied with the level of his performance so far, the governor also extended an invitation to the leadership of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) at the national level to appraise his performance.
And after the tour of some projects, national chairman of the PDP, Prince Uche Secondus, said that that Ikpeazu has done well in the delivery of democracy dividends.
Speaking during a tour of completed and ongoing projects in the state, Secondus thanked the governor for inviting the National Working Committee (NWC) of the party for projects inspection.
“Ikpeazu is a performing governor of Abia State. I came with our PDP NWC members from the Wadata Plaza to see his achievements. He was bold to invite us because he knew he has performed. From the faces of Abians, I am convinced that he has performed. I don’t think I have seen anything like the faces I have seen today. Ikpeazu has taken over everywhere. Those politicians that make things happen in Abia State are with the governor in PDP. This is what PDP governors in all the states are doing,” Secondus added.
On the occasion, Secondus also joined the governor to receive members of the All Progressives Congress (APC) who defected to the PDP. One of them, was Theophilus Ugboaga,a lawmaker representing Ikwuano State Constituency.
Earlier, Ikpeazu told Secondus that unity, love and togetherness were the salient factors which bind Abia PDP together, adding “the story is that love is here and that is what will take us higher. Take it that Abia is safe for PDP. We will support all the programmes that you have set up and that will take PDP back to Aso Rock in 2019. We have a very long day; you are rebranding PDP without making noise. We have done enough but there are more to be done. Today, we are commissioning 20 projects and another 20 tomorrow. Our achievements have increased our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in Abia State.”
Apart from embarking on infrastructure development, Abia, according to Mr. Eziuche Ubani, the state’s commissioner for works, is one state that has taken deliberate steps to reduce the state’s dependency on federal allocations. He added that the governor is determined to within the next three years; generate 90 percent of Abia’s revenue internally, saying over 80 percent of that would come from Aba, the industrial hub of the state.
And to keep the dream alive, Ubani said the governor had to practically relocate to Aba from where he comes to the state capital, Umuahia every day. Ubani, who alongside his Information counterpart, Mr. John Kalu, led some journalists on the tour of major projects in the state, further noted that as part of efforts to ensure Aba is serviced by the raw materials needed to keep it functioning, the state government has embarked on the construction of at least, 10 kilometres of roads in each of the 17 councils of the state, adding that in the last three years, over 53 roads in all parts of the states have been constructed. And that majority of the roads linked Aba. Ubani further noted that the dream to make Aba an industrial hub was already materialising.
Speaking in this direction, the governor again said “our story as a people is one of entrepreneurship, resourcefulness and diligence. This is our pride. We have astounded the world with our home grown technical skills, especially during a period of pervasive adversity, and followed it up with our trade and commercial prowess elevating one of our cities, Aba, into a prominent hub within the West African region.”
The governor also said that it was time to use the over 110,000 shoemakers and 50,000 garment makers as a launching pad to enable Abia truly become the undisputed Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) capital of Nigeria.
To encourage increase in private sector participation in the state’s economy, the governor said “we will constitute and empower an Investment Promotion Agency (a One-Stop-Shop) to streamline processes and facilitate investment inflow into Abia. Their remit will include ensuring that it becomes easy to do business in our state and accelerate the rate of investment attraction. Since most of the raw materials are agriculture based, this government has actively engaged in and supported agricultural activities especially in mechanised farming of cassava, rice and palm oil in line with the federal government’s programmes and our state’s areas of natural advantage. This is in addition to the creation of a Commodity Marketing System with which we will support our small farmers through organised cooperatives, agricultural extension services and partnerships with foreign donor agencies and development financial institutions.”
Interestingly, the distribution of the road projects is spread across the three senatorial districts. Ubani said Abia South has 35; Abia Central, 39, while Abia North has 13. He was however quick to add those of Abia North have longer kilometres than the other two. Some of the roads, he noted are virgin.
Under the first phase of the road projects, N6 billion was earmarked. And that many of the projects are ready for commissioning. The goal, according to him is to promote trade and open up the communities.
Some of the roads are: Idima-Abam, Ndi Oji/Ndi Okereke Bridge/Abam-Arochukwu, Ohafia Ring Road, Abariba-Nkporo, Abariba Ring Road, Eluama in Isuikwata, Nkpa, and Owerrinta-Egbelu Mbutu. Others are Umuala, Adaelu, Umuode, Umuechilegbu, Umule, Kamalu, Ovom, Owerri Road (off Okigwe), Ochefu, Weeks Street, Aba, and the six-lane Port Harcourt Road. One project that stands out of all the projects is the Ndioji-Ndiokereke Bridge, which links the rest of the state with Arochukwu and Abam, the home of rubber and cocoa plantations, and the agricultural hub of the state.
House of Representatives member from the area, Nko Nkole, said that the people were grateful for the project, adding that “the people of Arochukwu-Ofion Constituency will not forget this rare gesture.”
Kalu, the Information commissioner also disclosed that the construction of the road that leads to the Areare market has led to a free flow of traffic for the first time in 21 years, adding that Aba, is also benefiting from the urban renewal and street lightening projects of the administration.
Ubani on his part further explained that focusing on Aba was deliberate. He stressed that “if Aba is working, the state is working. We concentrate on Aba because it has suffered the dearth of infrastructure. Everybody in the state is connected to Aba. It is the economic hub. Many people from all over the state live there. Anything you do in Aba is done for the entire state. Aba should be given special attention because it is the economic nerve centre.”
Also, he said the state was constructing other roads that lead to other states. He said Abia is surrounded by seven states, which have built roads to the border towns and as such the governor decided that the roads that lead to these borders must be constructed to enhance inter-state transportation, adding that “for us, we don’t bother about the next election. The governor has worked to deserve a second term.”
Uzor Azubike, a PDP chieftain said agriculture is a core priority in the state. Azubike, who is the state’s agriculture commissioner, further said making it a priority is in line with the diversification policy of the government.
According to him, farming is no longer perceived as the occupation of the uneducated. In fact, he added, youth participation in agriculture has boosted employment opportunities in the state, saying that under the Fadama Project, N300 million has been released as grants to farmers.
“We have also encouraged rice farming in the state and we are having rice mills for packaging, marketing, refining and polishing. The poultry village is being developed at Umuoza. And to avert herdsmen/farmers rift, plans are underway to introduce native goat ranching. N1 million will be given to interested farmers as loan. We are matching traditional and modern farming practices,” he added.