From Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Abia State governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu believes his government, contrary to claims in some quarters, is building some enduring legacies and is transforming the state.
In this interview, the governor explained reason behind some decisions taken by his administration, the recent invasion of South- East by the military and issues relating to the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
Why did you decide to take the made-in-Aba products campaign abroad when some people feel that the government is yet to do what is expected of it in Aba to make the city a business hub?
I don’t think the issue is to make Aba a business hub. Aba is a business hub naturally and nobody can dispute that. The only thing we are saddled with is to enhance the business environment, open up access, do something about security and ensure that there is steady electricity supply. One has to think about strategy. When I became governor two years ago, the greatest challenge by my analysis was putting made-in- Japan, made-in-Taiwan, made -in-Dubai on the articles they produced and I felt that it was a fallout of some complex, inferiority complex. So you see along the spectrum of economic development, industrialization, promotion of small and medium scale enterprises, you have issues with the manufacturers themselves and you also have issues of infrastructure.
But the most difficult is the social issue which is the psyche of the manufacturer. It doesn’t matter what you do, if somebody is not motivated, if somebody feels he is inferior, the person will hardly be able to market his article. So we decided, strategically, to begin to carry development from two fronts: one, do something about the basic infrastructure in Aba. We have done 23 completed roads in Aba as I speak today. We are doing the first ever interchange or what they call flyover in Aba today and as I speak, fallout of our efforts in terms of the campaign of the made-in-Aba thing has attracted direct sales of about N1.3billion.
Remember the 50,000 pairs of shoes for the military, remember our campaign to the customs, NYSC and all that; the direct impact from the Aba economy is that those shoe makers, those leather makers, those bag makers have seen an inflow of about N1.3billion direct to them. Beyond that we are building an industrial cluster which is purposely built for leather and garments.
Once again I am excited that the federal government and almost every Nigerian today are listening. The perception about Aba today is no longer a no go area. People are better known today for their creativity and what they can do with their hands and that is the façade I crave for when it comes to our youths. I don’t want people to see our youths as criminals and bandits.
If I want to be a little more specific or so, we have been able to bring the Vice President on two separate occasions as he launched the first MSEM clinic, an interface with licensing agents, standardisation agents, all agents that are concerned with the growth and promotion of MSEM in Nigeria. They came first time face to face with each other and today, the average Aba business man knows that NAFDAC should be an enabler, a promoter of business, not a stumbling block or a barricade.
Now if I want to answer your question directly why did we decided to take this made in Aba thing to New York; first of all we started in Abuja, the first made in Aba fashion show was held in Abuja and on that day I remembered vividly the American embassy sent 30 delegates to come and see the kind of leather works, the kind of garments, the kind of bags that Abia people have produced and had on exhibition and it was very successful.
Some people asked me also that day, why not hold made in Aba fashion show in Abia state? Abuja is the melting point that brings both the licensing agencies, the controlling agencies, the funding agencies, government, the diplomatic family and everybody together; so rather than wait for them to move to Abia as they say, let Mohammed go to the mountain and that announcement led to our seizing the opportunity of the Abia family meeting in New York where the entire Abia people in New York come annually for a convention and we decided to begin to also make that statement there.
Power infrastructure is very critical to the industry. Yes, to a large extent, the federal government provides that. How are you tackling that issue too?
Yes, we take it quite seriously. When I came in, I inherited the geometric project which is a private sector driven project to provide light for the Abia university area and I took up to speak with Emeka Ofor who is the EEDC boss and the Enugu DISCO who has the licence and franchise for distribution, the idea is that that thing has generated electricity but you cannot distribute because somebody else is holding that end of the stick and then we brought them together and we encouraged the federal government and they reached an agreement and they at a point where money needs to change hands now and one of them will take charge and Aba will begin to enjoy uninterrupted power supply.
But beyond that, the problem was to raise the money that would change hands ultimately, so I had to be also part of a team that included Pascal Dozie, Prof. Nnaji, Gen. Omayi (rtd) to Afrixim bank where we met the President of Afrixim bank in Cairo and the elements of our discussions was also to see how they could provide the resources to fund geometrix.
And I did not rest there, I also visited the Minister for Power and his own solution is the one we are test running now. He got us together with the rural agencies in charge of rural electrification and today they are unbundling. What I mean is that if you have an industry or a cluster of industries, they will do some survey and then begin to provide electricity specific for that area. So they have tested power there for two weeks now, some parts of Ariaria have enjoyed uninterrupted power for two weeks and they are trying to expand now and see how we can capture the entire Ariaria shoe plaza where they produced shoes and leather and all that.
Can you please share your recent experience of the activities of the military in the south- east especially Abia state where you are the governor and the classification of IPOB as a terrorist group by the federal government? What role did the south- east governors play in that controversy?
Fundamentally speaking, I think that if the questions we ask in this country today are whether there are inequalities, there are gaps, there are people who don’t feel that they have been fairly treated either as an individual or as a family or as a geopolitical zone, the answer is yes.
There is agitation in the north east, there is a agitation in the south west, of course there is agitation in the south east but I dare say that there is no other ethnic group in this country that has as much faith in Nigeria as a country, one united country than the people of the south east, that is why they are in Sambisa. You can count how many big businesses belonging to the south westerners that are in Aba. You can count how many big businesses belonging to the people from the north east, north- west, north -central that you can find in Owerri, you cannot find a four storey building belonging to somebody from the north- east anywhere in the south- east.
But if you go to Kano, you don’t count three hotels before you count that of somebody from the south -east. What it means is that we are the people that have demonstrated faith in the united Nigeria. Post war experience is that everybody started receding and then we started moving everywhere and then at the end of the day, our people are beginning to feel that we are not being trusted enough with certain strategic positions despite the fact that we have demonstrated in particular times that we love Nigeria more than anybody, we have faith in this country more than anybody. That coupled with the fact that there is huge potential energy within the youth community in Nigeria that is unused because the problem of unemployment in Nigeria for me as a biochemist, I look at it as mismanagement of energy; people have too much energy they can’t use it anywhere. If you have a two year old child in this house today and that child doesn’t go to school, he doesn’t go anywhere, before you go out and come back, you will discover that somebody with a lot of energy is residing with you here. So the idea is that all these agitations bottled up and all that created what you call IPOB.
And then, the federal government over time started watching from the sideline because IPOB was getting money from elsewhere, setting up radio stations, indoctrinating people, all that went on. But while that was going on, at a point, the leadership of the south east through Ohanaeze, through the governors started engaging Nnamdi to say, we know that there are issues. Can we find alternative channels to discuss them? Can we make studied and intellectual presentations and confront the federal government with these arguments? But he felt that his own strategy was better and all that.
So, I think it got to a point when the federal government began to feel that the red line was threatened and unfortunately some of us as governors were not taken into confidence as to the details and plans and intentions of the federal government and it is the irony of this thing they call governors as chief security officers; a chief security officer but you are not controlling the Commissioner of Police, CP, the soldiers around you, the navy around you, you cannot tell them to stop, you cannot tell them where to go and all that. So that clash came up on us in Abia State and I was confronted as a leader to make a choice between the oath I swore, what was politically expedient and what was right and I think what -was right was for me to do everything to protect the lives and properties of Abians and those that are doing business in Abia. So all that I did, the press releases, my actions, all that I did was geared towards fulfilling my mandate which was to protect lives and properties of not only Abians but of everybody that was within Abia doing business. I did not wish for one soul to die, whether IPOB or a Fulani man or a Kogi man, I didn’t want anybody to lose his life or for us to begin to spill blood in my state.
Like I told some people, my mother told me that everybody should do everything to make sure that war does not ensue in his mother’s kitchen because the pots will break, the plates will break and after the war, with what are you going to eat? So, I do not want a war in my kitchen. If there must be war, let the war go elsewhere not in my kitchen. And then I thank God and I give Him all the glory that he gave us the wisdom to take the steps we took.