By Umah Kalu
I have been under intense pressure to share my thoughts with you on the real and general public perception of the poor state of affairs in our State, and, possibly proffer solutions towards ameliorating the situation. I am aware that most of the sordid and unfavourable things trending in public discourse about our State do not get to your knowledge, as those whose duty it is to draw your attention to them, will, for fear or inability to handle the backlash, keep those information away from you. This I must say, is not peculiar to our State, but is a national malaise. Abia will no doubt be amongst the top most in this regard, due to the high level of sycophancy that is prevalent in our domain.
Since I left office as Attorney General of our State in May 2019, I have variously been confronted in both private and public, with the poor and pitiable state of affairs in our State. Attempts to put up some defence often fail as I come out of the exercise looking stupid due to want of justification for the parlous/pitiable state of affairs in our State.
As one who had been in government prior to your emergence as Governor in May 2015, I can attest to the fact that you inherited a State that was in distress and in dire need of emergency attention. Those who are objective and truthful know too well that you did not originate the prevalent rot but accepted it gleefully, and, instead of halting the drift, you have sustained it. This in a nutshell is the true state of affairs in our State at the moment.
The rain started to beat us torrentially somewhere within the eight (8) years of your immediate predecessor’s tenure. Each time I ponder over your reluctance and/or refusal to make the expected positive impact on the governance of our State, I recall the admonition given to you in my presence by one of the best legal minds in our country today. This advice was given to you at a meeting held at your instance, among the three of us, at the new Presidential Lodge, Umuahia, in June 2015.
On seeing you, the legal icon congratulated you over your victory and emergence as Governor but noted particularly that you were lucky to assume such position of immense authority and responsibility at a youthful age. He said the country and indeed the South East needed educated young men like you to display vibrancy and charisma in governance; which virtues he opined were in short supply in our body polity. He further admonished you to use your present position as a stepping stone for greater political exploits through superlative performance. I echoed his views and good wishes for you and we both left your presence, after eliciting your assurance that you will not disappoint God and the people of Abia State. When I look back, almost six years after that encounter, it does appear to me that those wise words of admonition remain unheeded. I profess that we were both strangers to each other prior to my reappointment as Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice under your tenure. My appointment was the earliest, if not the first cabinet appointment that you made on your assumption of office. In our brief consultation preceding my acceptance and swearing – in, you informed me that I was highly recommended by your predecessor and equally aware of my desire to leave Abia State for Abuja, which desire you pledged to facilitate after your election petition proceedings. Like with most political promises, the issue of my desire to leave Abia for Abuja was never considered or revisited till the termination of my tenure as Attorney General/Commissioner for Justice by effluxion of time in May, 2019.
On your assumption of office in May, 2015, you made concerted and spirited efforts to hit the ground running and made a sharp departure from the wastefulness of the past, to the applause of many Abians, including myself. You rejected and frowned at the ascription of “His Excellency” to your name or being addressed as such. You equally directed that your dear wife – Nkechi – be addressed as “Wife of the Governor” and not as “Her Excellency.” You reduced the retinue of protocol staff accompanying the Governor on trips outside the State to the barest minimum, in order to save cost. You rejected the use of private jets by the Governor of Abia State as was the case in the past and resorted to flying Business Class on commercial Airlines. You commenced reconstruction and refurbishment of the Governor’s official residences in Umuahia, G.R.A Aba and Aminu Kano Crescent, Abuja, the old Presidential Lodge, Umuahia, the Executive Council Chambers etc.
Standard of work in some of the completed projects as cited above were superlative and got commendation from everyone. The former governor was impressed with the face lift made to the Executive Council Chambers and made comments about its impressive status when he visited a few months after his exit. The roads in Aba and even the FMC, Umuahia to Ubakala road that could not be addressed for the eight years that your predecessor held sway, started receiving your attention. The people of Aba (Enyimba City) who had since 2010 been a torn in the flesh of Abia government and her principal officers, due to government’s nil attention to the city’s infrastructure, especially roads, embraced you with both hands. You became the toast of ndi Aba.
Aba people trooped out enmasse to hail you and your convoy each time you ventured out into the streets. All these were heartening, especially for those of us who had suffered multiple embarrassment, ridicule and humiliation in the past through pelting of government cars and convoy with stones and sachet water by Aba residents. Equally heart-warming and worthy of mention was your initial discomfiture with vain glory, as enunciated in the various award giving groups, organisations and bodies.
I witnessed your rejection of an award by a group from the UNIBEN Alumni. You bluntly told the group that you were barely two months old in office and do not consider yourself fit or deserving of any award at that moment. This obviously would not have happened in the past. Billboard and flex politicians were kept at bay on your instructions, thereby giving the airspace in Umuahia and its environs some respite. All these I must say were short lived, as you suddenly could not maintain the momentum and things started tilting gradually towards the old ways. The sudden cessation of the upward and progressive acceleration of your government towards the positive change we all desire in our State is bewildering.
I must state here, that I have no doubt whatsoever of your passion for service. I have listened to you severally and I am convinced that you have all the ideas on the way forward, as you profess these lofty ideas at each given occasion. What I find wanting is the will and ability to implement these ideas. There have been conjectures and speculations at arriving to the reasons. Some think you are acting on instructions, as your predecessors do not want you to outshine them. Some believe you are not in total control of the affairs of the State. A lot of people think that the terms and conditions under which you were drafted into the governorship of the State have made it difficult for you to operate maximally. All these I must say are in the realm of conjecture.
I have however, on two occasions, listened to your immediate predecessor narrate how he single – handedly made you governor of Abia State. First, was at the grand reception organised in his honour by an Ukwa-Ngwa socio-cultural group, that was held at Ngwa High School, Aba, while the other was at another event organized by a Bende Union at the old Umuahia market arena. At both events, your predecessor stated that you almost fell off from your chair when he told you in the presence of his wife and your wife for the first time that you were going to be the next governor of Abia State. On each of these occasions, there was a loud applause for him by the undiscerning crowd of people at both events. As an individual, I was shocked by that analogy, as I considered those statements a great disservice to God and the Abia State electorate. That exposition as undesirable as it was had its purpose; which was to drive home the point that you were not expecting to mount such high an office, but that he made it possible.
Some past governors in other States have ventured unsuccessfully to impose successors in their States. I liken your emergence as governor of Abia State in 2015 to the emergence of the Biblical Esther in the palace of King Ahasuerus. Esther was divinely situated in the palace of King Ahasuerus to deliver the Israelites from persecution. So were you positioned in Abia State to change our story and place the State on the path of sustainable growth.
Abians, including their elders had long come to an agreement that the governorship seat of the State should shift to the Ukwa-Ngwa axis after your predecessor’s tenure. Chief Onyema Ugochukwu was chosen by the Abia council of elders to screen and recommend an Ukwa-Ngwa man or woman, who must be a graduate for the governorship seat. Chief Onyema Ugochukwu’s committee had commenced the selection process before it was truncated. The making of a governor is not an event but a process. Your immediate predecessor and a few persons around him may have initiated the process for reasons best known to them, but God saw you through the process and unto its realisation. The Scriptures have it that Paul planted, Apollos watered, but God caused the increase.
Recall even, that you were twice removed as the governor by the Courts. Firstly, at the Court of Appeal at Owerri and secondly by Justice Okon Abang at the Federal High Court, Abuja. At these crucial moments, your predecessor was already out of the equation and had absolutely nothing to do with the reversal of the Court judgments. God used other persons to see you through those dire moments. I relay all these things because it does seem obvious that you are so fixated on one or two persons who claim to have made you governor, and as such will not disobey or harm their interests. While nobody will endorse ingratitude, the idea of unalloyed blind loyalty to an individual in order to show gratitude has the innate capacity of eroding one’s sense of judgment, performance and capacity to deliver on the arduous task of governance.
I do not and will never believe that your predecessor and/or members of his family made you governor. God did. Your predecessor and members of his family were only tools in the mighty hand of God. They were at most vessels through which God perfected His will for you. It was God’s design even before you were born, that you will attain the status of governor of Abia State in your lifetime. If you do not agree with me, or desire to push the argument further, you can as well believe that Orji Uzor Kalu made you governor, because if Orji Uzor Kalu did not choose T.A. Orji as his successor, he would not have been in a position to make you governor. I have devoted some time to the issue of your predecessor’s claim of making you governor, as it does seem to me that therein lies your reluctance to depart from the past and effect the needed positive change in our State. The moment you accept that God and only God made you governor of Abia and that you are answerable to God alone and to no mortal being in whatever name called, then will you commence your journey of the redemption of Abia.
You may be surprised by the contents of this letter and the channel of its delivery. For the medium of communication, I am told you no longer read sealed letters and that all letters must pass through your aides, whose decision it is to decide the letters that get to your notice. I have decided not to subject the fate of this letter to the decision of your aides who may not know the import. For the content, unpalatable as it might be, I believe I have a greater duty to God, my conscience and the citizenry of our State, including generations yet unborn. I am by this letter, not in the least denying culpability in all the inadequacies and/or shortcomings of the two governments I served in, including yours. I join in accepting failure, though with a caveat and equally think that I should join hands with you and other well – meaning Abians in salvaging the fortunes of our dear and only State. I will provide details of the caveat at the appropriate time, if necessary.
With 20 months left for you in the saddle of the affairs of our State, it may be important to proffer some suggestions as earlier stated, towards salvaging the situation we presently find ourselves.
Umuahia remains our State capital and deserves a better deal from past, present and future governments.
Umuahia has indeed suffered neglect in the hands of successive governments, including yours. I implore you, within the available time to ensure completion, dualization and lighting of the FMC to Ubakala/Enugu-Aba Expressway junction. The Mission Hill access road into Umuahia from the Enugu-Aba Expressway remains an embarrassment to our State and the capital city. The attempt at demarcating that road is an added problem to motorists. We visit other States and cannot pretend not to know that no State hosts that nature of colonial road announcing entry into its capital city. The Mission Hill road needs to be expanded and compensation paid to owners of roadside structures and buildings that may be affected in the expansion process. Ditto for the roads leading to Isieke and Ikot Ekpene. It is not an impossibility to revamp the Umuahia water scheme.
For the commercial city of Aba, you may concentrate on the three areas of ingress and egress into and out of Aba. That is the Aba/Owerri road, the Aba/Port – Harcourt road and the Ogbor Hill to Ehere and Ukpakri roads. Tagging these roads federal roads is no excuse, as the dilapidated nature of these roads is adversely affecting the economic fortunes of Aba and its citizens. The internal roads within Aba metropolis, which till date remain the most efficiently planned in the entire south – east region of Nigeria should be given attention. Special attention should be given to the roads leading to the major markets and areas of economic activities. It is disheartening to know that all the efforts and billions of Naira allegedly expended on construction of roads leading to Ariaria market, including Ukwu Mango since 2010 have yielded little or no dividend.
Equally of importance for Aba is the Osisioma flyover project. The delay in the completion of this project has become a big embarrassment to most Abians, as it is now a subject of comic jokes in the social media. A few weeks ago, I witnessed Governor David Umahi on Channels Television making a veiled reference on the projected prohibitive cost of flyovers by some States in the country, as opposed to meagre 1.2 Billion that it cost him to complete one in his Ebonyi State. I recall that either 4.2 or 4.4 Billion Naira was the project cost of this flyover when I co-signed the contract papers some five years ago. I presently do not know the project cost, as I have information that there have been variations to the cost of the project. It may not be necessary to bring in to context the propriety or otherwise of a flyover at the Osisioma interjection, but it is of utmost importance that you do everything possible to deliver this notorious project within the lifetime of your administration. The duration of the project no longer matters, but its completion, for it is well with all that ends well.
I consider it misplaced priority, inadvertence and deceitful to be touting with the idea of a golf course in Ohafia when the roads leading to Ohafia are in deplorable condition. While you may encounter time and economic constraints in addressing the major road leading to Ohafia, it is advisable that you conclude the Ohafia ring road that I endorsed the contract papers some four years ago. The Ohafia ring road has long been abandoned after attaining less than 10 per cent of the project. Same goes for the Abiriba ring road that has equally been abandoned. Nkporo is another community within Ohafia L.G.A that should attract your sympathetic consideration. The Abiriba to Nkporo road which has the history of receiving epileptic attention since your immediate predecessor’s tenure should be completed and delivered before the eclipse of your administration. The completion of this road will at least compensate the citizens of Abiriba and Nkporo communities for the several years in which many of their young and vibrant politicians have had their political ambition held down, to pave the way for a subservient, opportunistic and self-serving politician, at the behest of those who have brought our State to its present situation.
It may interest you to know that most Arochukwu citizens now access their communities through Akwa Ibom State, especially the rich ones who now prefer the Uyo airport to Owerri or Enugu airports. Their preference for the Uyo airport is as a result of the difficulty in accessing Arochukwu through Abia State. Patronage for Enugu airport is equally on the increase as opposed to Owerri airport for Abia North citizens due to easy access to their homes through Ebonyi State. Motorists coming into Ohafia and Arochukwu from Lagos and Abuja access their communities through Abakiliki, Afikpo and Edda. The only attempt to link Arochukwu through Abam has long been abandoned. I urge you to consider ameliorating the plight of people within Arochukwu, Ututu, Ihechiowa and all the adjoining communities in your closing months.
I equally recall vividly a road contract agreement that I co-signed some years ago consisting of about 33 kilometers. This ambitious road contract is being handled by Tunnel End Limited and runs across the five (5) Local Government Areas of Aba North, Obingwa, Isialangwa North, Isiala Ngwa South and part of Osisioma. I am told that this project has attained 70 per cent completion. I implore you to complete this project before the terminal date of your administration, as these inter-communal roads will greatly facilitate growth, development and ease of movement of goods and persons within those communities.
I strongly advise you not to compound the myriad of issues associated with the so called legacy projects. i.e. New Abia Government House, New Abia Governors Lodge, New Abia Governors administrative offices, JAAC Building e.t.c. These projects cannot be visited without a proper assessment and audit of the enormous State’s resources invested in them in relation to the quantum of work done. An audit or assessment as advised above is an area I know you may not want to embark on in order not to step on toes. You may therefore want to leave these issues for the next administration. An attempt at injecting more funds into these projects would compound the problems these projects portend for our State.
Paris Club Debt Refund:
Another issue of importance worth commenting on is the Paris Club debt refund matter. You will recall that I have always maintained that we do not require the so-called “consultants” in order to reconcile and obtain the State’s Paris Club debt refund from the federal government. The entire thing is a façade with the intention of defrauding the State of its scare resources. It is regrettable that we have consistently allowed the resources of the State to be fleeced under the guise of settling these multiple “consultants”.
Paris Club debt refund has given birth to some Abia billionaires, who are basically bereft of any known qualification in finance or related matters. The only qualification these few persons possess is their affiliation to the seat of power in our State. While these few persons drive around in their fleet of exotic cars, thousands of deprived Abians for whom these funds are meant to ameliorate their problems are either dead or living destitute. These so-called “consultants” and their accomplices, including their lawyers, majority of whom are Abians may regrettably evade the judgment of man due to their connections and deep purse, but will definitely not evade God’s supreme judgment.
I find it disturbing that the State is even cherry picking and instituting joint court actions with some of these “consultants”, as such joint Court actions has the inherent capacity of jeopardizing the commonwealth of the citizens of Abia State, whenever these contrived court suits yield their intended results. It is still mind boggling to know how a letter emanating from a governor, without any legal documentation from the appropriate government ministry, department or agency will entitle a so-called “consultant” to 25% or 30% of the resources of our State. Abia State, you will agree with me, is in dire need of every available fund in order to meet its obligations, particularly in the area of infrastructure improvements, payment of salaries, wages, pensions and so on.
Clannishness and nepotism in our body polity:
We have witnessed within the past few months some frenzied activities by competing Clans and sections of our State claiming rights to your succession. These claims ordinarily may appear proper in normal political settings, but I see those claims as a clear indication of how divided we are along ethnic lines. While the Igbo claim being marginalised in the wider context of the Nigerian nation, there is a big divide amongst various Clans within Abia State. There are claims that Orji Uzor Kalu’s tenure favoured the Igbere and Bende people, while your immediate predecessor’s tenure was for his Ibeku Clan and adjoining communities. This belief or notion has enamoured the people of Ngwa Clan to lay claim to your administration as theirs.
Regrettably, not much has been done to disapprove this notion. We cannot deny the fact that we have affiliations to our ancestral roots before becoming Abians. Those who are in positions of authority at every strata in our State should be conscious of our diversity in all their actions. We cannot as Igbo complain of being marginalised and denied of our dues as Nigerians, while we enthrone clannish sentiments in our body polity within our State. I implore you to take a closer look at all the critical appointments made by your administration from inception till date, including portfolios assigned to Commissioners, Advisers and sundry aides. The fact that past administrations were considered to be clannish in their disposition, does not provide us a vista to proceed along that divisive and retrogressive path. Somebody must break the cycle.
A situation where persons who have reached mandatory retirement ages are retained on contract is unacceptable and devoid of true sense of justice and equity. A situation where there is an embargo on employment, while a select few are constantly been set out for interview on a weekly basis under the guise of executive waiver is equally devoid of fairness and enthrones mediocrity. It will be in the larger interest of our State and its citizens for critical and in fact all appointments to be made on merit and shared evenly among all sections of our State. I urge you to exhibit true statesmanship, fairness, justice and equity in the appointments you make, and, in the citing and distribution of amenities.
Aba G.R.A Government Guest House:
The partial movement of government activities to the governor’s lodge, G.R.A., Aba, is in my mind not well thought out. When you took up temporary residence and office at the Aba G.R.A guest house, those of us in government were told that it was for purposes of availing you easy access to the then multiple ongoing rehabilitation of Aba roads. Weeks turned to months and months turned to years, as you gradually shifted a substantial part of your official duty time from the seat of government in Umuahia to Aba. You have presently taken up permanent residence in Aba as opposed to the seat of government in Umuahia.
As Attorney General, I recall having difficulties transmuting from Umuahia to Aba to see you for important government matters and suffered enormous strain and loss of valuable time each time I had to do so. Movement of government activities from Umuiahia to Aba is a great departure from the norm, as no past governor of the State, both civilian and military, has ever moved government activities out of the government house in Umuahia.
I make my last statement advisedly and mindful of the fact that the governor has freedom of movement and has the entire Abia as his area of operation. Movement of government activities from Umuahia to Aba, apart from being an anomaly occasions a high toll on the activities of governance in the State. The cost and strain on allied government functionaries and officers, and, your having to commute between Aba and Umuahia to attend to official duties is a huge drain on the resources of the State and available time for government activities.
The judiciary, you will agree with me, is an important arm of government and has specific roles assigned to it by the Constitution which you swore to uphold, on assumption of office. You must do everything within your will to address some of the problems that have hindered and continue to hinder the optimal performance of that important arm of government. Funding is key in this respect. I advise you to give assent to the Bill granting autonomy to the judiciary that has been on your desk unattended for the past months. It is worrisome that the judiciary in Abia State cannot even afford to attend the annual judges conference in Abuja on government sponsorship. Several judges in Abia State are yet to be assigned official cars years after their appointment.