By Ochereome Nnanna
ABIA State is unlike many of its peers around the country. It was one of the states created by the regime of General Ibrahim Babangida on August 27, 1991. All the new states (like Abia) which started off on virgin capital cities did not have Government Houses. But all of them now do, exceptAbiaState, which is still being operated from private residences acquired from individuals.
The Governor’s Office is a storey building which belonged to the late Air Marshall Emeka Omeruah. It was commandeered from him with compensation, while another plot of land was allocated to him within the city. The Governor’s Lodge where the first family resides was a run-down government guest house which the regime of Dr Sam Mbakwe built in the five major cities of Old Imo State – Owerri, Aba, Umuahia, Okigwe and Orlu.
The cabinet offices were once classrooms ofLibraryRoadPrimary School, while those of top government functionaries, such as the Chief of Staff to the Governor and the Media Office were private residential houses. The only new structures located within the present seat of government inAbiaStateare the office of the Deputy Governor, the Chapel and the Multi-Purpose Hall. All the others were made over and converted. Today, the Abia State Government House is probably the ricketiest of its type in the country.
For some curious reason, no regime deemed it fit to lift the status of Umuahia into a befitting state capital. Former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu simply hunkered into these shacks for eight years, choosing to pay more attention to his businesses and his hometown, Igbere. He was copying the template of his friend, Chief James Ibori, who focused attention on making his hometown, Oghara, the real seat of theDeltaStategovernment. Orji Kalu intended, long after he had completed his constitutional terms of office, to continue to call the shots from his hometown as a political godfather along with his mother, Madam Eunice Kalu.
But fate had other ideas. The centre in his camp could not hold. Governor Theodore Ahamefula Orji whom he chose to succeed him, spent the first three years of his first term trying to please a political family whose greed and arrogance got worse by the day. Umuahia is his hometown. In fact, the seat of government is within his native district, Ibeku. Apart from a few roads and street lights he put up in the early months after he was sworn-in in 2007, T. A. could not do very much under the Orji Kalu political clan. By the time the infighting within the Progressive Peoples Alliance, PPA, boiled over, Orji Kalu and his supporters touted “poor performance” as their reason for denying T. A. a second term ticket.
It was after three years under the Orji Kalu political clan that T. A. broke free. In creating a platform to enable him win the 2011 governorship election he was able to rally all the feuding political forces within and outside the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, a party he had returned to). His crossover from PPA to PDP was dubbed the“liberation” ofAbiaState. It was this general belief that the state had been freed from the clutches of the Orji Kalu family (more than any pretension to performance during his first term) that catapulted T. A. to a landslide victory. He spent the final year of his first term battling kidnapping and violent crimes and getting re-elected. Today, apart fromCrossRiverand Ondo, Abia has the lowest violent crime rate among the nine Niger Delta states.
Even though the Governor has spent five years on the gubernatorial seat, he is almost like the newcomer governors who are celebrating one year in office. The difference, however, is that where most of the newcomers are building on the gains of their predecessors, T. A. has decided to start laying the solid foundation for the development of the state – at last! The pace of development has dramatically picked up, with the construction of a new, befitting government house, expansion of the State Secretariat, construction of two new multi thousand-shed markets and reconstruction of major access roads into Umuahia at advanced stages.
A lot of work is also going on inAba, the commercial nerve of the state. The blocked access into Ariaria Market at Ukwu Mango has been cleared and more roads are being done. The Big Gutter constructed by the colonial masters to drain the city of floods is being de-silted, and illegal structures that clutter the town making it look like a jungle city are being brought down. A lot of effort is also being made to create more rural roads. I was made to understand that the next two years will see a lot more effort made in construction of new access roads in every rural community, including mine (Abiriba!).
I was able to go round in the company of officials at my request. I am in a position to report that things are picking up in the state, though the journey to Uhuru is a long one requiring sustained and coordinated effort. Luckily, the finances of the state appear to be improving compared to the Orji Kalu years when both old and new debts incurred by that regime combined with graft to put shackles to the pace of development. T. A. knows there will be no hiding place for him if he ends up the way he started. He has no choice but to drive himself into the good books of the people.
The modest gains of the state have not gone unnoticed. In its May 27th edition celebrating the Democracy Day of 2012, THISDAY Newspaper x-rayed the performance rating of the 36 governors in three categories: Above Average, Average, and Below Average. T. A’sAbiaStatewas rated Average. It is a big step away from the bottom. Again, Abia was last year ranked among the few “solvent” states, with a pass mark in prudent utilisation of public funds.
Abia state woke up late and started slow. But it looks like a very good start.