BY NKIRUKA ONYENECHEREM
IT could be recall that Abia State was no go-area between 2009/2010 especially during Yuletide and New Year seasons. Going to the state then was a security risk due to kidnapping, assassination and other vices that scared people including indigenes away from returning to the state for such occasions. Even when such occasions became inevitable, it is mostly organised in secrecy to avoid the attention of the kidnappers that held sway in the state. Saying that the state was then under siege, is stating the obvious.
While some of the vices in the state then such as armed robbery and theft could be attributed to abject poverty and unemployment among the youths, others like assassination and kidnapping were politically-motivated by enemies of the state government, who had vowed before then that they would make the state ungovernable for the state governor for daring to do things rights in the state.
But when the state government in collaboration with the relevant security agencies brought the situation under control by flushing out criminals, the state governor, Chief Theodore Orji initiated a short-term approach to poverty alleviation especially among the unemployed youths in the state who are more vulnerable to crimes, while the government continues to work on the long- term policy on poverty alleviation. One of such long term approach is the revival of moribund industries which would lead to employment opportunities as well as foreign investors. So in the short run, from the 17 council areas in the state, 30 unemployed youths were selected from each council area by the government and placed on a monthly stipend of N15, 000 as a social security. Some were trained on vocational skills, while others were awarded scholarship for postgraduate studies both at home and abroad.
With the ban on commercial motorcycle popularly known as Okada as a means of transportation in the state to curtail criminal activities, the state government provided tricycles popularly known as Keke Napep at subsidised rate without stringent conditions for the people to use as alternative means of transportation.
Those who were not beneficiaries of the subsidized tricycles were allowed to buy theirs. It could be recall that in most states where commercial motorcycles were banned as means of transportation, the riders are still at loggerhead with the government, because they were being compelled by the government to buy cars and tricycles at exorbitant rates and under stringent conditions from government. But this was not the case in Abia as government was mindful of the level of poverty among the people and adopted the approach as a means of reducing it.
Complementing the efforts of the state government in this direction is the Ochendo Youth Foundation, a non-governmental organisation with the objectives of empowering and rehabilitating youths in the state. The organization which is led by its Co-ordinator and first son of the state governor, Engr. Chinedum Orji had in the last one year given out more than 60 vehicles, 352 tricycles, 300 sewing machines and other gift items free to several Abia youths from various council areas in the state. This feat was made possible by the passionate drive of the foundation that is hinged on youth empowerment in collaboration with some political office holders, public-spirited individuals, and agencies that bought into the vision of the foundation in the state.
That is why in the state today, especially in the commercial city of Aba, youths who were before now tagged miscreants or public nuisance are adding value to the society, because they are engaged in one form of gainful activity or the other. Even some of them known to be kidnap suspects or armed robbers previously, are now tricycle riders and bus drivers.
As it is, the Foundation has promised to do more this year because the youths were highly appreciative of the organisation’s gesture by providing them with a means of livelihood.
In fulfillment of the popular saying that behind any successful man, there is a woman, the wife of Governor Orji, Mrs. Mercy Odochi Orji had through her Family Empowerment Programme (FEP) project targeted at bringing succour to the less privileged touched and is still touching the lives of the downtrodden in the state especially helpless widows and widowers. Several food items, drugs, wheel chairs and clutches have been donated to the physically challenged through her organisation. Since 2010 till date, she has provided shelter for many widows in the state.
In the state capital Umuahia, the first lady through her pet project constructed ultra modern Skills Acquisition centre, where young Abia state natives were trained in different vocations.
Obviously this tripod approach to poverty alleviation in the state for a while now by Governor Orji’s government, his son and wife has gone a long way in stemming the tide of crimes in the state since 2010. Little wonder the Christmas and New Year celebrations across were without tales of kidnapping or armed robbery.
Nkiruka Onyenecherem (KSJ), a retired civil servant wrote from Aba, Abia State