By Dayo Benson, Political Editor
CHIEF Theodore Orji is the governor of Abia State. In this interview, he spoke on issues affecting the state, his battle with the opposition and 2011. Excerpts:
Why is it that secondary school teachers in your state are owed about three months salaries , and you are not making effort to pay their salaries?
TheÂ salaries for the months quoted that teachers are owed is not correct. One thing my administration has done since assumption of office was to settle all back log of salaries owed.Â AndÂ we did not lay off any civil servant , even the none indigenes were also retained , unlike what is done in other states like Imo, Akwa Ibom, and Cross River statesÂ that have to disengage none indigenes in their states. Half of the population ofÂ teachers in Abia,Â teaching in urban areasÂ are none indigenes.
On the issue of non payment of salaries, it started rearing its ugly head when teachers went on strike for two or three months , and the money meant for their sector was used for other sectors , because it is not only payment of salaries alone thatÂ we were elected to do, we were electedÂ to provide light,Â build roads , look after other people who are not public servants .
Most of these people who shouted they were owed salaries belong to agencies , the civil servants were not owed , agencies that were supposed to be self sustaining , and be less dependant on government.Â They are parastatals that were supposed to generate money , but they donâ€™t generate the money but wait for government to give them subventions , subventions to my own understanding, is to help the parastatals.
The figure you gave was not correct , we have paid the 15.5 percent increment demanded for by the teachers , we are one of the first states to pay that.Â It is unfortunate that if workers were owed one month or two months salaries, they make a lot of noise about it , and thisÂ intend to dwarfÂ what you have achieved in the last three yearsÂ in other areas .
In the local government , though we have just dissolved the local government , the chairmen tried their best in providing infrastructure , some tarred roads of 3kilometers , 7 kilometers stretchÂ ,some even built office complex , some built health centres , some provided boreholes and wells , until the economic melt down came, and the allocation dropped.Â As at that timeÂ the local government were dissolved, almost all the local government were owing salary arrears .Â When I dissolve it , I say what I am going to do is to hand overÂ the management ofÂ the local government to local government service commissionÂ , to restore the aim of service, with the sole aim of making sure we reduce cost , to offset the salaries.Â These are the things we are doing to handle the problem that face us.Â I donâ€™t know why people are so much interested in what happens in Abia , and not other states.
Are you interested in seeking a second term in office by 2011?
Some of these problems I mentioned and some of the projectsÂ I started are whatÂ I want to solve andÂ complete.Â I want to make maximal impact on our people , when the time for 2011 come , I willÂ tellÂ you because you are going to help me out also .
It is said that you are being shackled by your predecessor, Dr Orji Uzor Kalu , and that most of the projects you implementsÂ are influenced by him ,and he determines how the state allocation should be spent , how far is that true ?
Is the statement you made factual or a rumour , if it isÂ factual you have to show empirical evidence.Â You see people manufacture rumours left , right and centre , they say you when you get allocationÂ you go and give it to somebody to tell you what to do with it , it can never be correct.
Like I said I should be fair to my conscience. I owe a duty to Abia people , not to any individual. Those are the people who elected me , and those are the people I owe a duty . It is just fabrication from the opposition .
Governance is not run like that.Â I donâ€™t even have access to the fund , you can only have access to the fund through people , through the commissioner for finance, through the Accountant General , a governor cannot remove government fund direct , it has to go through somebody, who is a government official, ifÂ money is going through somebody to somebody else, it cannot be a secret thing , it will leak, so there is no truth in that type of thing they are telling you, that somebody is controlling you. I said it at a function last night thatÂ I am in charge, I am the governor , anything that happens , if I make an impact, it is my own glory , if I fail they are not going to call another person , it is me . I am very conscious of that .
I am very conscious of life after governorshipÂ because I can never be governor for ever.Â I want to leave office as a good person , and to be accepted back by my people.
I am on my own, I am in charge, if a make a mistake I will accept the mistake , if I do it well, IÂ will accept that I have done well, so I am not under the influence of anybody . I am the governor , you canâ€™t have two governors in a state at the same time .
We are aware that , the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) membersÂ are making overtures to you , to join the party , do they still persist ?
Overtures, yes, that is what is in politics, political parties make overtures to people they know will win election , you can not go to somebody who will be a liability to the party and make overtures to him , overtures will come , not only to me , I am sure also that ,some other governors are getting overtures from many political parties, but it is left for the person they are making overtures to , to decide , and weigh the pros and cons and make up his mind.Â So as of now , I am a member of the Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), I am PPA , I am still PPA , I donâ€™t have any intention of moving to anywhere , this is the party on whose platform I was elected , I have not done anything bad to the party , and the party has not done anything bad to me.
You said thatÂ when the teachers went on strike their salaries was used to take care of other sectors, which sectorÂ was the money spent on, is the state cash crunchÂ ?
I didnâ€™t say because they went on strike, I said we usedÂ the money.Â There are other sectors competing for money , and when the teachers went on strike , there wereÂ other equally important thingsÂ which we used the money for , hoping that, theÂ money would be realizedÂ when they come back.
If you are talking of cash crunch , of course , you can even assess it from your organization , whether things are okay financially.Â You know we have problem in the world , and Nigeria and Abia are partÂ and parcel of the world, theÂ economic melt down thatÂ has affected everybody and every sector of the economy , Abia state is one of them, we are having some cashÂ problem, cash problem in the sense that, Abia state was created out of Imo state, when we were part of Imo state, precisely during the time of Chief Sam Mbakwe, many industries were built, I can mention them, the Glass industry, the metrological complex, many of them, comfort hotel, most of them were completed, some were not completed, they were built with borrowed money, guaranteed by the Federal government. When that regime was sacked by the military, it was time to pay back the loan.
When Abia state was created, we inherited our assets and liabilities, liabilities in the sense that , those industries that were built and cited in Abia became ours, most of them were the uncompleted ones , and we have to pay, what is happening is that , the federal government has to recover her money , so whenever our allocation comes , the federal government first of all take away that fund it guaranteed from our allocation , and it affects us , as of now , we are still owing the federal government the sum of 22 million dollars .
Apart from paying the debt one needs to also to perform , you have to build roads , provide water, drainages, provide health services . Averagely in a month , we receive about 2.5 or 2.6 billion as allocation from the federation account, and we spend 1.4 billion Naira to pay salaries, so when you remove 1.4 billion from 2.4 billion, you know how much is left, and you have to pay some banks IHPO, then you have to run government, so that is the problem we are having, that is why we are making conscious effort to see that we become financially buoyant, and the conscious effort we are making is thatÂ we have intensified effort to increase our Internally Generated Revenue, which is very, very important, we have brought in consultants, and we have given them a target , at least we should generate 1 billion every month in Abia.Â In Aba alone we can generate 800 million Naira, we have equally approached the world bank for a loan of 200 million dollars.
We also went to the bond market, but we realized that all these efforts to raise money are being thwartedÂ by people from our state.
When we wanted to go to the World Bank, before we couldÂ say Jack Robinson the thing was already tabled on the floor of the National Assembly , whereas some other states have gone for the loan , and Abiaâ€™sÂ own became topical because of the members of the National Assembly from the state , who donâ€™t want progress.
What is Chief Onyema Ugochukwu taking you to court again for, because we believe the Appeal Court has already ruled on the election petition he brought before the tribunal ?
It surprises me, it is very surprising that he has gone to court again, I donâ€™t know whatÂ he wants again, he was at the Tribunal , and Court of Appeal which is the highest ruling body in governorship petition has ruled , and the thing has been settled ,so I donâ€™t know what Eze wants in court . His going to court does not unsettle me because , we are used to it , so long that he takes us to court we will go and answer him , he is a man , I am a man , I am not afraid .
The only thingÂ is that I expected that, by now, he should have accepted defeat, and since the state belong to all of us , it should be reasonable for him to give me time to concentrate on governance and join hand with me to make sure we move Abia to theÂ next level , that was what I expectedÂ from him not the action he is taking ,
He isÂ from the same local governmentÂ with me, there are other governorshipÂ candidates that I defeatedÂ that never went to court , there are some who went to court , but they have all withdrawn , but he isÂ the person that has been moving from one court to the other, and as he continues to drag us along , we continue to follow himÂ to whichever court he goes , so we are not afraid .
What will you say are your achievements so far?
I will startÂ by saying, in all sectors, we have made impact, within three years.
What we have done, we have the support ofÂ the people.
In terms of roadÂ construction we have made tremendous impact , rightÂ Â now in Aba we are constructing 33 roads.
Even in Aba we have glass industry which we revitalize and it is into production, and itÂ createÂ employment for our people , we have expanded it to produce glasses these are all achievements , which these our opponents tends not to see, we are partnering with Geometrics to build 180 KVA plant to give power to Aba industrialists , in thatÂ same Aba you know the rate of kidnapping has reduced drastically, these are all tangible achievements. , In Omuahia , we have changed the face of the town from a glorified village to a status of a state capital, and Umuahia is one of the cleanest cities in Nigeria.
We have equally distributed 250 transformers to the villages to help boost electricity supply, but we donâ€™t make noise about it, even in Umuahia we areÂ putting in place a diagnostic centre .We have equally built 68 health centres scattered round the 17 local government areas , and many other things we areÂ doing .
Are you not bothered thatÂ opposition parties are shrinking, even though , we have much more of themÂ in number. I am asking this becauseÂ you belong to aÂ minority opposition party, do you think year 2011 will produce a credible election , and have opposition parties at the centre ?
You canâ€™t force people, people have to belong to political parties, it is out of their own will, out of their own ideology. There are some people who donâ€™t likeÂ the PDP , they wounâ€™tÂ have anything to do with the PDP, there areÂ some people who donâ€™t want anything to do with my own party , there are some who donâ€™t wantÂ anythingÂ to with AC or ANPP, so it is like that .
You know an attempt has been made by this Mega party.Â Those who want to form the mega party, if they form it, they will have a strong opposition , we must keep trying and trying until one day we will make appreciable impact.
Senator AbaribeÂ recentlyÂ described you as incompetent, and that was why you are encountering some of these problems you are facing, could that be true?
Senator Abaribe was relatively unknown in the state, until the former governor Chief OrjiÂ Uzor Kalu, who was coming home and had a ride with him in a busÂ decided to pick him outÂ of others who worked for the party as his running mate , without knowing actually the type of person he is, that was when the unholy marriage started.
Each year he would say he wants to be governor, even if it is the turn of his own local government to produce the next governor , he is not the only person from that area. When he wants to talk to the press, he should address issues and tell people why he wants to be governor. What can he point to as his achievement since he got to the National Assembly , he should come and tell us what he did . SoÂ if he wants to be governor, let him pursue his aspiration in a very decent way , because he who lives in glass house ,should not throw stones.