By Levinus Nwabughiogu
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?
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 see the kind of leather works, garments, bags that Abia people have produced and had on exhibition and it was very successful.
Some people asked me that day, why not hold made in Aba fashion show in Abia State? And I said if you have a good product and you are proud of your product; if you recall from the first day I assumed office, I said all my dresses would be made in Aba, if you want to advertise that product, the best thing for you to do is to find the highest point on the plateau.
If you have a mountain, climb. If you have a 10-storey building, climb and on top of that building, begin to talk about that article or merchandise that you are proud of. Abuja is the melting point that brings the licencing agencies, the controlling agencies, the funding agencies, government, the diplomatic family and everybody together.
A few weeks before this made in Aba fashion show, I was in North Carolina, I met the governor and the governor agreed and approved that his chief of staff, an American lady married to a Yoruba man, would grace that occasion and other things happened. And then, there was an international agency that markets arts from Africa. So, we said, we need to begin to do something about the psyche and confidence of these shoemakers.
If you recall, I have taken them to Turkey, China and today, their New York experience has redefined how they perceive what they produce. Because my frustration was that a young man will spend 18 hours on a machine, producing something with his bare hands, wakes up in the morning and gives credit to somebody in Taiwan who was sleeping, who did not do anything. We have redefined all that now.
They have come to realise that even the thing in America is not as beautiful as what we are producing in Nigeria. Even the one produced by Turkey is not as beautiful as what we are producing in Nigeria. As far as I am concerned, it is as important to build the confidence of the primary artisans as it is to provide basic infrastructure. If you provide basic infrastructure and you have not done anything about the psyche and confidence of the average producer, what you have done is just to produce a timid child. So, this is why we chose to begin to showcase what we do even outside Nigeria.
Power infrastructure is very critical to the industry. How are you tackling that issue?
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. I spoke with Emeka Ofor, who is the EEDC boss and the Enugu DISCO, who has the licence and franchise for distribution. The idea is that you have generated electricity but you cannot distribute because somebody else is holding the end of the stick.
Resources to fund Geometrics
We brought them together and encouraged the Federal Government and they reached an agreement that after payment, 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 (retd) to Afrexim Bank where we met the President of Afrexim Bank in Cairo. The element of our discussions was also to see how they could provide the resources to fund Geometrics.
And I did not rest there, I also visited the Minister for Power and his 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 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 produce shoes and leather.
But I must say at this point that the complaint of most Nigerians is that we are looking for power for leisure, to watch TV, enjoy our ACs and that is why our capacity to pay for electricity, the cost of electricity is high everywhere and it is the industries and the companies in the environment that actually pay and subsidize the cost that domestic users pay.
But you see that we have so many domestic users and so few or little in terms of quantity industrial consumers. So if we have a good number of industrial consumers, what they pay will subsidize what the domestic consumers pay. But I think for the Aba industrial area, we are doing something about electricity, some parts of it have enjoyed electricity for two weeks uninterrupted and we are going forward from there.
Could you share your recent experience of the activities of the military in the South-East especially Abia State, the classification of IPOB as a terrorist group by the Federal Government, the role South-East governors played in that controversy?
Fundamentally speaking, I think that if the questions we ask in this country today are whether there are inequalities, gaps, people who don’t feel that they have been fairly treated either as individuals or as a family or as a geopolitical zone, the answer is yes.
Agitation in the North-East
There is agitation in the North-East, there is agitation in the South-West, of course there is agitation in the South-East but I dare say there is no other ethnic group in this country that has as much faith in Nigeria as 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 South-Westerners that are in Aba. You can count how many big businesses belonging to the people from the North-East, North-West and 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 united Nigeria. Post-war experience is that we started moving everywhere but 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.
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 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.
But while that was going on, at a point, the leadership of the South-East through Ohanaeze and the governors started engaging Nnamdi Kanu 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 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. 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 property of Abians and those that are doing business in Abia. So all that I did, the Press releases, my actions, were geared towards fulfilling my mandate which was to protect lives and property 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.
Where is Nnamdi Kanu?
I don’t think that is a fair question. I don’t have capacity to determine where Kanu is. I have never visited him. I have never called him on phone and he has never taken me into confidence as to what he does, where he goes. So, those who are close to him would answer. I don’t have capacity to monitor him and know where he is.