By Clifford Ndujihe, Deputy Political Editor
- Dr Okezie Ikpeazu mounted the saddle of leadership in Abia State on May 29, 2015, on a promising note amid huge expectations.
He had the onerous task of assuaging some aggrieved sections of the state, especially Ukwa/Ngwa and Aba, the nerve centre of commerce and industry in the state that has been christened God’s Own State.
Since 1925, the people of the old Aba Province, populated by the Ukwa/Ngwa have always sought for political power. It was a protracted struggle that took many dimensions through time. Apart from being marginalised in terms of appointments, Aba was also neglected in terms of infrastructural maintenance.
Abia political elite, stakeholders and leaders found a solution to the Ukwa/Ngwa and Aba Question in 2015 through the Abia Charter of Equity spear-headed by the immediate past governor, Senator Theodore Orji of the People’s Democratic Party, PDP. The charter zoned the governorship to Abia South where Dr. Ikpeazu hails from because Abia North and Abia Central had taken their turns in 1999-2007 and 2007-2015 respectively.
In spite of the Charter, the Aba electorate was so aggrieved and peeved with the PDP that they gave Dr. Ikpeazu the least number of votes on his way to emergence as governor, which is consistent with provisions of the Charter. Thus, on assumption of power, Ikpeazu had the option of continuing the ‘abandonment’ of Aba and ‘taking care’ of areas that voted for him.
However, such thinking is light years away from his ideology and plans for Abia State. His vision/mission is to transform Abia State into a functional private sector-led economy creating opportunities for citizens, improving the quality of lives and shaping the state into a regional entrepreneurship hub through good governance, appropriate developmental and environmentally sustainable policies.
He wants to turn the fortunes of the state around using Aba as the launch pad. In doing that, he must also ensure that no section of Abia is neglected so as not to create another crowd of aggrieved citizenry.
Ikpeazu said in a recent interview: “Our story as a people is one of entrepreneurship, resourcefulness, and diligence. This is our pride. We have astounded the world with our home-grown technical skills, especially during a period of pervasive adversity, and followed it up with our trade and commercial prowess elevating one of our cities, Aba, into a prominent commercial hub within the West African region. This historic renown is to become our future narrative. The time is ripe to use the over 110,000 shoemakers and 50,000 garment makers as a launching pad to enable Abia to truly become the undisputed SME capital of Nigeria.”
To actualise these lofty objectives, Ikpeazu had on May 29, 2015, while assuming power, anchored his developmental agenda on the five pillars of agriculture, education, infrastructure, trade, and commerce as well as oil and gas.
Two and a half years after, has he achieved this agenda? Is he on the way to achieving it? Answers to these questions can be got from the numerous projects he has executed in all parts of the state in spite of legal distractions from those he trounced at the polls.
Since he got to the office, Ikpeazu has only had seven months of peace having spent about 24 months in court to affirm his mandate. After the Election Tribunal affirmed his election, the Appeal Court annulled it on August 11, 2016. He appealed and did not have a reprieve until the Supreme Court affirmed his election on May 12, 2017.
In spite of the distractions, Dr. Ikpeazu has executed numerous people-oriented projects, a reason he is one of Vanguard’s governors of the year. He has so unified the state such that when the Appeal Court annulled his election, stakeholders from the three zones of Abia kicked and pledged their support for him. To boost infrastructure, he embarked on construction, reconstruction and rehabilitation of over 70 roads of which about 50 have been completed, and he commenced construction of the first ever Abia interchange (flyover) at Aba.
Reconstruction and rehabilitation
The completed road projects include: Okon Aku bridge at Ohafia; Nneato Bridge leading to Eziama Umunneochi; Omeni Road – Aba; Adventist Close off Ahiaba Umeze Road, Aba; Kamalu Street, Aba; Umuocham Road, Aba; Umuehilegbu Road (erroneously called Tonimas), Aba; Umule Road, Aba; Owerri Road off Okigwe Road, Aba; Ochefu Street off Azikiwe Road, Aba; Weeks Street off Ochefu, Aba; Owerrinta Street off Ochefu, Aba; Ukaegbu Road, Aba; Umuola Road, Aba; Ehere Road, Aba; Umuobiakwa Ring Road Obingwa, Obingwa; Egbelu Mbutu/Owerenta Road, Isiala-Ngwa South; and Chima Nwafo Road, Aba.
Also completed are Afara By-Pass, Umuahia (Phase 1); Okonu-Ohafia bridge, Ohafia; Imo Ndinkpa Bridge, Umunneochi; Road 2, Housing Estate, Umuahia; Abiriba Ring Road Phase 1, Ohafia (Phase 1); Akoli Imenyi Erosion control, Bende; International Conference Centre Road, Umuahia; Ibadan Street off Ngwa Road; Agharandu Street off Ngwa Road; Emejiaka Street off Ngwa Road; and Onyebuchi Street off Ngwa Road.
Re-asphalted roads include Georges Street, Aba; Pound Road, Aba; Park Road, Aba; East Road, Aba; St Michael Road, Aba; Jubilee Road, Aba; Hospital Road, Aba; Ube Street, Aba; Adazi Street, Aba; Umuwaya Street, Umuahia; Abam Street, Umuahia; Kaduna Street, Umuahia; Awolowo Street, Umuahia; Uwalaka Link Road, Umuahia; Ubakala Street, Umuahia; Warri by Club Road, Umuahia; Niger Street, Umuahia; Mosque Street, Aba; Kent Street, Aba; and World Bank Road, and portions of Aba-Owerri road among others.
Apart from roads, Dr. Ikpeazu, who is the ambassador and chief promoter of Made-in-Aba products, recorded achievements in other sectors. They include: construction of 165,000-capacity poultry processing plant at Umuosu and commenced additional two units for Abia North and South; 300 young Abia farmers benefited from N2.5m per person grant as part of Farmpreneur project of World Bank (FADAMA); Abia State maintained first position in WAEC and NECO examinations for three consecutive years; renovated 32 schools across the three geopolitical zones; constructed 15 new water boreholes for schools; reduced school fees at ABSU, Abiapoly and College of Education Arochukwu; reactivated Aba glass factory; attracted Federal Government support for MSMEs at Aba; facilitated thousands of orders from Navy and others for Aba-made shoes and uniforms valued at over N2b; and partnered with Ford Foundation to launch international promotion campaigns for Made-In-Aba brands at zero cost to the state.
He empowered 1,000 Abians through the Government Enterprise Empowerment Programme, GEEP, that provides up to N100,000 to selected Abians; supported South-East Entrepreneurship Development Centre with N100m take-off grant to help young entrepreneurs; supported security agencies in the state with 35 vehicles that are well equipped with communication gadgets; and deployed sophisticated tracking system to tackle kidnapping and other measures, which according to reports by the Federal Office of Statistics, made Abia to record the second lowest crime rate in 2016.
The governor also made giant strides in the provision of healthcare, sports development, and deepening of democracy by conducting Local Government polls that produced elected officials at the third tier of government. It is not surprising that Dr. Ikpeazu recorded this mileage in less than three years in spite of being distracted for about 24 months because he was prepared for the job.
Born on October 18, 1964, to the family of late Pa Ishmael and Deaconess Bessie Ikpeazu of Umuebere in Umuobiakwa village, Isialaukwu Mbato Autonomous Community in Obingwa Local Government Area of Abia State, the renowned biochemist, teacher, and administrator is the fourth democratically elected governor of Abia State.
Dr. Ikpeazu attended Amaise Central Primary School, Umuobiakwa. In 1973, while in primary five, he gained admission into Eziama High School, Aba and later moved to Ihie High School, Isiala Ngwa, where he took his School Certificate Examination in 1979. In 1980, at the age of 16, he gained admission into the University of Maiduguri, UNIMAID, to study Clinical Biochemistry and graduated with a B.Sc. (Hons.) Second Class Upper Division in August 1984.
From August 1984 to August 1985, Dr. Ikpeazu served as a clinical biochemist in the medical laboratory of the Rivers State University of Science and Technology, RSUST, Port Harcourt, for his national youth service. He returned to the University of Maiduguri for an M.Sc degree in Biochemical Toxicology and graduated in 1990, and in 1994, at the age of 30, he obtained a doctorate degree, Ph.D., in Biochemical Pharmacology from the University of Calabar.
Dr. Ikpeazu served as a Graduate-Assistant in the Department of Science Laboratory Technology, University of Maiduguri, from 1986 to 1987 while studying for his M.Sc degree. He also taught at the Calabar Polytechnic from 1990 to 1992 during his Ph.D. programme. In 1998, Dr. Ikpeazu joined the services of Enugu State University of Science and Technology, ESUT as lecturer in the Department of Applied Biochemistry, and rose to Head of Department in 2001.
He was also an Adjunct Senior Lecturer, Department of Biochemistry, Ebonyi State University College of Basic Medical Sciences, between 2000 and 2002. Between 2003 and 2004, he was a Master’s degree External Examiner, to the Department of Biochemistry, University of Nigeria.
In 2002, Dr. Ikpeazu served as the Transition Committee Chairman for Obingwa Local Government Area. This marked his entry into politics. He later served as Special Adviser to the Governor of Abia State.
Dr. Ikpeazu was appointed General Manager, Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest and Safety Scheme (ASPIMSS) from 2007 to 2009. In 2010, he was appointed Chairman, Governing Council of Abia State College of Health Technology, Aba. During the period, he facilitated the accreditation of three critical courses in the institution by the NBTE.
In 2011, he was reappointed General Manager, ASPIMSS, a position he held until June 2013, when he was appointed the first Deputy General Manager, Abia State Environmental Protection Agency, ASEPA, Aba, and environs.
Dr. Ikpeazu is a devout member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. A member of the Biochemical Society of Nigeria, the Nigeria Environmental Society and Rotary Club of Eziukwu Aba. He is married to Mrs. Nkechi Okezie Ikpeazu and is blessed with four children.