By John Okiyi Kalu
After watching the video of the governorship campaign launch of factional candidate of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) in Abia State, Mazi Alex Otti, it dawned on me that he just might be a closet fan of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s school of good governance, only that quest for the title of “Governor of Abia State” has made it difficult for him to acknowledge that and join hands with the incumbent to develop the state.
This piece is not necessarily about the political desperation of Mazi Otti that compelled him to claim Isiala Ngwa instead of Arochukwu as his place pf birth and made him to claim that he had secured a $100b facility from the International Financial Corporation (IFC) to fix Aba in 2015 at the premises of Aba Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ACCIMA).
I will rather focus on examining the content of the recent video of Otti vis-à-vis what Governor Ikpeazu has done and continued doing since May 29, 2015, and leave you to confirm if indeed Otti is merely a fan of Governor Ikpeazu’s school of administration but wants power himself.
Before embarking on this review, it is important to remind Abians that in those 16 years Otti mentioned as bad years of PDP in Abia State he was not only a member of the Party who registered at Arochukwu Ward III, as at July 18, 2014, with membership card number 16 but also one that could be rightly referred to as a chieftain of the party. He was also a key stakeholder of the party who publicly and privately romanced the leaders of Abia State, did business with the state, helped to manage the state’s FAAC and pension accounts and indeed declared to contest for Governor under PDP.
Not even once did Otti criticise the Orjj Kalu or T. A. Orji Governments in public until he found himself zoned out of the Governorship by our State’s charter of equity. If PDP of those years was indeed an evil party that misled Abia State, when will Otti take personal responsibility for being part of the so called evil cabal?
The only time Alex Otti has not been involved with Abia leadership is under Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and even the worst critic of the incumbent Governor has acknowledged that while he has not solved all Abia challenges in less than 4 years, he has certainly solved many, changed the narrative and shown capacity cum willingness to do much more for the state.
If indeed more than N2 Trillion naira was frittered away by political leaders in Abia State within the period Otti mentioned, the real question should be how much of that passed through him directly and indirectly? What did he say or do while the alleged rape of Abia’s treasury happened?
A former Governor of Abia State is currently facing criminal trial over allegations of looting N7.2 billion from our treasury but for some inexplicable reasons Otti curiously failed to mention that but decided to comment on a mere allegation against another former Governor of Abia State who Otti also worked with but fell out with because he nobly chose to support our charter of equity that zoned the Governorship to Abia South Senatorial zone.
Even Otti must know that EFCC invitation does not approximate to conviction given that he (Otti) had also been severally invited by the anti-graft agency including to explain how N2.2bn developed legs under a former Governor of Ekiti State. Is it to be accepted that because Otti visited EFCC severally that it constitutes his conclusive indictment for corruption?
Interestingly, the former Governor of Abia State Otti made reference to is in Umuahia campaigning for re-election while the one he conveniently forgot to mention is battling to regain his freedom from EFCC and the courts.
While the Otti video should rightly be seen as his proposition to Ndi Abia in order to get their votes in 2019, a cursory review of his solutions will reveal that he is merely regurgitating what Governor Ikpeazu is already doing with measurable degree of great success.
Permit me to take the Otti campaign proposal one by one and highlight what Governor Ikpeazu has done or is doing already on each item.
- Make the payment of salaries a first item in the budget
Since his inauguration in 2015 Governor Ikpeazu made payment of salaries a first item in the budget.
I can boldly state, without any fear of contradiction, that there is no single month that the administration of Governor Ikpeazu did not pay salaries to workers, especially those the state government has statutory responsibility to pay.
Granted that Mazi Otti has ZERO public sector management experience, it should still be easy for him to understand that there were months where revenue inflow to the state were far below the wage bill of the state, which remains the highest in the south east region even when forensically reduced from the level inherited by the Ikpeazu-led administration to the current N2.7 billion level.
For instance, FAAC receipts for October, November and December 2015 hovered around N1.6b and N1.9b whereas the state’s wage bill was around N2.7 billion with internally generated revenue receipt standing at about N500m monthly average.
In those months of crushing economic crises leading up to the full entrance of Nigeria economy into the recession, Governor Ikpeazu paid workers first while those who could not be paid were the first to be paid the next month.
Obviously what Otti would have done differently would probably have been to borrow from commercial banks at high interest rates to bridge the gap or implement his much talked about downward review of salaries and “restructuring of the civil service in Abia State” which is an alternative phrase for mass retrenchment of Abia workers.
If what the Otti has against Governor Ikpeazu is his refusal to SACK Abia workers or pay them only a fraction of their actual monthly salary, as other states did, I don’t think Governor Ikpeazu should apologize for that.
The Ikpeazu economic management philosophy does not have provision for throwing Abia workers and their families into joblessness at a time of economic recession and socio-economic challenges. He will rather seek ways to improve the revenue base of the state in the short and long run than to inflict pains on Abia families and further hurt the social support structure keeping thousands of families away from starvation and crimes.
Interestingly, Mazi Otti who started his 2019 Governorship campaign on purported non-payment of salaries by the Ikpeazu administration may have become better educated on the actual state of affairs in that regard. Governor Ikpeazu does not owe any of the workers his government is statutorily expected to pay, as civil servants in all the 72 units that make up the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the state government are up to date in salary payment and have already started receiving November 2018 wages as at today, December 7, 2018.
I wish to recommend that Mazi Otti get a copy of the legal instrument setting up state parastatals like Abia State University, Abia State Polytechnic, Health Management Board, Arochukwu College of Education, ABSUTH etc and educate himself on the fact that by law they are not paid by the state government and also do not remit any portion of their revenue to state coffers.
The law setting up state parastatals gave their managers the statutory power to generate revenue from their day to day operations and use same to pay workers and run the establishments without remitting one kobo to the state account. It is for this reason of financial autonomy that while some parastatals like Abia State Polytechnic whose revenue base is dwindling are experiencing challenges with regular payment of their workers whereas others like the Abia State University, Uturu, are up to date in workers’ wages payment even as their revenue continue to grow.
Interestingly, the current administration has given more financial support to Abia State Polytechnic than it has done to Abia State University. When Governor Ikpeazu came on board, he paid off N2bn commercial bank loan that allegedly crippled the operations of Abia State Polytechnic then, and in addition, In the past 3 weeks, the state government has paid N200m as subventions to Abiapoly. Yet, ABSU is already paying November 2018 salaries whereas Abiapoly is months behind.
Governor Ikpeazu will continue to help financially ailing parastatals in the state to come out of distress without towing the preferred line of Mazi Otti: SACK, WAGE REDUCTION and RETRENCHMENT of workers as a show of “strong leadership”.
To Governor Ikpeazu, no worker needs to be retrenched or have his or her wages slashed as the managers of those financially challenged institutions only need to grow their internally generated revenue above their current wage levels and manage their expenditure within what they make monthly.
Mazi Otti should also verify the actual debt profile of the state as published by the Debt Management Office of the federal government, to see that Abia State Government led by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is among the least indebted in the federation and is yet to take any loan from any commercial bank, unlike in the past.
Contrary to the posturing of Otti and other opposition politicians, Abia State which occupies the 26th position in terms of revenue is currently rated among the top 10 in regular salary payment.
It is possible that due to his zero attention to details, Mr. Otti may not have known that Abia State is only a marginal oil producing state with only four oil wells whereas Delta has 72, Rivers 77, Edo 12, Bayelsa 56, Akwa Ibom 54, Imo 10 and Ondo 16. On the average, Abia received about N300m as 13% derivation payment monthly.
- Make Abia State safe and secure
Under the watch of Governor Ikpeazu, Abia State is rated the “Most Peaceful State in Nigeria” and statistically the second safest state in Nigeria, according to National Bureau of Statistics. A recent report by the highly rated Vanguard Newspaper indicates that the state is by far the safest in the South East Region. All that speaks to the premium Governor Ikpeazu places on securing the lives and properties of Abians, residents and visitors to the state included.
- Create a new future for the youths
The best way to create a new and better future for Abia Youths is through education and job creation. It is therefore important to note that under Governor Ikpeazu’s watch, Abia State came first in West Africa School Certificate Examinations (WASCE), back to back, for three years.
Also, public school enrollment has increased from about 142,000 in 2015 to the current 634,000 pupils and a public primary school in Ohafia Local Government Area of Abia State was rated as the 3rd best among others in the 36 states of the federation by the federal ministry of education. Our school children have been awarded the best in various local and international academic competitions.
On job creation, Governor Ikpeazu has pursued a model of education for employment to train our people in various technical skills that would ultimately make them employers of labor as well as acquire relevant skills to drive the unfolding industrial revolution in the state.
As is well known in the country, Governor Ikpeazu has gone further to promote entrepreneurship in the state through various skill development and capacity building programs which includes sending 30 Abia shoe makers to China to learn automated shoe making. Today, automated shoe making equipment has arrived the state from China and are currently being deployed at a new factory that will serve as the incubator for the emergence of automated shoe factories, a project that will soon be replicated across the state.
The administration has also supported the resuscitation of hitherto moribund factories, such as Golden Guinea Brewery and Aba Glass Industry, all in a bid to support job creation. Much more is in the pipeline.
- Transform Abia into the Dubai of Africa
The vague sloganeering on transforming Abia overnight to Dubai is typical of the previous political statements made by Mazi Otti, including his much celebrated statement that he has obtained, as a private citizen, One Hundred Billion US Dollars ($100,000,000,000) loan from International Financial Corporation (IFC) to develop an industrial park at Aba, a statement which eventually turned out to be an effort at hypnotizing Abia voters to obtain their precious votes by trick.
It is on record that Governor Ikpeazu has practically and verifiably moved to establish Enyimba Economic City (EEC) with the project already approved by the Federal Government of Nigeria while President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration has already made budgetary commitment to invest an initial N10,000,000,000 in the project.
On the 7th of December 2018, Abia, federal government and the private sector promoters of Enyimba Economic City endorsed a definitive agreement that was witnessed by President Buhari. President Buhari is expected to perform the groundbreaking for Enyimba Economic City early next year.
World’s biggest Chinese Textile manufacturing company, Ruyi Group, has also committed to an initial investment of a minimum of $2,500,000,000 in the New city located between Aba and Rivers State.
In addition, the federal government has granted the status of a free trade zone (FTZ) to the EEC.
While Mazi Otti is dreaming of “transforming Abia to Dubai” Governor Ikpeazu is already creating a new Dubai within a 9,300 square meters of Abia land with steady power supply to the commercial city of Aba expected to be one of the benefits of this massive project touted by experts as the single biggest investment and industrialization drive in post-civil war South East Region.
- Launch a revolution for SMEs and large scale industries
Governor Ikpeazu launched his revolutionary support for SMEs and large scale industries from day one of his administration through the well thought out planning and execution of Made in Aba promotion. His efforts have already delivered wealth and jobs to Abians and he has won awards from even the federal government and reputable newspapers for his focused efforts particularly on this.
Under Ikpeazu, Abia State was designated as the SME capital of Nigeria by the Presidency which also supported the efforts of the government by partnering with the Ikpeazu administration to provide steady power supply to shops in Ariaria market and license Ariaria Power generation and power distribution companies.
It is in eloquent support of the growth of our SMEs that Governor Ikpeazu embarked on the construction and reconstruction of 67 socio-economically important roads in the state with 94 other road projects, including Faulks (Ariaria) road, first ever interchange (flyover) in Abia State, reconstruction of Port Harcourt Road, Aba, ongoing reconstruction of Aba Road, Umuahia etc.
- Create export free zones to stimulate industry and commerce
Again, Mazi Otti and his handlers got this one very wrong. State Governments don’t create export free zones. Only the federal government can create and license such zones.
As earlier pointed out, the new Enyimba Economic City that Governor Ikpeazu is developing has already been licensed by the federal government as a Free Trade Zone (FTZ) with adjunct license to operate as an export processing zone. The promoters have paid $600,000 to the federal government in lieu of the relevant licenses issued for Enyimba Free Trade Zone and Enyimba Economic City.
- Guarantee free and compulsory education up to secondary school
While I don’t like comparing south east states, suffice it to point out that while a neighboring state government made similar promises to win votes, in practice the promise of free education by states, has, in the least, been found to be deceptive and at best non value adding.
In the first place, education is already FREE and compulsory in Nigeria from primary to junior secondary school (JSS) level courtesy of a deliberate federal government policy.
It is also true that Abia School Children, under Ikpeazu have outperformed their peers from all the states in Nigeria, including those “offering” the same dubious guarantee of “free and compulsory education up to secondary school”.
Mazi Otti, if a system is not broken don’t promise to fix it.
Governor Ikpeazu is already further improving the Abia School System through the retraining of teachers, construction of 359 new classroom blocks and pioneering efforts in the free school feeding program. While the federal government has taken over the feeding of primary 1-3 pupils in our primary schools, Governor Ikpeazu is feeding primary 4-6 pupils. Hence, in the whole of Nigeria ONLY Abia State has primary 1-6 pupils receiving FREE school meals every school day.
- Promote sports and culture as a vehicle to creating jobs and recreation for the youths
Again, this is another proposition by Mazi Otti that Governor Ikpeazu is already implementing. Within the limits imposed by the state’s lean financial resources, Governor Ikpeazu is the only Governor in Nigeria today that is sponsoring 3 premier league status football clubs: Enyimba International FC of Aba, Abia Warriors of Umuahia and Abia Angels.
Governor Ikpeazu has received national accolades for the transformation of Enyimba Stadium at Aba to a modern playing turf now rated as the second biggest playing turf in the world.
The process of transformation of state owned sports and culture facilities to revenue yielding ventures has long commenced under Governor Ikpeazu with verifiable good results. In the coming years, these painstaking efforts will deliver greater results.
- Establish and run an accountable and transparent government you can trust
It is remarkable to note that members of Nigeria Governors Forum recognised and gave accolades to Governor Ikpeazu for his transparent and prudent management of Paris Club Refunds. Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC) also applauded Governor Ikpeazu’s transparent management of Abia resources.
Under the watch of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, Government accountability is at its highest level, since the creation of the state. The people of the state know about every kobo received by the government and the Governor and members of his cabinet have always been willing to directly engage the people on every aspect of governance.
In a recently published interview, Governor Ikpeazu made the following verifiable assertion:
“I place it on record that I am one of the most open Governors and political leaders in Nigeria with the frequency of my interactions with the people. I have held a total of 18 Town Hall Meetings with Abians in Abia State and outside the State and 34 uncensored live phone-in Radio and TV programmes in the last 3 years. This is in recognition of the fact that we derive our mandate from you the people and we are accountable to you. My frequent interactions with you have enriched my understanding of your problems and needs and has further sharpened my focus and determination to serve you better”.
Indeed Governor Ikpeazu is already what Otti is dreaming of becoming to Abians and doing much more than Otti is proposing or hoping to achieve.
- Establish the Abia safety net, a social welfare scheme designed to cater for the aged, widows and the poor.
In November 2017, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu launched the Free Home Health Care Initiative for senior citizens of the state and provided operational vehicles and resources for the first of its kind social welfare scheme in Nigeria. Field reports and testimonies have long confirmed the program to be highly successful.
In addition to that, Mrs. Nkechi Ikpeazu, the wife of Governor Ikpeazu, is leading the widows and indigent women free home scheme that has to date constructed 51 houses donated to widows and indigent women across the state. She has also empowered more than 6,000 women through skill training and provision of take-off materials, funds as well as built and commissioned more 17 modern markets for rural women.
Mrs. Ikpeazu has also been at the forefront of leading advocacy on prevention of sickle cell anaemia, protection of the rights of the girl child and payment of hospital bills for indigent persons.
It is good to watch and read Mazi Alex Otti state for the first time his plans and programs to develop Abia as against his previous focus on dwelling on those things Governor Ikpeazu has not done yet, as if three and half years is enough to solve all the challenges in Abia State.
What he failed to state are the things already done by Governor Ikpeazu and, obviously, with his advertised manifesto, it should be clear to all that his best propositions are simply a compendium of what the incumbent is already doing.
Will Abians ever agree to trade the inferior “I will do” for the superior “I have done”? Governor Ikpeazu’s work speaks eloquently for him and while he has never laid claims to solving all Abia problems, Abians are assured that he is ready to do much more than he has done already.
If not for personal political desperation, Otti would most likely have voted for Governor Ikpeazu of PDP in 2019.
The next 4 years, Abia State under Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, will witness the consolidation and accelerated phase of the implementation of the 5 pillars of the Ikpeazu administration: Education, Agriculture, SME development, Trade & Commerce and Oil & Gas resources development.
I urge Abians to keep faith with the symbol of equity and high performing hope vendor of Abia State, Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, PhD. We have not arrived at where we wish to be, as a state, but even the published manifestoes of the opponents of the Governor confirm that we are on the right course and making good progress.
John Okiyi Kalu is Commissioner for Information, Abia State