By Ugochukwu Alaribe and Eric Ugbor
Chief Chidi Onyeukwu Ajaegbu, a former President of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria, ICAN, speaks on his desire to bring change to Abia Central, insisting that the incumbent senator, former Governor Theodore Orji, has recorded no achievement and should bow out in 2019. He says Orji is the reason Abia isn’t working.
Why did you join politics?
I am not new in politics. I have not run for election but many politicians from Abia have benefitted from my support: Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Eziuche Ubani, Senator Nkechi Nwaogu, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Solomon Adaelu, etc. I decided to contest election because of the level of impunity going on in Abia. I thought we could get something new from having someone with a high level of education.
I expected much from Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu than this ongoing comedy of governance in Abia. Salaries are not paid and people are dying of hunger. This is not what we bargained for. I am an APGA member; we have joined forces to rescue Abia from bad governance. Abia people have rejected PDP. The signs are clear that Alex Otti is the next governor in 2019.
You were a member of the Ikpeazu Campaign Council in 2015; at what point did you withdraw your support?
Total lack of performance; not meeting the minimum expectation; not being able to identify that Senator Theodore Orji has been the major challenge of Abia in the past 20 years. Others include not being able to understand that the interest of the state is far above that of a family and not rebuilding Aba and the economy of the state.
Ikpeazu has built some roads in Aba but the opposition appears to deny him credit?
I am resident in Aba. It is not about propaganda and media hype, but what you see on the ground and the resources that have accrued to the state since 2015 are not commensurate with the said roads rehabilitated and other realities on ground. It is clear that there is nothing on ground to justify the huge allocations that have accrued to the state. It doesn’t take rocket science to fix Aba infrastructure.
It doesn’t even need federal allocations to renew the infrastructure in Aba. The LGAs and state government collect about N5 billion monthly. The LGAs are controlled by the state by proxy. In our parlance in accounting, we look at substance over form or reality over legality, so I can conclude that Abia gets N45 billion monthly. Let’s assign a zero value to that in terms of renewing the infrastructure in Aba and also look at how we renew it without being entangled with the appropriation of monthly allocation. Aba probably has 100km network of roads, at least the strategic ones. If it is said that a world class road that will last 20 or 25 years will cost N200 million per sq.km, what this implies is that with about N40billion you can fix Aba roads over time. What this means is that you can source funds outside the monthly allocations to fix Aba knowing that it is not a bullet payment. Here, payment is made on achievements of milestones. When you award 500km road contract, payment of N40 billion is not needed; it doesn’t need to be accumulated and set aside.
If you give N30billion contract, you can get N3billion and ask the contractor to start work. If we agree that this is how it works, then it also implies that the generality of Aba residents will appreciate that there is a genuine intention to fix Aba roads, therefore they will be willing to pay tax. And if you show transparency, you can get a dedicated account to fund the renewal of Aba and get contractors of international standard; some people may even pay more than you can imagine. It has happened in Lagos. All you require is the approval of the state House of Assembly. If there is a genuine intention to fix Aba roads, you can do it through IGR and all sorts of financial engineering. You can also get multilateral institutions to support the renewal of infrastructure knowing that, at some point, Aba was the hub of West and Central African trade.
The multiplier effect of fixing Aba roads will flow across Nigeria to other countries. You can actually use empirical studies to get multilateral institutions to support your renewal efforts. And this doesn’t stop the governor from doing whatever he wants to do with the allocations. You must have a financial engineering plan to fund the renewal of Aba infrastructure. Even if you are borrowing, you are doing it in the name of the state. Government is a continuum, but the problem we have is that some governors see the state commonwealth as their personal fund. When they award contracts, they believe they are spending their personal funds. Meanwhile, the mandate was given to you in trust for the people. You must be accountable for the people’s funds. But the situation is not what it is supposed to be. This is why you have governors collecting security votes which are higher than the salary bill of the state.
You are contesting against former Senator Nkechi Nwaogu and the incumbent, Theodore Orji. How do you see your chances?
It is written in the Holy Bible that there is a time for everything. If in 12 or 20 years, you can’t find solution to society’s problems, it means that you are clueless. Therefore, it is criminal to seek to lead the people if, after 20 years, you made them worse off. Nwaogu has no business returning to the Senate. If there is anything she has forgotten at the Senate chamber, I will collect it for her in 2019.Senator Nkechi is my wife; her late husband is my kinsman. In Ngwa tradition, it is an affront for a wife to challenge her husband. If we are still at the Stone Age, I would have summoned ‘Umunna meeting’ for her, but you can see what civilization has brought. She could have been in my home cooking for me as my wife. On the other hand, I don’t think she justified the trust people reposed in her when she spent 12 years at the National Assembly.
I don’t want to go into specifics. But Nkechi knows too well that she will lose in a free and fair election. APC is not a particularly popular political party in Abia .It will be illogical to say that APC will win in Abia after ‘Python Dance’ and other things that are difficult to defend. I don’t know Nwaogu’s reason for seeking a return to the Senate and how she intends to deal with these issues. On Theodore Orji, I strongly believe that he has been the major problem of Abia and I have come out to challenge the status quo. Theodore Orji was Chief of Staff for 8 years, governor for 8 years, senator and super governor for about 4 years now. Don’t forget that Orji retired from the civil service. Abia deteriorated tremendously under his watch. I think he should bow out from the leadership of the state. He has nothing to offer the state and enough is enough. I don’t want to get into the dynamics of his troubles, but I think it is demotivational for the EFCC to say Theodore Orji’s son drives a vehicle of N100 million in the same state where salaries are not paid. This is not a press release from an opposition party, but from an anti graft agency like the EFCC which stated that Orji’s son rented an apartment which cost N13 million annually. This is unacceptable. So, when you talk of Theodore Orji being responsible for the backwardness of Abia, everybody that has played one role or the other is culpable including the media which allows itself to be used for propaganda.
We are out to correct the mistake and stop bad governance in Abia. The aspiration for Otti to be elected governor and Ajaegbu senator in 2019 has become a mass movement; it is no longer a party affair because people are tired of Theodore Orji and his men. We have mobilized for change in Abia and APGA is going to win in 2019. In 2015, Theodore Orji got 44,000 votes in Osisioma Ngwa LGA. He lost in his own LGA, Umuahia North. He also lost to someone who didn’t contest election in the real sense of it. I’m from Osisioma Ngwa, the scenario of 2015 cannot be repeated in Osisioma Ngwa LGA. Coming from Osisioma Ngwa will traditionally give me some votes. I stand a great chance of defeating Theodore Orji no matter his belief in what they call the system.
When you are elected into the Senate in 2019, what difference will you make in Abia Central?
I have a manifesto outlining my vision and how I can bring change to the zone. Outside, I believe all APGA candidates will win, everybody wants change. We all know that things aren’t going on well in Abia. The fact that we have kept silent till date doesn’t mean that we don’t know that things are going wrong.
The reason I came out to challenge the status quo is because there are several lessons from history and you are talking about the destiny of over 6 million people. Abia isn’t working. Abia is a failed state. In Abia Central, there is no representation anywhere. So, when I get into the Senate, I will turn things around. I will pursue things that will improve the lives of the people. I have done it before. I strong believe in education, to create an enabling environment for students to earn. You also need to upgrade the quality of teachers by carrying out refresher workshops as well as motivate them. We also need to expand our scholarship scheme to assist indigent students, and build skill acquisition centres in the six LGAs of the zone to train people. We will also pursue environmental uplift. If you pass through Osisioma Ngwa junction, you will realize we are living on top of plastic waste and waterproofs. We have plans to get a foreign company to recycle these plastic waste and waterproof and convert them to plastic bottles.
We will do it to create employment where some people would be paid by picking plastic containers and waterproof on the roads. If we get it right, the impact of this process would have a positive impact on our environment, clean up major road junctions where these plastic containers are dumped. We also have strong interest in infrastructure renewal. The road between Osisioma Ngwa junction and Ekeakpara market which leads into Imo River can be dualized and water channelled from Osisioma Ngwa into the river. You can rebuild or remodel the Ekeakpara market into a modern one. The axis accommodates about 200, 000 residents and, when you open the road, businessmen from Imo and Anambra will find it convenient to do business in Ekeakpara market. Prices of land and development of new areas would shoot up. It will help to decongest Aba. In Ikwuano, there is a bridge that broke off; it is less than 100km. Now, it takes people 3 hours to go round the bridge, it won’t even cost more than N150 million to fix it, but the government has not shown interest on the suffering of the people. I learnt that there is a constituency fund of about N700 million multiplied by 4 years including other legitimate money that accrues to the zone.
You probably get about N4 billion, you can conveniently clean up and make huge impact in Abia Central. We have also done our study on how best to provide electricity, potable water; it is not rocket science to change the lives of your constituents. People don’t know that if you put N2billion into the Federal Government Treasury Bill, you will get N25million monthly with your principal sum intact. So, why will you spend N20billion from state fund? There is no way N25 million won’t cover your expenses in a month. So, what will be doing with the stolen N20 billion from the state fund that attracts generational curse? This is what these people stealing from the state don’t know. I will ensure that Abia Central gets its due share of federal appointments and job placements. Don’t forget that, as a former President of ICAN, I have contacts across Nigeria and the world. I will leverage on it to turn things around. Finally, I’m a very contented person; it takes a little to maintain my family. God has already blessed me and family. I have no need to dip my hands into the public till.