Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State in this interview presents his scorecard in several sectors of the polity even as he tells those yet to feel the full impact of his administration that help is on the way. Excerpts:
By Levinus Nwabughiogu
I t’s been three and a half years since Abians gave you their mandate. What has happened in that period?
I want to say that it has been three and a half years of hard work, painstaking planning, constant monitoring and evaluation of our assignments. What has made the job a little more interesting for us is that we had a clear vision of what we wanted to do, and we also spent a lot of time developing strategies, and evolving strategies that to help deliver our mandates and some of these strategies are not classical pieces of information from the regular books of economics or development in other climes; we had to do some homegrown devices and strategies to suit our peculiar circumstances in Abia state.
We decided to look at how best we can deliver on our vision which is to create a better life for our people and to make Abia a destination for trade and commerce as well as an environment and ecosystem for small and medium scale enterprises. And in order to achieve this, we looked at the pillars based on the things we think we had comparative and competitive advantage over other states. Prominent among them is trade and commerce because every Igbo man is acclaimed to be a good trader and in Abia, we have a good robust complement of very successful traders than even the Lebanese.
For us to deliver on Faulks road, it took us seven months of the painstaking plan. I sacked a contractor working on that road when I saw he had no solution to our problem and he was completely clueless about what we needed to do; then we got Setraco. When we got Setraco, we also insisted that they should post a site engineer from Netherland who are the best in underwater management to come and then give us a plan.
Of course, we also had local consultants based in Enugu plus the input from the World Bank, and we designed that road, which comes with it 6.5kms of underground drainage with pumps, pumping intermittently along the way to waterside from Ife-Obara. So as we were dredging waterside, we were also dredging Ife-Obara. The strategy here is to make sure that Ife-Obara is large enough to take water in its full capacity.
So, it is on this engineering masterpiece we have now laid our asphalt, and that is why for the past three years that we started the road, Ama Ikonne and Ife-Obara that used to be a problem are no longer a problem.
Having delivered on Faulks road with that drainage, the next logical step was to kick in with Osusu Road which tangents on Faulks road because there is now drainage on Faulks Road. Osusu road is now ready to go, and we have started construction on Faulks road and Osusu road.
How would you react to the concerns expressed by many on none payment of salary? Isn’t this a dent on your government?
It is just an orchestrated campaign of calumny. So, there is nothing to say apart from salary. And by December 24th every worker that we paid here went home with his salary, but I must admit that I think the local government owes one and a half month salary. And I was the first elected governor after 2015 that did local government election, and I am sure in the next one or two they will clear it, and that would be it. I must also confess that I have a problem with secondary school teachers because I owe them about 3months or so and the major problem is that we took much more than we can bite.
When we did the local government election, we were supposed to unbundle the junior secondary school teachers because they are under UBEC, in other states they are paid by the local government put we took them up thinking that our fortune could carry so that we can allow more money in the local government system for them to do some projects. So to them, I say to them that help is on its way that we are going to deal with it. So what you hear about salary is just propaganda.
One of them said a parastatal like Abia line that I should go and find money and pay, why should I pay Abia Line? It is called Abia Line Nigeria Ltd; they put buses on the highway, I can guarantee loan for them. But if you get 20, 30, 40 brand new buses and you employ drivers and conductors, and they drive from Abia to Lagos for ten times, pay them since you are not giving the government the money. I will not pay them for you.
Why do you think some people doubt the authenticity of the Enyimba Economic City?
Two things, selective amnesia, and desperation and the third reason is worse, ignorance, if somebody is ignorant it is incurable because before I was rating a lot of people highly but a few things that have happened in the past weeks have exposed how peripheral their thinking is. For somebody not to know that it wasn’t Nbakwe that built golden breweries, Ohabele oil palm estate. For somebody to say today that golden brewery is moribund after seeing the pictures of the officers of the bank of industry taking about again for commissioning and you haven’t been there, you sit somewhere in Lagos and say such. Anybody who can say that will ignore the presence of an elephant if he sees one.
What have you done in Education?
Abia has come first in WAEC back to back for the past four years or so. When it happened the first time they said it was a mistake, the second time they said it was a coincidence but the fourth, I think they have come to admit that there is something deliberate that is happening here and what is that?
When we came here we didn’t need anybody to tell us that there was problem with our teachers and we didn’t need anybody to tell us that a teacher cannot offer what he doesn’t have; so the product must be equivalent for the capacity of the teacher to deliver. Therefore we knew that the NTI programme of the federal government was trying to play catch up between the southern states and the gap in the northern states and then all kinds of teachers were churned out overnight, whereas that could serve the purpose of the north as it were then, but then it has diluted what we used to have here.
So we started by exposing our primary school teachers to a retraining programme, a deliberate and painstaking retraining programme using Australia NGO to get what we wanted to achieve. As I speak over 3,000 teachers, have gone through that programme and it has culminated into the establishment of Abia Teacher Training Continuing Education Centre at Umuahia. About 40 of our teachers are at the verge of going to Australia for an exchange programme which the NGO is supporting also.
What have you done in sports?
In terms of soccer, Abia is the only state in Nigeria that has two premiership clubs; Enyimba and Abia Warriors; we have other lesser known clubs like Abia Angels. Most states that are richer than Abia cannot even maintain one club, but we have two. Enyimba is a brand, and it is the only club in Nigeria that has won CAF cup back to back. When we came, we discovered that we didn’t have a stadium that will match the pedigree and the popularity of Enyimba. The last time I watched soccer there before I became governor, it rained, and they had to bring in mattresses to soak water from the pitch, so we needed to do something about that.
The stadium as big as it was then had no toilet. As at today, we did a complete turnaround starting with the turf. We had to import the latest turf in the market, semi-synthetic, 95% natural, 5% synthetic and that pitch is one of the biggest in the world today, and we put 32 toilets including the one for people that are physically challenged. And today I am proud to say that legacy is also tied to our name. W are going to run strong on two things; one is the Enyimba Economic City which for us holds the promise of creating a silent but welcome revolution around the industrialisation process of not only Nigeria but Africa.