…Enyimba Economic city ‘ll employ 600,000 youths
By Clifford Ndujihe
Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu wants all hands on deck to create jobs for Nigeria’s youths. With Nigeria’s population projected to double in 2030, he said the recent #EndSARS protests would be a child’s play without employment opportunities for the youths.
This is the reason he said efforts must be made to make the Enyimba Economic City a success. He also, in this interview, spoke on the state of the nation, the challenges he is facing in Abia, his achievements and why he has not constructed the road leading to his community.
You were part of the Nigerian delegation at the Africa Investment Forum, AIF, in Johannesburg, South Africa, in 2019, where you made a presentation on the Enyimba Economic City. How far has the project gone?
Nigeria went to South Africa then with two projects- the Lagos Cable Car and the Enyimba Economic City. As the chief promoter of Enyimba Economic City, I delivered a speech to convince investors on the need to come and invest in the project. I must say that the Enyimba Economic City is a project I am emotional about and I want it to be the icing on my cake or the crown on my head. The project is my response to our dilemma in this country.
Our population will double by 2030 and our population is a youthful one. What would happen after 2030 if we remain the way we are without doing anything dramatic about job creation will certainly make the #EndSARS protest a child’s play. We will get to a point where man will start eating man because of hunger. So, you can imagine what will happen if our population doubles by 2030 and we have not created enough jobs for our youths.
So, we said, what is it that we can do to double-step job creation? And for us, who have thrived in manufacturing, we decided to promote the Enyimba Economic City, which is conceptualized around the vision of Dubai of ‘come, work and play.’
We will present a platform for you to come, work and live there and we have carefully chosen a site from where if you do 150 kilometres in any direction, you have covered all the states in the South-East and South-South. We chose a site that is close to the economy of Aba and Port Harcourt.
Between the two cities, we have 9,200 hectares of land and we said, let everybody come together so that we can develop the place and for the first time in the history of this country, the Federal Government has graciously granted an export free zone to the Enyimba Economic City and we have acquired the land and started mapping it out.
Of course, everything in that city would be world-class. Luckily, we have got some companies that have agreed to partner with us. We have also got someone from China, who has taken up about 200 hectares of land for the purpose of manufacturing of textile materials. This means that Aba tailors will no longer be going to China to source for materials.
We also needed to talk about the issue of power and luckily we have Geometrics, and we are hopeful that all issues around its take-off have been resolved as Afreximbank has provided the resources to do their turbines. So, everything we needed to do, we have done as agreements have been signed and we have set up a secretariat. The only issue we had was the outbreak of COVID-19, which is an act of God that nobody has control over. But we are hopeful that 2021 will see more visible progress on that project.
So, I implore all Nigerians to invest their emotions and prayers in that project because it will create over 600,000 jobs and we don’t have up to that figure in Abia State. This means that Nigerians from across the various regions would be accommodated.
It will interest you to know that the person who is managing our automated shoe factory is from the South-West because we are running it as a business. And from a selfish point of view, we want to hear the machines sing and see how our boys will not copy what the big industries are doing. That was what the Chinese did that took them to where they are today.
It is said that you have not been able to do the road that leads to your community close to six years that you have been in power. When are you going to do that road?
I will do that road, but as I said earlier, as a person, I do things that give me joy. I want to say that from 2015 up to 2020, that road was not a priority, but in 2021, it will be a priority. I am conscious that I still have more than two years to go and I am not in any court with anybody, so I am not afraid that I would be unseated.
Your administration came up with an airport project, which some elders in the state objected to on the ground that it is not a priority for now. Is the airport a priority project for Abia State given the distance between the Owerri Airport and Umuahia as well as Aba and are you still going ahead with it?
I still think that we need an airport in Abia State because assess is key if you want to grow commerce and industry. Secondly, without deriding anybody, most of the airports we have in Nigeria are not ideal airports. An airport is not a park; it is not a place where you rush to board a flight.
My ideal airport is Dubai Airport. If you go to that airport with $200,000; believe me, you are bound to spend everything there because you will see a lot of things to buy. You and I know that people fly into Dubai just to hold meetings at the airport. So, I was looking at an airport that will have a hotel, not an airport that will close by 7.pm; an airport you can say ‘I am travelling to Lagos by 7.am, so let me go there, dance at the club, have my dinner and next day I am off.’
All we wanted to do is to create an environment where money will change hands because that is how to grow the Gross Domestic Product, GDP.
Those who pass through the airports have money, and most times, they are looking for what to spend the money on but they hardly find any. What we wanted to do with the airport project was to create an economic hub; an airport with conference centres, where people can have meetings and pay, but my people said I needed to do other things. Because I am a good listener, I have decided to retain the airport as a priority project, while going back to do other things. But God willing, I will deliver that airport.
How do you intend to crystalize some of your ideas to make positive impacts on the people of Abia State?
This is a moment of frustration for any leader, so it is more far more challenging than say 16 years ago and it is the reality of the time.
However,I will say that I have done a few things that my people will always remember me for. There are things that I will not want to say but we built the first flyover in Abia State though it is not good enough that we had no flyover up till now. My people will remember that at that time there was Ogunpa flood in Oyo State; there was Ndiegoro flood and they will also remember that this government is spending N27 billion dealing with flood issue in Ndiegoro, Ngwa road, Ohanku and Obohia.
For the first time in 60 years, my administration is doing three roads with street lights in that area. The day I went to that place, I shed tears because I saw houses blocked by channels. You cannot open the ventilation because they have been blocked by the drainage system.
But I thank God that help has come as we have mobilized contractors and they are on the various sites. Waste management could not happen in those areas because the 10-ton trucks cannot go in. The day I opened Port Harcourt road in Aba; we excavated 450 trips of refuse, and in that process, we discovered a transformer. Before then, you cannot send a waste truck to the area. That is why waste management, stormwater management and road infrastructure are interwoven.
My people will also remember that in the first four years of my administration, Abia State was first in the West African Examination Council (WAEC) back-to-back and this did not just happen. We had to engage a nongovernmental organization from Australia to retrain our teachers. We had to set up a teachers’ retraining institute that had Australians and Indians to retrain our teachers.
It will also interest you to know that I have concluded plans to take 40 teachers in Abia State to Australia so that they can interact with teachers there and for them to know that a teacher here can be a teacher anywhere in the world.
By the next academic year; we will start a digital library and we have included entrepreneurial studies in our school curriculum to teach subjects like shirt-making to our students. I am not going to talk about 450 classroom blocks; I am not going to talk about four model schools, but retooling education involves the classroom environment, the teacher and the content. You must address the three.
My greatest challenge is not the classrooms; my greatest challenge is the moral of the teachers; the mindset of the teacher. If you put down money for training; most teachers are likely to opt for money rather than training. That is the thought process of most teachers in the state, which is mercantile and shouldn’t be.
My frustration as a teacher was that I couldn’t go to training anymore. Then, I said to myself, if I can’t go to Kenya here for training and listen to what others are saying; how am I sure that the formula for water is H2o. I felt that I was dying gradually and that goes back to what somebody said about perception and how Abia State has been painted in a bad light. The character of most politicians we have in Abia State is everything but patriotic. If you go to the media to demarket your state by bringing up old pictures and claim that it is how the state is, what do you really intend to achieve.
No governor comes to office to say he will do everything. I am not a dullard and I will tell you things I will do as well as the ones I am unable to do. This is even as I don’t have all the resources I require as well as the time. So, we have a bunch of people, who spend millions to demarket Abia and I will tell you why they are doing so.
They are doing so for two reasons. First, they think they will distract me. Secondly, they think I will be under pressure. But I have learnt how to turn these to my advantage because I’ve learnt to benchmark myself beyond the criticisms. The more you criticize me, the more I get fired to do more things. It is practically impossible to distract me if I set my eyes on something.
I am a system person and I brand properly and for someone whose background is the Applied Sciences, my response to issues must be precise. For instance, why will I do a road without drainage? The case of Abia is the same thing with Nigeria; social mobilization is lacking.
Our leaders have been unable to mobilize the people socially and we are like the head of a speed train, racing to a particular destination without carrying anything. You will arrive at your destination, no doubt, but what are you conveying? The difference between a good team and a bad one is the ability to synergize and work together.
In Abia, we have not been able to successfully mobilize the people because we have a critical, educated, greedy and vociferous elite, who want to hang on to power, and who believe that if they are not the ones in the saddle, everything should crumble. Those who are demarketing Abia; what will their children claim as state of origin? Somebody posted on the social media that I went to India to take an oath to mortgage Abia State when I have never been to India all my life.
And when I asked my lawyer to take him to court, so that he can prove the claim, he started pleading, saying all he did was to forward the post. Sincerely, I never took the matter seriously until my little daughter asked me if it was true that I took an oath. I felt so bad because if my own daughter cannot trust me, who else will do. So, I feel kidnapped. Sincerely speaking, I feel kidnapped but I know the intentions of those who are doing these things.
At the heat of our politicking, I challenged those who were flying in and out of Abia State to mention where they know in the state but they could not. When my people heard me mentioned their respective neighbourhoods, they believed that I know what the issues are. Some of them don’t even know about the relationship between Omuma and Osusu roads in Aba, and that if you are going to do any job on Omuma road, you must calibrate it against what you have done on Osusu road.
What they would have done is to come to Abia and start talking about what their predecessor didn’t do. Why should I talk about what my predecessor didn’t do? If he had done everything; why should I come? But because I saw some gaps when I came on board in 2015, I said: Let me get busy as I have four years and if I get re-elected, it will be eight years. So, my concern is to do things right, so that I can have my sleep because if you do something wrong and people still clap for you, it is unlikely that you will get your sleep.
In the face of dwindling allocation; how do you intend to source for funds in order to realize the dream you have for Abia State?
If I say that I had not expected dwindling allocation right from 2015, I will not be saying the truth but every government has its strategies to raise funds. You can do something about Internally Generated Revenue (IGR); you can also do something about borrowing and grants. We are doing well in terms of relationship with the World Bank and other donor agencies because I reported myself to the World Bank within the first six months of my becoming the governor of Abia State. I said to them that I know that there certain things that we are not doing right but ‘come and review our books, so that our books can be bankable.’
They came and reviewed our processes and what we are doing. So, when you hear me talk about N27 billion for Ndiegoro flood, don’t think that we broke the bank to raise the money. It was what we got from the World Bank. But of course, you have to pay your counterpart funding and send the returns they want you to send if you want them to continue to cooperate with you.
Again, I rely on God to provide the resources I need for all the great plans I have for Abia State. So, what I do is to keep planning and strategizing because I don’t want God to meet me without a plan. For me, success is opportunity meeting preparation; if the opportunity comes and you are not prepared, you would be caught unawares.
One of the major talking points ahead of 2023 general election is which of the geopolitical zones should produce the next president though many believe that in the spirit of fairness, justice and equity; it should be the South-East. What is your take on that?
Honestly, it would be unfair to ask me about 2023 because I have only spent one and a half years out of the four years I have in my second term as governor of Abia State. Since it is not possible to abridge the tenure halfway, I am fully concentrated on the governance of the state and I don’t care so much about 2023.
Having said that, I will add that members of the political class are very peculiar, so trying to predict them is always a difficult task. It is like trying to solve a puzzle without an answer. However, I believe in equity and justice. I always believe that Nigeria will grow to that realization. So, ask me that question again in 2022 and I will tell you where I stand on the 2023 presidency.
How are you partnering with the Federal Government to address the poor state of federal roads in the Abia State?
I don’t spend time on political propaganda otherwise I would have said that there is a conspiracy against Abia State. You can’t assess Umuahia from Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State; you can’t assess Aba from Port Harcourt or Ikot Ekpene, using federal roads except the roads that I did. But I gave a marching order that if the federal contractors fail to fix the roads, I was going to mobilize contractors because when you cut off access into a trading hub like Aba; what you have done is to remove oxygen for the people so that they can perish.
I do not want to say that there is a conspiracy in that line but I thank God that Arab Contractors have returned to the Aba Port Harcourt expressway. It baffles me why and how Nigeria has failed to realize the economic importance and significance of Aba and Abia State viz a vis the Port Harcourt and Aba channel as well as the Umuahia and Ikot Ekpene channel; if not, why will take up to six years to do a 30-kilometre road despite the fact that there is oil in Abia and Rivers states.
As it is, I have mobilized a contractor to commence work on the Aba-Ikot Ekpene axis from the Abia end because I understand that there is a contractor working from the Akwa Ibom end. Some people tell me that I have two and a half years left in my administration, but in reality, I have only two dry seasons left and if I throw away one, it will be a major loss for me.
They’ve told me that if I don’t have the necessary papers, nobody is going to refund the funds I am spending on the federal roads. But whether they refund or not, I am going to source for funds to save my people from the hardship they experience on that road.