Abia'll become key driver of Nigeria's economy - Gov Ikpeazu

In our series of Focus on the States, we start with Abia State, which is known as "God's Own State". Since its creation in the year 1991, Abia State has made considerable progress in various aspects of socio-economic and political development, in spite of the lean resources of the state. Abia State is, indeed, one of the most dynamic states in Nigeria. And the new helmsman in the state, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, is poised to take the state to greater heights. Dr. Ikpeazu spoke recently in Aba to THE AUTHORITY newspaper's directors JOE NWANKWO and CHUKS AKUNNA – on his vision, his dreams and hopes for Abia State.
It's been 100 days since you assumed office as the Governor of Abia State. How has it been?
Well, we are grateful to God for life and stability. Beyond that I think we have been able to define our vision clearly here, which is a huge departure from what it used to be before. Our focus today is to see how we can boost our economy and make Abia State a major contributor to the Nigerian economy going forward, without crude oil. And we are resting this our paradigm on five pillars, which are all those things we are naturally endowed with, including oil and gas, including our prowess in trade and commerce, including our ability to make things with our hands which is encouraging small and medium scale enterprises.
Within the past 100 days we have been able to establish the enabling environment that will support these pillars of growth such that we are on 31 roads across the three senatorial districts. Of course with more of them around the Aba axis, just because of the reason that we think that Aba can drive the economy of Abia State going forward in terms of Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) and attracting investors. We are also launching today what we call our education for employment, which is laying emphasis on the re activity on and reinvigoration of technical education to make sure that secondary school graduates and those produced from our polytechnics are capable of being attractive to employers. Because we understand that it is possible to be unemployed and it is also possible to be unemployable. So, we are looking towards producing people that are employable and that is why we are starting from the readmission of one technical school each in each senatorial district.
And as I speak, about 29 shoemakers and garment producers from Abia State are in Turkey. I was there with them a few days ago trying to see if we can get the requisite technology to mechanise our shoe production. That will place us where we can now establish with pride what we call the Aba brand and to be able to design and do mass production of these items to compete with those who are producing similar items across the globe. By the time they come back and start with our fabrication cluster which will service the machine and leather cluster and then we take it up from there. Our aim is to make sure that we are the major supplier of shoes and military gear to our military and paramilitary establishments in this country within 18 months. So, these are some of the things that we have done. Re-activated the Umuahia water scheme, we re-activated the Abiriba water scheme. We are working on the Uturu water scheme for strategic reasons because that is our university town. And water is important for that community.
In other areas like electricity we have recorded several successes. On the 25th of last month we commissioned two electricity projects. It's remarkable because these areas that are benefitting had never, for the first time since the history of mankind, seen what electricity power was like. We have succeeded and as I speak, the light is on. So, I would say that we have captured the entire gamut of what we term an enabler that will drive the pillars of our development in the first 100 days.
And we will tar up all the roads as soon as the rains subside because we have had very serious issues of rain, 60 days continuous rain around here. And it hasn't been easy for our contractors to meet deadlines. But we are making progress given our circumstances. And most importantly we are more hopeful today than we were when we started, that it is possible to re-launch going forward, so, that is what our score card is like.
On the Urban renewal project especially in Aba, for the past 60 days or so, we have done 100 trips of garbage every evening including yesterday. I was up till 3am yesterday. The whole street was covered by garbage and beneath that street was good asphalts. So, we are going to clean up that street and wash it and maybe patch up the pot holes on that street. I wonder what would have happened to Aba if we did not embark on that visit. Probably the city would have been submerged by now given the volume of rain this year.
Besides that we have knocked down a few things and I just received the report of those that are doing the market upgrade. For us there are 15 markets in Aba and that has somewhat removed oxygen from the city and if we don't do anything about ventilating those markets and opening them up we may have problems. One, the markets won't be good enough environment for business because some of the shops have blocked the flow of water and drainage ways leading to serious flooding within the markets. So, in terms of market upgrade we are going to go into that massively in the days ahead. And we are also working towards very strategic roads that are federal roads but which are key to what we are doing, like Port Harcourt and Ikot Ikpene roads for instance, they are in very bad shape and those roads are of strategic economic importance to us.
So, we are relating with the Federal Government to see if we can get the authority to do them, and then explore the possibilities of refunding us the money we spent in the days ahead. I think today in Aba, this is for the first time we go about knocking down people's houses and things that are on the right of way without any untoward repercussion from the people. They seem to be happy with what we are doing because we have been able to match our actions with serious positive activities in terms of upgrading. And every street that we do today in Aba, part of the design is that it must come with a drainage plan and we are doing a sub-base with concrete before asphalt on concrete for all the internal routes.
And all the internal routes will be finished with street lights. The idea is to enhance the security and also make sure that we can extend the business hours. Because if you have street lights people can be up and trading even till 9pm or thereabouts. So, by extension we have also established Committees for the upgrade of our sub-urban centres like Umuoba, Ubausi, Ovim and Ohaofia.
Within the next 100 days we will be trying to do a world class golf course with an events centre around the rolling hills of Ohaofia. And beyond that we would have laid the foundation for that our industrial cluster and taken off from there.
How do we see Abia State going forward?
We are, like I said earlier, more hopeful now of a glorious future than we were before. But I must also mention that we have done quite a lot in terms of rationalization of our civil service and public service thinking. We went after ghost workers. And in the past 90 days or so we've been able to save nearly N300 million and we are still pushing the frontiers of that exercise. We know that there are still more ghost workers under the carpet and we will eventually fish them out. We have paid our salaries up to date in the current months but there are a few arrears which we will clear before the end of October. I am sure that by the end of October the issue of salary arrears in Abia State will be a thing of the past completely.
I think that what I would expect in the days ahead is that the Abia State public service, and in fact the citizens of Abia State will key into this new paradigm which is to do things in a different way to create a buy-in to do some social mobilization so that everybody will be on the same page to know that in the ocean of survival in this country it is all man to himself.
Every state must think positively and then, beyond Abia, we also think about sub regional integration to see if we can make the South East the beautiful bride of this country. I must say that I see the world everywhere especially Nigeria or wherever even in the family as a platform full of inequalities. How you respond to your inequality will determine whether you will survive or not. For us the Igbos I do not think that the way to respond is to cry all the time. The best way to respond is to establish ourselves. The Jews are not the presidents in the various countries they operate but you cannot talk about politics or economy of America today without mentioning the Jews. So, I would want a situation where we can look inwards and establish ourselves. Find one thing and establish ourselves in that area and Nigeria will look at that direction. I don't think what we need to do today is to begin to cry but we should respond and that is my take about how we should respond.
Most state governments are crying of paucity of funds. You've not been heard to raise the alarm. What is the magic?
That is a devolution from my line of thought and mind set. I don't like to respond to issues by crying. I like to respond to issues by taking steps. My response to the global cash crunch is to cut costs, to make sure I pay only those who are working, to make sure that I plug all the loopholes; to make sure I grow my internally generated revenue, to make sure that I establish my state as the number one small and medium enterprises hub of this country. That is my way of responding.
How do you intend to strengthen business in Aba and Port Harcourt without doing the roads between Abia and Port Harcourt?
I alluded to it earlier. It's not about Port Harcourt road alone; even Ikot Ekpene Road. What makes Aba strategic is that it is 30 minutes away from Port Harcourt, 30 minutes away from Ikot Ekpene, 30 minutes from Umuahia, 30 minutes from the centre of everywhere. But unfortunately the roads that connect one state to the other are the responsibilities of the federal government. So, we have opened up discussions with the federal government. Three options: If they won't do those roads for us let them grant us leave to do them. Also explore the possibility and then we will get a refund later or we can collaborate within the states to do the roads because what people want today are beautiful roads. If they are tolled and they have to pay a little to go through, it doesn't matter, provided what is collected is used for the maintenance of that access. And that is what we are crying for.

Abia'll become key driver of Nigeria's economy - Gov Ikpeazu Abia'll become key driver of Nigeria's economy - Gov Ikpeazu Reviewed by Unknown on Friday, October 02, 2015 Rating: 5

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