By Enyinnaya Appolos
The 2017 Democracy Day celebration on the 29th of May in Abia State will remain an issue of public discourse for a while because of the uniqueness of the celebration. Some folks who have served in previous governments in the state must have thought it would be business as usual and follow the regular scripts. Plans, proposals and budget running into millions of naira, put together by some top government functionaries, was ready, waiting for the Governor’s red ink.
As at Friday, May 26, not even a dime has been made available to anybody for the ‘almighty’ May 29 Democracy Day celebration. It was on Saturday, May 27 that the Governor gave audience to some topshots of the government who had came from Umuahia to the Governor’s Lodge in Aba for the long awaited red ink.
Prudently, and after painstaking study of the proposal before him, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu gave an approval that was considered a far cry from what was expected.
Again, many had thought that, having won the final case against his election at the Supreme Court on the 12th of May, Governor Ikpeazu would have ordinarily succumbed to the pervading feelings and suggestions that he should use the May 29 democracy day for an elaborate double-barrel outing; marking his second term in office, celebrating democracy day and celebrating his second and final victory at the Supreme Court over Uche Ogah, Alex Otti and Friday Nwosu.
Governor Ikpeazu shocked everybody, starting with his close aides. First, he instructed the Secretary to the State Government, who was chairman of the planing committee to extend invitations to the May 29 democracy day celebration to every Abian, including former Governor Orji Uzo Kalu, Uche Ogah, Alex Otti and Friday Nwosu, that would have ordinarily been described as his political foes. He beckoned on every Abian, not minding their political affiliations to join in the event marking the return of democracy to Nigeria.
On Sunday, May 28, an interdenominational thanksgiving was held to mark the second year anniversary of the Governor in office at the Abia State International Conference Center in Umuahia.
Immediately after the thanksgiving service, by the evening of Sunday 28, the Governor, alongside his Deputy, Sir Udo Oko Chukwu, and the “who is who” in Abia politics returned to the conference center to listen to the Commissioners as they present their scorecard of achievements in their various ministries. It was the first time in Abia that such a public review by stakeholders held.
The event which started at 6pm lasted till 12.30 am, with the Governor and all other invited guests in attendance.
On Monday May 29, while Abians were waiting and hoping to attend the usual gathering at either Umuahia township stadium or the Abia State International Conference Center, Umuahia, for the celebration of long flowery speeches, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, chose to embark on a state wide tour of some ongoing projects and commissioning of completed ones with stakeholders in the Abia project.
As early as 8am, on Monday May 29, the buses where lined up and ready to move for the business of the day.
Abia leaders, including Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe, Senator Mao Ohuabunwa, Hon. Uko Nkole, Hon. Sam Onuigbo, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, Col Austin Akobundu, Prof Mkpa Agu Mkpa, Chief Mba Ukariwo, Chief Okezie Anyamele, Chief Allen Nwachukwu, Chief Acho Nwakanma, the members of the State House of Assembly led by the Speaker, Rt. Hon Chikwendu Kalu and his Deputy Hon. Cosmos Ndukwe, cabinet officials etc were in government house to join the Governor and his Deputy, Sir Udo Oko Chukwu, to embark on the tour.
The tour buses left Government House Umuahia at about 9:30am
First stop was the inspection of Abia State Mushroom farm located at the headquarters of the State’s ministry of Agriculture, where the performing Commissioner for Agriculture, Hon. Uzo Azubuike, conducted the Governor and his entourage round the farm. Senators Abaribe and Ohuabunwa were given the opportunity to harvest mushrooms.
From the mushroom farm the train left for Arochukwu, where energetic and hardworking Commissioner for Works, Hon. Eziuche Ubani was already on ground at the ongoing Ndi Okereke Bridge to brief the Governor and his team on progress so far made.
From Arochukwu, the convoy returned to Umuahia and inspected the ongoing reconstruction of Aba Road in Umuahia by Arab Contractors.
Already pressed for time, the team left Umuahia to the location of ongoing Umuocheala road at Isiala Ngwa south and from there to the ongoing Osisioma flyover before heading to MCC/Samek road and Faulks Road/ Ifeobara basin at Aba north.
At about 3pm, the convoy arrived the Ndiegoro area of Aba, off Ngwa Road, in Aba SouthLGA, where the Governor commissioned four cluster of streets, namely; Aharandu, Onyebuchi, Enejiaka, and Ibadan Streets to the delight and lavish celebration of residents of the area who have never witnessed anything of that sort for more than 60 years.
The stakeholders team later moved to Obingwa and inspected three different active sites, including the ongoing expansion of Ururuka road, the ongoing construction of Owoahiafo/Onicha Ngwa Road, and also ongoing Umuaro-Ekwereazu Ngwa road. The last two roads are expected to provide alternative links to Akwa Ibom State as the federal government is yet to complete the reconstruction of Ana-Ikot Ekpene Highway.
The convoy then returned to Isiala Ngwa south again, and inspected the Umuokoro-Umuoba road.
The final inspection for the day held at about 6pm at Umunkpei-Amaiyi road in Isiala Ngwa north and the convoy returned to Government House Umuahia, after 11hrs.
For the stakeholders, it was an eye opening engagement as summarized by the retort of Chief Mba Ukariwo; “I have never seen anything like this since my involvement in Abia politics, honestly I didn’t know Governor Ikpeazu was doing so much work even while he was battling with court cases”.
Governor Ikpeazu was sworn in as the fourth democratically elected Governor of Abia State on May 29, 2015. May 29, 2017 marked exactly his two years in office.
Within this period under review, Governor Ikpeazu was jointly distracted with various frivolous court cases by the trio of Uche Ogah, Alex Otti and Friday Nwosu, who dragged him from tribunal, High Court up to the Supreme Court twice, and he emerged victorious, with the mandate given to him by Abians, supremely confirmed.
Despite the distractions and paucity of funds, Governor Ikpeazu kept his eyes on the ball, bearing in mind the promises he made to Ndi Abia during the electioneering campaigns. In other words, if Governor Ikpeazu were like others, the two years of distraction, coupled with the economy that went into recession, was enough excuse not to perform. Yet he rounded up his first-half of his 4-year tenure with unmatchable feats, especially in the area of agriculture and infrastructural development in the state.
For Abians and those familiar with the state, Governor Ikpeazu’s first-half as Governor represents two years of experiences and challenges, that have thoroughly reshaped the political direction and alignments of the state, as well as opened new frontiers in the sociology-economic infrastructure of Abia state.
It is first-half of unmatchable feats, amid distractions. Most observers within and outside the state believe that no government in Abia state since 1999 has done and achieved what the Ikpeazu administration has achieved in two years, despite the obvious distractions that were designed by the old political order in the state and their proxies to pull him down.
Despite the verifiable landmarks of achievements already recorded, Ikpeazu, as a sincere leader said this to Abians during his May 29 state address: “much as I can confidently state that we have done a lot in the last 2 years, I will equally be the first to acknowledge that there is still a lot of work to be done in different areas.”
His greatest worry remains the issue of outstanding salary of teachers and pensioners. Hear him: “I am unhappy with the fact that although we are up to date in the payment of the salaries of civil servants in the state, many teachers and pensioners are still being owed. I wish to reaffirm my commitment to the welfare of workers and further pledge to find a lasting solution to the salary impasse within the next few months.”
Recall that Ikpeazu upon assumption of office, identified five Pillars of Development, where he anchored the developmental vision of the state under him.
These pillars, as identified by the governor, are education, agriculture, infrastructure, trade and commerce, as well as oil and gas.
According to Governor Ikpeazu during his state address on May 29: “We have taken considerable steps to deliver on those pillars and enablers and the results are there for all to see. I am grateful to the distinguished Abia leaders who took time yesterday to make inputs into our plans during our interactive session at the International Conference Centre and I assure them that we will take those inputs into cognizance as we move to the next phase of our developmental objectives.”
On his administration’s achievements with regards to roads and bridges, the governor highlighted some completed and ongoing projects including 40 roads commissioned and 45 still ongoing and at various stages of completion.
“One of the very first actions I took on the first working day after my swearing-in as Governor was to flag off construction work on roads in Aba and Umuahia. We are mindful of the importance of good roads to the stimulation of economic and social activities and we have not relented since day 1. To date, we have succeeded in completing about 40 roads across the state out of the about 80 roads we embarked upon from inception. Mention must be made of the fact that most of these roads, especially in Aba, are being constructed with rigid pavement technology which guarantees their longevity.”
“While I will not go into the list of all the roads we have constructed and are constructing, permit me to emphasize that the reconstruction of Faulks road by Setraco Construction Company is solving the perennial problem of the Ifeobara basin and Ukwu Mango which hitherto always caused the area to be flooded. Today, to the glory of God, the company has achieved significant milestone in fixing Faulks Road and creatively solving the problem of the Ifeobara Basin.
“Also noteworthy is the fact that we have commenced work on Port-Harcourt Road in Aba which is another key economic road. I assure you that we have engineered a unique funding model for the road and it will be delivered in record time.
“In Umuahia, you are all witnesses to the work Arab Contractors are doing on the Aba Road from Stanpol to Isi Court. The quality of the project underpins our determination to ensure that we use the best contractors to deliver the best quality of work in Abia State.
“In Abia North Senatorial District, among all the other roads we are doing including the Abiriba Ring Road, the Abiriba Nkporo Road, the Ohafia Township Roads, the Eluama-Otampka Road, the Eke-Obuzor-Ngodo Road and the Nkpa Road, permit me to single out for special mention, the Bende-Arochukwu Road. This road was conceptualized to serve as an alternative to the perennially impassable Ohafia-Arochukwu Federal Road. I had the opportunity to inspect it during our Thank-You Tour to Arochukwu last week and I witnessed the laying of the bridge on the road. My promise to Abians today is that by Christmas of 2017, the road will be completed and commissioned so that our brothers from that axis can comfortably travel to their communities.” Governor Ikpeazu said.
Speaking on the effort of his administration to address the rural road infrastructure, Governor Ikpeazu said: “May I also report that we have started work on building 10 kilometers of roads in every Local Government Area in Abia State. We started from Osisioma in Abia Central Senatorial District and my assurance to you is that within the next one year, every Local Government Area in Abia State will feel the impact of our infrastructural development masterplan. Going forward, we will commence work on our Trans-Abia Highway from Nsulu in Isialangwa North to Ikwuano and from Ikwuano to Bende. This road will run through our Cocoa belt and drive agricultural development.”
Speaking further on the achievements of his administration in agriculture, Governor Ikpeazu said: “Agriculture is one of the strong Pillars of Development of this administration. I am glad to announce that great things are happening in the sector. In the last 2 years, we recovered and revamped government owned lands and oil palm estates hitherto underutilized. Most of them like Ndi Oji and AmaekeRubber Estates, Ohambele Palm Estate, Ulonna North and South Farm Settlement and Ukwa Nkporo Estate have been given out to trusted investors to develop and manage. We set a target for ourselves to raise 7.5 million oil palm seedlings by 2019. Already, we have 4 million tenera oil palm seedlings at Ahiaba Umueze, Osisioma LGA.
“One of our landmark achievements in the agricultural sector is the establishment of a pilot oyster Mushroom project at the Ministry of Agriculture Headquarters in Umuahia. The Farm has the capacity of accommodating 3,500 bags of mushroom substrates yielding almost N50,000 a day to Abia youths from ¼ of a plot of land.
“Also, in pursuit of the policy of our administration to develop 3 Poultry villages/clusters in the state, the Ministry has commenced work at site in Umunna Nsulu, Isialangwa North LGA. The Ministry of Agriculture has also developed a 2,500 capacity Ultra Modern layer farm at its Headquarters premises in Umuahia with a production capacity of between 20,000 to 24,000 crates of egg per cycle of 18 months.
“The State Government in collaboration with the Federal Government has also set up an Ultra Modern Poultry Processing Plant at Umuosu Nsulu in Isiala Ngwa. Suffice it to say that Abia State has regained its place as the pre-eminent agricultural state in Nigeria.”
Elucidating on the Made-in-Aba campaign of his administration, Ikpeazu said: “Within the period under review, we ramped up our MadeInAba Campaign to great gain. It gives me pleasure to announce to you that our sustained advocacy for the patronage of goods made in Abia State has led to inflow of over N1.5 Billion directly to our SMEs in the last 1 year. The Nigerian Army placed orders for 50,000 Boots to be produced in Aba and since then, we have not looked back.
“Ford Foundation unveiled a documentary it sponsored to showcase goods produced in Aba and the campaign is airing on CNN and other International and Local Stations at no cost to the State Government. We have taken the campaign to the next level which is MakeInAba to encourage the establishment of factories and industries in Abia State.”
So far, the consensus among Abians is that Governor Ikpeazu has performed beyond the expectations of even his most optimistic supporter. There is therefore no gainsaying that Ikpeazu is set out for a remarkable feat that has just begun.
• Appolos is chief Press Secretary to Governor Ikpeazu