Recently, the management of Independent Newspapers, publishers of Daily Independent, Saturday Independent and Sunday Independent titles, led by the Managing Director, Ade Ogidan, visited Governor Okezie Ikpeazu at Governor’s Lodge Aba to inform him of his nomination as “The 2018 Governor of the Year on Entrepreneurship”. To properly situate this timely and well deserved award to Governor Ikpeazu, it is necessary to x-ray the efforts of the Governor in promoting made in Aba as well as his single-minded determination to re-write the story of Abia’s Small and Medium Scale Enterprises.
In his inaugural address presented to the people of Abia State on May 29, 2015, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu stated, among other things, his desire to develop small and medium scale enterprises (SMEs) in Aba, the commercial nerve center of the state.
“Our story as a people is one of entrepreneurship, resourcefulness and diligence. This is our pride. We have astounded the world with our homegrown technical skills, especially during a period of pervasive adversity, and followed it up with our trade and commercial prowess elevating one of our cities, Aba, into a prominent commercial hub within the West African region. This historic renown is to become our future narrative. The time is ripe to use the over 110,000 shoemakers and 50,000 garment makers as a launching pad to enable Abia truly become the undisputed SME capital of Nigeria.
“I agree with the view of the great American industrialist, Harvey Firestone, “The growth and development of people is our highest calling of leadership”.
“Great Abians, our administration is fully committed to providing the enabling environment and infrastructure to facilitate the growth and development of Abia and its people; positioning it as a premier residential, business and tourism destination, with the ultimate objective of uplifting the lives of our people. It is achievable!!! But it requires our collective commitment, sacrifices and contributions, ‘ka oke zuo onye obula’, as well as upholding our values of Being God fearing, Belief in Abia, Integrity, Innovation and Quality.
“Aba was for many years a thriving hub for manufacturing and commerce until epileptic supply of electricity and insecurity forced the shutdown of most of our indigenous and foreign owned industries. We must therefore recognize and appreciate the efforts of the Geometric Power Group and the Federal Government’s NIPP project at Alaoji towards providing a solution to the perennial challenges of electricity supply to our state. The forthcoming operationalisation of these plants will provide a critical input towards the actualization of our blueprint and roadmap for the regeneration of Aba and the entire Abia State. We shall pursue it with vigor.”
In pursuit of the above stated objective, Governor Ikpeazu painstakingly undertook a study of the challenges facing SMEs in Aba and identified four major encumbrances that must be tackled and overcome to positively reposition them.
1. Access to power (electricity)
2. Access to market
3. Access to automation, and,
4. Access to finance
In addition to the above, he also identified the need to improve security and provide good road infrastructure as enablers to support his plan to reinvent Aba as the SME capital of Nigeria.
How did Governor Ikpeazu tackle those challenges?
1. Access to power
Provision of power is within the exclusive list of the federal government and whoever wishes to solve the debilitating power challenge facing Aba manufacturers must necessarily partner with the federal government and licensed independent power providers to arrive at a solution. The power variable is therefore not ordinarily within the control of a state governor but Governor Ikpeazu is not an ordinary state Governor. He is a goal getter.
Without giving consideration to political correctness, Governor Ikpeazu deliberately courted the support and partnership of the APC-led Federal Government for the sake of Abia people. Unlike many other state governors, he believes that once elections are over everyone must work together for the sake of the people who elected them. To him, the possibility of being misunderstood was a small sacrifice to make and indeed many uninformed people misunderstood his attitude to mean an inclination towards the ruling party at the center or at best the existence of some hidden agreement between the governor and the APC-led federal government.
Having observed the determination of the governor to focus on working for the people as against fixation on partisan politics, the federal government partnered, through the Rural Electrification Agency (REA), with Governor Ikpeazu’s government to deliver uninterrupted power supply, on test basis, to some shops at Ariaria market. And it is working! For more than a year now, those shops have been enjoying uninterrupted power supplies.
In addition to that, new power generation and distribution companies were licensed to take care of the Ariaria area where a major shoe making cluster is located in Aba.
Not satisfied with that, Governor Ikpeazu decided to work with Geometric Power Ltd to ensure that the Prof Bath Nnaji-led company is able to roll out power at Aba within the shortest possible time. It is on record that he did not only intervene locally to solve the seemingly intractable issue between Geometric Power and Enugu Electricity Distribution Company (EEDC), he also made international interventions to ensure that the company obtains needed funds from Cairo based AFREXIM Bank to boost its operations for the sake of the Aba entrepreneurs.
With the delay in the realization of the AFREXIM facility for Geometric Power, Governor Ikpeazu ensured that promoters of the company were part of the negotiations between the state and the biggest energy and textile manufacturing Chinese Company, Ruyi Group, to provide power for the emerging Enyimba Economic City (EEC) which is his administration’s most ambitious development project and indeed the biggest project, post-civil war, in the south east region of Nigeria.
The fall out of that engagement is the recent announcement by the management of Geometric Power that latest June 2019 they will start selling power to Aba manufacturers and other users. It is instructive that the management of the company copiously acknowledged the contribution of Governor Ikpeazu to the achievement of this new milestone which will expectedly permanently solve the power challenge facing Aba SMEs.
2. Access to market
Access to market was a key variable identified by the Governor in his analytical quest to solve the problems of Aba SMEs. Indeed solving this challenge has proved to be vital in solving other challenges.
To solve this challenge involves social re-engineering as many SMEs in Aba hitherto lacked confidence in the products of their hands and chose to credit what they made to phantom manufacturers in Taiwan, China, Europe etc.
To help them appreciate the value of their handwork, Governor Ikpeazu appointed himself the “Chief Marketer of Made In Aba Brands” and followed up by ensuring that all through his stay in office as Governor of Abia State he wears only made in Aba shoes, clothes and other fashion accessories. In his thinking, this decision would make Aba producers realize that if made in Aba is good enough for a governor to wear, there is nothing wrong with branding their products “Proudly Made in Aba”.
It is on record that Governor Ikpeazu has not only been wearing made in Aba products, he has diligently promoted the made in Aba brands within and outside the country. His marketing dexterity led to other leaders like President Obasanjo, VP Osinbajo, Senate President Saraki and other notable leaders keying into patronizing Aba made fashion brands. Institutions like the Nigerian military, NYSC have keyed in and issued orders worth billions of naira to Aba manufacturers to make uniforms, boots etc for them, others have also ordered shoes for internally displaced persons and even electoral materials previously imported from Asia.
Governor Ikpeazu has firmly and greatly improved the market share of Aba manufacturers, improved their output and also helped to create thousands of jobs in the process. He organized Made in Aba fashion fairs in Abuja and United State of America as well as attracted the interest of Ford Foundation which sponsored international advertisements to promote Made in Aba on CNN and other international media platforms at no cost to the state government or Aba manufacturers.
It is important to note that the marketing efforts of Governor Ikpeazu led to the signing of Executive Order 3 of the federal government which simply states that before anyone/institution procures anything from abroad the person/institution must check with Aba and other local manufacturers to know if they could produce same thing.
In acknowledgement of this Executive Order, INEC is believed to have procured additional ballot boxes for 2019 elections from Aba manufacturers, who actually produced the ones used in 2015 but uncannily passed off as made in China.
3. Automation Challenge
The Automation challenge was clearly observed when the Nigerian military ordered for 50,000 pairs of boots from Aba shoemakers. While the order was distributed by the state government to different clusters of shoe makers, it was difficult to determine how long it would take to produce the 50,000 pairs as well as maintain the fidelity and uniformity of the booths.
To tackle this issue, Governor Ikpeazu decided to introduce the shoemakers to automated shoe making equipment as well as build their capacity in the operation of such high-tech manufacturing equipment. He, in conjunction with the umbrella body of the shoemakers, carefully selected 30 young ones among them and sponsored them to China to learn firsthand how to operate the machines and subsequently went ahead to import the same machines to Aba to ensure that the shoe makers can make as much as 10,000 pairs of shoes per day without compromising on quality and uniformity of products.
The equipment are already being installed in Aba and, in the coming weeks, will commence production. It is hoped that the ingenious fabricators of Aba will ultimately replicate the equipment and help launch Aba into a new technology driven shoe making hub in Africa.
4. Access to finance
Solving the problem of access to finance for Aba manufacturers means not only helping them to get long tenured low interest facilities from lending institutions such as Bank of Industry (BOI) but also helping them to acquire necessary book keeping and documentation skills that will make their businesses bank-able.
Suffice it to state that Aba manufacturers have already benefited from a Four hundred million naira (N400,000,000.00) BOI facility and are on course to receive further support. Many of the promoters of Aba MSMEs have also attended state sponsored trainings aimed at improving their management skills.
Ease of doing business indices in Abia State has improved dramatically with the state recording the highest leap in ranking among the 36 states of Nigeria as a result of Governor Ikpeazu’s conscious effort at eliminating obstacles to prosperity for our business men.
Recently, a friend who visited Aba marveled at the new energy and resurgence of the city that was near comatose before the emergence of Nwa Aba Okezie Ikpeazu, PhD, as Governor of Abia State. He vowed to relocate his family and business back to Aba this year in order to be part of the emerging prosperous Abia. He said to me, “JOK, I don’t think you guys are doing enough to let the world know what Ikpeazu is doing in Abia. His opponents are painting the wrong picture of the man and I urge you to do more… I was at Ariaria Market and couldn’t believe what I saw. Who would have believed that it would be possible to drive from Brass through Faulks (Ariaria) Road to the Express on a good road?”
What my friend who lives in Port Harcourt probably did not know is that Governor Ikpeazu also reconstructed 4 ancillary roads leading to Ariaria market: MCC, Samek, Umule and Tonimas. He also constructed two new roads to link Aba with Akwa Ibom traders through Ekwereazu-Akwa Ibom and Owo-Onicha Ngwa roads. In addition, he fixed other key entry roads to Aba such as Ehere, Ukaegbu and Umuola to circumvent the perennially bad federal government owned Aba-Ikot Ekpene Road. Many other key roads in the city have received or are currently receiving attention and Governor Ikpeazu is set to do much more.
The icing on the cake of Governor Ikpeazu’s made in Aba promotion is the recent approval of Enyimba Economic City project with necessary licenses obtained after the payment of more than $600,000 by the private sector promoters. This massive project has already been bought into by the federal government which is ready to invest more than N100bn in order to own part of this investment cherry that elicited generous praise by President Buhari for the vision of Governor Ikpeazu.
“I appreciate the vision and commitment of Governor Ikpeazu who envisioned this massive project that will not only create jobs for Nigerians but will also contribute to the growth of our national GDP”, he said during the agreement signing ceremony at the Presidential Villa.
Already, Enyimba Economic City has been licensed as the only Free Trade Zone in the South East region with approval for a dry port at the Ntigha area of the state also obtained. Without making noise about it, efforts are ongoing to link Abia and Ala Igbo to the Atlantic Ocean through Azumini river.
Ikpeazu is indeed a silent achiever!
All these efforts speak to a future of prosperity for Ndi Abia and residents of the state. Things can only get better in the State under the watch of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu who is also set to commence work on construction of 500km of rural roads being financed with AfDB’s $100m facility.
Certainly Governor Ikpeazu has not done everything there is to do in Abia State but he has done a lot of good things our people can feel and touch. More importantly, he is self motivated to do much more in the next four years of his administration. Abians cannot afford to gamble with desperate politicians seeking to re-plug their rapacious drain pipes into the state’s treasury to recover what they lost in their previous and current ill advised political “mumurism”