From Peter Okore, Umuahia
Although the week-long activities that marked the 32nd anniversary celebration of the creation of Abia State have come and gone, the memories still linger on.
Abians, friends and well-wishers, including politicians from different political divides, as well as State and National Assembly members, used the occasion to reflect on the fate of the state in the past, present and proffered solutions for a better future.
Abia was created on the 27th of August, 1991 by the Former Military Head of State, General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd.) alongside 10 other states, namely Adamawa, Akwa Ibom, Delta, Edo, Enugu, Jigawa, Kebbi, Kogi, Katsina and Osun.
Comparatively, one pertinent issue that has continued to burg the minds of Abians is where Abia got it wrong in terms of her developmental strides in 32 years.
Governor Otti summarized it in his address during the Jumat prayer to mark the 32nd anniversary of the creation of Abia State held at the Central Mosque, Eket street, Umuahia, when he stated thus ” the Special Jumat prayer provides you with opportunity to reflect on your roles and commitments to the development of the State, having passed through many challenging times in the State bordering on lots of infrastructural decay, maladministration, misplacement of priorities and blurred vision for a progressive tomorrow by previous administration”.
Former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesili , in her keynote lecture at the grand finale of the anniversay, attributed the plight of Abia in the past 32 years as “ problem of leadership ambition- gap”, saying “a lot is expected from Abia, given her huge potentials in human capital and natural resources waiting to be maximized by a visionary leader”.
Moreover, one document that could have fast-tracked developments in Abia state and brought it at par or close to her contemporaries is the document, called “Abia Charter of Equity”, which was crafted by agitators (founding fathers of Abia) for the new state.
This document was a condition for the proposed new state to be carved out of old Imo state. Because of the high regards for the document and the role it was expected to play in the sustained development of the state and for unifying the component segments that comprised the new state, the founding fathers requested that the House of Assembly of the proposed state, on coming to session, should domicile the Charter of Equity for easy and realistic implementation.
Till date, it baffles one that the Abia state House of Assembly has failed to make the “Abia Charter of Equity” a law; a document that was a pre-requisite for the creation of the state by the military. And, no explanations have so far been given for such a neglect/ refusal. Probably as a result of the action of the legislature, the executive arm feigned un-concerned and kept its cool.
That document had considered, among other issues, the peculiarities of the components of the new state and gave guidelines on the best approach to hold the composing Old Bende and Aba divisions together as well as gave a roadmap for steady and sustained development of the new state.
Sources allege that secretary to the committee that drafted the document, late Dr. Anaga Ezikpe was , before his sudden demice, at the Office of then SSG to governor Okezie Ikpeazu with a copy of Abia Charter of Equity on his hand to plead with government to receive it for presentation to the House of Assembly as an executive bill. He allegedly slipped-off in the Office and died subsequently.
Now, there are not more that two of the members who drafted the Charter alive to continue the struggle. But before Dr. Ezikpe died, about two years ago, his prayer had been that he would like to see the Charter being passed into law by the House before his death. But he never lived to see his handwork and prayer come through. And, nobody knows if that document would ever see the light of day again, 32 years after.
Political pundits are of the view that the refusal to domicile the Abia Charter of Equity or pass it into law, has set crisis and confusion into politics in Abia state. Virtually, all existing political parties in Abia are in crisis today. Chief Benjamin Nwadike, a stunch businessman and politician said that politicians should go back to that document to ensure even and corporate development of Abia state.
Howeve, one particular thing that prevailed in this anniversary was that the 32nd year ceremony lacked the usual expensive and flamboyant spending contrary to what had been the practice over the past 24 years. In the past such ceremonies posed as field-days for the “oga’s and their boys” to make their money, to the detriment of developments of the state.
The Theme of this year’s Abia day anniversary was “Hitting the Abia Reset Button.”
Activities that greeted the commemoration featured a press briefing by the Secretary to the State Government Prof Kenneth Kalu in company of the state Commissioner for Information and Culture Prince Okey Kanu; visits to charity homes and Orphanages in the three Senatorial zones by the wife of the governor, Mrs . Pricillia Otti and her team; a jumat prayer at the mosques round the state by Muslims living in the state; Novelty martch between the State Executive Council locking horns with the legislators of Abia House of Assembly; a special sanitation exercise and free medical treatment in the three Senatorial zones of the state; a youth musical concert ; a state broadcast over the Radio and Television by governor Dr. Alex Otti; an inter denominational Church Service at the Event center Umuahia and a grand finale anniversary lecture by former Minister of Education, Dr. Oby Ezekwesiri , which also was used to unveil the new Abia State Orientation Agency held at the Ochendo international Conference centre, Ogurube Layout, Umuahia .The Agency is aimed at bringing about desired behavioural change to Ndi Abia.
Indeed, the need for the re-orientation of the syche of Abians and residents cannot be over-emphasised in view of the politicized and polarized environment in Abia. In the past 32 years Abians had witnessed Abuja and home politicians. “Only one party existed in Abia. Others were seen as enemies and treated as such.
It could be said, and rightly too, that the real memory of the past 32 years of Abia is summarized in Otti’s address during the Jumat prayer to mark the 32nd anniversary of the creation of Abia State held at the Central Mosque, Eket street, Umuahia.
In the words of Otti represented by the deputy governor, Engineer Ikechukwu Emetu ”the Special Jumat prayer is very strategic as it provides you (Muslims) with opportunity to reflect on your roles and commitment to the development of the State, having passed through many challenging times in the State bordering on lots of infrastructural decay, maladministration, misplacement of priorities and blurred vision for a progressive tomorrow by previous administration. The present administration is determined to sustain and promote the peaceful coexistence currently enjoyed between Muslims and Christians”.
Also speaking, the wife of the Governor, Mrs. Priscilla Otti, declared: ‘’It is a new dawn in Abia State, God has liberated Abia State at this time. Abia State was like it had been tied with knot and God has come now to unravel all the years that Abia State has been in the dungeon. And we know that it can only get better with this new administration”.
In his remarks earlier, the Chief Imam Malam Hussaini Idris said the Muslim community will remain partners in progress with the present administration under the leadership of Dr Alex Otti in their resolve to change the developmental narratives of the State.
Speaking at the grand finale under the THEME:”Abia: Hitting the Reset Button ” Governor Alex Otti called on all Abians to embrace the new Abia where things would be done differently in the quest to lead the state to greater.
He explained that the essence of unveiling the new Abia State Orientation Agency was to change psyche of Abians after the 24 years of “rough deal with politics”, to change for the better the way Abia people live and behave. He reminded the people that no society can develop except such society is transformed
According to governor Otti “the agency represents the whole effort his administration is making to bring about a radical change in the way things are done in the State”.
Said he, ” I implore all hands to be on deck to contribute to the development of Abia State. Management of the Orientation Agency should carry out sensitization towards the right behavioural pattern of Abia people.Inculcate high standard of acceptable behaviour among the people. The change in mentality in the new Abia should be devoid of bribery, corruption,truancy in private and public sectors ,lateness to work , and other negative attitudes by public servants”.
Otti further explained that the launch of the agency and the choice of the person of Dr. Oby Ezekwesili as the guest lecturer for the event point to the determination of his administration for excellence. He assured Abians that collectively the people would overcome .
Giving an overview of the Abia State Orientation Agency, the Director General of the Agency, Pastor Dike Nwankwo described the agency as a new dawn in Abia State, saying that there is need for positive re-orientation in the mentality of the people with the aim of maintaining good image of the State .
He said the agency will deploy Orientation Officers in the 17 LGAs and 184 political wards of the State and would be organizing seminars, lectures among other efforts geared towards ensuring grassroot participation in government
In the keynote lecture delivered virtually by former Minister of Education Dr. Oby Ezekwesili used the occasion of her lecture to make it clear that a lot is expected from Abia, given her huge potentials in human capital and natural resources waiting to be maximised by a visionary leader.
She regretted that Abia has, what she described as “ a problem of leadership ambition- gap” despite the fact that the state once produced a great leader,like late Michael Okpara, who is credited with “visionary transformation” of the former eastern region.
Ezekwesili, therefore advised Governor Alex Otti to deploy technology and sound policies in order to achieve his vision for Abia.
Ezekwesili, who is a well known advocate of good governance, stated that technology is what would transform Abia beyond expectations and make the state a haven for local and foreign investments.
According to her, using technology to promote all government businesses is critical” to good governance, hence Otti should not shy- away from running a technology-driven government.
While urging the Abia governor to formulate sound policies, the former minister stressed that sound policies must be complemented with conducive environment and infrastructural facilities to promote economic growth.
“The guest lecturer, however, assured Abians that , the possibility of achieving , and even, surpassing what late former Premier of Eastern Region Dr. Michael Okpara did in the past , is there depending on how the new leadership pilots the affairs of the State.
She gave it to Gov. Otti that the governance approach by him would determine if he would unleash Abia’s great potentials and anchor the state on the path of sustainable development.
Ezekwesili underscored the need for Otti to completely do away with all the impediments of the past that stagnated Abia’s growth and under-utilization of its richly talented population. She stated that public financial management system must be put in place, pointing out that it was poor management of resources and corrupt enrichment by leaders that has always been the bane of Abia, Nigeria and Africa as a whole.