From PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Indeed, it was the same tumultuous and spontaneous expression of joy, celebration and support that greeted the declaration of the governor-elect, Dr. Alex Otti by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC , as winner of the 2023 governorship election in Abia state, that repeated itself , Monday 29th May, 2023 at his inauguration and swearing-in as the executive governor of the state.
Notably, the out-gone and immediate past governor of the state, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu was conspicuously absent at the Umuahia Township Stadium, venue of the occasion to witness what could be described as the “mother of all Inauguration ceremonies of governors” in Abia ,since the beginning of the democratic experiment in Abia.
Close sources allege that Ikpeazu had concluded arrangements to jet out of the country ahead of the inauguration. Sources also suggested that his close family members had left the shores of Nigeria immediately Ikpeazu failed in his bid to capture the Senate seat in the 2023 elections to represent the Abia South senatorial district in the National Assembly.
A few days to the inauguration, Ikpeazu dissolved his cabinet. Many affirm that he had failed to impact on the state and her citizens in his 8years tenure as governor. Later, he made arrangements for a transition and authorized the Former Secretary to the state government, SSG, Mr. Chris Ezem to officially hand-over Abia State Government to the incoming administration of the Governor- Elect, Dr. Alex Otti.
Handing over the necessary documents to the representatives of the incoming administration of at Banquet Hall of Government House Umuahia, Ezem described the documents as critical aspect of governance and urged the incoming administration to study them and make the best out of them.
Responding as he received the documents, the representative of the new administration, Dr. Caleb Ajagba (now Chief of staff to Dr. Alex Otti), assured that the new administration would critically study the documents and make good use of them.
The documents handed over were THE BUDGET DOCUMENTS FOR 2023, THE ABIA STATE LONG TERM DEVELOPMENT PLAN AND THE STATE GOVERNMENT HANDOVER NOTE.
But in spite of the war of words that had been trending between the PDP and Labour Party (LP) in Abia state, calculated to play-down on the Inauguration of Dr. Otti as the man who received the mandate of the people, after 24 years of unbroken rule of Abia state by the PDP, the Umuahia Township stadium, venue of the inauguration and swearing-in ceremony, was filled to capacity, even before 8.30 am, in spite of the early morning rain.
The ceremony was witnessed by top society figures from Abia and beyond. They included such personalities like the former Chief of General Staff during the Ibrahim Babangida military presidency, Commodore Ebitu Ukiwe; former Emir of Kano and Central Bank Governor (CBN), Alhaji Lamido Sanusi; former Abia state governor and Senator representing Abia-Central in the National Assembly, Chief Theodore Orji; former Rivers state governor and former Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaechi; the Catholic Archbishop of Owerri Ecclesiastical province, Bishop Lucius Ugorji; Abia House of Assembly Speaker, Mr. Chinedu Orji; and Labour Party Vice Presidential Candidate, Dr. Ahmed Datti. There were several musicians of note, local and foreign-based, including Davido, who entertained on stage.
It will be recalled that Otti was elected and declared winner of the long-drawn-out gubernatorial race on 22nd of March ,2023. He had been on this mission, three times, since 2015; but had twice lost the opportunity due to what has finally been discovered, this time around, to be the “Obingwa magic.”
After Otti and his Deputy, Engr Ikechukwu Emetu were sworn-in by the state chief Judge, Justice Lilian Abai, as the 5th democratically elected governor of Abia state, Otti inspected a guard of Honour mounted by detachments of the Nigerian Police, Abia state command; 14 Batallion, Nigerian Army, Ohafia and Nigerian Navy Finance and Logistics Command, Owerinta, all located in Abia.
Some likened what they saw at the venue as a reminder to that assemblage of Nigerians to herald the Nigerian Independence of 1960. Others called it home-coming for Abians after 24 years in bondage. But as Alex Otti put it this way: “The time for the rebuilding process of Abia has begun. I have been given the task of being the driver of this train and it is leaving the station”.
In his acceptance speech titled:”A Time to rebuild”, Otti thanked Abians for their overwhelming mandate; He particularly thanked God and the noble but oppressed people of Abia to finally breathe again. He also paid profound gratitude to INEC officials who, he said, were willing to pay even the supreme price, to ensure that the will of the people prevailed as well as party faithful and other well-meaning citizens, young or old, rich or poor, at home or abroad, who took part in the struggle (to liberate Abia) without any consideration for any anticipated personal benefit. In his words:” We approach this moment with relief that it has finally come, but we are fully aware that it is the beginning of a long and demanding journey. We rejoice in the birth of a new and glorious era, yet we cannot easily forget the years of waste and missed opportunities arising from self-seeking, prebendal and profligate governance”.
Otti’s Objectives in Abia.
Firstly, to bring the liberated Abians out of pitch darkness into the bright sunlight that they deserve. Secondly, to show them that there is more to life than the poverty, hunger, ignorance, disease, insecurity, and pot holes that, all these years, have become their daily realities. Thirdly, to continue to remind them (Abians) that they are the offspring of those who once created the fastest growing economy in the world. Fourthly, to let them realize that they were once the world’s largest makers of some key products on which the world’s economy depended. Fifthly, to let them know that their institutions of learning had in the past produced some of the greatest minds in the world of arts, science and technology, mathematics, banking and finance, politics, law, history and philosophy. Sixthly, to let them know that we have in us all the qualities that is necessary to recreate the glorious past that they dream about.
With the foregoing in mind, Otti has some teething challenges in his abiding faith to, as he puts it, ” to conquer the challenges of decades of poor-quality governance; the decades of stunted growth and development; the decades of deprivation, injustice and loss of self-dignity, the decades of hopelessness, anguish, and pain”.
In his words:” During my campaigns, I visited every part of our state and dutifully explained to the electorate my plans on how we can rebuild our state. I presented my credentials and made bold to say that I was going to help you reverse our individual and collective failures. My biggest source of reassurance was that wherever I visited throughout the 17 local governments of our dear State, I saw on the faces of our people a high sense of expectation, a burning desire for change, and the fierce determination to do whatever it rightly takes to succeed. I discovered that despite all these years of rape and brutalization of their psyche, majority of our people remained resolute and unbroken in spirit. Bad roads, potholes, power blackouts, kidnappers, extortionists, had not snuffed out their entrepreneurial and creative spirits. They kept hope alive and continued to pursue their daily tasks in their inexorable quest to be part of a sane and decent society. They have indeed been waiting for this day, which has finally arrived.
“Our earnest desire is to turn our electoral victory into an instrument for improved fortunes of all well-meaning people. As we get ready to cross our River Jordan into the Canaan land that God has graciously placed before us, let us not be under any illusion that the worst is over. In fact, in winning the election, we have merely won a preliminary battle, albeit a very crucial one. Nevertheless, the war has just begun, and we have put our hands on the plough. There is no turning back until we achieve our collective dreams and aspirations. We are in the cusp of an emerging new world order. In the past few years, there have been momentous events that have changed the trajectory of the world and have thus given us the opportunity to reposition our society and our economy.
. “The global supply chain is undergoing a massive paradigm shift. Abia State’s potential to be a more significant player in this emerging world order should be of interest to all of us. In the interconnected world, we can occupy a crucial niche in the disrupted global supply chain. We can quickly position ourselves as the alternative production and service hub for both the West and Asia. We have the raw materials, the fertile lands and more importantly the energetic, creative, and trainable manpower to dominate important sectors of the global economy. Textiles, leatherworks, information technology, entertainment, and agriculture are just some of these areas, where we can easily make great strides, provided we are able to quickly repair our infrastructure and boost our business environment. We must be part of this global and globalizing community that is brought together by technology, climate change, and supply chain dynamics. We must tap into the various opportunities that the modern world offers us.
Moreover, the foundation of Abia State can only be strong, when Abia citizens in all the 17 local government areas of the state, who labour every day, partake in eating of the fruit of the land. Even as we pledge to do our best to serve the State, let us all bear in mind that this adventure will only meet with success, when we all resolve to come out and contribute to it. My promise is that all who take part in baking this pie must participate in eating it. It is also my responsibility to ensure that we continue to bake bigger pies, to the glory of God and the benefit of all Abians.
In the words of Otti, “Abia State is starting from an enormously negative position. We have a treasury that has been criminally ravaged to the extent that we have an alleged N50 billion in unpaid salaries, gratuities, and pensions. Our local and foreign debt overhang is reported to be in the region of N200 billion, in addition to other debts to contractors. We have a poorly motivated workforce, extreme youth unemployment, collapsed physical infrastructure, a terribly frail primary, secondary and tertiary healthcare delivery system. These are in addition to a broken educational system, urban waste disposal crisis and a large army of citizens, especially teachers, health workers, including medical doctors and nurses, lecturers in tertiary institutions, Local Government Authority workers and most painfully, our senior citizens, who feel blatantly betrayed by successive administrations that willfully and unconscionably abandoned them to live in wretched sub-human conditions.
The so-called urban centres in the State, have fallen far behind in terms of physical infrastructure, modern housing, amenities like pipe-borne water, quality road networks and some of the features one normally associates with modern cities. It will not be wrong to describe some of them as glorified villages. These places bear the semblance of urban areas in large part because of the resilience of the residents, but most importantly, because of the extensive investments made decades ago by our revered leader, Dee Sam Mbakwe. Fixing these urban centres and bringing them at par with their contemporaries around the region and beyond would take a humongous amount of time and resources. We can only save them through massive reliance on new public-private sector investments.
Our educational system, which used to be the cutting edge of our growth and development, is now in shambles as our findings show that the sector had for decades, not received the kind of quality attention it deserves.
One of the greatest challenges facing the State is ensuring that there is guaranteed security of lives and property. The worsening state of insecurity in the State will be addressed from its root.
I declare that I will use the full force of the law to apprehend and punish all those who are intent on threatening law and order in the State. In the same light, I would like to use this medium to appeal to everyone in the state, to remain peaceful and law abiding.
(1) Within the next few days, government shall commence the payment of May 2023 salaries and pensions to all civil servants and retirees in the State.
(2) There shall be no more distinction between the so-called “core” and “non-core” civil servants. This had been a major set back in Abia civil service.
(3) From June 2023, all salary and pension obligations of the State would be settled by the 28th of every month. My commitment during my campaigns to pay off all outstanding salary and pension arrears remains sacrosanct.
(4) (4)Within the next one week, I shall set up appropriate mechanisms to ensure that all legitimate employees and retirees are identified and paid their due entitlements. It is on this note that I appeal to workers, including Doctors in the state who have been on strike, to suspend same immediately and go back to work.
(5)I shall, over the next one-month, work closely with my team and relevant stakeholders to design an appropriate framework that will be used to drive the recruitment of about 5,000 new teachers for our primary and secondary schools.
(6) It is our commitment to see that our children are given the opportunity to tap into the great systems of advantage and opportunities that come from education, no matter where they live. We shall see to it that our teachers undergo regular refresher courses to update their knowledge and teaching skills so that they will stay relevant in their chosen fields.
(7) We shall address headlong, the persisting challenges in the health sector. We shall tackle the problem of poor welfare package for our health workers by creating a system of incentives that rewards them generously for their sacrifices and commitments to saving and nurturing lives.
(8) We shall begin immediately to address the challenge of poor facilities in our health institutions through steady investment in the acquisition of modern medical equipment, appropriate funding, and a robust system of partnership with well-meaning development partners.
(9) We shall see to it that access to health services is improved for all classes of Abians and where necessary, we shall make important recruitments to address personnel shortages.
(10) Government shall, within the next one month, launch a N10 billion Micro, Small and Medium scale Enterprises (MSME) financing scheme, which will comprise conditional business grants and low interest loans to support relevant enterprises. A minimum of 20,000 MSMEs shall benefit from this fund over the next two years and shall in turn generate at least 100,000 direct jobs and another 200,000 indirect employments in the State. We shall target MSMEs in high impact areas such as ICT, agriculture, small-scale manufacturing, fashion, leatherworks, and other areas where the state has strong comparative advantage.
(11) Government shall leverage on some of the major reforms in the power sector to provide structural support in the form of steady electricity access for these entrepreneurs.
(12) Government shall also make sure that the major obstacles to business success such as poor road networks, over-taxation and restricted access to local and global markets are timeously dealt with.
(13) Government intends to work tirelessly to restore the glory of our beloved Enyimba City as well as to retain the city’s status as a leading trade destination in Nigeria and across West Africa, in addition to seeing that Aba’s manufacturing base is restored.. Also, a new administrative and investment vehicle to drive the social and economic rejuvenation of Aba will soon be set up.
(14) Government has mandated the leadership of one of the most notable construction companies in Nigeria to carry out preliminary assessment of some critical portions of Aba roads.
(15) Umuahia, the state capital, shall also receive significant and necessary attention. We have developed well-thought-out policies and programmes to drive strategic infrastructural development in the city, that will turn it into a model city with world class infrastructure and a favourite destination for businesses, family life and leisure.
(15) Government shall also extend development to every other part of the State, ensuring that the frontiers of opportunities are expanded in ways that can offer our people, no matter where they live, a supportive environment for the actualization of their dreams.
(16) For healthy urban environment, government has declared a state of emergency on refuse disposal and waste management in Aba and Umuahia. To this effect, the leadership of the state’s environmental management agency, ASEPA has been directed to roll out everything at its disposal and see that all refuse heaps within these two cities are promptly evacuated. This exercise has already taken off.
(17) Government has promised to give all necessary scope for the private sector to participate in the economic activities of the state and will not be in competition with the private sector, except in critical areas.
(18) Government will set –up a cabinet level position within the Governor’s Office to drive our ‘Ease of Doing Business’ agenda to bring Abia at par with other states that have excelled in this. . This position will be manned by a Special Adviser who has thorough understanding of best global practices on creating favourable environment for businesses to thrive. project implementation WILL ALSO BE ESTABLISHED AND ATTACHED TO THE Governor’s Office.
(19) Government shall soon be reviewing the structure of the State’s workforce to determine how we can reform it for optimal productivity. The Abia State Civil Service shall run differently under this administration. We propose to use technology to enable all Abia State employees, including myself, to work from anywhere to achieve operational efficiency and enhanced productivity.
(20) There shall be no room for corrupt practices and the full weight of the law shall be deployed in tackling all cases of indiscipline or any act that brings the service into disrepute. Transparency, accountability, and public trust shall be at the centre of everything we do. We will run a responsible and honest government and lead by example. Gratification and kickbacks are totally forbidden in this government.
(21) Awards, Honours and recognitions are not welcome in Abia until I leave office. Any awards, titles, recognitions or the likes, that I did not receive before now should wait until we leave office.