From PETER OKORE, Umuahia
Abia state government has set-up an Inter-Ministerial committee, headed by the state Commissioner for Finance, Chief Aham Ukoh, to realize the 50 TEU (capacity) Inland Container Dry Port located at Avor-Ntigha in Isialangwa-North LGA of Abia state.
The committee is to report to the state Deputy Governor, Sir Ude Oko Chukwu, who has been mandated to ensure accelerated implementation of the Report to realize the project before the end of the present administration.
The journey to actualize this multi-billion naira Ntigha-Isialangwa Inland Container Dry Port project started in 2007. The foundation laying ceremony and Turning of Sod was performed by the then Federal Minister of Transport, Alhaji Ibrahim Isah, who was represented at the occasion by the Executive officer of the Nigerian Shippers Council, NSC, Capt. Adamu Biu.
Physical development did not start until 2009, after the Concessionaire handling the project, Eastgate Terminal Ltd, was issued with the C-of-O in 2008 and urged to move to site. At the signing of the MoU ceremony, the Chairman of Eastgate Terminal Ltd, Mr. Bill Nkemdirim promised to complete the project within 30 Months.
Surprisingly, since then, due to one problem or the other, there has been nothing verifiable that can be seen on site, in spite of its strategic location on the Aba-Port Harcourt Express-Way.
It will be recalled that the Dry port project is executed under a tripartite arrangement, made up of the Federal and Abia State governments and the private sector. The private sector comprises the major concessionaire (Eastgate Terminal ltd), other investors and land-donors.
It is probably, due to the identified hiccups, which has caused the long delay in executing the project, that the State Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi Kalu disclosed to BUSINESSHALLMARK in Umuahia, the Abia state capital, during this exclusive interview, that the newly-constituted Inter-ministerial committee will fine-tune and review all previous Reports and documents on the project, including the recent Dan Nwankwo-led committee-report.
This committee will identify and streamline such areas as Equity share holdings, clearing all legal loopholes on the project, donor-community relations, sourcing of funds and so on.
Commissioner Kalu further explained that the state government has placed priority attention to the actualization of this Dry Port project in order to facilitate ease of doing business in Aba and the state at large. He argued that since people of Abia state are predominantly involved in trade, commerce and other related businesses, the Dry Port will make much meaning to them and their businesses.
His words: The Dry port project, when it goes into operation, will, among other benefits, be revenue-yielding, afford Land-donors the opportunity to own shares and participate in the running of the project, attract huge investments to the area and offers employment to the army of youths now roaming the streets seeking for un-available white-collar jobs.
According to the commissioner, the state government decided to drop the idea of building its proposed Airport now in order to face real pressing needs of people of the state.
The decision to prioritise developmental projects was also informed by the passionate plea by traditional rulers in Abia that government should drop the Airport project for now and face pressing needs of the state.
According to the Royal fathers: Let us continue using the Owerri Airport, established with the resources from both Imo and Abia states; with, probably, the larger chunk of that money invested there, coming from sons and daughters of Abia State.
More so, the Owerri Airport is equi-distance from each of the two state capitals (Owerri and Umuahia).
In-line with the yearnings of Abians, Kalu insists that this state administration is prioritizing her development projects on critical areas, in terms of infrastructural development of the state. In support of the new governments economic developmental-stance, our people are not great travellers by Air.
“Experiences show that only about 5% of Abians travel by Air, while 95% move their goods and services by roads. This Isialangwa Dry Port would gradually solve the multi-facetted problems importers and Exporters from the Eastern States encounter with Customs and Excise as well as other Port security agencies, in clearing their Goods from Apapa, Onne and Port Harcourt Terminal Ports, respectively,” he said.
“We hear Custom officials even chase our people to their houses to harass them and their goods. This will stop as soon as the Isialangwa Container Dry Port takes off.”
Kalu further explained that the state Inter-ministerial Committee on the Isialangwa Dry Port is challenged to source for funds for the project, finalise negotiations with land-donors, source for investors, and other obstacles envisaged in the project, among other things.
In answer to another question, Chief Kalu said that the state government is now working on rural roads to link all Local Government Area Headquarters for easy communications and smooth evacuation of farm produce.
Appraising the modus operandi on the recent directive by President Muhammadu Buhari for a Special military exercise in South-Soutth and South-East states as a way of instilling peace there, the commissioner appealed to the men in army and police uniforms not to hide under that order to molest innocent citizens.
He, however, argued that since security has become a collaborative activity, he opted for a good -working co-operation between civilians and military/police in order to bring peace. He implored residents of the state to report any case of molestations to the appropriate quarters.
“This administration is working closely with sister States to address the issue of insecurity in the region through the newly established Ebubeagu Security outfit, stressing that the formation would help address the security challenges faced in the region,” he said.
“Already, the state has on-ground the Homeland Security Unit, which is charged with the responsibility of protecting lives and properties of people of the State. Our target is to create security architecture robust enough to secure our state.
“Co-operate with security officials. Monitor movements of people, the unknown gun-men and their associates, etc, in your villages and give information to Government. These bad people harassing innocent people live amongst you (inhabitants) in the various communities and streets.
“Those involved in the shooting of policemen and burning down Police stations do not mean well for Abia. It is the police who settle our issues when we have misunderstandings. We cannot do without them. Let those who are agitating find other ways of taking care of their angers/agitations.”
In answer to a question, the Commissioner recalled that the national economy has been challenged seriously, saying, that such has also affected states.
“But we are not thinking of cutting salaries or down-sizing our workforce. We value our workers and pensioners. We will continue to pay our workers and pensioners according to our resources. Most core- ministries, making up about 75 percent of the total number of serving civil servants are not owed salaries and allowances. The remaining 25 percent, mostly parastatals, is given regular subventions to augment whatever they get as internally generated revenue (IGR).
“With this they pay salaries to their workers and meet-up with their other challenges. Managers of these parastatals are expected to be innovative to generate enough revenues for themselves. But from time-to-time, government goes out of the normal to help paratatals affected by circumstances beyond their control.
For instance, Abia State University, Uturu, ABSUU, under the tenure of the immediate-past Vice Chancellor, Prof. Eliezer Ikonne, we discovered that ABSUU was badly affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“As a result, State government assisted the institution with the sum of N400 million and another N100 million as pocket money for the students. I am happy the University has started disbursing this money to the students, through a rebate on the fees they now pay to the University.”
On how to take the commercial city of Aba to its past glory, Commissioner Okiyi Kalu was proud to say that Aba is not only moving fast to catch-up with its lost glory, but graduating to a position of a modern city in Nigeria. He disclosed that a whooping sum of about N24.4 billion is being pumped into Aba and results are here to see.
“We have put a lot of modern and solid infrastructure in-place, including rehabilitation of about 62 Roads, with rigid pavements on both sides, an on-going First ever Regional Urban Water Scheme for Aba and there is available and regular Power supply to sustain existing industrial and commercial activities within Aba and environs.
“Again, the historic Ndiegoro, Ukwumango, Faulks road flood-ravaged areas are no-more. The two Mammy-waters that used to cause havoc at Faulks road, Ama Ikonne and other areas in Aba have been chased away and the vast areas reclaimed,” he said.
“Apart from the above, we have dredged the Aba River to take-in more flood water from parts of Aba, as a way of checking the perennial flooding in Aba whenever it rains.
Not only that, we have established Automated Shoe and Garments factories , an on-going work on the proposed Enyimba Economic city as well as the establishment of a Footwear Academy, all in Aba.
“Of course, inhabitants of the Enyimba City appreciate these efforts by the present administration of the State to give Aba, the commercial hub of the Eastern States, a new face-lift since after the Nigerian civil war in 1970.
“The inhabitants of Aba, in return, demonstrated their impressions of the new Aba, at the just-concluded bye-election for Aba-North and South Federal constituency to fill the vacant position at the House of Representative. That election was won by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), after many years of fruitless attempts to capture the area.
“In all, there are glaring evidences that when the Regional Urban work plan for Aba is fully executed , and, with the support of the Aba business community, the famous Enyimba City would soon grow to surpass its past- self to become the new Dubai of Africa.”