BY UCHE CHRIS
A lot of noise has been coming from Abia State since Governor Okezie Ikpeazu took over on May 29, 2015, and regrettably, for the wrong reasons. There are many people still skeptical about his suitability for the office at this time in the history of the state, especially following the controversy that trailed the outcome of the election that brought him on board. However, most people in and outside of the state are ready to give him the benefit of doubt based on his long sojourn in public service.
But it seems that the skeptics may eventually have the day, because the governor and his handlers are providing the ammunition for his own down fall. A fundamental wisdom of change is that to change a situation or the way things are you have to change the way things are being done. As it is said, you can’t be doing the same old things and expect a different result; that is insanity. Unless the governor and his people take this to heart, sorry, this government will not mark any departure from the past.
The first thing wrong with the noise coming from the state is the belief that governance is by propaganda and on the pages of newspapers – that the more noise you make and more visible you are, the more popular the government is. So, he has appointed a crack team of publicists to spear-head the image burnishing and orchestration of the noise. Such people include Ojo Maduekwe and Godwin Adindu, who are officials of government, and other merchants of fortune like Eddy Onwuzurulike etc.
So, every time you open the newspapers, there is one write up or the other singing to high heavens some banalities and platitudes about what the governor has said or done, even when such does not improve and engender good governance and constitute a tangible change from the old ways.
He drops the use of ‘His Excellency’, which is not even constitutional, it makes the headlines; he warns contractors to stop congratulatory messages, the world must stand still; he doesn’t want his name and picture on projects, the messiah has come; he awards a few road projects, a Daniel has come to judgment; he cuts his salary by 50 percent and we have a liberator etc.
How trite, unimaginative and unserious can our people be? Governance is a serious and creative business and unless those in government understand this we will continue to get cosmetic and superficial performances that have characterized our fate. It is all sound without substance. All these statements are diversionary and detract from the purpose of governance.
Compared to what is coming from other states, such as Oyo, Adamawa and Kaduna, and you conclude that we are just on a frolic. For instance, Kaduna State governor, Nasir el Rufai has reduced the number of ministries from 19 to 13; stopped Sallah feeding and hajj funding; approved only two assistants for commissioners, set key performance indicators for all public officers etc. Without doubt, these actions by el Rufai will fundamentally alter the performance of government and eventual outcome.
The second wrong thing being done by the state is the creation of a separate body for Aba – the Aba Urban Renewable Authority – and the award of contracts for construction of seven roads in the city. This is laughable and shows a lack of creativity and deep thinking in the affairs of government. The collapse of Aba in the past 30 years is a generational shame for the Igbo and particularly the past civilian governors in the state. Aba could have and can still easily become the Taiwan of Africa and a critical industrial and commercial hub in the country.
I was a kid in Aba just before the civil war and it could compete with Port Harcourt in every context. I visited Aba in December 1979 just two months after military hand over to civilians and I wept in my childish nostalgia. Four years later when I returned to the town it was a sheer miracle to see the transformation by late Chief Sam Mbakwe, who governed the old Imo State – now Imo and Abia. It was proof of leadership commitment and vision. That Aba still remains the sore of Igbo land is the lack of these leadership qualities.
Look at Onitsha, the next door neighbor. The town used to be as bad and insufferable as Aba and a nightmare to travelers and traders alike. But former Governor Obi and Gov. Willy Obiano attacked the problem and today you can zoom past the town unaware. Problems persist not because solutions are not being applied but essentially the so-called solutions lack knowledge of the problem. Gov. Ikpeazu seems to be confirming this assertion by his recent actions.
Tasks are not executed without plans, and plans are not made without study and knowledge. What is the governor’s plan for Aba and is the urban renewable agency or ministry the solution to Aba? How has the ministry of Niger Delta set up by the Federal Government improved the fortunes of the region? You are creating a problem to tackle another problem because, in the final analysis, a significant proportion of budget outlay for the agency will go into recurrent expenditure; how does this change the situation?
Aba needs a master plan and not a ministry and the governor does not seem to have such plan. He simply wants to throw money at the problem as is customary here. Aba can be transformed without government directly funding it. The problem is not money or half hearted road contracts, but a viable plan and political will. The problem transcends the fire brigade approach we are being treated to. The problem is deep-seated and requires deep thinking and deliberate planning and concerted execution.
Aba is losing relevance and time may not be on its side because other areas are moving forward. With its proximity to majors cities, such as Port Harcourt, Yenagoa, Uyo, Owerri, and Calabar, Aba could easily become the hub for these towns. But with its forlorn condition and decrepit infrastructure, Aba could be dead before something is done. There is need for a short, medium and long term plans for the city to salvage it. It is not another bureaucratic assignment.
The wrong thing Gov. Ikpeazu is doing is that he is focusing on shadows, rather than substance, as already alluded to. Government is not run on the pages of newspapers and he must know this early enough for him to succeed. It is called sycophancy and the cult of heroism. What is the purpose of cutting his salary, as symbolic as it is when nothing is said of his security vote and number of ministries, commissioners and political aides? We desire that he succeeds, at least, to justify his election and shame his detractors. But he is not likely to the way he is going.