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Special Report: One year anniversary: Echoes of good governance in Abia 

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One year anniversary: Echoes of good governance in Abia 

Today, May 29, 2024, Governor Alex Otti is celebrating his first anniversary as the 5th Executive Governor of Abia State. 

For many Abians and political observers diligently observing things, the inaugural anniversary fittingly presents an opportunity to assess how far the much promising Otti’s administration has gone in fulfilling his campaign promises to restore Abia to its old glory since he assumed office as governor on May 29, 2023.

Abia State, it would be recalled, was created on August 27, 1991 from the old Imo State by the administration of the then military head of state, Gen. Ibrahim Gbadamosi Babangida (retd).

From its inception till date, the state has produced 10 chief executive officers, namely Frank Ajobena (Military Administrator/August 28, 1991 to January, 1992; Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu (Executive Governor/January 1992 to November, 1993; Chinyere Ike Nwosu (Military Administrator/December 9, 1993 to September 14, 1994; Temi Ejoor (Military Administrator/September 14, 1994 to August 22, 1996 and Moses Fasanya (Military Administrator/August 22, 1996 to August, 1998.

Others are Anthony Obi (Military Administrator/August 1998 to May 29, 1999; Orji Uzor Kalu (Executive Governor/May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2007; Theodore A. Orji (Executive Governor/May 29, 2007 May 29, 2015; Okezie Ikpeazu (Executive Governor/May 29, 2015 to May 29, 2023 and the incumbent, Alex Chioma Otti (Executive Governor/May 29, 2023 till date).

However, successive military administrators and civilian governors, who ruled the state since its creation more than two decades ago, left behind a legacy very different from the one expectant Abians had hoped for when the state was created.

From the economy to education, health, power, security, and infrastructure, past administrations’ legacies have been one of missteps and misdeeds as they handed over power to each other after dashing the hope and expectations of millions of Abians.

In his resolve to change the negative narratives in Abia, the former Managing Director of Diamond Bank Plc, Dr. Alex Otti, joined the governorship race in 2015, campaigning on five-point agendas of addressing the challenges of economic and social transformation, public service reforms, and internal security.

While his first two attempts at capturing the Abia Government House hit the rocks, Otti struck gold in his third attempt when he defeated 17 other contestants to clinch the coveted seat, and getting the chance to fulfil his pre-election promises of addressing the challenges of poor governance, stunted growth and development, deprivation and hopelessness of the people of Abia.

As part of our watchdog role, which includes monitoring the performance and conduct of governments, to ensure that they adhere to the promises and expectations of the electorates, who put them in office, a Business Hallmark team was in Abia to examine how far the administration of Governor Otti has gone in fulfilling his campaign promises to Abians.
At the end of the trip, the jury’s verdict on the performance of Governor Otti’s administration in the last one year is quite encouraging, with the visiting BH team to Abia and majority of Abians agreeing that the governor had commendably walked his talk in the period under review.

Development projects

i. ROAD CONSTRUCTION

One area that the current administration had performed creditable well, even beyond the expectations of his adversaries, is in the area of infrastructural development.

Immediately he assumed office, Otti declared a state of emergency on road infrastructure and embarked on several construction projects in the 17 Local Government Areas (LGAs) scattered across the state. For instance, the state government flagged off the renovation of nine roads in Aba within one month of assuming office.

By the end of October 2023, seven of the roads: Jubilee Road, Umuimo Road, Cemetery Road (Phase 1), Shallom Road, Emelogu Road, Udeagbala Road, and MCC/Old Express Road have all been completed and inaugurated for use by motorists.

The construction of several other roads in Aba, the commercial nerve center of Abia State, including Green Avenue, Omuma Road, Queen’s Street, Abak Road with adjourning streets, University Road, and the 6.8 kilometer Port Harcourt Road, which was awarded to construction giant, Julius Berger, were flagged off by the governor.

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Before the award of the Port Harcourt Road to Julius Berger by Governor Otti, many parts of the road have been taken over by ponds and weeds, with some parts converted into refuse dumps by residents.

However, BH observed during the visit that the roads, which were un-motorable for years owing to their being abandoned by past administrations, are mostly completed or nearing completion.

In the same vein, Governor Otti also awarded contracts for the construction of major roads in Umuahia and its environs. One of such is the expansion of Ossah Road to a 6-lane expressway. The road serves as the major entry point to the state capital. Construction work is simultaneously ongoing on strategic roads in the state, especially the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road, Umuahia-Uzuakoli Road, and many others.

Also, several major roads in Umuahia needing resurfacing had also been re-asphalted in continuation of the governor’s zero tolerance for potholes.

Worthy of mention is the fact that rather than giving the jobs to contractors, the resurfacing works are being carried out through direct labour by hitherto redundant workers in the Abia Ministry of Works.

Another observation worthy of mentioning is the lighting up of major streets in Umuahia and Aba through solar-powered street lights by the state government.

This singular act, BH observed, has restored night activities to both cities.
As parts of activities to mark his one year anniversary, Gov. Otti will be commissioning seven roads built in Aba and Umuahia this week, including University Road, Green Avenue Road, College Road, Kent by Ehi Road and Old Court Road, all in Aba, while the new six-lane Ossah road and the dual carriage Dozie way, recently rehabilitated in Umuahia through direct labour, would also be commissioned in line with his road infrastructure agenda.

Also planned for commissioning is the newly completed JAAC building at Ogurube Layout, Umuahia, built at the cost of N1.5billion, as well as the road leading to the gigantic complex.

Speaking to BH on the turnaround been experienced across the state, many residents and guests, who spoke to our reporters said the the governor had turned Abia into a massive construction site.

According to Abia state’s Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Prince Uzor Nwachukwu, no government in history had injected funds at the local government level like the administration of Governor  Otti.

ii. HEALTH

Another area that the administration of Governor Otti has hit the ground running is in the health sector. As he did with road infrastructure, the governor declared a state of emergency in the health sector immediately he assumed office on May 29, 2023.

Within six months of assuming office, the new administration in Abia State renovated and retrofitted the rundown Abia Diagnostic Centre Umuahia and Abia Specialist Hospital Amachara.

With their renovations, the two facilities now have some of the best state-of-the-art equipment and can compete with any health facility in the country.

Also, the renovation of three General Hospitals (one in each of the three senatorial zones) has reached an advanced stage.
In a bold move to halt the collapse of the sector triggered by the incessant strike actions embarked upon by aggrieved doctors and allied health workers protesting months of unpaid wages, the governor swiftly resolved the salary disputes by offsetting the arrears of wages owed the workers, thus bringing the peaceful atmosphere needed for the hospitals to run efficiently.

BH findings revealed that no health union in the state had gone on strike since the new administration assumed office.

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Also, for the first time in the history of Abia, or any state in Nigeria for that matter, budgetary allocation to the health sector was increased to 15% in the 2024 budget. This act has helped in the delivery of a robust healthcare system to the people of Abia.

Other milestones in the health sector achieved by the administration within its first 365 days in office include the restoration of accreditation for the Abia State University Teaching Hospital and the College of Medicine of the University.

Before the advent of the present administration, the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) had withdrawn the accreditations of the two institutions for over three years owing to their deplorable state.

Many medical students of the institutions, despite completing their studies/housemanship, were denied certification by the MDCN. But with the intervention of Governor Otti, students of the institutions are now assured of getting the required much sought-after certification from the MDCN.

iii. SANITATION

Prior to the assumption of office of Governor Otti as the chief executive officer of Abia State in May 2023, refuse dumps oozing out terrible stenches were common in cities and towns across the state. However, on assuming office, the governor declared a state of emergency on waste disposal as he did with the health sector and on roads.

One of the bold steps he took was engaging the services of capable private firms for waste evacuation in Aba and Umuahia under a Private Sector Partnership (PSP) arrangement.

However, the investors are prevented from charging Abians for waste collected by them. The governor also empowered the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency (ASEPA) under the leadership of its General Manager, Mr. Ogbonnia Okereke, with the necessary tools to efficiently do its job.

To help the agency with the tasks of making Abia clean, the government purchased waste management equipment, such as waste bins and containers for collection and storage of waste; garbage trucks and waste collection vehicles to transport waste to collection points; compactors and balers to reduce the volume of waste and conveying equipment to transport waste from the collection point to a processing facility.

Others are shredders and crushers to crush wastes into small pieces and simplify the management of waste materials; hazardous waste storage and treatment facilities to manage and process hazardous waste; sorting machines to separate recyclable materials from waste, as well as incinerators to burn waste and reduce its volume.
These are just a few of the many waste management equipment purchased by the state government for ASEPA for it to effectively manage waste generated in Abia. ASEPA, meanwhile, has lived up to expectations. Within the spate of six months, the huge refuse dumps that littered everywhere before now had disappeared from the streets of Abia, though at a huge cost to the state government.

With the stoppage of fees charged on wastes collected, the state government alone now bears the cost of evacuating wastes from the streets, with citizens currently disposing of their wastes for free.

Speaking to our reporters on the development, the ASEPA boss, Mr. Ogbonnia Okereke, said that the state government will fully bear the cost for now, hoping that Abians after seeing the results will start paying for their wastes.

“I can’t give you an exact timeline that the government will reintroduce charges for wastes collected by ASEPA.

“But we are very sure that when Abians see what we have done, they will be willing to pay for the wastes we collect on their behalf”,  Okereke declared.

v. EDUCATION

In the first year of Dr. Alex Otti’s administration, the education sector has also received urgent attention. Upon assumption of office, the governor declared a state of emergency in the state’s education sector Firstly, the government embarked on the recruitment of science teachers in the state school system.

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It is also setting up 17 model primary schools, one in each local government area of the state. Also, public schools, especially primary and secondary schools, whose lands have been encroached upon and either appropriated by former office holders or used as compensation for politicians and other cronies are being retrieved.

The reform in the education sector, meanwhile, is not limited to public schools. The state government is currently in the process of re-accrediting  private schools so that they can meet required standards.
To achieve this, the government recently set up an enforcement Team that will ensure that private schools in the state meet up with all minimum standards required by government.

SOCIAL

In an effort to improve the welfare and social standards of Abians, Governor Otti embarked on several initiatives like poverty alleviation and skill acquisition programmes, ease of doing business to grow the economy of the state and create employment opportunities, as well as the enhancement of the inefficient security apparatus he met on ground so that they can provide the peaceful environment needed for the citizens and businesses to prosper.

i. SECURITY

In the last 365 days, Dr. Otti’s administration has demonstrated capacity and commitment to securing the people of the state, investors and their businesses.

To ensure that Abia State is crime free, the state government immediately entered into a working partnership with federal security agencies, including the Nigerian Army, Police, Department of State Security (DSS), Civil Defense and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) on assumption of office to help rid the state of undesirable elements.

For instance, in July 2023, the state government launched  Operation Crush, a joint patrol team comprising of all security agencies in the country, to help combat rising insecurity, which had assumed an alarming dimension in the state, especially around Uturu/ Isuikwuato/Umunneochi axis culminating in the kidnap of the Methodist Primate, Bishop Samuel Kalu Uche.

However, since the establishment of the joint security outfit, violent crimes have reduced significantly in the state.

The state government also embarked on the demolition of shanties at the Regional Cattle Market Lokpanta, which served as hideouts for criminals.

These bold steps to sanitize the state have largely paid off. To a very large extent, security has improved in the state that was before now renowned for kidnappings, banditry and other violent crimes.

Not yet done, the administration of Gov. Alex Otti’s clamped down on touts and illegal revenue agents that have been tormenting traders and businesses in the state, especially commercial bus drivers, tricycle operators and motorists. Some motorists, who spoke with BH on the clampdown of touts operating in the state by the government, thanked the government for restoring peace to the land.

“Thanks to the state government, relative peace has returned to Abia. Before now, we used to be molested by touts demanding one form of levy or the order. They will ask for various levies, including morning, afternoon and night taxes. And if you resist, they will unleash violence on you.

“It is these same people that usually engage in criminal activities like armed robbery, kidnapping and mugging in the night, even during the day.

“We just discovered that we don’t normally see them around like before. When we enquired, we learnt that many of them were rounded up by government’s task forces.
“While some of these street urchins are still around, there is now a semblance of decency in their mode of operation now as they now operate under the radar and not as vicious as before.

“Thanks to Gov. Otti, we can now heave a sigh of relief”, declared Chinyere Boniface, a tricycle driver in Umuahia, the state capital.

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ii. POVERTY ALLEVIATION

The Abia State government’s collaborative efforts with the Federal Government and foreign agencies to help reduce poverty in the state, BH findings revealed, have largely brought relief and succour to many poor families in the state. For instance, the new Abia government since assumption of office, have been collaborating with the Federal Government to effectively implement the conditional cash transfer for the poor and vulnerable persons in the state.

Towards this end, 265 local government cash transfer facilitators on the Renewed Hope Conditional Cash Transfer Orientation and beneficiary enrollment process were recently trained in Umuahia, the state capital, with Ohafia and Umuahia North having the highest number.

Already, 90,000 out of the one million and fifty thousand prospective beneficiaries captured in the state social register have been enrolled in the 17 local government areas, while 22,850 Abia poor and vulnerable persons had already benefited from the Federal Government’s cash transfer programme.

Expectedly, Ohafia and Umuahia North had the highest number of beneficiaries 13,000 to 14,000 respectively.

Speaking on the  development, the Commissioner for Women Affairs and Poverty Alleviation, Ngozi Felix, said the state would support the federal government’s initiative to achieve the collective goal of poverty reduction in the state and country in general.

“Under the administration of Dr. Alex Otti, poverty reduction is a top priority”, she said.
Likewise, the state government earlier in the year hosted a delegation of the European Union (EU) along with representatives of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) and other development partners to marshal out plans to reduce poverty in the state.
The EU and ILO teams were in Abia to help develop a reliable social register to serve as a guide in providing the necessary support to addressing the multidimensional poverty rate in the state.

Speaking during the meeting, Dr. Otti said that he would achieve the set goal within a year regardless of the population increase and its expected effect on the dynamics of poverty incidence.

“We want to genuinely take people out of poverty. Once you have a reliable database it becomes easy to plan and for you to measure. We want to see the number and see the poverty rates go down even if the population is going high.

“We may not be able to eliminate poverty but we can alleviate it when we create an enabling environment for businesses to grow and generate employment and pull people out of unemployment”, Gov. Otti had assured.

FINANCE

Unlike previous administrations before it, the present administration in Abia State has been adept in managing the resources and public funds.

It has to a very large extent, ran an accountable and transparent financial system devoid of the usual corrupt practices synonymous with governments in this part of the world. From budgeting to workers welfare, the administration of Gov. Otti has remained fidel to its promise to Abians to faithfully manage their resources.

i. BUDGETING

In December 2023, Governor Alex Otti presented the first full year budget of his government. The ambitious budget estimate of N567.2 billion is by far the biggest in the history of the state.

It was deliberately structured to reflect the priorities of the administration on important frontiers, especially road infrastructure, human capital development, health and human services, social support initiatives, digitalisation of the service delivery mechanisms of the government for efficiency amongst other objectives, which are strategically tailored towards opening up Abia economy to local and global investors.

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The key distinction in the 2024 budget estimate, is in the direction of spending. While 53 per cent of the entire 2023 budget was allocated for capital expenditure, 84 per cent of the total expenditure in 2024 is allocated to capital projects, while 16 per cent will go to recurrent expenditure, compared to 47 per cent in the 2023 estimates.

ii. WORKER’S WELFARE

A major sector where Gov. Otti has outshined his predecessors is his consistency in the payment of workers’ salaries and pensions. The governor, it would be recalled, had promised to pay workers salaries on or before the 28th of every month during his his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023.

True to his words, the governor had kept to to his words by diligently paying the workers their wages on or before the promised date. To crown it up, the Otti administration in April 2024, cleared the backlog of pension arrears of Abia pensioners running into several years.

According to the governor, the sum of N10 billion was deployed towards off-setting the pension arrears.

The payment of retired workers pension arrears sparked wild jubilation across the state as the senior citizens thanked the governor for achieving a feat that previous administration before him could not.
Viral videos of some of the pensioners pouring encomiums on the governor for living up to his promise flooded the social media, with many commending the governor’s magnanimity.

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