Gov. Ikpeazu’s Mounting Challenges – By Ugo Alaribe

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As the people of Abia state brace up under the administration of their new governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, there are high expectations that he will soon translate his many pledges into rapid development of the state.

Ikpeazu inspects Abam-Arochukwu road

Ikpeazu inspects Abam-Arochukwu road

Speaking at his inauguration ceremony at the Umuahia township stadium, Ikpeazu lived up to the billing of politicians as the only class of people who would promises, even to build bridges where there are no rivers. The new governor pledged to provide good roads, quality education, good health care system, regeneration of Aba, address infrastructural challenges, encouraging increased private sector participation in the economy of the state, creation of industrial hubs, improvements in agriculture and trade and commerce as well as security network. These enviable promises topped the inauguration speech of the new Abia state governor.  It was a rehearse of the age long political promises the electorates have been inundated with over the years.

Ikpeazu had promised at his swearing in ceremony, that  administration is fully committed to providing the enabling environment and infrastructure to facilitate the growth and development of Abia and its people as well as positioning it as a premier residential, business and tourism destination, with the ultimate objective of uplifting the lives of our people.

Dredging of Aba waterside river 3

The governor also added that the time has come to explore and optimize fully the resources and advantages that God has bestowed on the state, promising to tap the resourcefulness of the people and develop its natural resources for the collective benefit of the state.

The new governor also pledged to open opportunities for the growth of business enterprises and make the state the Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, SME, capital of Nigeria. “Our story as a people is one of entrepreneurship, resourcefulness and diligence. This is our pride. We have astounded the world with our homegrown technical skills, especially during a period of pervasive adversity, and followed it up with our trade and commercial prowess elevating one of our cities, Aba, into a prominent commercial hub within the West African region. This historic renown is to become our future narrative. The time is ripe to use the over 110,000 shoemakers and 50,000 garment makers as a launching pad to enable Abia to truly become the undisputed SME capital of Nigeria,” he said.

Dredging of Aba waterside river 1

However, beyond the inauguration rhetoric, there are many challenges facing the state. These challenges are largely developmental as the state government over the years, had done little to better the lots of her residents. There has been the problem of collapsed infrastructure in Aba and other towns. Though the governor has hit the ground running by keeping his promise of flagging off with the ongoing  rehabilitation of seven road in Aba, among others in Umuahia, Arochukwu and  Umunneochi,  residents of the state has called for quality work to ensure that the road last longer.

 

To achieve this, Ikpeazu has already embarked on de-silting of drainage channels and dredging the Aba waterside river. The effort has been commended by residents of Aba who are hopeful that at last a solution is being found for the perennial flooding of their homes during the rains through the opening of the blocked drainages linking all parts of the city and empties into the Aba River. This drainage which was de-silted in 2011 by the immediate past administration has since been blocked by refuse, leading to the flooding of the roads whenever it rains. There is no gainsaying the fact that the blocked drainage channels have been the major reason road don’t last in Aba. Most residents say they

 

On waste management, the governor certainly has an uphill task as the management of the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency ,ASEPA, appear to have been overwhelmed by the high volume of refuse being generated daily particularly in Aba where refuse heaps have taken over some roads.

 

But Ikpeazu looks set to tackle the problem frontally when he promised to declare a state of emergency on waste management in Aba.  According to him, “If we can go to people’s houses with a compactor to collect refuse, all the buckets located along the road will disappear. There will be no more refuse on the roads. True to his words, refuse disposal has improved in many areas of Aba town, except for some sections of Port Harcourt road and Glass Industry.

Ikpeazu had during an interactive session with residents of Aba organized by the Kezie Abia Group,  called on the residents to be ready to make sacrifice in the interest of the state. He accused some residents of the state of wanting change while their shops are seated on top of drainage channels. “They want to make omelette, but don’t want to break eggs.”

 

Despite the challenges confronting his administration, Ikpeazu will be judged in the next four years by how well he is able to turn Aba, notorious for its rowdy and chaotic state, to a city, which the residents would be proud to live in.  Aba, a town which pundits believe, should tower in status like Dubai or Taiwan, given its industrial potentials and the enormous resources available to the state, has been wasting away.

 

The problems of the power sector and bad road network have combined to deal a fatal blow to the celebrated commercial town, leading to an exodus of industries and many small scale enterprises which employed millions of people.

 

Perhaps, Ikpeazu may have taken note of the magnitude of moribund industries and SMEs in the state during his inauguration when he said that the state was a thriving hub for manufacturing and commerce until epileptic electricity supply forced the shutdown of most of the indigenous and foreign owned industries and appreciate the efforts of the Geometric Power Group and the Federal Government’s NIPP project at Alaoji towards providing a solution to the perennial challenges of electricity supply in the state.

 

Another challenge facing the governor is the menace of multiple taxation where industrialists and small scale enterprises lament that multiple taxation has increased the cost of doing business in the state. In Abia state, there is no doubt that illegal collection of revenue has become an organized crime where several touts harass residents and businessmen for all sorts of levies which end up in their private pockets. It is a common sight to see task force teams and touts harass businessmen and residents over various forms of levies and taxes. Such taxes and levies include infrastructure levy, sanitation levy, fire extinguisher levy, economic levy, ICT levy, among others.

 

Setting an agenda for the new governor, Chairman of the Nigerian Bar Association, NBA, Aba Branch, Sir Chidozie Ogunji, said Ikpeazu can only transform the state through renewing basic infrastructure in Aba to enable businesses thrive, flushing out touts as well as appointing ‘fresh blood’ into sensitive positions. According to Ogunji, “If Gov. Ikpeazu rebuilds Aba and gets the city working; the economy of the entire state will start booming because if Aba is working, the resources from the city can sustain the state, there will be no need to wait for federal allocations.”

 

On the political scene; Ikpeazu has got an experienced deputy governor in Chief Ude Oko Chukwu, the immediate past Speaker of the state Assembly whose level headedness and maturity remains an asset for the young administration. The new governor fondly called ‘Okezuo Abia’ has constituted his team but many residents of the state are skeptical about some of the names on the list who have been part of every government in the state. Besides the appointment of the former Programme Manager of the State Agricultural Development Programme, Dr. Eme Okoro as the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), former Economic Adviser to Gov. Theodore Orji, Chief Chijioke Nwakodo as his Chief of Staff; former Commissioner, Elder John Nwangborogwu as Deputy Chief of Staff; he appointed Godwin Adindu and Ugochukwu Emezue as his Chief Press Secretary and SSA Media and Publicity, respectively. Residents of the state are anxiously waiting for his list of his Commissioners and advisers, which they said has been long in coming.

A political analyst, Okey Nwankwo advised the new governor to select a blend of technocrats and politicians who had made marks in their different fields of human endeavour and avoid some names who have been part of every administration in the state with nothing to show for it.

 

On the state House of Assembly, there are signs that the new governor may have a running battle with the legislative arm of his government with the PDP having 13 members and APGA, 11 as the latter may chose to exert its influence in the state. Already, the state chapter of APGA has opposed some of the governor’s programme, describing them as window dressing and charged him to declare the true financial position of the state. It remains to be seen whether PDP’s ‘slim majority’ would be enough to protect the governor as he needs the support of the House to execute his policies.

 

Before now, Abia state lacked a formidable opposition party, but APGA’s performance at the polls and the success of the APC at the centre point to the fact that the politics would never remain the same.

 

As the administration settles down to work, Ikpeazu will have to contend with the huge arrears of salaries owed civil servants in the state. On this, he promised during his interaction with Aba residents that he will shove out ghost workers from the payroll to save funds for the execution of developmental projects.

 

On litigations arising from the 2015 gubernatorial election, the governor will also have to contend with the petitions filed before the Justice Usman Bwala led Governorship Election Petition Tribunal by his APGA and APC governorship candidates, Dr. Alex Otti and Dr. Nyerere Anyim. While Otti seeks the cancellation of the results from Ikpeazu’s home council; Obingwa, Osisioma Ngwa and Isiala Ngwa North, Anyim’s petition which prayed for a cancellation of the entire election alleging a rigging competition between the PDP and APGA, has been struck out by the Tribunal. It is not yet clear whether APC or Anyim who hails from Obingwa with Ikpeazu, would proceed with his petition to the Appeal Court.  Ikpeazu is also battling with tax forgery suit filed against by Chief Friday Nwosu and Dr. Uche Ogah who ran against him at the December 8, 2014 PDP governorship primaries.

Aside this, PDP loyalists who worked for the success of the party at the polls are anxiously waiting for rewards through appointments or other forms of empowerment.  Others hope that they will make list of the yet to be nominated body of Commissioners and Special Advisers.

Pundits say Ikpeazu may have to call for local council government elections to take care of the interest of more party faithful who worked for the success of the party at the polls.

 

In the meantime, hopes are high, promises are still being made. Will Ikpeazu be able to deliver democracy dividends as he promised during his inauguration? As he promised, will he step on toes in the interest of the people? As he marks 100 days in office, will the people of the state be proud to say that their support for Ikpeazu has been justified?

 

However, as the governor enters the second month of his four year mandate, it is clear that the people of the state would accept no excuse from him.

Ugo Alaribe, a public affairs commentator, writes from Umuahia.

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