It's Unfair To Politicize Buhari's Health - Gov. Ikpeazu

It's Unfair To Politicize Buhari's Health - Gov. Ikpeazu

A quintessential scholar by all standards, Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu is just another fine administrator with privileged experience in policy and execution. His approach to governance reflects his background as a sound academic of note. Like a certified mechanic with the record for delivering good job, he goes to the root of a problem, diagnoses it and starts to fix it methodically with clinical thoroughness. His science background is quick to come to bear on each of his interactions as he is wont to relate things to the exactitude of science and its proficiency. With an interesting and insightful pre-interview session, which had examined Abia under his watch – his goals and objectives – Governor Ikpeazu took THISDAY  correspondents through his trajectory since assuming office some two years ago and addressed what could pass as the good, the bad and the ugly of his leadership so far. Excerpts:

 

At the peak of the economic recession, the federal government intervened at different points, first with the bailout funds and then, the Paris Club fund, then the allegations of diversion, mismanagement and all that. Can you shed more light on this matter drawing example from Abia?

When the bailout came, I summoned major stakeholders, especially, the leadership of the labour: Trade Union Congress, Nigerian Labour Congress, Union of Pensioners and all that and we said this is the bailout and I left it for them. I said to them, I do not want to be part of it. So, they were the people that took the decision about how the bailout was spent. It was so open and transparent to the extent that the account of the bailout is as a separate inflow, had nothing to do with the state government and the ICPC commended Abia State for the way the bailout was spent.

Of course, when the Paris Club fund came specific guidelines were given, 50 per cent for salary, 50 per cent for development. I also constituted a committee of labour and said to them, determine what is 50 per cent of the money and let me know so that I can plan what infrastructure I want to spend the money but they later said they needed additional N600 million, so rather than 50 per cent, what we got was 50 percent less N600 million.

My confidence is that by the time next tranche comes I will have little or no problem in terms of salary because I am a man, who plays according to the rule. So, Abia is not among states that they are looking at in terms of mismanagement or diversion. The books are there for anybody to see. Abia is not owing workers – our civil servants; some revenue generating parastatals could be owing the staff. What we pay them is subvention and once we pay our subvention, we expect the institution to pay salaries.

Let’s talk about your party, the PDP. It’s been very tough since the party lost the 2015 election and it is bothersome that the party is not giving the kind of opposition expected of it. Will PDP continue to wobble till 2019?

The party has a date with the hangman. History will be determined by what happens after that day. My kind of opposition is: there are rules. Don’t tell a lie against anybody. Study your audience. What kinds of propaganda are you going to be telling them? Challenge your opponent based on scientific and verifiable data because what you are playing around with is confidence, people lost confidence in the PDP that led to the outcome of that election of 2015 at the center. So, it is a confidence issue and you don’t repair confidence by propaganda and another lie. It could have worked for the APC against the PDP, because they used to load the subconscious of Nigerians with all kinds of things until it became as if it was true. On whether we are going to wobble or not, it depends on the outcome of our date with the hangman.

But do you fear a descent into one party state?

Political system is like organism. It evolves. It moves from egg to lava, from lava to maggot or pupa and adult. It evolves and when certain conditions are in place, that evolution will go in certain directions. What will happen is that we will still climb but from my perspective, I always leave some options for the omniscience. You remember during the time of Sanni Abacha; you also remember the recent political history in Nigeria – when things begin to go in certain way, something begins to happen.

There is something APC as a party needs to work on; they need to protect the stem that erected that party. They need to discover it and hold on to it. Then, all other political interests – two scenarios actually. They may become too weak, in which case we would have one strong party and some mushroom contractions. You could find potentially strong political associations but none is capable of wrestling the power at the center until some realignment.  I am happy that you didn’t ask me what I will do or what I plan to do.

Without asking you to assess the federal government, will you say the government has fulfilled the promises upon which it came into office?

Well, I have not read the manifesto but I think that their account of stewardship for the past 18 months has somehow separated the sense of ideology of Nigerians into elite and ordinary people. The common people still believe that the APC is capable of some magic. It is the elite that don’t understand what is happening. How disenchantment and disillusionment within the ranks of the elite in Nigeria would influence the common people is a matter for another day. But I assure you that the average Nigerian has become numb and insensitive or touchy to pressure from politicians.

If you push them too hard with your idea, it doesn’t matter how beautiful, they react. They have suffered too many shocks. And if you ignore them, they will just remain quiet. And the people on the saddle also have issues because you don’t know whether they are enjoying you so much that they are dosing or whether what they doing is to react. I think that the elites are worried and the common people are hoping that a magic will happen.

Would you say the fight against corruption is selective or discriminatory?

I would rather say that the fight against corruption should focus on strengthening the institution. It is more important to prevent it. There are moral lessons our parents taught us that you dare not take another person’s things. The people are ready to learn. The thing shouldn’t be a Tom and Jerry kind of thing. They should be driving Nigeria towards a perfect society. I think we could evolve a situation, where even people can report themselves.

As a political leader are you not worried about the president’s state of health?

Are my not worried? I am not worried. At his age, he is not a young person. My father didn’t live up to that age before he died. I have a lot of respect for our elders; we have culture and also, every person can fall sick. What I am worried is the management of the news. Mr. President, as he is, anybody presenting him to us that he can be part of a team of 11 boys playing soccer isn’t sincere. No! So, we appreciate his desire to serve despite the limitations that health can bring. Some of us respect his patriotism to present himself, but we are saying that there is a limit. He needs to be a little bit open about how he feels. A lot of people are praying and hoping that he should get better. I do not subscribe to it that we should politicise it or mystify it. I think it isn’t proper because of those who love his immediate family. I don’t think it is proper for him also.

 

It will be two years soon that you assumed office as governor, how much grounds have you covered in terms your social contract with the people of Abia State?

About 20 or 22 months ago, when we mounted the saddle of service here in Abia State, we had a clear vision of what we wanted and our decision and strategy were based on a very deep study of our circumstances, juxtaposed on the socio-economic environment of our nation. Recall that about 22 months ago, Nigeria was deep in recession. The oil price had plummeted, production quota was low and there was Niger Delta Crisis, the Boko Haram violence and all that. People had almost lost faith in governance.

So, we started with the basic things. What is it that separates us from other states? Are there things that we can do better than other states? Are there some natural endowments? We looked at everything from industry to all kinds of natural endowments to the people: what kind of people are we? And then, we arrived at a vision and this solution was encapsulated in one sentence: give our people a better life. How do we do that? We needed to create a vehicle, which we called the five pillars of development. Like I said earlier, our vision was based on the things we can do and the capacity of the Abia person.

Those five pillars include trade and commerce, because it is documented everywhere that Abia or people from this part of Nigeria are people that are very strong in commerce. Fredrick Forsyth in his book alluded to it, when he tried to compare our people from the South to the Lebanese. And I will tell you a story. It is only in Aba and Umuhahia here that even in the early 60s and early 70s, you wouldn’t see departmental stores. You wouldn’t see Kingsway in Aba. You wouldn’t see Kewalrams. You wouldn’t see all those.

If you put a tag on any item, Aba people will find a way to bring it into the market – the same quality but cheaper, or probably comparable to your own and it would be more flexible getting it. So, trade and commerce is one pillar. The other pillar is small and medium scale manufacturing – production of all kinds of things. Our emphasis around here is leather things: shoes, belts, bags and all that and then, the garments.

The other pillar was agriculture because of the job opportunity, and because we believe we have the most fertile soil on earth and that can be proved. This is the only place, where you spend less than N150.00 to get drinking water. Talking about water, water is one of the products for beverage industries. That is why beverage industries have remained here. We have Pepsi. We have Coca Cola.

Beyond agriculture, of course, we have oil and gas. Oil and gas is our number four but of course, we don’t want to continue to talk about oil and gas. We want to look at post-oil and gas era for Abia State. In fact, at a point, we started praying for the oil to dry up so that we could really see how far we could go without it.

Finally is education. Education in the sense that we think education can be both a pillar and an enabler. We wanted to weave some of our developments in terms of the other four pillars that I have mentioned around education – to structure it into technical education to drive small scale manufacturing. In fact, we are conceptualising an Aba or Abia Business School, so that the business paradigm of the Aba people can become what people can comprehend.

These five pillars needed some enablers. Of course, you cannot move personnel and goods from one place to another unless the roads are good. So, we needed some infrastructure. We needed roads. We needed security. So, we set our eyes on road infrastructure and we are on 64 roads today. We have commissioned about half of that and we are prepared to celebrate our anniversary.

Abia is probably one of the few states apart from Lagos and may be Rivers – where within our economic bracket that has three ‘Grade A’ contractors working simultaneously: Arab Contractors in Umuahia, Cetraco is in Aba and we have a very good Chinese firm that is doing our flyover at Osisioma exchange. For the purpose of emphasis, that will be the first flyover in the entire Abia State.

We also pioneered the use of cement pavements. That is our response to the fact that we recognised the peculiar terrain in Aba. It is not true that the previous administration did not do enough in Aba and the rest of the state, the worry was that they did not deal with the problem from a foundational basis. You must do the drainages for the roads you are doing. You must finish the roads with street lights so that you can extend business hours.

In terms of roads infrastructure, if you ask me whether I have been able to cover grounds, I will leave it for the people to judge but I think we have not done badly. Going back to that, I will like to be remembered for the quality of jobs we do rather than the number. I am looking for roads that will outlive this administration and I am happy we have been able to establish that contract with the people. I will tell you something that happened a few days ago. There is a bad road called Port Harcourt road. It is federal road. I was touched because of the pains of the people in that area. I decided to go there. When I got there, I saw that it is really very bad. So, as we were moving, I overheard one poor old woman saying “if the governor has come to see us, then this road is as good as done.”

What it tells you, is that there seems to be an understanding by the common people that once I give attention to something; once I proclaim, somehow something will be done. As at that day, I couldn’t find the money. I don’t know where the money will come from but we had said we would do groundbreaking on that road to the glory of God soon. So, for the people to say “now that the governor has come that this road will be done”, I mean it puts it beyond me the consideration of whether it will be done or not.

Then come to health. We thought about how to improve our health sector. The thing to do and the way to go anywhere in the world is to emphasis preventive medicine. What do we do to stop people from coming to the hospital every now and then? The way to do preventive medicine is to emphasis primary healthcare but I am happy that it is also part of the national policy to provide primary healthcare and we have over 274 primary healthcare centres.

So, I decided that we are going to strengthen primary healthcare but for us to strengthen primary healthcare, the strategy was to drive primary healthcare from the secondary healthcare centres because it has to be a pool. When you are developing strategy for the development of infrastructure, you have to make up your mind on whether it would be a push from the bottom or a pull from the top and in this case, we said we can have primary, secondary, tertiary and super tertiary, and there are other levels which I would allude to.

We said if we strengthen primary healthcare centers, they could serve as referral points for a cluster of primary healthcare centers. What I mean is that there is a General Hospital in Umuahia, it could serve as a referral center for the local governments that are around Umuahia, Isiala Ngwa North, Isiala Ngwa South, may be some parts of Bendel and all that. But referral healthcare centers will be the secondary healthcare centers.

The big consultants will be there; modern day healthcare facilities will be there, but primary healthcare centers can now refer; they can have ambulances; they can even do e-medicine – telemedicine using skype, which by the grace of God we have launched for the first time in Abia State, when the Nigerian Medical Council came.

The honorable minister launched that programme. Some medical doctors – consultants – can actually attend to patients in the rural areas using skype. So, we intend to build four of the many secondary healthcare centers to capacity. For these four, we said what do we need to do to make it function? The first was to provide adequate lodging facilities for the medical practitioners. That is the only way the doctors can remain there and be on call 24/7. So, we are going to continue for the next two to three months.

We will bring up some other supporting healthcare facilities, so that in each senatorial district, we will have enough secondary healthcare facilities – properly equipped with the facilities that I have mentioned. Beyond the secondary healthcare, we are also collaborating because you find out that we have a huge number of Abians with huge capacity when you talk of medicine outside the shores of Nigeria. Some of them in the United States are ready to come for an organ transplant center and heart surgery center and that will be our tertiary facility, which will complement the ones that we have.

Beyond that, there is also a research center and this is the model of Cuba. I asked myself in Cuba, in Cuba, the life expectancy for men is 79 years; the life expectancy for female is 80 – higher than that of US and the doctor-patient ratio is higher than that of US. So, what is it that Cubans are doing properly that we are not doing? Then, I discovered that their emphasis is on preventive medicine but whatever happens down the line, theirs is five tiers.

These are research and development, the teaching hospital, secondary healthcare, primary healthcare and then they have a family doctor level and what it means is that you can have ten doctors on a street knocking on your doors and coming to attend to you to administer anti-malaria, anti-diarrhea and all that. So, that stops a lot of people from coming to the hospital every now and then. So, for us in Abia, that is where we are going, because we are beginning to revive the environmental health officers that will be led by doctors.

We will provide vehicles and the doctors will now leave the primary healthcare center and move into the communities, because in Cuba, if you give a Cuban an egg, as the Cuban is removing the egg shell, his interest is not only in eating the egg, his interest is also in how do I dispose of the egg shell because he doesn’t want to drop it where it will percolate water for mosquitoes to breed. But we would prefer to buy insecticides than to prevent mosquitoes. So, it is about orientation and this is part of what we are doing.

Then, in education, we want to have what we call E for E, Education for Employment and under ours, we will have data of about 35, 000 youths, which we have collated already – segregated by age, local governments, date of births, skills, precincts – so that if I want young people for all kinds of things, I go to that data bank. They have identity cards. They have bank accounts with UBA and all that. So, the whole idea is to produce middle standard, young technically-minded secondary school graduates.

We started inaugurating our technical schools – one per senatorial district. But we have other small skills acquisition companies in chair making, brick molding and all that. The idea is to make sure that our youths of today have theory in the classroom and also, some practical experience. The idea as the name implies is education for employment. We are also preparing them as fresh students for our polytechnic, so that they are already minded towards one form of engineering course or the other.

That is one of what we have done in terms of education and we think that we can do more because we have called on some Australians to teach our primary school teachers rudiments and skills of ICT, because in my time, I would like to see every primary school pupil typing his name into the computer; every primary school pupil in Abia should be able to type his name, type the name of his teacher, type the subject he or she was taught, type the name of his teacher, type the time and then log out.

So, we’ve got some Australians primary school teachers. They have come three times and they are due in two weeks to come again and then rub minds with our teachers. The idea is to make them train our teachers on what it is to be a primary school teacher, to improve their confidence and sharpen their skills and build capacity and then, we will now come with tablets, which we will then give our primary school students to try their hands on. It’s a gradual thing. I think we are laying the foundation. If you ask me where are we I will say we have done 40 to 50 per cent in terms of issues that are foundational, and going forward, people will begin to see the surface structure of what we are doing!

And then as we speak, in the next two weeks, the first batch of our UBEC since we came into office and that will see three hundred schools renovated and by His grace, two of my model schools – what I call model schools will see the light of the day. My model school is a school that will provide good academic environment. I don’t believe in day school because I cannot trust what parents will do – how much time they can spend with the children, because it is easy for a child to forget everything that he or she did in school before coming back to school.

So, you don’t have to break the circle of learning. Students will be boarding. The teachers will live there – nursery, primary and secondary. The primary school teachers, some of them will leave but the students will be boarding. That will be my ideal model school. It is at that time that I will be able to speak to private schools. But as I speak, I have never asked any private school to shut down on account of anything, because I don’t even have the kind of school that we want them to copy. I must lead with example and say to them if your school is not as good as this, shut down. I hope that in the next 12 months, two of those model schools will take shape. Even with what we have, Abia State has continued to maintain the first position in national exams – NECO, WAEC and all that.

So, I can now take your question frontally and my answer will be, in terms of remaining focused on the agenda we have set for ourselves, I will say yes. Even in terms of our drive to enhance trade and commerce, the garments, leather and shoes industries in Aba. We have attracted by direct sales, not less than N1.5bn to the people who are doing these shoes and garments in Aba by our advocacy for made-in-Nigeria and Aba people are becoming more confident, they are putting boldly on their items now ‘Proudly in Abia’, ‘Proudly Aba’.

And in agriculture, we set out to be the best in oil palm, cashew and cassava. We used to be number six in cocoa; we still want to go back to that number six. Our emphasis is on four crops. We don’t want to do everything. We go to where we have comparative advantage. In terms of oil palm, like my strategy has always been, we said, what are the foundational things that we need to do? In fact, the natural thing to do is to produce the seedling – the right quality, the right species of the seedlings, which gives so much in terms of oil yield.

Because it was scarce, some of them were selling for 250 a pan, so we set out to proliferate it and we made up our minds to produce seven million. As I speak with you, in two years we have done close to four million oil palms. We are also very strong in mushroom farming. We are partnering a private company in terms of cashew and the agenda again is to proliferate cashew estates in all the local governments of Abia State and we are bringing the seedlings from Brazil. So, even in terms of agriculture, I think we have done a lot. We have laid the foundation for the kinds of advancement we want in all sectors of the economy and I think we are set to begin to set building blocks on this foundations.

One of the major directions of this administration has been the marketing of made-in-Aba and this has kind of evolved into serious concerns, such that it is one of the positive image-making for the country itself. What is the drive behind this ideology?

Yes, it goes back to what I said earlier. What is it that our people can do very well – better than other people and the greatest asset of the Abia is human capital. If we can invest deeply in our people and their capacity to do the kinds of things they do, I think we’ll self-propel ourselves. Therefore, it would be a abnormal for any serious-minded leader to abandon that huge sector actually – creating all sorts of designs and wares: shoes, leather works, bags, belt and shirts and dresses and Aba and Abia have been the window for the exportation of almost a million pair of shoes to the entire West Africa sub-region every week.

It has been going on for almost 30 years and having done so much with little or no government support, we thought that this is a country that is in recession and if that is so, what advantages can we get from this challenge? Are we going to continue to do the same things the same way or are we going to look inwards now and make certain bold statements about the kind of people we are and we chose the second option. We want the world to use our shoes, use our belts and our bags. If consistently for the past 30 years, people from Cameroon, Togo, Cote de Voire, Benin Republic have had to rely on our people for the things they need, why can’t we in this country use it?

And we said this is a country of over 170 million people, even if only 40 million are wearing our shoes and they wear an average of two pairs of shoes and if one shoe costs N2,500 or N3,000, you can see what that contributes to the national GDP and the GDP of the state. By the way, the GDP of Aba and Abia has been consistently higher than the national average for so many years. So, we decided to run on it and I made a vow in my inaugural speech.

On that day, I was clad all through in made-in-Aba, and I promised that I will always adorn the fashion made-in-Aba, not because I want to pay lip service to the sophistry of made-in-Aba, but because I love the quality of made-in-Abia products. I know they are good enough and then I have not been disappointed wearing them. I have had to address a summit in the World Bank, I wore them. I attended some other meetings, I wore them. I was in China, I wore them.

And luckily, somehow, the present administration at the center, seeing through, has bought into it in terms of how the military came with their orders. We just received an order from the Army; we just received an order from the Navy, the Customs, the NYSC and all that. And these young people have been busy and their confidence level is high. They are good to go.

This marketing of made-in-Aba products has seen you travel to a few countries. And recently, you just came back from China. What can you say are the gains of these trips?

We started with Turkey. On our trip to Turkey, we went to see shoe makers there and we designed our focus and reason for being in Turkey clearly to ourselves and we said we are not here to look at the already made shoes. Not the shoes but how the shoes are made. We were there to look at how the shoes are made but for some reasons, we couldn’t take all the action we wanted. We needed to see the equipment, we needed to see the shoe factories, we needed to see how the shoes are made in automated way, we also needed to see those who produce the machines, but we couldn’t get all that we needed and my mind continued to agitate and thirst for the idea.

And of course, the first Governors’ Forum-Chinese business interface came and this time, I did not go with the leather people, because I went with predominantly the garment people. When we were in China, surprisingly, the Chinese are very open. Not only did we see the shoe manufacturing industry at work, we also saw how the machines were being used because we were taken to every room in this factory.

Beyond that, we were taken to the place where the machines for the various purposes of shoe-making are being produced and we had the privilege of working hand-in-hand with the man, who was producing the machines. He took us on a tour of the factory, where he had the machines and got us into a factory, where the workers were on break and actually we had a filled day.

He operated the machines one after the other and in fact, we saw the ones they were welding and putting together. So, to my mind that was the bull’s eyes.

Then, the next problem was, do we have the capacity to operate these machines, because some of these machines are fully automated? Some of them have screens with which you can do shoe design using the computer and then you create mold using the computer because it has to be precise and the mold will cut the leather according to the size you have measured. These things are not something you can just operate. So, we needed some capacity. Do we have the capacity? The answer, unfortunately, is a no. We have people, who can do handmade shoes but if you want to talk about 300, 000 pairs of shoes, how many years will it take an individual applying hands?

So, we held a mini conference within ourselves. Some of them said no, this thing is going to push some people out of job because we now have the option of bringing a direct investor, who was prepared to come and put N150 million worth of equipment to start with. So, we said we are going to the man with some conditions. First, how many workers is he ready to employ? Two, does he have capacity for training our local people in these things? Three, what was his market target, because for whatever enterprise most of what you need to do and do some critical thinking about is your market. If you don’t have your market and you don’t have your target, you may just be shooting into the sky. Then when we asked those questions, the answers came quickly.

One, he was willing to create 20,000 jobs within 15 months. He was willing to train. We will send people to China for training and they continue to train while in his factory. He will come with a small training team. Interestingly, his market target is not our market target, because the man has a contract to produce shoes for about 2.7 per cent of the shoe demand of America. And he has about five factories.

The latest is in Ethiopia. Ethiopia is now competing with Nigeria. In fact, they have gone ahead, because they produce shoes of consistent quality. So, the shoe factory in Aba is going to complement the shoe factory in Ethiopia and then make sure that he is able to meet his target. So, 70 to 80 per cent of his products are heading to America. So, he was not targeting the Togo, Cameroon and Benin Republic people that our people are targeting.

What I am taking away from this is: one, this technology for shoe-making will finally be transferred to Aba people, whether Mr. A likes it or Mr. B does not like it. Even if Aba people don’t like it, it must be transferred. Two, capacity building is key. If we push up the standard of shoe-making in Aba, a few things will begin to happen within a few months of the arrival of that company. Three, 20,000 direct jobs will be provided. Four, foreign exchange will be earned from our land, because you will not be exporting the shoes to America and Nigerian government and all of us will be standing there and watching.

Then the clincher is this question: if we say no, can we stop him from going to our neighbours if he is looking for a place in West Africa? If he goes to Benin, will Benin people continue to come to Aba for shoes? So, if we are serious about remaining and retaining our position as the hub of shoe-making in Nigeria, West Africa and Africa, then this is the time to seize our chance, when we have the opportunity. Same thing is going to happen with garment. Like I said earlier, we now know who manufactured the machines. We can also procure the machines. Good news today is that between now and the next 30 days, because all the people I met in China had arrived Nigeria (16 of them), and for the past two days, we have been moving from one location to the other.

As I speak, Abia State has a landmark of about 9, 000 hectares which we have designated as our industrial zone. The electricity that passes through that belt can provide embedded electricity. So, we have moved up our story from made-in-Aba to make-in-Aba now – come to Aba. There is a 9, 000 hectares of land. C of O is available and everything from the office of the governor, because we already have a one-stop shop, which was commissioned by the vice-president of this country. So, in one week, we are ready to participate – whatever thing you require to do business and do groundbreaking in our environment.

We are praying that we will be able to provide all the facilities and that the federal government will support this industrial zone to take off, because as at today, we have potential for 100 core investors that will anchor this industrial zone. The ceramics people are here, people for the production of glass, people for the production of all kinds of raw materials are here.

So, what we are saying is that we are prepared for industrialisation and we are starting with 100 companies as anchor. The first 100 people will be leaving the shores of Abia State in the next five weeks: 50 males and 50 females. They will spend the next one year in China in the shoe factory and the company will take care of their accommodation and pay them as trainee shoemakers. So, we are sending 100 trainee shoemakers from the shores of Abia.

Does this explain some of the concerns by the locals that the bulk of your developments are concentrated in Aba?

Yes, and those are people who do not understand why we are laying emphasis on Aba. They don’t have proper understanding of the strategy of the government. Unfortunately, for them, I don’t think like them. I don’t invest in things that are politically but socioeconomically inexpedient. If something is socioeconomically wrong, I don’t do it. There is no serious place for politics, when we talk about socioeconomic development. We have doubled our IGR just because of our export in Aba. Again, Aba is not Aba by way of its geographical entity, 70 per cent of people that are in Aba are not aborigines of that place.

Aba has a good population of people from Imo or Anambra, people from Enugu, people from Ebonyi State, the second in population are the people from Abia North because they are the big merchants; people from Abriba, people from Arochukwu, people from Ohafia.

So whatever we do in Aba, whatever development you bring to Aba, you do not only do for the people of the South but South-east and South-south because Aba is at the confluence of these states – 30 minutes away from Port Harcourt, 30 minutes away from Akwa-Ibom, a shout away from Owerri. So, if we are serious about putting Abia on the map, why don’t we put our best 11 forward? If my brother to whose zone goalkeeper has been ceded is not a good goalkeeper, why wouldn’t I use a good goalkeeper from Abriba, so that we can win the match? Why must I put a basket in the goal post because it is politically correct?

What were the main challenges that you faced when you newly assumed office?

The major challenge – believe and social mobilisation. I believe that you have to create believe in the people – you have to mobilise them, you have to make them see reason and that has been my strategy. I do town hall meetings for everything even at the expense of becoming a common place governor. I do phone-in radio programmes at least two times every quarter – no-holds-barred – call to say anything you want to say; ask any kind of question you want to ask. Then, I engage the people on one-on-one.

When the bailout fund came, I took it everywhere. I said this is what we have received; this is what I think we need to do with the money and then, same thing with the Labour Congress. When the Paris Club money came, I set up a committee headed by the Labour Congress, TUC, ASUU and all of them – manage this money the way federal government has prescribed. In fact, they managed it to a point that they said they needed another N600 million. We gave them. That was why ICPC recommended the Abia State model for all other states. In fact, if judicious use is the precondition for bailout and the Paris Club funds, the next time we are qualified instantly.

To mobilise the people, to create believe is not an easy thing because the Thomases and the fifth columnists – unfortunately, some politicians get into opposition to distract. They will say, we will keep busy, we will continue to distract him and they don’t know that that is the greatest dis-service to the poor people in the hospital, to those whose only benefit was the road that was tarred, the street lights that was erected. So, when they say such things as “I will distract him so that he wouldn’t have time to do work;” is it his father’s work? This is about the state for goodness sake! “He will not move forward”, is it not the state that will not move forward? Even if he or she eventually becomes governor, which God will never allow, does he want to preside over carcass?

They invent wrong information – half-truths and they hire people to do all sorts of things. So, mobilising the people is a big issue because as you are mobilising them, the other people are opening hole in your balloon and laughing about it while they drink Champaign and saying we have caused him pains.

The other is getting the civil service to work because you need the civil service. They are the bulwark of service delivery. If you send your messenger on an errand and you see your messenger strolling lackadaisically and he is using the file as if it’s a swagger cane, you just know that things are not good. And at times, there are things that are not done, that are against the Official Secrets Act. When somebody because of his work makes a mistake, they will castigate him; they will tag it to that person’s senatorial district or local government. I think we have traveled too far in the wrong direction. So, these are the challenges. A lot of people would have loved me to mention my distraction in court but I don’t think those things are strong enough to enlist in my challenge list.

Are you saying that the litigation didn’t distract you in any way?

I understood that there were some spiritual dimensions to those things. God knows my commitment to this job and how much I am prepared to make a difference, so, all I had to do is to say God, this is all about you and not about me. I want you to conclude the matter. So, I just hide behind God. Anybody who claims that he is strong enough – that he would fight God so be it. That is why it shouldn’t be a distraction. I would have been happy without it. Somehow, I have become like a proverbial frog. You know when you kick a frog you have given it a lift to where it is going.

 

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