INTERVIEW: IKPEAZU FIRES OTTI, SAYS “OTTI IS NOT AN OPPONENT TO WORRY ABOUT”

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Abia State Governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, in this interview addresses issues revolving around governance and development. He is of the opinion that leaders in Nigeria and elsewhere in Africa often fail to succeed because they alienate the people they are elected to govern. He spoke to Tobi Soniyi. Excerpts:

What are your achievements in the past three years?

My greatest achievement in the past three years is what I will regard as being able to mobilize my people socially. They understand my vision and they have keyed into that vision and they see what I see. This is important to me because the tragedy of leadership in Africa is that more often than not, we fail to carry the people along. And it gets to a point where it looks like the high-speed train is moving at a high speed but the coaches are not part of it. So, you arrive at your destination but you haven’t arrived with either the passengers or the goods. And then, it makes it difficult to lead the people if they are not mobilised. But the only way you can mobilise the people socially, going forward, is to be able to be a man of your words. Your vision must be clear and then you must be able to keep to your words, then you must speak to the quality of infrastructure you are delivering, so, they can say that if this man is willing to eat from the same pot with us, then, he is not likely to poison us. Today, there seems to be some disconnect here and there. People destroy infrastructure and you end up looking back to see that whatever you delivered to the people had been vandalised within one month. What it means is that there is a rejection of that infrastructure as in this is not good enough.

In 2015, we were clear-minded about the direction we were going to take. We defined what we wanted to do to create a better life for Abia people, leveraging on those things we can do better than other people. And then, looking at the vision, we were able to craft our five pillars of development. We can’t do everything at the same time but we must focus on the things that are tangible, attributes that can give us a comparative and competitive advantage over other states especially when we were not going to have the kind of money we required. We were able to have some logical basis for prioritisation. So, the five pillars were agriculture, because Abia has the most fertile soil in the world and I prove it by asking people to just enjoy your mango fruit and throw it through your window and you get a mango tree; if you throw pawpaw, you get a pawpaw tree, orange the same thing. So, agriculture for us is one of the pillars.

The other one is the Small and Medium Enterprise; Small and Medium Manufacturing. Today, Abia exports about two million pairs of shoes to the rest of African countries and you cannot ignore that. We do the best shoes, bags, belt and everything that is leather-based and we are also very strong in garments. So, the World Bank recorded 250,000 people doing this. And when we did a deep study, we found that each of the 250,000 people the World Bank recorded had four people in their employ. So, simply, about a million people are involved in one kind of manufacturing or the other. As I speak today, I am proud to invite you to the Presidential Villa on Thursday where we are expected to receive an award as SME Governor in Nigeria. Beyond SME is oil and gas because we have oil deposits in one or two of our local governments in the southern part of Abia.

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Education, for us, is also key – a pillar and we regard education not only as a pillar but also as an enabler. So, the things you look at are those things that facilitate or enable the pillars to stand and become economic relevance to the people. So, our enablers are roads infrastructure, security and all of that and if you come to roads, we are active on about 150 to 160 roads but we have delivered over 80 roads completed and all the roads we have delivered, even the ones we commissioned within the first 100 days are still standing without one pothole. I stand to be challenged. From Aba which is at the heart of Abia South to Arochukwu in Abia North, what it means is that today, we are beginning to do a few things differently from how it was done before. We run a research and data-based government. We must do an analysis of the soil. The treatment we deployed in Aba for road construction is different from the one we deploy in other parts of Abia and that’s why we started the cement pavement technology in Aba, which comes on a road that has had water sitting on them for between five and seven years.

Some were abandoned for ten years, so, if you come and want to recover that road, the best thing to do is to do cement pavements technology. We have done a couple of roads in Aba. We pioneered it using cement pavement technology. But the roads we were set to do and most of which we have done today are around Aba and some people, those who are not deep enough in terms of developmental strategy or not deep enough in terms of the philosophy of the government find it difficult to understand that Aba is at the confluence of South-east and South-south. You can’t ignore Aba. It is 30 minutes from Ekott Ekpene and Port Harcourt to Aba and about 45 minutes from Owerri and there is a catchment business population of about 25 million people coming to do things from Delta, Bayelsa, from everywhere – coming to do business in Aba with 15 markets and one of those markets has about 100,000 shops. So, the economy of my state, if I want to speak in terms of internal revenue, is Aba. So, if I get Aba right, I probably would be able to generate enough revenue to develop other parts of the state.

Again, the roads we have been doing in Aba are short roads, streets and all that. But the roads in Abia north are long roads. You can do 25km, 11km of roads and all of that. But we have concentrated on Aba because we think that if we unlock Aba, it will have a multiplier effect and it had worked. So, if you come to Aba, we targeted roads that lead to specific economic hubs. For instance, Ariaria International Market. Why should I be talking about trade and commerce which is the last pillars? Why should I be talking about the development of trade and commerce or small and medium scale enterprises without alluding to the roads that lead to Ariaria? If I am unable to unlock Ariaria, then, I am not serious about trade and commerce, because the essence is to oil the wheel that moves personnel and goods from one location to another. Nothing drives somebody away from a marketplace as much as traffic jams. So, we decided to create access and that is what brought us to Faulks road. Faulks road was one of the worse streets in Aba, you couldn’t access the Port Harcourt-Enugu expressway from the beginning, which is Brass Street, but today, in Ama Ikonne axis they said there were a huge mermaid and another mermaid around Ukwu Mango axis; all the mermaids along that road are a thing of the past now courtesy of Setraco. But what people are enjoying today is that every part of Aba is about 15 minutes to Ariaria but the rigour and thought and planning deployed into that road is something else. So, a lot of people were saying you took two years, three years to deliver that road, it took too much time and we would have delivered it like this and I said yes, you were delivering like this before and it was failing like this. So, today we had to start by planning and we did a six and a half kilometre tunnel to the waterside and installed three pumps, pumping water intermittently from a collection point we call Ifeobara and that is why the road will not fail in the next 10 to 20 years.

Do you intend to seek a second term in office?

I will take that decision in two weeks’ time.

 

This question is coming because your major opponent in 2015, Dr. Alex Otti, has already declared his intention to contest the governorship election and his posters are everywhere.

I will tell you then but for us in Abia, we don’t think Alex is a formidable opponent, because contemporary politics today is about your track records and what you have done. We have things that we will show people that we have done and we would challenge anybody coming to show us what he has also done. Otti is not an opponent to worry about.

What exactly is Enyimba Economic City?

Enyimba economic city is an alternative city located between Aba and Port Harcourt. It will take a piece of some chunks of lands from three local governments. This city is borne out a need to recreate Dubai and that is the concept I am working towards and we are designing it to work for the best in the world. The idea is to create an efficient technology-driven digital city for light and heavy manufacturing and we have done all the surveys and we found out that it is the choicest and the best economic city today in Africa. There is none like it because it is 30 minutes away from two seaports. One is in Abonima and the other one is in Onne. It has a rail line straight from there to Kano. Again, it has gas for energy, because that is where we have our gas belt but most importantly, it is beside the highly skilled and energetic Aba manpower. So the energy and the skilled manpower that will drive whatever activity in that city are available.

Already, in 2018, the federal government committed N10billion. That is a far cry from what we require for infrastructure. We have an anchor company coming in from China. That is coming with $20billion. They are prepared to underwrite the one hundred and twenty something million naira, which Geometrics requires to provide electricity in which case Aba will become the first city to enjoy uninterrupted power supply in Nigeria and that will come before the end of this year. That is our vision and that is our prayer. A lot of people worry that I have been to China more times than many people have been around there in their lifetime. It is because they don’t understand. The future of Abia is the Enyimba economic city. We are targeting employment for about 70,000 youths. And we are targeting, first of all, a garment factory that will occupy 200 hectares of land, which will put a stop to our people frequenting China for the raw materials they use for their garment business. So, we have it all planned out and it doesn’t take one trip to achieve that. But I am proud to say that the MoU has been signed between Enyimba economic city and some core investors such that one investor is bringing in $20 billion. (Thisdaylive)

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