OPINION: REDEEMING ABIA FROM THE BACKWATER – BY LUKE ONYEKAKEYAH

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With the conclusion of the presidential and National Assembly elections over the weekend, the attention has now shifted to the states that will elect their governors and lawmakers on March 9, 2019. There is a wrong perception about the tier of government that affects the lives of the people most. To most Nigerians, the president, who is far removed from their daily lives is given priority to the detriment of the governor, the state lawmakers and local council administration that oversee the day to day issues of their lives.

The second and third tiers of government are not held to account the same way that everybody talks about the failures of the president. If the energy, time and resources put in the election of the president were put in the election of the governor, in particular, the fortunes of many states would change dramatically for good. Once an incompetent governor is elected, the state will remain stagnated even if the president is good. And the reverse is the case – a proficient and able governor will positively impact the state even if there is a dull president in Abuja. There are good examples to buttress this point in states like Lagos, Anambra, Enugu and Imo to mention a few.

One state that has not been lucky with governance since this political dispensation began in 1999 is Abia. After toying with the fortunes of Abia State and its people for nearly twenty years, are the people still ready to accept failure as an answer? Are the people not tired of the unimpressive state of affairs in the state?

Recently, I visited Awka, the Anambra State capital that I knew in 1991 as a suburban town and was amazed with the unparalleled transformation that has taken place in the hitherto ghetto town. Awka is comparable to suburbs of London and New York. The same transformation has taken place in Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital that was guinea worm infested in 1991. Today there is state-of-the-art infrastructure in Abakaliki built in just a little over two decades.

I have used Awka and Abakliki to illustrate how good governance at the state level could bring transformation and impact on the people. These two cities, like Abia State, came into the lime light in 1991, the same year that Abia State was created. And so, why has Abia not measured up to expectation? The answer is with the people. The solution is also with the people.

It is time for Abia citizens to wake up from slumber and take their destiny in their hands. It is time for them to rise and elect a governor who would pull the state out of the morass of underdevelopment. Abia needs help and the help will come from the people through their positive votes for a new beginning and transformation. The transformation is needed quickly to bring Abia to the level of Anambra State that was carved out at the same time with it in 1991.

Without mincing words, if there is any state that should use the historic opportunity offered by the 2019 general elections to break the shackles of underdevelopment, it is Abia State. Abia State needs redemption. This once golden state that once was the industrial hub of the Eastern region has been raped and left forlorn. Abia is perhaps the only state that has not established a university. The extant Abia State University was the old Imo State University ceded to the state in 1991. The ball is in the court of the people to redeem the state.

Breaking Abia’s underdevelopment quagmire should be the concern of all Abians. There is no two ways about it. It is either the people recognise the abject condition of their state and liberate themselves or remain in squalor behind their peers. This is because from historical times, Abia people were not known to lag behind. They were known to be very active and enterprising.

In terms of vibrancy, clout and aggressive spirit that don’t take no for an answer, Abia people shared the same spirit with Anambra people. They were go getters and great achievers.

For instance, the foremost leaders of the defunct Eastern region hailed mostly from Abia and Anambra States. While icons like Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Dr. Nwafor Orizu and Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu hailed from Anambra State, Dr. Michael Okpara, the iconic political leader, doctor and the premier of Eastern Nigeria from 1959 to 1966 hailed from Ohuhu-Igbo in Abia. Okpara revolutionised agriculture and was the brain behind many industrial establishments that marked the Eastern region like the Golden Guinea Brewery and Modern Ceramic Factory in Umuahia. At the age of 39, Okpara was the nation’s youngest premier.

Ironically, since the era of Dr. Michael Okpara, no other leader in his mould has emerged from Abia State. This is unlike Anambra State, where competent leaders in the mould of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Emeka Odimegwu Ojukwu and Dr. Alex Ekwueme continue to emerge. The Vice presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2019 elections, Peter Obi, is from Anambra State. The leadership jinx that has held Abia State needs to be broken. To pull Abia out of the cesspit of underdevelopment is a task that must be done.

Since 1999, three governors have presided over Abia State. Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu held sway for eight years from 1999 to 2007. Following him was Theodore Orji from 2007 to 2015. The incumbent Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, took office on May 29, 2015 and in about three months, he would have completed eight solid years in office.

The fact is that there has been no remarkable change in the fortunes of Abia State from any of these three men is glaring. No sector of Abia State’s economy is exempted from this underdevelopment quagmire. Whether you talk of education, healthcare, environmental or roads infrastructure, the story is the same – utter neglect of which something needs to be done. Aba, which is supposed to be Nigeria’s Taiwan, is an eyesore.

It is from this angle that a redeemer is being sought in the person of Dr. Alex Otti, as the redeeming force that would pull Abia State out of the quicksand of despair. Alex Otti is a celebrated financial expert. His track record in Nigeria’s banking industry is golden. As the chief executive of Diamond Bank Plc, Dr. Otti broke new grounds and took the bank to an enviable height before he decided to serve his people in a greater dimension as governor.

Having pitched his tent with the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), in 2015, Dr. Otti virtually clinched the governorship ticket but for unexplained political maneuvering, which the powers that be used to rob him of the victory. But the people of Abia State are not deterred. My investigation shows that the people still love him and want him to be their governor.

It is interesting that people are no longer blindly tied to any party. Instead, people are looking for credible individuals who could address their basic needs and aspirations. The story of Anambra State, it should be noted, is the story of APGA. Anambra people chose to elect an APGA governor in 2003, in the person of Chris Ngige and ever since then, the state has become an oasis of progress and prosperity in the South-East. Other than Lagos, Anambra State is arguably the most developed and richest in Nigeria. Destiny is calling on Abia people to do the same and reap the fruits.

There is reason to believe that with Dr. Otti in the saddle, what Abia has lost in 20 years could be recovered in four years. Reason is that here is a tested professional; a man who is not attached to any godfather. What the people should do is to rally round this man and then guard their votes to ensure that it is not stolen again. The die is cast; the people should act in their own interest.

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