The recent tour of Abia State by the National Good Governance Team led by Minister of Information Labaran Maku may have come and gone but its impact on God’s Own State will remain for a long time to come, writes Christopher Isiguzo
In recent times, political discourse has virtually taken over other crucial developmental issues in Abia State. Indeed, since the inception of the present administration in the state, several issues which obviously have little or nothing to do with the overall wellbeing of the people have continued to take centre stage.
Initially, it started with the governor, Theodore Orji, and his aides raising alarm that his predecessor, Orji Uzor Kalu, was indirectly stifling his administration by getting involved in all activities of governance. They equally came with follow-up allegations that the former governor was almost the person dictating the pace on how allocations to the state should be expended. He was also said to be the final arbiter on who should be appointed into positions in government.
The situation was to change to another level when the governor, in a shocking move, left the Progressive Peoples Alliance, the party on whose platform he rose to governance and joined the All Progressives Grand Alliance in a bid to “run away” from his benefactor, Kalu. Orji was later to move to the Peoples Democratic Party. In all these, the sole intention was to move away from his predecessor.
The situation was so bad that even political appointees had divided loyalty; and ultimately, activities of government were completely derailed as democracy dividends took flight in the state. This culminated in non-payment of civil servants, increased infrastructural decay, and non-provision of social amenities, among other negative developments.
Toning Down Politics
However, towards the end of his first term, in what took the entire country by surprise, the governor declared that the state had been liberated from the Kalu’s stranglehold and was now ready to embrace fresh challenges. No doubt, the development was welcomed with both hands as a sign of better days ahead.
But for the past six years or so, the story has always been the same: politics, politics and politics.
It was against this background that the people of the state welcomed the Good Governance Tour Team to the state recently to discuss something else outside politics. The focus was on issues that have to do with development.
When Minister of Information Labaran Maku conceived the idea of National Good Governance Media Tour, he explained that the real intention of the project that involves inspection of projects embarked upon by the present federal, state and even the local government administrations was to discuss performance in governance as the real issue of democracy.
In Maku’s opinion, Nigeria’s 14 years experience in the present democratic government would be meaningless if the people are not getting real value for their desire for liberal democracy rather than military autocracy. He said for long time since 1999, the issue of politics had dominated discussions but failed to address the dividends of democracy in terms of performance on projects that impact meaningfully and directly on the people.
For Maku, performance on projects, either visible or invisible, is what the people desire more than the person or persons that govern them. And so he decided that what the leaders have been able to do for their people, using government fund should be thrown up and let the people make evaluations themselves on how they have fared. While he promised that the media tour will not be a yardstick for comparing or contrasting state administrations, he said all projects would be highlighted and decision or opinions about leaders would be formed by the people concerned.
Maku’s disposition was, no doubt, apt.
Taking Abia State, for an example, before the visit of the National Good Governance media team, made up of the information ministry staff, journalists and the civil society representatives, to God’s Own State, the general impression was that no meaningful development was taking place in Abia State except for allegations of godfatherism and flexing of muscles between the governor and his erstwhile godfather.
Stories were equally told of how the issue of insecurity had stalled development in the state. Truly, the case of kidnapping in Abia State rose beyond imagination but with the combined efforts of the state and federal governments, the case has been brought under control. When Orji spoke at the citizen’s forum, a town hall meeting that usually concludes the tour in any state, he said that kidnapping was now a mission impossible in the state.
The team was taken to projects like the Abia Diagnostic Centre, the eye centre and dialysis centre. On the ground at Umuahi are the judiciary complex, a big industrial market that was already in use, structures like the commissioners quarters, international conference centre, new state secretariat, House of Assembly complex, Amachara General Hospital, BCA complex, among other projects.
The sprawling market in Ubani Ibeku and another industrial market both under construction in Umuahia are considered among the biggest of their type in Nigeria, with exceeding potential to boost the economy of the state.
Of the greatest importance to the governor was the return of peace and security to the state.
The Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, attended the Citizens Forum, an action which speaks volume for the confidence she has in the Abia project. She left Nigerians with an assurance that 2013 was “a year of delivery.”
There are also so many road projects both in Umuahia and in Aba townships. Though it was difficult to visit all the projects embarked upon by Orji.
The team also visited federal government projects sited within the state that complement the efforts of the state government. Such projects included the NIPP Alaoji power plant, gas turbines and Ohiya sub-transmission station, and the railway rehabilitation. There was also the Goemetric power plant being carried out by former power minister, Professor Barth Nnaji, as a private investment.
Now the issues arising from the National Good Governance Tour are the practicality of governments at work, despite political distractions. However, some sections of the state are of the view that there was nothing on ground to justify the quantum of resources that have been accessed by the government in the last six years.
Their position is driven by the fact that most of the projects inspected by the NGGT were yet to be completed, considering that they were really commenced less than a year ago.
For instance, the leader of a pro-democracy group in the state, Abia Renaissance Coalition (ARC), Dr Oliver Udeh, dismissed the claim by the state government that an uncommon transformation had taken place in the state as a fluke. He insisted that a comparative analysis of developmental efforts in all the five states of the South-east had revealed that Abia was lagging behind.
“After almost six years in office, the government is yet to commission a single people-oriented project; a project that has made direct impact on the lives of the people of the state. Umuahia, the state capital, is still a glorified village. Nothing appears to be on ground. The NGGT was only taken to projects that were arranged for them to see. We had expected that Maku’s team would have equally move on their own and see the real situation of things,” Udeh said.
“We only had a situation where the team rode on long convoy that even succeeded in scaring people and they were taken to sites of phantom projects. Today, Aba remains impassable. What we have in Abia is a situation where we take one step forward and several steps backwards. The earlier the government redefines her priority would be better for the people of the state.”
Also, a notable chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party in the state who spoke on grounds of anonymity told THISDAY that the state government had relatively done well but still has a lot left to be done.
“Agreed, the governor inherited a state in decay but I don’t think all these issues of being in bondage for five years and was not allowed to do anything really flies. Somebody that was elected by the people and for four years had nothing to show the people. In a sane clime, rather than continue the deception, the governor should throw in the towel because he has shown that he is incapable of handling the state,” he noted.
No doubt, a lot of issues have arisen in the state as a result of the visit of the NGGT to the state. It has led the world to know that sometimes governments are either underreported or misrepresented for different reasons. The Abia experience shows this.