Governor Theodore Orji
Abia State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji, in an interview with Christopher Isiguzo, spoke on efforts of his government to rebuild the state, which he said was in a state of decay when he came in
The impression out there is that your administration is not doing enough to better the lots of the people of the state. How do you handle such perception?
That impression is a false one given to people by our detractors. Your detractor can never see anything good in you. If you are doing well, they will say it is bad. I’m happy that you have come to Abia and have gone round to see things for yourself and from what you have seen on ground, it’s obvious your impression has changed. So, you also help us to change the impression of those our detractors and even those they try to influence.
The facts are there on ground for any person to come and see. The encouraging aspect of this whole thing is that if you place our achievements side by side with our income; that is when you will appreciate what we are doing the more. If you know how much we get- because all these things are done with money- even if you go to World Bank to get money, you go and borrow it and pay heavily. But this one, anything you do here is by money and as a governor among other governors in the federation, we make the bulk of our money from the federation account and internally generated revenue (IGR).
So, when you place it for Abians, I mean income from IGR and federation account and you go and see the projects that we are executing, that is when you will appreciate the efforts this government is making and you will know that this government is performing excellently well.
Do you intend to complete these projects during your tenure in view of the paucity of funds?
Of course, that’s why I say they are legacy projects. They have to be legacy projects when I complete them before leaving office. If you leave them for someone else to come and complete, the person may complete them and take the glory. He may not even tell the people that it was started by T. A. Orji or this administration.
So, it becomes imperative for us to complete these projects because we have named them legacy projects so that when we complete them, the whole world will know that we have lived up to our campaign promises. We’ll complete and commission them and the whole world will know that these projects were done and completed by this government; they will become a legacy left for our people. We are determined to do our best before leaving office.
There are two major cities here- Umuahia and Aba. But most of your projects seem to be concentrated in Umuahia while Aba which is the commercial nerve centre is not measuring up. Why?
It is false to say all the projects are concentrated in Umuahia. That’s not true at all. We’ve given Aba the due preference Aba deserves. In the distribution of the money that we get, Aba has received more share than any other city including Umuahia. But the point is that you have to compare the topography of Aba and Umuahia and the inhabitants of Aba and Umuahia. If I build just one kilometre of road in Umuahia, it will last for a very long time but if I build the same in Aba, it will not last because of the attitude of the people of that area. You have gone round Umuahia; did you see people throwing refuse into the gutters? Go to Aba and you will discover that the drainages are refuse bins of the inhabitants.
When you block the drains, where else do you expect water to flow through? If there is no passage for water, water will find its way and wash away the roads and other important infrastructure. That’s the problem we are having there. We have built; we have concentrated more roads in Aba.
Indeed, roads in Aba have cost me more than the roads in Umuahia or elsewhere. I’ve never built any road in Umuahia that cost up to N1.3 billion or so but I’ve done that in Aba. Aba-Owerri Road also cost more than one billion Naira. We had to build it to be very strong. Also, Aba-Port-Harcourt Road took so much money, likewise all the internal roads in Aba. The difference is that in Umuahia, the channels are built well and are being maintained and most importantly, people who live here are mainly civil servants and others. So, they obey laws, rules and regulations.
A recently visit to a General Hospital in Uturu, Isuikwuato Local Government Area presents this government as having done nothing in the health sector. Why is that?
You don’t use that one to situate and start drawing conclusions. When you look at that one, you also reach out to others and see if there are differences. Have you been to the Diagnostic Centre in Umuahia? Have you gone to the one in Aba? These are modern ones that have overtaken the general hospitals that you see in the villages. In the villages, we are building health centres that are closer to the masses. As much as we are renovating some of these hospitals, you have to appreciate the fact that there are many hospitals and we are taking them one after the other. As far as we are concerned, health is one of the priority sectors of this government. We have already built and equipped 210 health centres and they are functional.
In some communities, we have about three functional health centres with nurses and visiting doctors and the people are happy. So, if you have a health centre built in your village and it takes care of you, then what are you going to do in a general hospital? If you have a serious health problem, come to our specialist hospital here and they will treat you if your general hospital is not functional. I know that majority of these hospitals are functioning in the council areas. Like we said, you cannot solve all the problems at the same time. There is no government that does that. You cannot, because the resources are not there. You take things gradually.
So, that general hospital you referred to might have been renovated and now functional because we are taking them one after the other. That was what we met on ground when we came. If it was properly renovated or rebuilt by past administration, you would not have seen it there and we on our own are starting from somewhere and I am hopeful, we’ll get there soon.
A well motivated civil Service structure is a testimony of a performing government. But there are reports that the civil servants here are being owed three months salary arrears. Is that true?
Let me ask you, how many times have our civil servants gone on strike compared with those in other states? During the agitation for minimum wage, civil servants in all the states of the South- east went on strike, did you hear of Abia workers going on strike? Now, check out in the whole federation, it is only in Abia that we promoted all the civil servants. The ultra-modern state secretariat you see there is being built for them. Our minimum wage is the highest; we are paying 20, 100. Check it out. So, we now say, if there are people who are happy; if there are people who are favoured in this state today, it is the civil servant.
Those of them who say they have not been paid civil servants are simply trying to be economical with the truth. After the minimum wage issue, they were told to submit their wage bill to be verified but some parastatals went and inflated their wage bills and they were sent to the Office of the Accountant General for verification. Some have even refused to comply with the Biometrics that we introduced.
They come and tell you that they have not been paid just to incite the media against us but I want to tell you now that there is nothing like that. It’s not correct. Our problem here has to do with parastatals. These parastatals are supposed to be generating revenues; but all those people that are there have become indolent. They wait for government to give subventions. They don’t do anything. For instance, (Broadcasting Corporation of Abia State) BCA is a parastatal.
All things being equal, government is not supposed to give them any kobo because you have other broadcasting houses functioning on their own. But if you go there, you will see surplus staff and most of them are not doing anything and at the end of the month, they ask for subvention and when it doesn’t come, the next thing, yet what you will hear is that government owes them, when they are supposed to be generating revenue to run the place.
Is it the Abia Newspaper? Why can’t Abia Newspaper be able to run itself like other newspapers are doing? And they always come to tell you that they are being owed, even when they are supposed to generate the money and cater for themselves. If they decide to be independent and pay themselves any amount, I won’t bother.
But if you don’t give independence to the state media, how do you expect them to generate the required revenue to run their affairs?
How? We don’t control anybody. They are free to do their professional duties unhindered. Don’t you hear announcements from opposition on BCA? Even if you ask them to come, how many of the so-called opposition is even willing to make announcements on BCA. That’s the problem we are having with the parastatals. They are supposed to take care of themselves by generating the necessary revenue but they are not doing that.
If you go to any of the parastatals, ask the man in charge of the amount he generates every month and hear the woeful story he will give you. Ask him about how many staff are there and you will be shocked to see people doing nothing. It takes a strong willed person to correct the evil in the society and we are committed to doing that.
There are reports that government plans to demolish certain structures in Aba. How do you go about this without incurring the wrath of the people?
You go and ask those people who built their houses on water-ways without approval on how they did it without thinking of causing pains to the government. You are a landlord in Aba; you have made money and you want to buy plots of land. Instead of doing that legally, you start looking for drainages to build on because such places are strategically located, yet without approval and you erect a building blocking the drainages leading to flooding.
We are saying no to that. People must get approved building plans and anybody who doesn’t have that must be ready to face us. Few individuals can’t continue to hold the rest of the people to ransom. A lot of people in Aba who don’t have any evil intentions are already commending the government for taking this position.
If you’re just laying foundation for Abia after 21 years since its creation, does it mean your predecessors didn’t do well?
You have to ask those who were here before. Most of them are your friends. I can only give account of my stewardship. Others should equally come and give their own accounts. Why I am doing all this is because this is my home. I was born and bred here. I have never lived in the United States. I have never lived outside the state.
So, I know what my people want. I know what laying a solid foundation means and I am from the civil service. I am not a businessman and I don’t want to be. We must have proper foundation. The structures must be there. We need to have a Government House of our own.
How can you, after several years of the creation of Abia, still be running the Government House on lease? How can your civil servants be scattered in town? Most of them are in rented offices. How can you not have an international conference centre that will attract people to Abia? How can you not have a market of international standard? These are the foundations that we are laying. It is not only roads we are building. Yes, they are good but the healthcare of the people you are leading is equally paramount.
The youths are scattered everywhere and we are making efforts to empower them so that they will have means of livelihood and by so doing, crime will be reduced. These are the foundations we are putting in place. In the area of power, we have done a lot. Since you came to the state, how many times have you seen power failure? We now have power supply for 24 hours. It’s from National Grid and not generator. We evacuated power from Ohiya to Umuahia and environs and this has improved businesses and increased productivity, helping artisans that we have here.
These are the foundations that we need. Why were these things not done before now? Those people who were here before us failed to do all these. What then did they do as leaders during their time? These are questions they must be asked. We are going to move that major market at the centre of the town to the place we are now building. We have several projects here. They include court buildings, Diagnostic Centre, ultra-modern secretariat, international market, conference centre and several roads scattered across the state. If I do all these, the next person who will come will face some other projects. He will not come to build diagnostic centre again but may build an international hospital.
He will not build another market. He will use the resources to do another thing and by so doing, there will be progress. We are just starting afresh to build the structures; these are the challenges of leadership and you can’t run away from it. The challenges are being tackled as they come. It is now for you to make comparison and ask why these things were not put in place before now. As I am leaving office by 2015, I already have projects that I will look up to and say I have done well. They are our legacy projects.
That secretariat I am building will ever be there and people will ever remember who built it. The International Conference Centre, the Umuahia Main Market we are relocating; the Timber Market, the Mechanic Village will ever be there and people will ask, who built these things? We are also building a motor park at Ohiya and by the time we are through, Umuahia will not look like a state capital. People will certainly ask how these things were done. By the time we leave, nobody will come and say we didn’t do anything. Though there are people who have sworn to remain blind forever but by the time we are through, even if they don’t see, people will take them to at least touch the projects.