After a three-day facility tour of some State and Federal Government projects in Abia State by the National Good Governance Team, lead by the Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku, the State Governor, Chief Theodore Orji fielded questions from journalists. Charles Ajunwa was there
What’s your impression on the National Good Governance Tour of Abia State?
It was an impressive outing, like I said during the Town Hall Meeting. It seemed that the National Good Governance project was meant for Abia because it has exposed to the world. It has silenced all our detractors who had been talking nonsense, even when most of them knew what was happening here, that Abia has been doing very well. But because they had sworn that they don’t want Abia Government to progress, and because they have the facilities, they go outside to spoil the minds of the people who don’t have the chance and opportunity to come to Abia. So this National Good Governance Tour has opened the eyes of everyone because almost all the journalists that matter came to Abia and they have seen things for themselves and they have spoken.
One of them, a notable journalist, said that he has observed that Abia has been underreported. So today, I am happy that our handiwork, what we have been trying to do and what we have achieved in Abia have been brought to the notice of the world, because people have been sending us text messages from the United States of America (USA), United Kingdom (UK), Germany and Ghana amongst others.
I am assuring Abia people that I am going to finish any of the projects that I have started. I cannot start any project that I know that I ‘m not sure I will finish. We have the funding for most of the projects that you are seeing on ground. And as we are progressing, I know that the revenue of the state will continue to improve on a daily basis because of the machineries that we have put on ground.
One of the questions a participant at the Town Hall Meeting asked was: where do you get the money for these projects without borrowing?
It is by the prudent management of the one we have. If you move around, you discover that we are not extravagant in the first instance; we are not doing showmanship. We have our ambition to make sure that we achieve these projects. We are cutting our coat according to our size. The Commissioner for Housing told you how much we are using in building the court project, it is below N300 million, but if you tell any person that that project is more than one billion naira, he will believe you. Honestly, if I tell you how much these projects are costing us, you will marvel because we haggle with the contractors as if we are buying garri.
Can we say that the contracts are more through direct labour?
It is not a question of direct labour; some of them are by Public Private Partnership (PPP). When investors come, we discuss with them, if it is a project of one billion naira for instance, Abia State Government provides the land, and the infrastructure and certain amount of money, and the rest will be left for the investors.
That is how we achieved the Specialist Hospital and Diagnostic Centre. The same is applicable to the Dialysis Centre, which we have built; we have paid for the machines, which will soon be installed. The Indians came and we discussed with them, and we made our own due diligence on them and found out that they have a wonderful antecedent.
They gave us condition, we provide the building and they said, ‘this is how much you provide financially, leave the rest and the machines will be ours. We will manage it for such a number of years.’ That place has not got any board to oversee it because in some cases most of the boards don’t do anything. So that Diagnosis Centre doesn’t have any board at all.
The people who are there now are the Indians, but we have our own doctors who are partnering/understudying them and in the next eight or 10 years, they (Indians) will leave and must have made their money by then and they will leave the hospital and the equipment for us. They must have also trained our own personnel.
So what drives you?
It’s the determination to improve Abia because I know what we have suffered. Before now, if you compared Abia with some of the states that were created with Abia, you see that it was lagging behind and people were insulting us, some of them referred Umuahia as a glorified village.
But do you hear that again. People came to Umuahia in the past and said that it was like a glorified village yet we had governors here who were having their personal agenda. I don’t have any personal agenda.
I am not a businessman, I don’t own any company, I am not interested in business because I have said it that if I go into business, I will be cheated because I don’t know anything about business. What I know is what am doing, to utilise any little money I get and ensure that such is invested on the people. We want to do something for which we shall be remembered.
There are lots of antagonisms in some other states, but that is not the case in Abia, how were you able to achieve this, what was the magic, perhaps for others to learn from you?
We have managed it excellently well. If I were a cantankerous governor, we would have been fighting here everyday. But we have seen those things as mere distractions and we decided to face governance and you don’t govern alone. You have to carry your people along and what we did was to bring those people that were disenchanted by what was happening before and give them a sense of belonging.
It didn’t cost us anything; what we did was to give them sense of belonging, which was not given to them before now instead they were driven away and nobody listened to them despite their age and experience. At that stage in life if you find yourself in that position where nobody cares about you or consults you what you do is to relax and leave the state to drift to any situation.
I formed the Elders Council (EC) that involved all those elders that will be giving their advice on a regular basis to government. When you go to those people that you see as pessimist, enemies or visit their houses, they will express surprise. I made Gen. Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), the Chairman of the Reconciliation Committee and he was going from house to house reaching out to those people who were attacking us and today most of them have come together.
If people give the stakeholders a sense of belonging, and empower the youths and the masses just as we are doing, they will rally around your government. Before now what the former administration did was to give the youths in the name of empowerment shovels and head pan. You as a young man, if I give you a shovel and head pan, will you be happy? You will curse me and that was the mentality during the time of the former government because they don’t want anybody to surpass them.
But in our youth empowerment, we are giving out new brand cars and tricycles. I banned the use of motorcycles (Okada) here and replaced them with tricycles. We give out refrigerators and barbing equipment and other items that are tangible, which can add value to the lives of the people. You can now see the difference, when you touch the youths in that positive way and give the elders the sense of belonging, you will see that all of them will rally around you. So that is the magic.
We discovered that the road leading to the Ubani Ibeku Ultramodern Market is too narrow to take the influx of trailers and other vehicles that will be coming into the market when it is ready, is there any plan concerning the road?
We are going to expand the road; it is already on our agenda. We are going to expand the road and make it very wide. As a matter of fact, we are going to build two different roads that will lead to the market. One of the roads will be coming from Umueze, the construction work there has reached about 75 per cent. Apart from the Umuahia/Uzoakoli road, which we will widen, there are other two roads leading to the market. We will find money to dualise the road at least to the extent of the market to make it accessible.
When is the market going to be ready?
This year, I think you went there; it has reached over 70 per cent completion. The stores are okay, we have brought in electricity, it is now time to do the internal roads and water. Already, we have set up a committee that will realise this and we have given the committee a deadline. They are discussing with the traders. We have never taken any kobo from any trader and the structures you saw there are government project.
The traders are willing to contribute. We have called them to a meeting and we have known their ideas and if we follow their ideas, we are going to get the money with which we will complete the project. They are willing to buy the forms, pay for the stores and do anything that we want them to do to realise the money in terms of contributing money.
Some are wondering whether the traders will be able to afford the prices of these stores, is there any assurance that these stalls are going to be affordable?
I just had a direct discussion with the traders recently, because all along, I had left this to my subordinates to do. Hoever, to reassure them, I discussed with them to know if they have some grievances. The carpenters for instance, told me that in the Industrial Market, they were made to pay the sum of fifteen thousand naira before they are given a portion to build, thereafter; such a person pays the sum of two hundred and fifty thousand naira.
They pointed out that their capital couldn’t afford it. So what I did was to call the management and told them that since they know that these carpenters don’t have the money, the fifteen thousand naira should be removed. And that the two hundred and fifty thousand naira should be reduced to two hundred thousand naira which should be paid in installments to make the payment less stressful.
Also the timber people came, saying that their shed has not been roofed and that they were expected to pay eight hundred thousand naira, what I did was to direct the management to get the estimate of what it will cost to roof the place first and foremost, I told them after the roofing to give the timber dealers at five hundred thousands naira because they have more money than the carpenters and they were very happy with this development.
Apart from empowering the youth, sports is another area through which the youths can be progressively but it seems that that sector has not received your attention, what are you doing to promote sports here in Abia?
My brother, who told you that sport, has not received an attention here? The Enyimba is there. Do you know how much it cost us to keep Enyimba Football Club? Since 2007 that I came on board, they have won many laurels both nationally and internationally and it takes a big chunk of money to run that club and they have been in the Nigerian Premier league all along from 2007 till now.
Apart from that, just two weeks ago, I rewarded the Paralympics, by giving to each of them a million naira. They won medals in London for Nigeria and not for Abia but we decided to encourage them. So we do encourage our sports people, we don’t come out to blow our trumpets but we are spending a lot of money in that area.
You see, it is only in Abia that we have three football clubs that we are running; Enyimba Football Club, the Comet and the Warriors. Some people are only running one club and they are shouting but we are running three clubs in Abia since 2007.