Abia State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Emmanuel Nwabuko tells Lanre Odukoya how his biometric project campaign is sanitising the ministry and helping to create new jobs with peace and security as the hallmark of involving traditional rulers in governance by the Theodore Orji administration
What positive changes have you recorded?
This ministry has recorded to date milestone achievements in tandem with Governor Theodore Orji’s legacy projects. Only recently the Joint Allocation and Accounts Committee (JAAC) building foundation stone was laid by the Hon. Minister of Information, Mr. Labaran Maku during the Good Governance Tour of Projects in Abia State; we also have the Abia State Universal Education Board (ASUBEB) complex, which before now had no befitting complex. Both structures are being targeted for commissioning in less than 12 months from now.
Of course, the fund generated from the SURE-P or Subsidy Reinvestment Programme accruing to local governments has been earmarked for the execution of new projects as prescribed by the federal government. We are using it to build four hospitals and twelve, fifteen block model primary schools fenced with security gates, recreational facilities, and landscapes. What we are aiming at it are model schools with the state of the art facilities that can stand tall with others obtainable in civilised societies; these will be cited at Ohafia, Osisioma, Obingwa and Ikwuano local government areas while those of the state government will be established in such places as Arochukwu and Obehie. We want to ensure the funds allocated to us are properly utilised for long lasting projects. On rural electrification we are connecting hopefully with the Geometric power grid such that the power generated will be transmitted to the local government areas; we are also providing transformers and distribution lines to various autonomous communities for rural electrification.
Has the biometric exercise yielded any tangible benefits?
We are not also relenting in the application of our biometric exercise which has yielded unexpected dividends to the state government by way of blocking leakages and sources through fraudulent waste. By way of consolidating the gains coming from this exercise, we are continuing with our auditing of the local government staff through our biometrics. The investigating committee recently discovered 1472 ghost workers in the pay roll of local governments, a revelation that has spurred it into extending its searchlight or exercise to primary school teachers and pensioners. There is need to revalidate the authenticity of the file and documentation of pensioners and teachers so as to separate the chaff from the grain. It is a gradual process and I can tell you we are achieving a lot.
You had a game plan for reducing unemployment, how has it been so far?
The whole idea of a biometric exercise is to create room for employment for many skilled Abians who are still idling away in the job market. Employment has been going on and as we get rid of these ghost workers, we create room for new entrants. Beyond this however, we have a bold empowerment project that is keeping the youths busy and buoyant in the agriculture sector where the federal ministry of agriculture is in partnership with us with the setting up of the cassava processing plant. To this end, we are empowering our youths to grow cassava tubers-the needed raw materials for the plant. Already the Abiriba Cooperative society is taking advantage of this with 6000 hectares of land already acquired for this purpose. Once the tubers are processed, the next stage is to look at the range of varied products that will come with them. As we proceed, the process of growing the tubers will be quickened through mechanisation.
Firstly, LGAs are not meant to distribute free funds and encourage profligate behaviour.
So part of my responsibility is to ensure the LG chairmen fall in line with the laid down rules and regulations of local government governance. Having said that, I must also confess they have Herculean issues to tackle in the expectations demanded of them, one of which is absorbing a workforce that is really a burden to the LG purse. Salaries are a big cut from the budget because they extend to ASUBEB, Ndi Eze or traditional rulers, local government workers and pensioners, LG commission that is the administrative wing of the LG government and other ancillary expenditures. All thanks to the Theodore Orji administration, salaries are promptly paid unlike what obtained in the past. Having said that, LGAs are there to promote even development and we are on course with the programmes we have set before us.
When do you hope to conduct your LG elections?
The local government elections may seem to have been unduly delayed, but don’t forget there was a time we were battling with issues relating to the security of the state. We are aware of volatile issues that ruin that stability and therefore before our next LG elections, we will ensure it will be hitch free of violence and any act that will threaten the peace of the state. There is also the issue of providing the necessary resources needed to conduct an election that is devoid of blame and corrupt tendencies. All of this will come under one umbrella to ensure the next LG elections are credible and worthy of standing the test of time; if you do not put all of this in place, such election when conducted will not only be a sham but dead on arrival.
How do you ensure an even spread of development in the LGAs?
The LG projects of this administration have been planned, selected and scheduled to coincide with His Excellency Governor Orji’s legacy projects. Besides, they are evenly designed to the benefit of all the LG areas in the state irrespective of the revenue generated. Take the model schools for example. Each local government receives equal treatment in the siting and structure of projects. Thus development in Abia State is evenly spread irrespective of revenue contribution from a particular LGA. Of course project execution is the duty of the LG chairman and his team after approval is given based on what is agreed on following market research and need of a particular LGA. When we provide money we don’t just give omnibus approval. The need is usually specified. We go for projects that must be completed within the specified time frame since this administration does not want to retire with unfinished assignments. So the system ensures that accountability and due process are followed to the letter.
How has the chieftaincy affairs department of your portfolio impacted positively on peace and security?
The chieftaincy affairs department of the ministry is very vibrant and proactive. That is why we have peace and progress in the autonomous communities where the traditional rulers or Ndi Eze are visible. During our vigorous campaign to stamp out insecurity in Abia State, these Ezes were very actively involved and even now being part of the administration of the state calls for constant meetings, dialogues and distribution of resources. A friend I met at the airport recently on his way back to the USA told me in our course of dialogue, how peaceful his once volatile community now is and how he desired to be home on a more frequent note. That is part of the work of Ndi Eze that Abia is more peaceful today. Even those traditional rulers who identified with the opposition are back to the fold realising that the Theodore Orji administration is one of peace and unity desiring to accommodate all.
How will you rate the Orji administration even though you are a part of it?
Even as a spectator, the difference is clear between what was not there for more than 20 years of the founding of the state and what has defined relevance for Abia State and its future expectations. Governor Theodore Orji has not only designed landmark projects that define the new Abia but has gone ahead to return peace and confidence to a people whose psyche was once traumatised by an infamous administration. He has set up a solid foundation for the state, a foundation which no individual will rock because it has come to stay.
The opposition keeps testifying to this. One of the chieftains of the opposition in the past, Chief Ikechi Emenike, invited Governor Orji to his village, Umukabia, for the opening of the church he built and the governor honoured the invitation. This in fact is part of his norm in governance. His is an administration of permanent interests and not enemies. The Theodore Orji administration will best be remembered for selfless service to the people and that remains the recurring decimal for all those working with him to actualise the dream. When Chief Sam Mbakwe was at the helm of affairs in Imo State, which included Abia State, he was not seen as a performing governor and in one moment of frustration blurted: “Owuru na Mbakwe achighi, owu nne gi kowu nna gi ga-achi?” Of course literally translated, he was asking his critics if their mothers or fathers were fit to be governors that he (Mbakwe) would not govern Imo State. Today his landmark achievements are eloquent testimonies of his sterling performance in office. Governor Theodore Orji and his administration will similarly be enlogised by posterity.