Abia recently marked 25 years of its creation as a state. Emmanuel Ugwu who covered the event, reports that the silver jubilee was celebrated in low key

In a normal situation Abia State would have rolled out the drums to celebrate its silver jubilee. It had done so in past years during the anniversary of the state on August 27, the day it was created in 1991 by the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida. But this year the mood of the time translated that the setting was not conducive enough for the state to mark its 25 years anniversary with pomp and pageantry.

The economic vagaries and political uncertainty have viciously combined to rob Abia the opportunity of having a loud silver jubilee celebration. In the run up to the anniversary the deputy chairman of the Abia State Advisory Council, Sir Bob Ogbuagu had at a press conference hinted of a possible low key 2016 Abia Day, citing the “mood of the state”.

He was alluding to the legal tussle for the governorship seat, which has lingered for 14 months now since Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu was sworn in as governor. Those fighting to remove him from office have caused a cloud of uncertainty to descend on the state. Then coupled with the biting harsh economic realities it was understandable why the silver jubilee was largely celebrated as a moment for sober reflection.

Ogbuagu, who is one the living founding fathers of Abia, disclosed that the State Advisory Council, which has the responsibility of organising the anniversary, had planned for a grand celebration to mark the 25th anniversary only for the legal tussle to intensify. According to him, it wouldn’t make sense for the state to roll out the drums when the governor is yet to be allowed to concentrate on the business of governance for which he was elected.

The low key ceremony was commenced with an interdenominational thanksgiving divine service and re-dedication of Abia State. Ogbuagu said that the divine service was intended “to lift the hearts of our people”. Thanksgiving service has always been a constant feature of Abia Day no matter the pitch of the celebration. And it couldn’t have been otherwise for a state that prides itself as God’s own state “where the Almighty God resides and from there visits other states” of the federation. Abians from all walks of life filled the Michael Okpara Auditorium and several canopies mounted outside as they lifted their voices in songs and praises with two choirs taking turns to lead the congregation in hymns or praise songs.

It was indeed a soul lifting worship as the clerics from different denominations interceded for the state, calling down the blessings of God upon Abia while asking for divine protection and direction of the state governor and the men and women working with him to pilot the affairs of the state. The outpouring of heavenly blessings on God’s Own State and its people was palpable as the rains, which had heralded the day, poured down to wash away whatever is slowing the pace of Abia in its developmental stride. The President of the Eastern Nigeria Union Conference of Seventh day Adventist Church, Senior Pastor Bassey Udoh, who delivered the sermon frowned at the activities of those seeking to remove Ikpeazu and assured the embattled governor that God would continue to make him triumph over his adversaries. He enjoined him to remain steadfast as he wards off the evil plans of his political opponents.

At the end of the divine thanksgiving service it was time for soul searching and appraisal of the distance Abia has covered in the past 25 years of developmental race. The nagging question was: to what extent has the dream of the founding fathers been realised? Ikpeazu, the fourth democratically elected governor of Abia acknowledged that the founding fathers of the state “had lofty aspirations for Abia State upon creation (but) while we have not fulfilled all their aspirations, we have made remarkable progress.”

Since its creation via the fiat of the military president, Babangida, Abia has been governed by a succession of military administrators and civilian governors with varying tenure durations. The military men, five in all, that were sent to preside over the affairs of Abia at various times, were mainly on military postings that lasted between six and 24 months. The pioneer military administrator, Group Captain Frank Ajobena was in office for six months after which he handed over to Abia’s first democratically elected governor, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who is currently the Minister of Science and Technology.

But after taking the reins of power Onu could only spend 22 months out of his four-year tenure before the military intervention of late Gen. Sani Abacha ended the Third Republic. Following Abacha’s ascendancy as Head of State Col. Chinyere Ike Nwosu was sent to administer Abia in December 1993 and was replaced by Navy Capt. Temi Ejoor on August 1994, who in turn vacated seat for Col. Moses Fasanya in August 1996. With the death of Abacha and a new transition to civilian rule programme initiated by his successor, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, the fifth military administrator, Col. Anthony Obi was sent to Abia and after the general election of 1999 he handed over the affairs of God’s Own State to Chief Orji Uzor Kalu on May 29, 1999. It was the second opportunity for Abia and other states of its age to enjoy a period of civilian rule and as the military finally left for good Kalu completed his four-year tenure and was re-elected for a second term of another four years. Chief Theodore Orji, who is now a Senator representing Abia Central at the National Assembly, held sway for two terms of eight years like his predecessor.

As they came and went each of the past leaders made their modest contributions in the quest for the development of Abia within the limits of their vision and duration of tenure. Recounting the state of affairs after the creation of Abia, Sir Ogbuagu said: “We did not have the opportunity of having a silver spoon in our mouth”. But he insisted that as a state “we’ve not done badly”. The nonagenarian did not hesitate to award a 75 per cent mark to Abia, saying, “it is a good pass” given what the state has achieved.

Nonetheless it was during the tenure of Senator Orji that the state made a significant leap. The man popularly called Ochendo by his admirers actually gave the state capital a new face lift, transforming it from a glorified village to a befitting capital city. It was during his tenure that a modern secretariat was built for Abia, along with many other infrastructures, including the international conference centre, judiciary complex, e-library. Most significantly Orji summoned the political will to relocate three major markets from the city centre to the outskirts thereby expanding the development of the capital city.

The relocation of Umuahia Main Market to a modern market built at Ubani-Ibeku thereby catalysing the emergence of a satellite settlement as a housing estate has already sprang up in the area. The relocation of the industrial market to Ahieke Ndume and spare parts market to Ohia as well as the modern motor park cited away from the city centre have all helped in giving Umuahia its best look since it was made a capital city 25 years ago. It was also only Ochendo out of all the past governors that saw the need for the Government House to move out from a rented property to a befitting permanent edifice. He gave life to his dream by commencing the construction of new Government House at the Ogurube layout section of the capital city and had completed the governor’s lodge before the end of his final tenure as governor.

In retrospect Governor Ikpeazu stated that the 25th anniversary represented a milestone in the existence of the geographical area known as Abia State within the Nigerian federation. “At 25, it is time for us to take stock and review where we are coming from while setting a clear agenda for where we are going to,” he said. Ikpeazu disagreed with the naysayers who have refused to credit Abia with any achievement since its creation, saying, “While we have not fulfilled all of their (Abia founding fathers’) aspirations, we have made remarkable progress”. He assured that the prospect for greatness remains very high for the state given that “Abia State has all it takes to succeed under any circumstance”.

According to him, “my confidence stems from the indomitable spirit of our people, the resilient blood that runs in our veins and the resolute determination of our administration to succeed even in the face of stiff challenges”. The governor, while acknowledging the contributions of his predecessors, noted that his administration has started with a commitment to further drive the wheel of development in Abia and was already recording good results. “From road construction to our intervention in health, education housing, agriculture, environment and other critical sectors, this administration has defied the negative economic indices to march resolutely forward,” he said in his anniversary broadcast to the people of Abia.

In the political realm Ikpeazu said that Abia has attained a “major milestone” by electing a governor from the Ukwa/Ngwa axis of the state, adding that the founding fathers of the state would be glad that this has become a reality. He said: “I consider it a major milestone because by this singular action, every Abian from all the quarters of the state can confidently aspire to the leadership of this state in the full knowledge that they enjoy the full rights and benefits of an egalitarian state united by a shared history and confidently marching towards a shared future.”

Stretching from the old Imo State, the aspiration of the Ukwa/Ngwa to produce a governor has been emotive laced with rancour and cries of marginalisation. But at the silver jubilee celebration Ikpeazu declared that “Today the circle of Abia unity is complete and the only thing left for us is to march on”, adding that “Abia will rise and shine” and take its leading role as the hub of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the South-east and Nigeria in general. The enthronement of equity in Abia politics was yet another of the legacies of Senator Orji as governor of Abia.

Though the 2016 Abia Day was devoid of the various categories of awards usually given to Abians who have distinguished themselves in their chosen fields of endeavour, it didn’t just pass off without memorable features. Ikpeazu unveiled the Abia State anthem and the official logo of the state, both of which represent the expression of Abia’s distinct identity and the new spirit of an industrious people raring to soar beyond the skies. Special Adviser to the governor on Public Communications, Mr. Sam Hart, who gave the concise details of the Abia heraldry design, explained that the black and gold eagle at the helm of the logo signifies strength and grace. The silver shield quartered in blue, gold, earth and green signifies labour and enterprise (blue), sun and abundance of warmth (Gold), welcoming and hospitable nature of Abians (earth) and fertility (green).

According to him, the elephant (Enyi) standing majestically at the centre of the logo is the traditional image of Abia while the open book signifies education, scholarship and the Holy Bible, a symbolism of Abia’s sobriquet as God’s Own State. The logo which is rather congested symbolic images also contains four ordinaries – artisan, the Abia Tower, industry and two hands gripped in a handshake. The base of marigold field on which the shield stands and supported by four palm trees further signify fertility and abundance while the base theme of the flag design centred black and gold, which are the “nationally allotted colours of Abia State.” The flag incorporates the Abia coat of arms and a green forward facing pennant indicative of life and progress whereas the background of the logo is predominantly white signifying peace.

As Abia looks ahead after its 25th anniversary, Ikpeazu is optimistic that whatever remains of the aspirations that the founding fathers had for Abia would eventually be realised. “We will do all within our powers to ensure that Abia State is not only the first in alphabetical order in the comity of states (in Nigeria) but in deed the first in all positive ramifications,” he said.

The aspiration is already becoming real in the field of education where Abia has placed first for two consecutive years in the May/June West African Senior School Certificate Examination. With such positives Abia can after celebrating its silver jubilee march on assuredly knowing that it would definitely reach the silver lining behind the dark cloud.