My fellow Abians, I bring you the best compliments of this yuletide. Irrespective of how challenging the year 2016 has been, I trust that as contained in the popular Igbo gospel song, if we look well, we will find a reason to give thanks to God Almighty. I join your family, relatives, friends and well-wishers to welcome you home for the holidays and commend you for upholding the age-long Igbo tradition of not forgetting your roots no matter how far the pursuit of life may have taken you.
As you go about your activities in the course of the holidays, I have taken it upon myself to provide you updates on what is happening in your state as there is no way you will have the time to go round the state within the period of your holiday to see things for yourself. This is in line with the commitment of our administration to providing you, the citizenry, on who’s trust, we hold this sacred mandate, a steady update of our activities.
Dear brothers and sisters, it has not been easy here in Abia State but our administration personifies that saying that where there is a will, there will always be a way. In the face of daunting challenges and rough seas, the ship of state has continued to sail resolutely onwards.
Our administration has had to contend with a destructive, vicious and relentless onslaught of judicial harassment from those that want to wrest power from us at all costs. As I write, not less than six cases are still on-going in different courts nationwide while about 10 have been disposed of ostensibly challenging our right to the seat of governorship of Abia State. Added to these debilitating distractions are the obvious drastic reduction in the financial accruals to states in Nigeria as a result of record low oil prices and a Federal Government in recession. All these notwithstanding, we have found a way in the midst of it all to make indelible impacts and leave no one in doubt of our determination to leave Abia better than we met it.
You must have noticed a recent upsurge in the conversation around Made-in-Aba such that even President Muhammadu Buhari gave personal assurances in his 2017 Budget speech that attention will be paid to the manufacturing power-houses of Aba.
This, dear brethren, is the result of our sustained advocacy blitz to showcase the ingenuity of Aba producers to the world and boost the GDP of the City and the entire Abia State as a result. In Naira and kobo terms, in the year 2016, the Made-in-Aba campaign we drove relentlessly has brought new purchases of between N800 million to N1 billion to the various categories of producers in Aba. Even more impactful is the fact that because of the sustained campaign, people are now proud to acknowledge that they are wearing or using Made-in-Aba products which has in-turn led others to pivot towards Aba for their goods and services.
Made-in-Aba is a conversation that has taken national space and we encourage you to help sustain the conversation as you go back to your bases to help us take it global. Kindly find time to purchase a product Made-in-Aba before you return to your bases and do not hesitate to proudly state that what you are wearing was Made-in-Aba. We are intensifying quality assurance and back-end production strengthening so that our products will match – and surpass – whatever is produced globally. We count on your support to give this project wings.
The question has often been asked why we are paying so much attention to Aba? For the discerning and the sincere, the answer is clear for all to see. Aba has the potentials to generate major revenue for the state but it has sadly remained at the level of potentials for too long. It is time for us to move from potential to actual. There is no gainsaying the fact that a robust and vibrant Aba economy can power the financial needs of the rest of Abia State. Moreso, we are in a period where funds are no longer coming from Abuja as we would have desired so what we are simply doing is tapping into our God-given potentials to take our destiny into our own hands. We are upgrading the general infrastructure in Aba so that there will be greater ease of doing business and the people will in-turn, be more obligated to pay their taxes so that more of the work can continue. I assure you that it is a win-win situation for everybody.
I am sure that by now, you are aware that we have held Local Government Chairmanship and Councillorship elections in Abia State. What you may not know perhaps is that this is the first time since 2008 that elections at the Local Government level will be held in Abia State. Most of you can point to a Cousin who has been elected Chairman, Deputy Chairman or Councilor in your Local Government Area. We have, by this singular action, restored the principle of participatory governance at the grassroots.
Because these officials are elected, they will be more accountable to the people and thus, be more receptive to the yearnings and needs of those at the grassroots. This is the intendment of the creators of the Local Government System in Nigeria and Abia has joined the league of states upholding the tenets of true democracy at all levels of governance.
Umunnem, as you came into the state, I want to believe that you observed at the very least, one new road either completed or under construction. Truth is that we have inaugurated 35 Roads in 18 months and we are active on 52 other road construction sites simultaneously. In addition, we launched a programme recently where 10 Kilometres of road will be constructed in every Local Government Area of Abia State. By the time we are done with this project, there will be 170 Kilometres of new roads spread around the state.
This is in addition to deliberate efforts being made to build new economically viable roads across the Local Government Areas of the state that will serve as alternatives to treacherous federal roads in the state. A classic example of this is the Bende-Idima-Abam-Arochukwu Road which upon completion soon, will serve as alternative to the deplorable Umuahia-Ohafia-Arochukwu Road. Similar Roads are being built leading from Aba to Ikot-Ekpene and other key Inter-State By-Passes. Before you depart back to your bases, you will witness the commencement of work on Interchanges (flyovers) at Osisioma and Ogbor-Hill Junctions at Aba. The ever-busy Aba-Owerri Road and the Faulks Road, leading to Ariaria International Market are also being wholly reconstructed.
In Education, we have hit the reset button. A new model has been developed to serve as minimum acceptable standard of quality of schools in Abia State. We will commence stakeholder-engagements in January 2017 to get the buy-in of all concerned after which construction will commence in earnest. The model encompasses Primary and Secondary Schools, Teacher’s Quarters and complete modern learning facilities all in one complex. The state has maintained its pride of place (1st position) for two years running in the overall performance of students in the WAEC.
Meanwhile, so far, 18 Secondary Schools in the state have been renovated and provided with boreholes for improved sanitary conditions. Many friends and development partners have constructed new Primary Schools under our Friends of Abia Adopt A School Initiative (FASAI). At the tertiary level, many more disciplines have been introduced and many others re-accredited.
We have moved Faculties in our tertiary institutions to locations where they will have better advantages and we have built new learning facilities to accommodate the relocation. We have also, through our Education for Employment Programme (E4E), revitalised Technical and Vocational Education in Abia State so that most Abians, upon leaving Secondary School, will be imbued with vital skills for economic sustenance. We are deliberate in our approach to governance and all our programmes have been well thought through.
Abia State has continued to be the destination of choice for most international organisations involved in healthcare intervention initiatives due to our robust system of working with them to achieve set goals. Thus, from the Carter Foundation to the MTN Foundation, World Health Organisation and other such development partner organisations, we have made great impact on the well-being of our people. Our brethren in the Diaspora have equally been of great help organising periodic Medical Missions. Please join me in thanking them.
In 2016, we planted up the 3,058 hectares fallow land at the Ohambele Oil Palm Estate with 100,000 sprouted Tenera Palm nuts; raised two million sprouted Tenera Palm nuts at Ayaba Umueze, Osisioma LGA; initiated action to recover Government’s Oil Palm Estates at Erei in Okon Aku, Ohafia LGA and Ozuitem in Bende LGA; planted 10,000 hectares of farm with cassava at Omuma Uzo in Ukwa West LGA; acquired heavy agricultural equipment under our Agricultural Mechanisation Scheme; massively supported farmers by supplying fertilisers and other inputs at subsidised prices and initiated registration of farmers to be able to key into the Anchor-Borrowers Loan facility packaged by CBN; and paid the state counterpart fund for FADAMA III to improve on our agricultural practices.
Our target in Abia is to become the largest supplier of exotic palm seedlings in Nigeria with stock of over seven million seedlings by 2019. Similarly, Abia State is partnering with private partners to create Cashew plantations in all the LGAs. Expectedly, over 100,000 youths will be employed in these plantations and the consequent processing factories.
You would have noticed improved aesthetics in our major cities especially at night with the street lights installed in major streets in Aba and Umuahia. Noteworthy is the fact that this is the first time street lights are shining on Aba streets ever. We are equally deploying Solar-Powered street lights in our rural communities for economic and security reasons.
Abia State is now one of the safest states in Nigeria. The obnoxious incidences of years gone by are now rarely heard of. Compared to reports emanating from neighbouring states, Abia State is a safe haven.
We are working in harmony with the Federal Government as we see no positives in standing as an opposition to federal authorities on the pretext that we belong to different political parties. We are in full governance mode and we do not mix politics with governance. Because of our robust relationship with the Federal Government, Abia State is one of the Pilot States where the Federal Government Social Intervention Programme has been flagged off.
This involves a number of programmes including the School Feeding Programme which we commenced on our own but are now subsuming under a similar programme by the Federal Government. There is also the N-Power Programme where our youths are captured in job-creation schemes where they earn a monthly stipend paid by the Federal Government. About 3,500 Abia Youths were successfully captured in this programme and they have started receiving their monthly payments.
The truth remains that for those bent on seeing only negatives, no positives will be acknowledged no matter how glaring. I will be the first to acknowledge that it’s not yet hurrah in Abia State. One fact can however not be denied; the fact that our administration is unwaveringly focused on the task at hand. Our sincerity of purpose is not in doubt, our determination to succeed is also not contestable. God being our helper, we shall continue to give our best to the service of our people.
Beloved Abians, I wish you a joyous holiday in your various communities and pray that the year 2017 will be a much more rewarding year for you in all your endeavours while giving the firm assurance that by the time you return, God-willing, for the yuletide in 2017, you would be witnesses to a better Abia State.
Udo diri unu.
Dr. Ikpeazu is the Governor of Abia State