Osita Igbe is the Commissioner for Housing, Abia State. Prior to his
appointment, he served as the Director, Media and Publicity, Okezuo
Abia Campaign Organisation, the primary organisation that campaigned
and worked for the victory of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu as governor of Abia
State in 2015. He was also the former Majority Leader, Abia State
House of Assembly from 1999-2003. In this interview with select
journalist, Igbe talks about the challenges of housing in Abia State
and steps being taken by the Okezie administration to tackle housing
deficit. Olaoluwakitan Babatunde was there

How far have you been able to tackle the problems occasioned by
housing deficit in Abia State since your appointment?

Let me say in concrete terms that successive governments really paid
their dues in the area of Housing. When I came on board, there were
two or three issues that were glaring. The housing estates already
developed were not fully occupied. It therefore became imperative that
we ensured that the estates were occupied. It was in the process we
also discovered that the housing estates except the Amaokwe Housing
Estate, Umuahia lacked basic amenities such as roads and portable
water. What we did was to make the estates habitable by providing the
necessary and basic amenities. We are presently discussing with a
private investor to ensure steady supply of water at the Isieke
Housing Estate that has the problem of water.

Also from our findings on why our estates are not fully occupied is
the fact that most of those targeted to own/occupy these houses would
rather save and build in their villages and towns. This agrees with
the philosophy of the Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu that functional housing
estates must put into consideration the cultural practices of our
people. To address this issue, we are currently working with the
elected Chairman of the seventeen local government areas under a PPP
arrangement to build at least 60 housing units in each of the local
governments of the state.

My Ministry of Housing does not have budgetary provision for road
construction and public utilities. That basically informs the reason
we are collaborating with relevant ministries and agencies of
government to provide the necessary facilities in these estates. We
are also discussing with an investor to build 3,000 units of housing
at Obeaku in Ukwa West. The novel thing about this project is that
Obeaku is close to Port Harcourt and that alone makes the project a
viable venture. The Unity Garden Estate, Aba, which was started some
years ago, will soon be actualized. Remember, the Unity Housing
Estate, was conceived in 2004 to provide mass housing in Aba and its
environs. The state government has commenced discussion with Union
Homes and Federal Mortgage Bank with regards to completing that
project. In a very short period, the challenges and bottlenecks that
have delayed the project will be resolved to ensure that the Unity
Housing Estate becomes a reality.

Apart from the campaigns of Made-in-Aba products aimed at promoting
trade and commerce in the state, which other areas would you say the
governor has done well?

The governor has done exceedingly well in the area of education. The
Political Will he has demonstrated in clearing the huge mess in Abia
Polytechnic is highly commendable. He has raised the standard of
education to prove his passion for education. He just recently
approved a rebate and reduction of school fees payable by Abia
students in the state tertiary institutions. He has also ordered the
timely release of subventions to the tertiary institutions to ensure a
smooth running of the schools. He has also introduced functional and
vocation education in the state. A classic example is the Education
for Employment, known as E4E, which is under the ministry of
Education. The governor knowing that the era of white collar jobs is
gone is giving a direction where people will acquire the necessary
skills and vocation for self-employment and self-reliance.

Also, the governor has done well in the area of agriculture. That
sector has received enormous boost under the present administration.
The Ohambele Palm Plantation, Ukwa East, that has defied every
solution in the past with regard to the lingering legal tussle, has
been unlocked and revived for productivity. The teneran palm specie
that yields within 3 and 4 years, have been planted massively in the
state by the ministry of Agriculture to make Abia the highest palm oil
producing state in Nigeria. In the area of housing, the governor has
given us enormous support. The construction of the one-stop-shop, the
first of its kind in Nigeria, wouldn’t have been realized without the
full support of the governor. That building was commissioned recently
by the Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osibanjo, to advance the ease of
doing business in Abia.

Also, the governor has turned Aba into one huge construction site to
elevate the city into an international commercial hub of the South
East and South South. Particularly, the massive construction within
the Ariaria area will make Ariaria an international market by all
standards. That gives credence to the fact that only a man that knows
the history of Aba can embark on such infrastructural revival that is
ongoing in Enyimba city. For the first time since after the late Sam
Mbakwe, we have a reputable company like Setraco reconstructing and
fixing major roads in Aba. The massive road construction as witnessed
in the three senatorial zones also demonstrates the governor’s
commitment and desire to raise the infrastructural status of the
state.

Despite all you have catalogued as achievements of the Ikpeazu-
administration, the image of his government is still unpalatable
following reports of non-payment of workers’ salaries. Are you not
worried?

You must see the bigger picture and not rely solely on negative
reports. The present administration inherited major backlog of
salaries. But the good news with regard to that situation is that the
backlog has been cleared. As we speak, I am aware that Abia workers
have received March salaries. So, the governor deserves commendation
in terms of prompt payment of salaries.

But the story is not same with local government staff and teachers?

The recent verification exercise carried out by the ministry of Local
Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, whose report was made available to
the State Executive Council, has uncovered a huge rot in the local
government system. There are so many issues with its employments and
wage bill. There are several abuses such as employment of people that
have no business in the local councils. Do you know that allocations
to the 17 LGAs can’t even take care of the councils’ bloated wage
bills? Many people are in the payroll for many reasons other than
legitimate work. These include the so-called ‘ghost workers’; human
beings, not ‘ghosts’, that receive salaries without employment; there
are also the unqualified persons employed through the back door. How
can a local government have 200 gardeners and yet the council
headquarters are overgrown by weeds? The problem of salaries at the
local governments is multi-faceted and government is ever determined
to solve the problems once and for all. Again, the workers at that
level and their union, NULGE, must be honest to themselves. They
should be diligent with their official duties and refrain from corrupt
practices through which they shortchange and defraud the government.
But, the good thing remains that the governor is seriously putting
everything in place to ensure that all categories of workers including
the teachers receive their salaries promptly.

Your party, the PDP, is enmeshed in a bitter crisis that has divided
the hitherto ruling party into two factions. As a stakeholder, are you
not bothered that the much touted biggest party in Africa is on the
verge of extinction?

The PDP in Abia State is a one united party. The faction as witnessed
in the center did not and will not affect us here in Abia. That
obviously speaks volume on the leadership of the party and the
political leadership of Ikpeazu, who has assumed the leadership of the
party in Abia State. Having said that, let me posit that the problems
of PDP cannot be resolved in court. The problems will be amicably
resolved when the genuine and authentic PDP members come together at a
Roundtable. The real members of the PDP will not allow the party to
die.

But the latest move by the former president, Goodluck Jonathan, to
reconcile the two factions collapsed even as the meeting was ongoing.
In fact, the Supreme Court is expected to decide the fate of Ali Modu
Sherriff and Ahmed Markafi, the leaders of the factions. Would Gov.
Ikpeazu and his group, who presently belong to the Markafi faction,
consider leaving PDP if Sherriff wins at last?

First and foremost, what is a political party? Is the building itself
the Church or the human beings that worship in the Church? What is the
percentage of PDP members in Sherriff’s camp? I don’t see Sheriff
winning, but if eventually he wins, we will take a decision as a
group. I belong to a political family that understands the dynamics of
politics. Surely, a decision will be taken putting certain factors
into consideration to forge ahead if the judgment goes the way of
Sherriff. But, If the Markafi faction wins, will Sherriff and cohorts
still be in PDP?

Many big politicians are leaving the PDP to the opposition APC Abia
State. Don’t you think that such political regrouping may cost Ikpeazu
a second term opportunity in 2019?

Who decides the second term of a governor? Is it not the people and
God? Those elected into positions of authority are there courtesy of
the people and God Almighty that made it possible. The issue of second
term for Dr. Ikpeazu, for now, does not arise. The governor, himself,
has not convened a meeting since he assumed office to discuss second
term. His work and achievements will speak for him. Has he done well
within the existent circumstances he found himself? Yes, the governor
has done very very well. On the issue of those decamping to APC, let
me say that those politicians are doing so for personal and selfish
reasons. Because of the fact that PDP lost at the center, they are
joining the ruling party just for what they can fetch into their
pockets. They left the PDP for purposes of satisfying their stomach
infrastructure. Again, you know our people especially those that are
already exposed to the center, are not good in opposition politics.
Let me also add that Ikpeazu is more committed to making Abia a great
state by providing the basic infrastructure, creation of wealth
through the promotion of made-in-Aba products, revolutionizing
education and agriculture, providing affordable and quality health
services, providing houses and ultimately making life better for
Abians through good and purposeful governance. Those are the issues
that preoccupy the governor’s thinking and actions and not that of
second term in office. At the appropriate time, the people of Abia
state, not the few self-seeking politicians, will discuss and decide
the second term for Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu.