Segun James looks at the efforts of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State to make Aba the industrial hub of the nation
Diversify or die is the current mantra among the states in the federation following the debilitating state of the Nigerian economy. To them, the season where the country continues to depend on oil money is over.
Although many state executives in the country have pledged their readiness to diversify their states economy, only a few of them are taking concrete steps to achieve it. Yet, in the face of declining allocations from the federal government, diversification remains states’ best bet. But as it has always been the case in Nigeria, we know what to do, but doing it has always been the problem.
Today, apart from Lagos and to some extent Ogun, Abia under Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, is one state that has taken concrete steps towards the realisation of the plan to reduce its dependency on the federal allocations. After many years of being mooted as the next big thing in global economy, (the country was listed among the MINT states â€“ (Mexico, India, Nigeria and Turkey), the country has gone from grace to burst, all within the last four years. No thanks to the unsteady oil price with its debilitating effects on the economy. Poor management of the economy by successive governments has not helped matters too.
It is in the midst of this general slowdown in the Nigerian economy, an industrial revolution is taking place east of the Niger; the effort by the Abia state government to make Aba, the industrial hub of the nation and the West Africa subregion.
It is the dogged determination of Dr. Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, the Abia state governor to turn Aba into the Silicon Valley of Nigeria that is now propelling the revolution. The governor is determined to, within the next three years; generate 90 per cent of Abiaâ€™s revenue internally generated. Over 80 per cent of that he insisted would come from the Aba industrial hub.
The efforts have begun to yield positive results. Mr. Eziuche Ubani, the state commissioner for works, said that in his bid to ensure the realisation of this dream, the governor was not leaving anything to chance. He said the governor had practically relocated to Aba from where he comes to the state capital, Umuahia every day.
According to Ubani, a two-term member of the House of Representatives and former editor at THISDAY Newspapers, as part of efforts to ensure that the hub is serviced by the raw materials needed to keep functioning,, the state government has embarked on the construction of at least, 10 kilometres of roads in each of the 17 local government areas of the state. In the last three years, over 53 roads in all parts of the states, but with majority linking Aba, have been constructed by the state government.
Ubani said that the industrial hub dream was already becoming a reality. This was corroborated by the governor who said that â€œour story as a people is one of entrepreneurship, resourcefulness and diligence. This is our pride. We have astounded the world with our home grown technical skills, especially during a period of pervasive adversity, and followed it up with our trade and commercial prowess elevating one of our cities, Aba, into a prominent hub within the West African region.â€
He said that the time was ripe to use the over 110,000 shoemakers and 50,000 garment makers as a launching pad to enable Abia truly become the undisputed Small and Medium Enterprise (SME) capital of Nigeria.
Ikpeazu said that to encourage increase in private sector participation in the stateâ€™s economy, â€œwe will constitute and empower an Investment Promotion Agency (a One-Stop-Shop) to streamline processes and facilitate investment inflow into Abia. Their remit will include ensuring that it becomes easy to do business in our state and accelerate the rate of investment attraction.â€
Since most of the raw materials are agriculture based, the government has created agric belt all over the state. In three years, the state is now a major producer of cocoa, rubber and palm produce; in addition to cassava.
The goveror said: â€œMy government has actively engaged in and supported agricultural activities especially in mechanised farming of cassava, rice and palm oil; in line with the federal governmentâ€™s programmes and our stateâ€™s areas of natural advantage. This is in addition to the creation of a Commodity Marketing System with which we will support our small farmers through organised cooperatives, agricultural extension services and partnerships with foreign donor agencies and development financial institutions.â€
Since industrial development and capacity have a lot to do with level of education attainment by the people, not so surprising the government has taken this into consideration by creating an â€œeducation beltâ€ which will concentrate on the study and teaching of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (S.T.E.M). According to Mr. John Kalu, the commissioner for Information, already, two universities, a polytechnic, a college of education and several technical colleges have either commenced operation or already licensed to admit students as part of the rapid industrialisation project of the government.
This was corroborated by Ikpeazu who proudly stated: â€œOur people are our pride and strength; and building them will continually be a major thrust of my administration. Everyone, especially the youth will benefit from qualitative formal and informal education that develops knowledge, skills and competencies.
â€œWe will access all available intervention funds nationally and internationally to transform the educational sector in Abia; upgrade existing institutions and create new technical training programmes ranging from basic artisanship to advanced ICT skill and provide our young ones with employable capabilities, thus empowering them to uplift their standard of living through sufficiency.â€
Such stories as these are the same for every governor in the country who is desirous of a second term, the Ikpeazu was told, but he simply dismissed this. To him, when the final whistle for politicking is blown, he will surely be at the starting block, but he insisted that whatever he is doing today is for the benefit of the future when he surely will no longer be governor.
He however reminded reporters that everything he had done was what he promised to do in his inaugural speech as governor in May, 2015. He insisted that he had a dream and goal and what he did is to steadfastly adhere to them.
Also speaking on the achievements made by the government, Ubani said that since the coming of Ikpeazu, Aba, and by extension, Abia has become the commercial nerve centre of the east. The rise in trading has prompted the government to reconstruct, rebuild and embark on the construction of all road leading to the state from neighbouring states.
â€œAbia state has borders with seven states and people come from there to do business in Aba. We have constructed all roads leading to the state to ease movement and ensure business activities go on unhindered. Abia is the future.â€
According to Ubani, most of the projects embarked upon by the government are small scale and are designed to link small rural communities with urban centres.
He said that the government had built over 10 kilometres of road in each of the 17 local government areas of the state in order to ease the evacuation of farm produce to the places where they are need.
Besides this, the other thing that Ikpeazu is enthusiastic about is youth development and sports. He not only has completely rebuilt the Enyimba Stadium, he has resuscitated the Academicals Football competition among secondary schools in the state.
The governor said: We will create a strong marketing arm to commercialise the iconic image of Enyimba and Abia Warriors. We are reactivating school sports and reigniting the Academicals; this government aims to work with educational visionaries to embolden people and prepare them to embrace local, national and global opportunities.â€
The next general election is but one year away, if achievements in office are anything to go by, surely Ikpeazu is heading for a second term. But as John Kalu the commissioner for information says, Aba is the new face of Nigeria, Ikpeazu has ensured this; Abians have no choice but to give him another opportunity to consolidate on it.
At a time when his neighbour is busy spending tax payers’ money erecting statues and giving amnesty to criminals, the story of Ikpeazu and his commitment to making Aba an industrial hub deserves to be told.
Yet, in the face of declining allocations from the federal government, diversification remains states’ best bet.