RE: In Abia, Development Enters a Reverse Gear

Okezie Ikpeazu

Onyebuchi Ememanka

Emmanuel Ugwu’s piece which appeared at Pages 18 and 19 of THISDAY NEWSPAPERS of Monday, August 19, 2019 is a classical case of negative journalism. A cursory analysis of the write up shows manifest bias and a deliberate distortion of facts on ground designed to achieve a purpose best known to the writer.

The piece sounds more like a campaign gimmick, especially with the picture of a twice defeated gubernatorial candidate in the state, in addition to several references to his quotes. One wonders why a piece designed to address the performance of a sitting Government will carry the picture of only one of the gubernatorial candidate when the last election featured close to 10 candidates.

In his warped analysis of the development of Umuahia, the capital city, the writer made a ridiculous reference to some individual who claimed that he could still identify the restaurant he had a meal in the 1970s still standing as evidence of the absence of development. He neither gave the appropriate address of the phantom restaurant in question but simply described the location as “the park”. Which park? A motor park or some amusement park?

He never bothered to find out if the so called restaurant in question is housed in a private or publicly owned building. Does it mean that the existence of a building since the 1970s is a sign of underdevelopment? So there are no old buildings in Lagos and other capital cities? Ugwu is indeed an intriguing character.
In any case, the story and the character in it exist only in the imagination of the writer as there is no “park” anywhere in Umuahia that has buildings that have been standing since the 1970s. Even if there were such buildings, is it the job of the government to pull down and rebuild privately owned buildings?

Abia State was created in 1991 and it is laughable to blame a government elected in 2015 for the existence of a private building since the 1970s.

Another clear evidence of the questionable mindset of the writer is his reference to a phantom lack of street lights in the town. In his words, “with no functioning street lights, Umuahia becomes a cocoon of darkness at sundown thus economic activities grind to a halt much earlier than in the capital city of other states. It is clear that Ugwu who is the Umuahia correspondent of THISDAY only spends a few hours in the city and those hours must certainly be in the day. Indeed, by that clearly false assertion, Ugwu has shown that he is completely ignorant of what happens in Umuahia at night.

As at today, all major streets in the capital city are illuminated once it’s sundown and business activities boom at night in Umuahia. From Abia Tower all the way down to Okpara Square, from Isi Gate down to Aba Road and other major streets in the town shine at night. I challenge Ugwu and his co travelers to spend a night in Umuahia and see things for themselves. It is a shame that something as visible as street lighting in the night is being denied openly.

In the area of infrastructural development of the capital city, Ugwu goofed again. In a fit of selective amnesia, he chose to forget the brand new and ultra modern Abia Investment House which stands majestically and directly opposite the State Secretariat Complex he gleefully made references to. This edifice which serves as a One Stop Shop where potential investors in the State can access all relevant information about investment opportunities and incentives in the State, was constructed from the scratch by the Ikpeazu administration and commissioned by Vice President Yomi Osinbajo last year. Journalists from across the country, including Ugwu witnessed the event. It is therefore very curious that he “forgot” it while mentioning a building which lies directly opposite it. Very curious indeed.

When the Ikpeazu administration came on board, the State Universal Basic Education Board was housed in a rented accommodation. Today, the agency has proudly moved into its permanent site, an edifice started by the last administration and completed by Ikpeazu. Curiously too, this multi floor edifice stands majestically near the International Conference Center which Ugwu also made copious references to in his piece. Yet again, he chose to “forget”. What a forgetful fellow.

His reference to the “Aba – Umuwaya Road” which reconstruction, he claims, has only covered two kilometers in four years is a blatant lie. The Aba Road project was flagged off about two and half years ago and he forgot again to mention that a Grade A Contractor, Arab Contractors, were hired to fix the road. The first phase of the road is almost completed while the second phase which will run all the way to the Express Junction has been awarded to the same contractors. As we speak, work is proceeding at a frantic speed at the site.

His reference to snail speed of the project is of no moment as Ikpeazu is not interested in quick fix roads which have no sustainability thresholds. One of the biggest challenges we have had in Abia is that past leaders embarked on quick fix roads which are completed in a few months with no proper drainage plan. The applause which follows the completion of these roads die off within a few months as these quick fix or “Dubai roads” do not last beyond one rainy season. The Aba Road project which Ikpeazu is doing had been variously worked on in the past. This is why Governor Okezie Ikpeazu brought in construction giants, Arab Contractors and everyone testifies to the top quality of the job. We would rather spend time to deliver a project that will stand the test of time. Ikpeazu has no interest in temporary applauses. He builds to last.

Ugwu also “forgot” to mention the more than 10 internal roads that had been fixed by this administration around Umuahia. Awolowo Road, Abam Street, Uwalaka Street Link Road to Factory Road,Warri Street by Club Road, Ubakala Street, Niger Road, Phase 1 of the Agbama Housing Estate Ring Road, Road 2 at the Federal Housing Estate Road, and many others were in terrible and different levels of dilapidation when Ikpeazu came on board but today, they were new looks. Work on several others are still ongoing. Ugwu uses these roads within the few hours he spends in Umuahia but forgets them when he wants to write.

Another Ikpeazu infrastructural signature in Umuahia is the brand new Headquarters of the Zone 9 Police Command. The Command has been operating from a rented accommodation since its inception close to twenty years ago. Today, they are set to pack into a brand new edifice which has reached 95% completion and the State Government is undertaking the equipping of the edifice with modern office gadgets and equipment. The Governor routinely embarks on inspection of the building with Press Men. The Inspector General of Police is expected in the State shortly to commission the project.
How such projects escape Ugwu’s analysis remains a mystery.

Perhaps, Ugwu’s biggest fit of forgetfulness manifested in his deliberate omission of the return of Golden Guinea Breweries in Umuahia. Constructed in the 1960s under the Premiership of the Late Dr. Micheal Okpara of The then Eastern Region, the breweries shut down since the last 22 years with the attendant job loses and government revenue. With Ikpeazu’s active support, a private investor has completely turned around the company and beer has started flowing. There is excitement in the town on the impending return of the popular Golden Guinea beer and other products together with the thousands of direct and indirect jobs that will come with it.

Before Ikpeazu, two major communities in Umuahia, the people of Umuda Isingwu and Umuagu communities lived in fear of the rampaging effects of gulley erosion which was slowly but steadily eating up their homes. Residential and public buildings like schools were under imminent threat. People had abandoned their homes. Hopes were lost and the people waited for the worst.

Ikpeazu stepped in and brought the World Bank under the NEWMAP Projects. Counterpart funds were promptly paid by the Abia State Government and today, hope and life have returned to these two communities. The project is the largest ecological project in the history of the state. Not only was the devastating effects of the gulley erosion brought under control, buildings and lives saved, a brand new road with an ultra modern bridge sprung up linking these two communities. On Ikpeazu’s insistence, another top grade contractor, SETRACO handled the project and it’s a testament in the best standards of civil engineering construction. How Ugwu forgot yet again, such a humongous project which has positively altered the infrastructural landscape of Umuahia is mind blowing.

On water supply in Umuahia, it is public knowledge that public water supply in the capital city has always been problematic. In the last 15 years, public water supply has been almost non existent, save for the intervention of the last administration. In his usual sustainable style, Ikpeazu has again, brought the World Bank and a huge project under the E-WASH program has been launched in Abia State and designed to comprehensively overhaul and revive the public water supply in Umuahia. This launch was done a few weeks ago and it was a public event widely reported in the media. Yet, to a single mention of it was made by Ugwu in his piece.
While we concede that a lot still needs to be done in Umuahia and the job of developing a capital city is a continuous one, it is outrightly criminal to suggest, like Ugwu did, that nothing has happened in Umuahia under Ikpeazu. It is unpardonable and wicked.

The half hearted attempt by Ugwu to employ the use of sophistry to downplay Ikpeazu’s strides in Aba fell like a pack of cards. We make bold to state that since after the civilian government of the Late Sam Mbakwe, no other administration has given Aba the attention it has received under Ikpeazu. This is a fact and we invite Ugwu to counter this.
The city of Aba has over 4000 roads and it will be foolhardy for anyone to expect that such number of roads which were largely in terrible stages of disrepair when Ikpeazu came on board can be fixed in four years.
One major challenge in Aba is that roads done by previous administrations did not last. A case in point is the all important Osusu Road which was “reconstructed and commissioned” by the administration of Orji Uzor Kalu around 2002. That road did not last for a year and collapsed completely. Today, Ikpeazu is embarking on a complete reconstruction of the road with brand new modern drainages. Roads like Omuma, Ngwa Road, Cemetary Road had been commissioned in the past. Yet today, they are nothing to write home about.

Ikpeazu is not interested in temporary glory. He seeks lasting solutions and will not be distracted by anyone in his quest to revive infrastructure in Aba on a sustainable basis. Uncountable number of roads have been fixed in Aba since Ikpeazu came on board. These roads are still standing today. Ikpeazu pioneered the introduction of the Cement technology in road construction in Aba to ensure longevity.

Curiously, Ugwu recognized the efforts of Ikpeazu on Faulks Road, a road which has defied every single administration since after Mbakwe. We thank him for that. Today, and for the first time in over twenty years, it is possible to drive end to end on that road. While the project is yet to be finally completed, a new lease of life has been given to the millions of people that use that road, especially as it is the gateway into the multi billion Naira Ariaria International Market, the second largest market in the South East.

The notorious Ama Ikonne Flood which has lasted for over three decades has today become history, courtesy of Ikpeazu and the people of Aba will forever remain grateful for that.

Now that the rains are subsiding, contractors are getting ready to return to the various sites. As at today, work has resumed fully on Eziukwu Road, Aba Owerri Road, Ururuka Road, Umueze – ABSUTH Road, Osusu Road, etc.

In the next few months, the most comprehensive integrated road project will be launched in Aba by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and key roads such as Port Harcourt Road, Ngwa Road, Ohanku road and others will receive top attention. This integrated project will come with a well planned storm water management outlay and will permanently change the face of key Aba roads.

The claim by Ugwu that the Commissioner for Information in Abia State, Chief John Okiyi Kalu listed the Osisioma Flyover for commissioning in the first 100 days of Ikpeazu’s second tenure is a white lie and a very unfortunate one at that. At no time did the Commissioner nor anyone make such statement. The Osisioma Flyover Project is one that is dear to Ikpeazu and his promise to deliver that project stands. It is rather curious that Ugwu failed to consider the fact that this is the very first of such projects in the state since creation.

Ikpeazu’s strides in the promotion of trade and commerce through the mantra of the Made-in-Aba goods have received national and international acclaim, and Ugwu had no choice than to acknowledge it. It would have been extremely ridiculous if he did not. Same goes for the Enyimba Economic City Project which will transform not just the economy of the State but the entire South East region.

On the issue of salaries, our position is very clear. No worker paid directly by the State Government is owed. Workers in all the Ministries, Departments and Agencies of the State Government have received their July 2019 salaries. The challenge is with workers in parastatals and revenue generating agencies which, by their enabling laws, are meant to be self sustaining. Government pays subventions to these agencies. However, in the face of their challenges with salaries, Government through the State legislature is taking current steps to investigate their operational issues with a view to finding lasting solutions to them. Same goes for workers paid by local government areas. With the new guidelines on financial autonomy for local governments, which the Abia State Government has fully implemented, local governments are expected to prioritize the payment of salaries.

The challenge of pensions in Abia State is as old as the State. Every single administration in the State has battled with this problem but Ikpeazu has undertaken to clear these arrears. All hands are on deck to achieve this.

The ultimatum issued by Labor was as a result of a fake news that the State had received another tranche of the Paris Club refunds. When the labor leaders saw that no such funds came in, they withdrew the ultimatum and talks are currently ongoing on how to resolve the issues. A committee is now in place made up of labor leaders and representatives of the state government in this direction.

Government deeply appreciates the patience and understanding of Abia workers, and commits to the resolution of the impasse. Abia workers have been outstanding, even in the face of difficulties. The efforts of our teachers is the reason Abia State has remained the best performing state in WAEC exams for four unbroken years. Their commitment coupled with Ikpeazu’s forthrightness is the reason Abia has tripled primary school enrollment from about 100,000 to over 300,000 in the last three years, the highest in the country.

In the face of daunting challenges, the Ikpeazu administration trudges on with a defiant determination to leave lasting legacies. We will not be drawn into baseless comparisons with other states without a corresponding comparison of the peculiar challenges facing each state. Every state faces its own challenges and we are focused on ours.

While we respect the right of journalists to do their work, we insist that balanced reportage should remain an irreducible minimum in journalism.
> Finally, we urge Mr. Ugwu to spend more time in Umuahia, especially at night. He should also deal with his very peculiar case of selective amnesia. That will help him a great deal in his work.

* Ememanka, Esq is the Chief Press Secretary to the Governor of Abia State.