Emeka Alex Duru canvasses good governance in Abia State
For Abia State governor-elect, Dr. Alex Chioma Otti, there is no time for unrestrained celebrations. The journey ahead is rough and the road, rocky. While the Abia electorate and indeed, the entire South East erupted in jubilation over his announcement by the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), as the winner of the March 18 governorship election, I rather empathized with him. He has enormous expectations to contend with.
The last time the people emptied into the streets in such manner, was in 2011, when Rochas Okorocha was elected governor of neighbouring Imo State. Okorocha’s coming was seen as marking the end of lethargy in Imo and commencement of a genuine attempt at reinventing the state. But eight years down the line, many in the crowd that sang and danced in the hope of a new beginning, were in tears – in fact, in pains that the state had gone back several decades in governance and human capital development. May this not be the case with Otti!
Otti is not a politician, in Nigeria’s grossly abused sense of the word. He is a technocrat and an accidental politician. Such incidental occurrences who just happened in their states ended up performing creditably. In Lagos, Babatunde Raji Fashola, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), stands as an instance. In Anambra, Chris Ngige, a medical doctor; Peter Obi, boardroom genius and Labour Party Presidential candidate; and Willie Obiano, an accountant, gave good accounts of their days in office. They are all professionals and bureaucrats who had attained lofty heights in their fields before going into politics.
Otti has a lot to gain from them. He is an economist. Good enough, he has laid out his priorities before time. In 2015 when he made his first attempt for the governorship on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) and was coasting home to victory before the odious Obingwa rigging machine knocked him off, he had marshalled out his agenda for the state.
He had identified service to Abia, as the force driving his aspiration and not an exercise in personal enrichment. He said; “Those having the assumption that politicians go to Government Houses to enrich their pockets must have a rethink. Mine is different because I have strategies that would take the state to another level”.
The other day in Abuja, while picking his Certificate of Return (CoR) from INEC, he acknowledged that the expectations from the people have put huge responsibility on him and declared; “I won’t fail Abians who have waited for opportunity like this for a new dawn”. Those are nice words that the people want to hear from a leader and hold him accountable for. It is believed that the governor-elect will always recollect these promises and focus his mind on them. He needs to, because developments in the State, present paradoxes of sorts. Abia, prides itself as God’s own state, apparently in line with the vision of its founding fathers. To complement this, it is blessed with enormous human and material resources. But absence of dedicated leadership has remained its major drawback.
Perhaps, at no time in the creation of the state, has this leadership failure become more manifest as in the last 16 years. From the previous administrations that virtually held Abia on the jugular to the current era that is characterized by ineptitude, the state has literally been bleeding. Past and present leaders of the state, are people of hazy characters, who attained their positions of leadership under questionable circumstances. The result is that Abia, as its neighbouring Imo, incidentally, the two oil-producing states in the South East, has been reduced to object of mockery by commentators. For a state that is blessed with sons and daughters of immense capabilities and credentials, something better should be expected.
Otti cannot afford to fail Abia. He may not have all the answers to the gigantic problems confronting the state. But he needs to make a good start and should be seen to be doing so. Strategic locations and cities in the state, such as Umuahia, Aba, Ohafia, Abiriba, Arochukwu and Ukwa-Ndoki axis, must be brought back to life. Ohafia, Abribia, Arochukwu and Ukwa-Ndoki flanks possess enormous tourism potential that can boost the economy of the state, if properly harnessed. The slave routes of the legendary Long Juju (Ibinu Ukpabi) shrine, can be reactivated and turned to historical sites. The Azumini Blue River at the Ndoki end, can serve as major attraction to visitors.
Repositioning Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state, is an agenda Otti must have close to his heart. It pains that Aba, the old Mecca of manufacturing in the Southern part of Nigeria has been left in ruins to the point that most of the business folks in it have long exited to other parts of the country. Growing up, I knew Aba sufficiently. From Victoria, Lagos and Ibere Streets, all in Ngwa Road, through to Cameroon Road, where we lived at various points, it was easy for us, young lads, to run rounds up the other flanks of the city as St. Michaels, Obohia, Ohanku, School, Jubilee, Faulks, Asa, Hospital, Faulks and Port Harcourt Roads. There were very good networks of roads and other social amenities, including security, needed for businesses to thrive. Small Scale Industries equally sprang up at virtually every compound in the city, aside the big ones as Aba Textile Mills, Aba Glass Factory and Ceramic Industry, all providing jobs to the residents. Today, Aba is a nightmare; literally a wasteland, lacking heroes and models. In place of good roads and streets, swamps and craters have taken over. The city is in ruins.
Otti needs to fold his sleeves and roll up his pants for the work ahead. Aba must be rescued and revived. There is no volume of efforts or resources spent in recovering Aba that can be termed a waste. Properly harnessed, the wealth of the city can even make the revenue profile of Abia the envy of other states.
The governor-elect has rightly observed that politics is not a mystery as some politicians make it look but service to humanity. The great Michael Iheonukara (M.I) Okpara did it in the defunct Eastern Region, lifting the area from near ground zero, such that by 1964, it was described as the fastest growing economy in the world by Harvard Reviews.
Sam Onunaka Mbakwe (Dee Sam), did so in the Second Republic Imo State that comprised present Imo, Abia and parts of Ebonyi. Otti can do so. In the banking sector where he had a rewarding career that spanned 25 years, which he capped with chairmanship of Committee of Bank Chief Executive Officers (CEO)s in Nigeria, he remains a big name. He can replicate such in Abia. He has pledged to run the state as a business concern without depending on the monthly federal allocation from Abuja.
If he succeeds, Abia will celebrate him; Aba will continue singing and dancing for him. They know their own and express it in, ‘Aba ma Ndi-Aba’ – a popular expression among residents, which comes handy in appreciating virtues. They are proud and do not ask for handouts; they only ask for good governance. That is what Otti owes them. He cannot afford to fail.
Duru is the Editor, TheNiche Newspapers, Lagos