Geometric Power, A Metaphor for the Otti ‘Revolution’

Geometric Power, A Metaphor for the Otti ‘Revolution’

By Paul Nwabuikwu

Like the ripples in a somnolent stream disturbed by a rock flung into its very centre, the launch of the 188-megawatt Geometric power plant in Aba, the commercial epicenter of Abia state last week continues to dominate the headlines and the hearts of Abia people. The joy is palpable. The project is the latest in a series of escalating proofs that Abia is not only back on stream, but making up for lost time. This is significant because until recently, the state was widely considered the backwaters of national development, the orphan that could not find its way out of the maze of mediocrity and atrocious governance.

The Geometric project is certainly deserving of its emerging status as an exemplar of the ongoing Abia renaissance. It is the decades-long dream of Barth Nnaji, the gentle professor of mechanical and industrial engineering who harbours passionate dreams behind his quiet mien. From all accounts, its completion is a major miracle. The project has survived incredible odds. The tale of how it became reality despite many obstacles in its path, including some retrogressive specimens of humanity from the south east who did everything they could to scuttle it confirms the Biblical truth that the heart of man is desperately wicked.

Today the Geometric plant stands, the first integrated electricity facility in the country, a $800 million miracle that has been described as the biggest investment ever in the south east, a tribute to tenacity and determination.

But the project has also benefitted from something else: a fateful convergence of passion, capacity, investment and passionate promotion by prominent Abians who went above and beyond duty when they got a chance to push the project forward. The seed for the project was planted in the early 2000s when Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, current director-general of the World Trade Organization, then Finance Minister under Obasanjo invited her old boss and mentor, former World Bank managing director  Jim Wolfensohn, to see the economic and technological potentials of Aba for himself. Buoyed by their infectious enthusiasm, things moved fast.

As Nnaji explained at a recent summit on Igbo Leadership and Development: “After the visit in 2004, the duo asked me to consider building a 50-megawatt power plant in Abia for manufacturers, both big ones like the Star Paper Mill and small ones like the hundreds of excellent shoemakers and clothiers at the famous Ariaria Market… I acceded to the request by Okonjo-Iweala and Wolfensohn. What the two did not realize was that my enthusiastic acceptance was because the plant would be located in Aba. This city has a special place in the heart and mind of every person interested in our country’s rapid progress: It is the home of indigenous manufacturing, innovation, and entrepreneurship…”

Providence also gave another prominent Abian a starring role in the project. Alex Otti, banker, businessman, serial governorship candidate and, since, May 29, 2023, governor of Abia State as CEO of Diamond Bank was in the driver’s seat when the funding for the project was restructured and released following initial challenges in First Bank , leading to the completion of the project in 2014, a decade after it began.

It is a heartwarming coincidence that the man currently leading the transformation of Abia State, long before he departed the executive suites of banking for the uncertain terrain of politics, was deeply involved in a vital electricity project that, many years later, would supply an estimated 270,000 households and businesses in nine out of 17 local councils in the state many years later.

In a highly religious society, it is no surprise that many Abians have found spiritual significance in the conclave of circumstances that led to the emergence of Otti. Their fervour is understandable. To appreciate the import and impact of the undergoing Otti revolution, it’s important to recall the immediate context.  Abia, alphabetically Nigeria’s number state, has had a long-standing reputation for taking the rear in governance since the return of democracy in 1999. Under previous governors – Orji Uzor Kalu, Theodore Orji and Okezie Ikpeazu – there was little to cheer. News coming out of Abia was dominated by issues like the serial failure of government to perform its most basic financial obligation: regular payment of salaries and pensions to civil servants. Abia was the home of poorly conceptualized projects, pervasive corruption and a culture of mediocrity that pervaded everything. Corruption happens all over the country but in Abia, it seemed that the corrupt politicians, compromised elites and their allies were eating not only the crops but the seeds as well. Before Otti, the state has been in the doldrums for so long that its underachievement has become like the weather or the ongoing crash in Naira’s value, taken for granted.

The situation was doubly tragic because Abia is also known known for some positive things. It is the state of historical and contemporary Igbo titans like Michael Okpara, Alvan Ikoku, Jaja Nwachukwu, Adiele Afigbo Ebitu Ukiwe, Anya Anya and the first Chief of Army Staff from the South East since the 1960s Major General Azubuike Ihejirika among many others. Outside the power, policy and political spaces, Abia is also the home state of prominent players and influencers in Nigeria’s intellectual, cultural and entertainment circles. They include Chinweizu, the intellectual iconoclast, popular comedian Basketmouth and supermodel Oluchi Onweagba all of whom, hail from my homestead, Isuikwuato on the northern tip of the state.

Atrocious governance notwithstanding, It is also worth noting that Abia has been giving Anambra, Edo and other top states, a run for their money in the WAEC and JAMB rankings, a testament to the deep-seated love for education that defines the state despite its many woes.

It is against this backdrop that Otti’s efforts can best be appreciated. Apart from the Geometric Plant, other initiatives by his administration are helping to redefine Abia’s profile. A few examples would suffice. The declaration of a state of emergency on road infrastructure by the governor soon after he assumed office has produced significant results in the construction and rehabilitation of major roads across the state. The ongoing construction of the strategic Aba-Port Harcourt area is a major milestone which is earning the governor bi-partisan acclaim. According to reports, Adolphus Wabara, Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the opposition PDP was so elated by the development that he declared that the award of the road project to Julius Berger has secured Otti a second term ticket!

Though a significant proportion of roads in many parts of the state remain in bad shape, the tide is turning gradually as I discovered during my stay in Abia over Christmas holidays. The evidence suggests that the momentum is very much on. The flag-off of the Umuahia-Ozuakoli-Akara-Ohafia road, a major artery linking the state capital capital and Abia North in February demonstrates that the governor has his eyes set on a major turnaround in road infrastructure. Other major inter and intracity roads, link roads and inter-state highways are also receiving the Otti treatment.

The evidence of the government’s determination and dynamism is also visible in the health sector and other areas. Sanitation, workers welfare and security are all experiencing the kind of attention that was defined by absence in the pre-Otti years.

The people of Abia certainly deserve a respite after years of below sea level governance. The last 10 months have shown what focused and aspirational leadership can achieve. The challenge is to keep the tempo going for the next three years. It won’t be easy. Those who reaped fat during the years of the locust are not sleeping. They are waiting to pounce on Otti’s missteps, real or invented. The government must do its best not to give them ammunition.

*Nwabuikwu is a member of THISDAY Editorial Board

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