Okezie Ikpeazu, bio-chemist, former university don and governor of Abia State, has a great vision for the tiny oil-producing state.
He set out to build on the achievements of his predecessors without running them down. So far, the work of development is not static. The governor has made some progress. But, he also faces some constraints.
Abia has boundaries with seven states. Many roads connecting it to these states are Federal roads. They are death traps, full of potholes; neglected and deserted. This has crippled the economic fortunes and potentials of Aba, its commercial city.
“There is conspiracy against Abia,” Ikpeazu told reporters in Lagos when lamenting the terrible condition of the federal roads.
Although the roads belong to the distant Federal Government, indigenes heap blames on the governor for the disrepair.
The Aba/Ikot-Ekpeme road is an eyesore. More worrisome is the state of Aba/Port-Harcourt road. In apparent despair, the governor queried: “Aba/Port-Harcourt road is 34 kilometer road. Why should it take 30 years to do it?”
Efforts to construct the road by the statd government are also been stalled. Ikpeazu, who complained about the frustration, added: “They told me, if I don’t get papers, they won’t refund me. But, I cannot wait.”
Despite his vision and laudable agenda for development, the governor has been operating under the burden of financial constraints. But, he said that he was undeterred by the challenge.
Ikpeazu takes delight in the people of the state, who he described as assets. He is proud of it’s natural endowments-its little oil, abundant gas, commercial prowess, fertile lands, small and medium scale enterprises, potentials in garment and shoe industries and energetic artisans.
When he was warming up for the governorship race in 2014, he set up an economic team. “We wanted to create a small Dubai; to see what we could do in education, oil and gas, agriculture, commerce and industry,” he reflected.
To his surprise, he inherited infrastructural deficit. Apart from the abandoned federal roads, intra-state roads could not support economic activities. He also discovered that the terrain recommended a different approach to fixing the dilapidated utilities.
“It is compulsory to do culvert before doing roads in Abia,” he said, adding that the roads should be constructed to withstand the rains.
Besides, road construction is prioritised. The governor’s priority is the construction of roads that lead to the farms and markets. He explained that if the roads leading to Aba, which has the Ariare and Aregua markets are accessible, there will be promotion of small and medium scale enterprises.
The governor said the philosophy behind the road construction is that it can drive economic activities. “I don’t do roads for political patronage,” he stressed.
To Ikpeazu, the development of the automobile shoe factory is also important. His government had sponsored the training of 30 shoe makers in China. The automotive garment factory is also not neglected. “I had taken the trade fairs in Abuja, Turkey and New York,” said the governor who lamented the thirst for foreign goods instead of home made products.
“Nigeria should learn to patronise home made goods. The raw materials are available,” he said.
Ikpeazu described himself as one of the most criticised governors in the country. But, he pointed out that what he is doing currently ought to have been done in the past. He said his intervention, policies and programmes are not in vain.
“If Abia is not working, why are investors coming to Abia? No investor will come because you are his in-law. It is because the environment is conducive,” the governor said.
Ikpeazu said job creation should also be taken seriously. “If our population doubles by 2030 and there are no jobs for the youths, #EndSARS will be a child’s play,” he warned.
However, the governor lamented that Covid-19 has affected the talks with investors. Although he had made trips to South Africa and London for projects that will create 600, 000 jobs in the shoe and garment industries, unforeseen contingencies aborted the accomplishment.
How about the proposed airport project? Ikpeazu said it is on course, although he explained that he had to listen to the views of people who maintained that some projects should take precedent. “We need an airport. An airport is not a park. My ideal airport is the airport in Dubai. I want a compact airport that will have a hotel, not an airport that will close by 9pm,” he said.
Ikpeazu said he had attracted assistance from the World Bank, making reference to a N27 billion obtained under counterpart funding to curtail flood. He also spoke on his strides in education, particularly the retraining of teachers by a non-governmental organisation from Australia.
The governor said his administration will continue to defend sport, which he described as a big business. He praised Eyinmba Football Club for bringing honour to the state, promising to sustain the tempo of support for the club.
Ikpeazu raised the alarm that political rivals were trying to turn attention from his achievements through their destructive politics and criticisms.
“Local elite; greedy and vociferous politicians; are ‘demarketing’ Abia,” he complained. But, he added: “It is practically impossible to distract me.”
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