Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, a biochemist and former Head, Department of Biochemistry at the Enugu State University of Science and Technology, has this to say about his one year stay as governor.
It's one year now since you became governor of Abia State, looking back and bearing in mind your campaign promises, can you sincerely say you've done well?
One year ago, we had so much on our minds in terms of what we plan to do and achieve. The review of our activity between that time and now clearly shows that we may not have achieved everything but we are certainly on track.
What we did not put into the picture at that time was the precarious nature of our economy today; we didn’t know that we were going to have this deep slide in our revenue stream. Abia was earning about N3.5b monthly from the federal allocation before we came. At times it was N4billion a month. But presently we are making an all-time low of N1.7 billion a month, which is certainly beneath our requirements for even payment of salary.
But the occupation of political high office like that of the governor is similar to somebody applying for a job and you are required to deliver and perform on that job irrespective of various adverse circumstances you find yourself.
Regardless of the challenges, I want to say that if I am to rate myself I will say we have done about 70 percent of what we planned to do in our first year and we are clearly on track.
You said that you're a common governor for the common people, how much in touch are you with your people?
The First thing is that there is mass movement; social mobilization of our people, putting Abia first in everything we do. We have given our people hope and impetus to believe and work harder for the good of our state and to the glory of God.
I live with them. I go to work in Umuahia from Aba every day because I promised that I will live in Aba at least one year during the campaigns. Recently telephone numbers of governors were published on the Internet, some dog my aides said I should change the line, I said no. In fact I told them that on no account will that phone go off. I take calls and respond to their messages. My people have access to me.
You've been rated high in the area of road infrastructure, why did you focus more on road construction?
We started strategically from road infrastructure.
As I speak today we have embarked upon about 67 road projects and delivered on 30 roads across the state. Work continues on others and they are at various stages of completion. As I speak, I am sure that this anniversary we have about 4 brand new roads to commission.
These roads are scattered across the three geo-political zones of the state. At the apex of our strategy is to make sure that we lead out in an economic revolution of Abia State, hence we are focusing on the economy of Abia State.
All of our new or reconstructed roads are coming on with drainages and street lights and for purposes of emphasis, our roads are world class roads because we are doing this cement or rigid pavement technology to make sure our roads can outlast our tenure and also we get value for money.
You've done more roads in Aba, what's the reason for this?
We want Aba to come back on its feet as Japan of Africa. We want to emphasize trade and commerce, we want to emphasize Small and Medium Scale Enterprises and Aba is the heartbeat of trade and commerce in the entire south East, not only in Abia State and in a time like this, one is challenged to begin to attempt to survive from known to the unknown. So we are leveraging on what we can do best, we are leveraging on those things that come to us naturally and that is why our emphasis is on Aba because Aba is supposed to drive the economic renaissance of not only Abia state but the entire South East and that is why we are emphasizing retooling and rehabilitating our infrastructures within Aba.
While we are emphasizing on Aba for the stated reasons, we are not compromising on the need to also do what we need elsewhere in the state. For the records, I will like to say that in terms of mileage/distance, the roads we have done in other senatorial zones are more than those at Aba in terms of kilometers because Aba roads are usually short 2-4 kilometers) but the Abiriba ring road, for instance, is like 3 times of one of the roads we are doing at Aba. The road we are doing at Nkporo is like 24 kilometers. The two roads we are doing in Arochukwu are close to 60 kilometers so you see that road in Arochukwu project alone is about the size of the entire roads we did in Aba.
As a teacher, what have you done in education?
In education, we are doing something that is a novelty, something that is new. We noticed that the issues in education revolved around the foundation on which our educational infrastructure was built and that was talking about primary schools.
Consistently Abia State has come first or second in nationwide examinations like WASCE and Common entrance examinations and our graduates in tertiary institutions have also done well consistently in nationwide institutional examinations that tend to level out performances from various institutions in Nigeria like Law school and the Medical School examinations.
But we are not yet satisfied because we also think that the foundation upon which our secondary and tertiary institutions are built seems a little bit wobbly and weak and that is why we are intervening at the primary school level through the Friends of Abia Adopted Schools Initiative which has gained traction. Across Abia State we have schools that are coming on fresh and new from that initiative and those schools will be the first schools that will have full compliments of ICT curriculum. The Ministry of Education, in terms of policy, now is working on a new curriculum that will include civics and computer appreciation for primary schools and to also strengthen the other leg of it, we have gone into serious collaborations with primary school education providers in Australia. We are hosting about 8 experts from Australia that are executing a retraining program for our primary school teachers in all the senatorial districts, as I speak, simultaneously and part of what we featured in that program is the introduction of the primary school teachers to basic elements and foundation studies on computer and ICT appreciation so that they can in turn, transfer that to our pupils.
So going forward, we are going to see primary school pupils in Abia State that are capable of handling computer so that by the time they get into secondary schools and going forward, we can be sure at least we have children that can compete in the 21stcentury.
Still on education, we are expecting that, through ASUBEB, we are going to embark on massive reclaiming and rehabilitation of our primary and secondary schools and I expect that by end of 2017, two brand new model schools; what we may call ideal schools in Abia, will spring up from each of the three senatorial districts. They are designed to compete with private schools so that our children can now have the opportunity of finding education, beautiful education, the world class education according to world standard model.
During the May 27 children Day celebration, I decided to appreciate three outstanding primary school teachers with cars. These teachers were selected by ASUBEB from the three zones of the state and each of them got a Toyota Camry car.
Abia is still battling security, what have you done?
Our security challenge cannot be considered in isolation of our geopolitical concerns. Aba and Abia is at the center of South South, South East regions. What happens in Rivers, what happens in Imo, what happens in Akwa Ibom has a way of affecting or rubbing off on what happens in Abia.
Having said that, up to December and January 26, we noticed that Aba city was relatively quiet and safe, no issues of kidnapping and violence. But the upsurge in criminal activities were experienced around second week of January and we are battling it up till this moment.
We have retooled our security architecture, we have given 24 brand new vehicles to the police, we have also bought some Hillux vehicles with some going to the military and we have also procured communication gadgets to make sure that we can link up all those security vehicles with central police and security commands.
Beyond that, we have come up with a policy that will enable us engage 10 youths per community as neighborhood watch and vigilantes to complement the efforts of the Nigerian Police and that is coming at a huge cost. 10 youths per community in Abia State will give you a total above 7, 500 youths all engaged at once. To pay allowances is a huge cost to the State but we hope and pray that through their engagement and participation with the security setup that we begin to notice improvements. As I speak the state is relatively quiet, as at today, but the security situation is also fluid, yet we are going to keep working at it so that things remain quiet for the rest of the year and beyond.
What have you done in sport considering that Abia has two major teams playing at the national and continental competitions?
Abia State is one of the few States in Nigeria, in fact the only State in Nigeria, that has two Premiership clubs and a third one that is almost gaining promotion to the Premiership as well as a very successful female team. In effect we have four or five teams competing at the highest levels and all of them are maintained at a huge cost and expense of the State. But rather than see it as a burden, we are looking at it as an export of the Government and people of Abia State .
We want to say that a new soccer Academy should begin to spring up from the first quarter of next year. That is expected to take off from our Nsulu Games Village.
We are also laying emphasis on grassroots sports development, not only soccer . We are planning to leverage the image and pedigree of international footballers like Kanu Nwankwo, Uche Okechukwu who are from Abia, to drive sports from inter house sports competition through secondary academicals until they graduate into the various pedestals of our major teams.
We also want to return hand ball to the front burner in Abia State. Power lifting is a sport that is well known and Abia is well known for power lifting. So we want to lay emphasis on not only soccer but other areas of sports. Abia State has produced some of the best sprinters, especially in the women category, and we intend to drive this from the grass root through to the national level.
Unfortunately sports in Nigeria is still an enterprise that is wholly and solely dependent on Government benevolence. But with the way things are going, we must find a way to tie private sector interest and integrate it into Sporting Activities, otherwise it will remain a huge problem to actualize the dreams we have set out for ourselves.
Nigerians should look out for the games village coming out soon from where it used to be and the sports Academy from same environment. We have done all we need to do to make sure that the plan can begin to emerge as to the relationship between various sporting activities that will spring up immediately between now and next three
We are completely retooling and rehabilitating the Enyimba sports stadium. We initially thought that by now that the team would have gone back to their base at Aba to play. What we are doing in that place is a capital intensive project. It is almost about N350million for the complete world class pitch, which is about the second in Africa. That job is about 65% completed and God willing, if fortune smiles our way, I am sure in the next four weeks that too will be completed.
We have also encouraged the our teams, Enyimba FC and Abia Warriors with brand new Luxurious buses. We also bought a brand new bus for Abia FA.
What have you done in health?
Due to rains, we are slowing down on road construction and our focus shifts to Education and Health. As I speak to you, we are rehabilitating four Secondary Health Care Units. We decided to intervene at the Secondary Health Care units because we want it to be a pull for the Primary Health Care Centers.
I inherited about 172 Primary Health Care Units but those Primary Health Care Units are not fully functional as it should because of equipment and staff, but I have rearranged the entire health care unit system so that the secondary health care centers within the vicinity of a cluster of primary health centers will serve as referral point to drive the operations of the cluster of primary health care centers within the environment. So we are going to deliver on four Secondary Health Care Units between now and the next two months.
Those Four Health Care Units will be ready with doctors, workers, equipment, full functionality as hospitals, 247 electricity and we will now attach to them clusters of Primary Health Care Units.
The other thing we intend to do is to get Ambulance services to make sure there is a relationship, physical relationship between the Primary Health Care Units and the Secondary Health Care Units. Beyond ambulance, we have also engaged a company to bring us up to a platform of what we call E-Medicine so that those Primary Health Care Unit are in serial relationship with Secondary Health Care Centers. They will not probably be physical by way of ambulance but in terms of ICT and the consultants, the General Hospitals, the Local Governments Headquarters should be able to have a relationship either through Skype, Whatsapp or whatever with the patients that are in the Primary Health Care Centers because I must mention here that part of the reasons why these Primary Health Care Centers are yet to be very functional is that the patrons and villagers don’t feel safe and confident to approach the Primary health care centers. They feel that because they may not see the doctor immediately, it could be a problem or an issue for them to get the attention they require. So if they know now that the doctor who is sitting at the Secondary Health Care Facility at the Local Government Headquarters can have access and have a discussion with them, it doesn’t matter how remote wherever they may be. It would return confidence to Primary Health Care Centers. Beyond that, we are also launching out with our Emergency Health Care Services. We have procured about four (4) purpose built Ambulances and ER emergency care vehicles. These vehicles are capable of blood transfusion, capable of infusion, capable of minor surgery, capable of resuscitating and capable of delivering oxygen to patients that need them. These vehicles will be strategically located to serve accident victims and also those in dire need of emergency care and then take them to where they can be stabilized and taken care of.
In future, in 2017, our plan is to get the private sector involved and we have concluded an arrangement to setup an organ transplant center in Aba and another tertiary unit in Umuahia so that we can have a full complement of primary, secondary and tertiary health care centers end to end. Not until we are able to set up that infrastructure will we be satisfied with what we have been able to do.
You spent about 8 months of your first year in office at various courts and tribunals, how did that affect you and your promises?
Well, I must thank God Almighty for the strength of character and resilience of our team and our people during that period. Court cases, especially for someone like me who before now has not had any need or reason to go to court; i can’t, I won’t deny the fact that it was a major source of distraction. But we remained focused because all our projects were on going, we remained committed to our resolute determination because, just like we started work on the first day on resumption, while the court case was going on we were busy commissioning roads.
The beauty of what we have done and my satisfaction today in one year and going forward is I can say that
if we succeed in training those who can train our primary school teachers to be ICT savvy and we can be begin on regular basis to mount programs for our primary teachers to know how to use computers and we will provide even if it is one table top computer per primary school so that our children can really try their hands on computers then I would have achieved something in primary education.
We have commenced the process of relocating the abattoir at Waterside in Ogbohill area of Aba to a place called Omuma Uzo in Ukwa. We hope that before July ending the abattoir in Ogbohill will move to the new and permanent location. We are still working on the Obuaku River Port. There is also a new Enyimba Industrial City which is a huge project beyond Abia State because we will have people from China and across the world, all of them thinking about how to invest in the new Enyimba Industrial City.
All things put together, I think that our tomorrow will be better than today certainly. I am confident about that.