Abia State Governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, at the weekend field questions from a selected group of Editors in his office in Umuahia,Abia State over various issues as he marks two years in office..Chris Kehinde Nwandu (CKN), Editor In Chief Of CKN News was among the Editors.
These are excerpts from the interview (Concluding part from yesterday)
In some states, governments make sure that federal roads leading to their cities are accessible, what are you doing about this, especially with regards to Aba? Secondly, where you distracted by the litigations and how do you feel now that it’s over?
We are doing all but one of the federal roads leading into Aba. We are doing Aba-Owerri Road, we have mobilized Setraco to fix Port Harcourt Road, and the other one is Aba- Ikot Ekpene Road which the federal government is to handle. We might have issues with the quality of the contractor handling it and the pace of work but we will give them the benefit of doubt.
But even if the federal government does not reconstruct Ikot-Ekpene Road in a timely and qualitative manner, we are already constructing two alternative routes to Akwa Ibom from Aba. Just 7kms to Akwa Ibom because we know the area very well and our new roads are through virgin forests.
Port Harcourt Road is going to be done using concrete pavement. I don’t want people to forget that we pionerred Rigid pavement technology. As far as I know, Abia is also the only state with 3 grade A contractors working on her roads concurrently: Arab contractors, Setraco and the Chinese company handling the Osisioma flyover or interchange.
On distractions, I am somebody who does not want to wallow in self pity and I rather want to be judged as if nothing happened. If the devil wanted to distract me in any way, he failed woefully.
I don’t want the devil to get any glory. It is only to the glory of God. Besides, through it all I didn’t lose the faith of my people. Abians have faith in what we are doing and so I have every cause to glorify God.
How are you coping with recession? Also you are the only Governor in the Southeast in good terms with your predecessor. How are you managing the relationship?
Our response to recession is very simple; promote Made in Aba, local skills and agriculture. One of my greatest achievements is the promotion of Made in Aba across the globe.
As we speak, the Made in Aba logo has been officially launched. Governments pay to be on CNN, but our case is different because an international organization that saw what we are doing, saw the need to promote it using CNN and others. This means that our artisans and their creativity are being promoted free of charge.
People argue about political correctness, instead of economic advantage. We are more focused on doing things that give economic advantage to our people as against being politically correct.
My predecessor respects me and I also respect him. He doesn’t struggle for space with me. He knows there can only be one governor at a time.
Because of this, I respect him, one as an elder, two as a senator, and three as a former Governor.
It is a relationship that is based on mutual respect and understanding.
You are two years, very soon, you will be talking about second term, what are we going to hold you on, if you get a second term?
Even in the midst of the supposed distraction, couldn’t I have found an easy alibi not to perform if I had wanted? Yet our people can judge us and see that we never stopped working and never gave them excuses because we were at all times focused on the things that are important to our people.
I will continue to do my best because there is need to serve my people with commitment. Things got to a point in the legal battles that I had to pray and ask God to genuinely search the minds of everyone contesting for the Abia Governor’s seat with me and let whoever loves Abia more than me win. God prevailed and used the Supreme Court to reaffirm us.
Igbo youths in particular are disenchanted with the present administration in Nigeria. What message of hope are you bringing to them? Some Fulani herdsmen still operate along the highways in your state, like your Ekiti counterpart, shouldn’t you have enacted a law to deal with it? And how have you been able to integrate non indigenes in Abia as we have noticed that Abia has the least record of conflict with Fulani herdsmen?
First, I recognize that there are more Abians in the North, than Ekiti. Whatever action I take must take cognizance of that fact. Abians also add value to wherever they are by employing youths from that place, building structures and generally living peacefully with others. I make bold to state that 60% of Nigerian youths working directly and indirectly through the private sector in Nigeria are employed through the efforts and contributions of our people. It is therefore natural for me to consider all angles in taking decisions. What if there is a reprisal for whatever action we take here, how will that affect our people living outside our state?
We believe in ensuring the safety of our visitors against all odds. So what we did was to create conflict resolution committees at the local government level, after a critical study of the areas the herders live and visit. We have 2-3 layers of conflict resolution.
But the major problem with the conflicts is the inability or lack of understanding of local sentiments and the idiosyncrasies of the Hausa/Fulani man, which I understand because I lived in the north for 7 years. Our conflict resolution approach is tailored to use this knowledge and solve real and potential conflicts.
On youth agitation, it is very unfortunate that a part of the nation feels the need to agitate for fairness and equity within the federation. Social mobilization is very important and even more important than infrastructure. We have not mobilized Nigerians from the centre socially and that is where our leaders have failed.
Every leader should be a vendor of hope. My strategy in Abia is to focus the minds of our youths on hard work and creativity. We are sending 100 people to China for one year to learn how to make shoes. Not because we are not good, but we need to add some icing on our cake. We are using the China Model of technology transfer and standardization of export products. Criminality in Nigeria is occasioned by too much energy and creativity in the youths not finding positive outlets. Let us get it right at the Centre through fairness and equity as well as providing positive outlets for the massive energy of our youths.
What is your take on the recently signed executive orders by the presidency?
I commend the presidency for that. It is very encouraging to our efforts. It is what we have been expecting them to do. But whatever they say or do, it is not complete, until it affects rice, baked beans, salad cream and other imported products that we are consuming daily in Nigeria.
I am looking forward to a time when they will stop serving imported rice, baked beans etc at the FEC meetings and other events around the villa. Since I became Governor I have been eating local rice and wearing made in Aba clothes to support our people.
In the past years, we saw how well Abia performed in WAEC especially those in Public schools, what are you doing in the area of education to ensure that Abia remains in the forefront? On attracting investors, what kind of incentives are you giving? Also Abia has allegedly been the bedrock of kidnappers, though it has been controlled recently, but somehow pockets of criminality are raising its heads again, what are you doing to sustain a safe environment where business can thrive?
Our strategy to develop education is through taking cognizance of our foundational issues.
The problem of education, not only in Abia but Nigeria, is the quality and morale of our primary school teachers. Early child education is as important as tertiary education, if not more important.
We are partnering with Australian school teachers to go to our schools and help in developing our learning environment, information Communication Technology, classroom management, first aid and how to manage children. They will train our teachers who in turn will become trainers for others.
We want to ensure that at primary 3, a pupil is able to confidently operate the computer efficiently.
We would model primary schools to achieve this, as well as embark on advanced teachers training which Is critical to educational capacity building.
In the next 12 months, there is going to be a revolution in Abia education sector. Our idea of model schools will spring up across the geopolitical zones of the state and the Australians will return to continue the work they are partnering with us to do.
On incentives for investors, the Abia investment House, which is private sector driven, is for ease of doing business in Abia. It will help investors get all they need to operate in Abia in at most two weeks.
I have the bulk C of O of 9,000 hectares of land, which any interested investor can get in 2 hours, if he’s interested in as much plots of land as possible. We are ready to give the lands to those who show seriousness in investing in Abia.
The present unitary political system in Nigeria is it sustainable?
- In the first instance, there should not be any “federal roads”, because there are no federal citizens. Let the funds for fixing of so called federal roads be given to state governments with monitoring by the relevant federal agency or ministry. Most of what the federal government is doing should be done by the state governments while the federal government concentrate on generating and monitoring guiding policies
What do you think about the clamour for restructuring of Nigeria?
I would say that question has largely been captured in my interaction with you here and whatever I said is my opinion.
But I believe we should start spending time on the way forward in Nigeria, instead of federal government spending too much time on money appropriation. Recession is a huge opportunity and we are yet to fully tap the opportunities presented to us by this recession.
For instance, without recession we won’t be working so hard on Made in Aba, increased agricultural production with over 40,000 palm seedlings and a mushroom industry that can guarantee a minimum of N70,000 daily to an Abia youth. Nigeria needs to tap into the prevailing recession instead of focusing on huge appropriations and issues around sharing of money. If the federal government is serious with tapping into the opportunities presented by this recession they should look towards Aba and focus on using Aba as the model to bring out the best in Nigerians.