A Glimpse of Ikpeazu's 300 Days in office

A glimpse of Ikpeazu's 300 days in office
By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Before Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu's administration came on board on May 29th 2015, Abia was almost on its knees. 300 days after the infrastructural deficit that bedeviled the state,especially Aba, its economic heartbeat, has been addressed,and the governor has religiously kept his promise of "providing the enabling environment and infrastructure to facilitate the growth and development of Abia and its people; positioning it as a premier residential, business and tourism destination, with the ultimate objective of uplifting the lives of our people".

Despite the downward trend of our economy that has reduced Abia's previous federal revenue allocation to half,Ikpeazu's administration is active on 65 road construction sites simultaneously with 27 completed.

These roads are accompanied with solid drainage with the installation 800 street lightings and construction of bridges. Also, communities that have not seen electricity since Adam have bee electrified.52 Water Schemes were revitalised and the new government house and new workers secretariat premises were powered with solar energy.

To go this far, certain structures have been put in place to drive these policies and programmes. One of them is the Aba Urban Renewal Committee whose mandates are to drive the new effort towards the infrastructural renewal of the city; ensure that Aba is transformed to a city of basic modern amenities;restoring order and sanity in building of shops, kiosk, office and residential buildings; and to drive the new programmes towards the park reform and general rehabilitation work. The committee was recently elevated to status of a full-fledge government parastatal with the name, Aba Urban Renewal Authority and its new mandate extends to overseeing the general rehabilitation work in Aba including waste management and revenue generation.

Indeed, Abia is on a speed lane to achieve the Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) of the country. The state has since inaugurated the technical board of the state micro, small and medium enterprises, financial, trade and investment promotion scheme.

The essence of inaugurating the board is to lay a solid foundation for sustainable growth and development of entrepreneurs and businesses to succeed and compete favourably in the global business environment. It will be recalled that due to the state's strategic position as the economic nerve centre of the South East, the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) has given approval for Abia to host the CBN entrepreneurship development centre for the South East. The scheme would provide a platform for the training of over 6, 000 beneficiaries.

In a bid to close the gap of infrastructural development between rural areas and the cities, the administration has constituted the Abia State Rural Infrastructural Development Initiative (ASTRIDE). The initiative is charged with providing at least one project in each of the 184 INEC wards in the 17 local government areas in the state. The committees are expected to choose sites for the projects and the type of projects among project lines of the state government. This translates into planned rural electrification and beautification of Ohafia, the third largest urban centre in the state.

The emphasis in Abia now is on diversification of the economy .

The governor has taken steps to secure N1 billion loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to boost agricultural production.

The loan, which would be strictly applied for the development of agriculture is going to be purely for genuine farmers and not for political patronage. The loan becomes necessary due to certain factors. The new philosophy is to engender agriculture revolution in the state to ensure ensure food security for all citizens. And also to engender youth employment in the agriculture sector and the attendant economic empowerment. Already,the ministry of agriculture has been directed to come up with a blue print for the programme .Two, agriculture is one of the thematic areas of Gov. Ikpeazu's administration.

The agricultural revolution in the state is not restricted to the above. In the days ahead, Abia will assume the poultry- hub of the country with a model poultry that would boast of the best modern technology. According to governor, what the farmer needs is to walk into the poultry with his day-old chick. There is collaborative effort in this direction with Obasanjo Farms. Also, there is concerted efforts for the massive proliferation of cassava,cocoa and oil palm .The state launched The Return to Farming and Women in Fish Farming Initiative. The initiative is aimed at empowering the youths and women by setting up farming cooperatives which will help drive key government policy as regards agriculture. The government through the initiative will make land,finance and training accessible for farmers. The vision is to explore the agro-economy as a support base for the state economy.

Government public finance has been restructured in the state and there are serious efforts to harmonise taxes and levies. Intensive war is also waged against double taxation. While government has blocked leakages through which its revenues leak, touts and illegal agents in revenue drive have been eradicated in the revenue generation process.

It will be recalled that the state was losing good chunk of its resources through the ghost-worker syndrome. The ugly trend held Abia down for so long. But Ikpeazu's administration through its regular intensive staff verification exercise has saved millions of naira for the state. Before now, five percent of the entire population, which is the working population, was consuming 95 percent of the state income .The governor’s disappointment with the situation was captured in the following lines:“It doesn’t make sense that the working population, which is about 5 percent of the entire population of people in Abia, consumes 95 percent of Abia income, while market women and other artisans, who also pay tax cannot get basic infrastructure, because all we wake up to do is pay salary and go back to sleep”.

Within Ikpeazu's 300 days in office, domestic waste management in the state, especially Aba, has improved remarkably through establishment of the Abia State Environmental Support Group(ASEPA Support Club), an environmental Safety Association. The new ASEPA culture of packaging refuse in refuse bags has also been instituted.

The administration from onset has reiterated its resolve to raise the Internally-Generated-Revenue profile of the state to N 1.5 million. To achieve this, it has engaged reputable consultants to harness the huge IGR. This is to be achieved through harmonization and Integrated banking system.

On a similar note ,the administration has establishment of Abia State Economic Advancement Team (ASEAT) to produce a new economic blueprint for the state; drive the new economic initiative; set agenda, draw the roadmap for the new administration; and to drive the new IGR methodologies.

There is a consistent effort to restore the sanity of Aba and this led to the recent inauguration of a-12 man technical committee on the harmonisation of motor parks and mechanic villages in the state.

The mandate of the committee are to create motor/ trailer parks and mechanic villages at the outskirt of the metropolitan cities;establishing a mechanic and allied villages close to motor parks.

Others are the establishment of a data bank for vehicle operators to checkmate crime, to suggest locations for citing of mega motor parks and mechanic villages in the three senatorial zones; to harmonise effective routes of vehicle operation for easy accessibility by passengers; and to initiate any other action that will help them realise the objectives for which they were constituted.

Prior to the inauguration of the12-man technical committee, Abia State had established the Traffic & Indiscipline Management Agency of Abia State (TIMAAS). The mandate of the agency include traffic the control & enforcement of state and national laws that govern the safe use of vehicles on roads in Abia State; to deter and apprehend road traffic offenders; to conduct highly visible day & night traffic patrols ; to enforce traffic rules and regulations; and to rid the highways of obstruction, among others.

The agency which is backed by Abia State Road Traffic and Safety Management Law No 2 of 2010 and Law No 12 (amended) of 2015 had the Passing out Parade (POP) of its personnel on 27th January, 2016 .They were trained at the Federal Road Safety Academy, Udi, Enugu State where they were exposed to knowledge of traffic signs and control, the psychology of road users, accidents and victims, agility .The establishment of the agency has provided employment opportunities for over 200 Abia youths.

The period also recorded the establishment of trade centres where the old professions were to be revived. The centres would be supervised and handled by some Mexicans and Philipinos.

The philosophy behind this is to begin to teach Abia children the rudiments of the old craft works such as carpentry, masonry, house wiring so that we can develop a new generation of people who can do things by themselves.

In this arrangement,the old artisans will also add some professionalism and education to their trade .The centres are also expected to create jobs and empower people with skills.

The Abia Industrial Clusters, starting with Aba will soon come on stream. This as as equipment needed for the clusters are being procured. The cluster will ensure the mechanisation and automation of process of leather-making and artisanship works in Abia State .The Aba Industrial Cluster would absorb 40,000 shoemakers who are capable of producing 1000 shoes daily.

The Abia Markets Development Committee (ASMDC) is aimed restoring sanity to all markets in the state. To ensure this, the committee is relocating dealers on phone and phone accessories scattered in different locations in Aba to the Aba Mega Mall located beside Osisioma Park .Newly-constructed markets were provided with modern convenience, covered roofs, Police Post, Motor Parks, Fire Service Posts, among others to bring them to international standards.

The National Directorate of Employment ICT Skills Acquisition Centre at Osieke in Ugwunagbo LGA of the state has commenced training with full support from Abia State Government. The governor also promised to place the first 125 intakes into the scheme onN25,000 monthly stipend.

In the last 300 days,emphasis was laid on revamping moribund industries in the state or completing abandoned ones. Barring any unexpected circumstances and other things being equal (ceteris paribus), the moribund Golden Guinea Breweries Plc located at Afara Layout, Umuahia will commence operations in May.

Installation of modern equipment at the Breweries has been completed. The new production line has the capacity of producing 48,000 bottles per hour. This is a far cry from the old production which capacity was 24,000.The capacity of the breweries has been doubled both in production and equipment. Its equipment is of the latest technology in Nigeria and doubles the capacity of both Ama Breweries in Enugu and SAB Miller in Onitsha.

At the peak of its operations before it closed shop over a decade ago, the firm had about 5000 workers in its employ and when it commences operations this time around, the staff strength is expected to double. With strong assurances from the management that 70 percent of its staff will be sourced locally, the unemployment situation in Abia will soon witness a turn around .

When the breweries comes on stream everything will be affected from the distribution networks to support services and the ancillary services of the food vendors,plumbers, among others. The same good news goes to International Glass Industries, Aba which has commenced operations.

Education is another thematic area of Gov. Ikpeazu which received boost within the period. The Education for Employment Programme (E4E). A programme that is conceptualized around creating employment and to ensure that education leads to employment by imbuing the youths with the technical skills that would enable them become either self-employed or sought after by others. E4E will reactivate Technical and Vocational Training (TVET) in the state.

In the foreseeable future the programme will graduate over 100,000 youths trained in various technical and vocational skills to take up jobs in industries or be self-employment and help grow the economy. The programme is with the engagement of United Kingdom-based Kiara College to revive vocational and technical education in the state.

The programme is to boost the current stride of the state which is aimed at elevating it to a Small and Medium Scale Enterprise (SME) hub of the country where all kinds of equipment and devices will be imported to boost shoes and garments production.

The Friends of Abia School Adoption Initiative (FASAI) is a private-sector driven initiative aimed at involving well- meaning individuals within and outside Abia to give back to the communities that moulded them, especially the schools that raised them.

By this arrangement, they are expected to adopt indigent pupils and volunteering to renovate the dilapidated structures of the schools. This is a departure from the old tradition whereby government renovates and equips primary schools project in rural, urban and semi urban areas.

In this approach ,the worst primary schools in each of the local councils will e identified and given face lift with the hope that when the worst of these schools are upgraded, the effect on the entire primary school system will be enormous.

While the project aims at turning around the poorest primary schools across the state, it is also designed to give hope to pupils from poor schools by getting well-to-do individuals within and outside the state to adopt such schools and in the process enhance their fortunes and by extension the intellectual horizon of the benefiting pupils.

Ikpeazu must be a magician to achieve all these within 300 days despite the economic crunch. The Abia formula of cutting down on all celebrations and miscellaneous.

The governor shortly after assumed office he placed himself on half salary and cut his travelling allowances by 50 percent.Another approach is to make sure that Abia residents are brought into the state’s tax net.

The good news remains that amid economic hardship it is not in the radar of Abia State to downsize its workforce. According to Ikpeazu, “For now it is not on our radar to downsize our workforce. Times are hard but Abia is not in the relegation zone”.

Ukegbu is the Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to Gov. Ikpeazu on media.

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Articles by Comrade Onuegbu Okechukwu