Thank God, its another August 27, and Abia is 32. And today’s joy, unlike the preceding years, is genuinely palpable and pervades the air for all to feel and appreciate.
Drums are rolled out. Beautiful bouquets of flowers and magnificent flower trees are on display in strategic corners of the cities in the spiritual realm in Umuahia, Ohafia, Aba, Arochukwu and others.
And the State Government has lined up several activities in Churches and Mosques to commemorate and celebrate Abia’s anniversary in the most solemn and sober perspective.
Joyfully leading the procession for this year’s celebration, like never before since the return of democratic governance, is a renowned technocrat, an accomplished banker and quintessential administrator, Gov. Alex. Chioma Otti, accompanied by his beloved better half, Priscilla, lieutenants and political aides.
This is the exceptionally exciting perspective of this year’s anniversary celebration. And it summarises the true essence of the celebration.
For historical emphasis, the state was created out of the old Imo by the military junta of Gen. Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida (rtd.) on Aug. 27, 1991.
The creation was the outcome of a collective struggle by some patriotic elders, rightly called the Abia founding fathers.
Prominent actors in the struggle were Dr M.I Okpara, Dr Onyike Onyike, Eze Bernard Enweremadu, Prof. Joshua Ogbonnaya, Dr Anagha Ezikpe and Dr Okam, all of blessed memory, amongst others.
Abia is empirically unique and truly stands out in some respect from the pack.
First, the state takes the lead above and before 35 of the 36 states of the federation, when placed in their alphabetical order.
Secondly, and perhaps of greater spiritual significance, Abia (Abiah) is the only Nigerian state that is mentioned in the Holy Bible (1 Samuel 8:2). It is a Hebrew name, meaning “Great God is my father”.
Abia, as we know, is an acronym coined from the first letters of the four major towns that make up the state on creation.
The towns are Aba, Bende, Isuikwuato and Afikpo. Though, Afikpo was carved out in 1996 to join other towns for the creation of Ebonyi State.
Abia State covers a landmass of about 5,243.7 sq. km, representing approximately 5.8 per cent of the total land area of Nigeria.
It has 17 Local Government Areas with a population estimate of 3,841,943 by the 2016 Census.
It is richly endowed with enormous human and material resources in commercial quantities. They include Limestone in Arochukwu, Phosphate in Bende, Lignite (clean coal) in Ikwuano and Kaolin in Umuahia South.
There is also huge crude oil and gas deposits in Ukwa, amongst other resources.
Another area of special endowment are the tourist attractions that dot different parts of the state.
The list includes the Arochukwu Long Juju (also known as Ibini Ukpabi), Azumini Blue River at Ukwa East, Amakama Wooden Cave, Arochukwu Cave, Ngodo Cave at Ngodo Isuochi, Uhuchukwu Cave at Ahaba Imenyi in Isuikwuato LGA and Ulochukwu Abiama Cave at Amankalu Alayi in Bende LGA.
Others are the Eziofia Cave at Amaekpu Ohafia; Onu Ibina Cave at Ihechiowa in Arochukwu LGA; National War Museum and Ojukwu Bunker in Umuahia and the Museum of Colonial History, Aba.
It was on account of this “extravagance grace of God” (apology to Chief Charles Ogbonna, Ebule ogu Ibeku) on Abia State that former Gov. Theodore Orji (a.k.a Ochendo), in his days in office, would jocularly tease his audience, especially when he was in his best mood, by saying that “God dwells in Abia, from where He visits other states and returns”.
Although Ochendo might have trivialised this symbolic statement, yet it appears to me an interpretation of a true and genuine divine reality.
This is the reason many have not ceased to wonder why the state, with its enormous natural endowment begging to be harnessed, could be so scandalously poor, backward and grossly undeveloped many years after its creation.
As the state marks its 32nd anniversary under an entirely different political leadership and personage, it is envisioned that the unpalatable narrative about Abia would substantially change from the absurdities and political deceit of the past 24 years.
For, how on earth can anyone defend the level of leadership deficit and rascality that defined the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) led administrations, which intentionally frittered away the opportunities to transform the state and leave enduring legacies after them?
Instead, they came, appropriated the state resources for their self enrichment, became richer than the state and, worse still, left the people much more impoverished.
From the administration of Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu (OUK) (1999 – 2007) to Sen. Theodore Ahamefule Orji (Ochendo) (2007 – 2015) and Okezie Ikpeazu (2015 – 2023), the state became notorious with the fiery tales of how the soul and spirit of Abia was allegedly mortgaged to the infamous Okija shrine.
And for 24 years, the fortunes of the state became shortchaged and continued to experience a downturn, evidently stunted in all sectors.
Kalu squandered the initial support and popularity he enjoyed from the people at the inception of his government when his mother and President, Reality Organisation Worldwide Eunice Kalu, allegedly began to call the shots over who got what under a system scandalously referred to as “mamacracy”.
Conscious of the overwhelming desire by the people for Abia’s political freedom, Ochendo made huge effort to yank himself and his administration off from Kalu and Odiukonamba’s political dynasty and control.
He eventually proved to have succeeded in “liberating Abia” from the grips of the evil powers in high places. And he was celebrated in the madia as another Nigeria’s governor to boldly turn his back against his political godfather after Sen. Chris Ngige, a former Anambra Governor.
But Abia’s problem did not end with the so-called liberation from OUK’s alleged stranglehold on the state.
Rather, Ochendo’s materialistic tendencies and obsession to acquire more wealth for himself and generations unborn turned out to become Abia’s undeserved nemesis between 2007 and 2015.
Hence, his initial pretence to turn around Abia’s development trajectory suddenly took a dramatic replacement with an obsession to build his personal empire and political dynasty, while his son, Chinedum, also busied himself building his political machinery.
Ochendo created a latitude on which Chinedum climbed to political limelight. He was politically obscure but with his father’s emergence as governor, he had the resources of the state literally left under his control.
He was truly in charge and soon became the defacto governor, firmly controlling the state finances and appointees of his father’s government.
A few years after, Chinedum assumed the Speaker of the state House of Assembly, where he bestrode the chambers as the Dictator-In-Chief from June 10, 2019 to June 10, 2023.
During the period, he perceived himself as “superior” and “more politically powerful and influencial” than his colleagues and the then sitting Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu.
Although reports had it that Ikpeazu was nominated by Chinedum to succeed Ochendo against his preference for the incumbent Gov. Alex Otti and Uche Ogah, who were reportedly favoured even by other PDP chieftains to pick the governorship ticket for the 2015 poll.
Under Ikpeazu’s government, Abia went further down the ditch with little or nothing happening in terms of infrastructure development and economic growth.
Ikpeazu became rated as the worst of the three mercenaries that masqueraded as leaders on the Abia political space for 24 long wasted years.
He was variously described as a political bystander, who was never serious with anything serious.
He truly lived his real self out in his eight years in the saddle as governor. Never bothered about the rot in the civil service and local government systems.
Neither did he show concern about the financial rot that recklessly went on in the ministries, agencies and parastatal organisations.
He was constantly junketing around the globe with free taxpayers’ money, leaving the health sector to deteriorate with most state-owned health facilities not fit to provide the services they were meant for.
Under his watch, critical state infrastructure suffered the worst deterioration and decay.
And more vicious was his noncommittal approach to the payment of salaries and pensions. He would rather waste the state finances on frivolous foreign trips and mundane attractions than pay salaries and pensions.
This was why his administration left the state gasping for breath under a suffocating N200 billion debt, which included salary and pension arrears as well as loans incurred by his government.
Regrettably, this sorry state was allowed to fester, in spite of Abia’s huge share of several Paris Club refunds and bailout funds from the Federal Government to offset salaries.
Yet, Ikpeazu left a whopping N50 billion unpaid salary arrears, when he exited office on May 29.
This is the scorecard of the governor that superintended over the rich landscape of Abia for eight years.
No wonder he could muster the temerity and shamelessness to seek a Court injunction to shield him from standing in the defence box at the ongoing Judicial Panel of Inquiry to give account of his eight-year stewardship to Abia.
This year’s anniversary celebration, therefore, becomes extraordinary because God has given the people cause to genuinely rejoice, following the miracle of March 22, 2023.
So, Abia people are celebrating genuine political and economic emancipation and, of course, the triumph of light over darkness that enveloped the state for well over two decades.
They are rejoicing because they feel truly persuaded that “a Daniel has come to judgment”. And, so, the years of slavery, abject poverty inflicted on them and the mindless looting of their common patrimony, have ended in praise to God.
And as promised in the Holy bible, Joel 2:25, God has sent his anointed to “restore” to them the years that the swarming locust, the cankerworm and caterpillar had eaten up. God’s superfluous potentials on Abia, which were callously destroyed by the rascally in government “are about to be restored”.
The people are in joyous mood because that which was made impossible by the governors of old has been made possible today.
They are dining and wining in all the corners of the towns and villages because Otti has proven to the serial looters and deceitful leaders that salaries and pensions could be seamlessly paid as and when due – meaning that there shall be no more lamentation and gnashing of teeth by Abia civil servants and pensioners.
The people have come to terms with the stark reality that there is practically no difference between the core ministry staff and their counterparts in the agencies and parastatal organisations, when it comes to rewarding a deserving labourer with his wage.
They have also seen that it is possible to build roads in both the rainy and dry seasons and that for Otti, this is no rocket science!
They see projects that re beginning to happen in the hitherto moribund state-owned health institutions for a postive turnaround to enable them to provide healthcare services to the citizenry.
Today, traders, artisans, keke and commuter-bus operators see themselves in a new world, where they now ply their trade and earn their daily income without harassment and extortion by government agents unleashed on them by previous insensitive PDP-led administrations.
These are the major reasons behind the celebrations in the land today and they shall not cease for as long as the righteous is on the throne: see Proverbs 29: 2. Can anyone fault the scriptures?
In an inaugural speech, Otti promised to make a huge difference by raising the bar of governance and improving the condition of living of the people.
He said: “Until I’m no more, I will continue to remember the outpouring of emotion and pure joy that marked the announcement of our victory on the 22nd of March.
“It will continue to inspire me to serve the people of Abia and to strive to meet their high expectations of me as their Governor and Chief Servant.”
In the past two months plus, he has left no one in doubt about his avowed commitment to rewrite the chequered history of Abia, to restore its lost glory and reposition it to the path of greatness, truly conscious of the lofty dreams of its founding fathers. (End)
– Sam Okoro writes from Umuahia