by Ogbonnaya Ikokwu
I remember with nostalgia that there a wide celebration in my home town on August 27, 1991 when news trickled in that the then Nigerian leader Gen.Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) had announced the creation of Abia.
The atmosphere was charged with joy with people gathering at different drinking bars to make merry. As an inquisitive child I asked my grandma what was the reason for the celebration in the village, she answered saying, “our state has been created and things will be better for us”.
On confirming that the jubilation was for the good of all, I then joined my mates in the village square to play because it was a free merriment that day.
One may ask what I knew about stateship at eight? but then the event of that day had also affected every otherthing about me as an indigene of Abia State, who has remained in the state from the day it was created till date.
You can call me a local breed, because, but for the one year mandatory National Youths Service scheme, I had not spent one full month outside the state.
After the creation came the real essence of the state, which primarily resolves around good governance and development to the people at the grass root.
The evelopment of course, covers good road network, quality health care delivery, sound education, pipeborne water, timely justice delivery among other indices of good governance.
An objective assessment of the political enclave called Abia State between August 27, 1991 and August 27 2023, will prove that her indigenes and residents are not faring better than they were under the old Imo State which comprised of Abia, Imo and parts of the present day Ebonyi State in terms of the delivery of quality development to the people.
Abia State has 17 Local Goverment Areas, 24 state Constituencies, eight Federal Constituency and three Senatorial Districts. The above being units of government with the intent to take the dividends of democracy to the doorstep of the common man since the return of civilian rule in Nigeria has been in a sorry condition.
One would expect that given the enormous natural resources, the state is blessed with including Limestone, Phosphate, Lignite, Kaolin and huge crude oil and gas deposits anomogst others, the state would have been a paradise for its residents in terms of human and material development but the reverse is the case.
It be will worthy to point out that the state has been led by Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu OUK (1999 – 2007) to Sen. Theodore Ahamefule Orji (Ochendo) (2007 – 2015) and Okezie Ikpeazu (Okezue Abia) (2015 – 2023).
A critical review of different sectors of the state will quickly show that her development has been in the reverse gear. One can rightly say that Abia has produced powerful individuals, billionaires and mutual millionaires who one way or the other found themselves in the corridors of powder than a strong state with all the indices of a modern society.
Starting from education which is the bedrock of all development, all the state owned public primary and secondary schools are barely struggling to survive. The reason is not far fetched. It’s a common knowledge that teachers in the state employ were not paid as and when due, leading to incessant industrial actions in the past.
Also physical infrastructure in our public schools has nothing good to write home about.
Given the above scenerio, private individuals, mostly politicians and their cronies have taken advantage of the decay in the school system to build low and high brow private schools that are daily promoted in the media to attract students, with promises of condusive learning environment and assurances to graduate on time.
Rather than address the rot in the system, previous governments in the state started a shadow race of returning public schools to their original owners ( mostly churches) to manage, which is another method of acquiring public properties by powerful members of such organizations in goverment.
It is gradually becoming obvious that basic education is now in the hands of businessmen in the state making it very expensive for the children of the poor if nothing is not done and quickly too.
The health sector is not left out in the backwards development bedeviling the state. Health they say is wealth, therefore a state with poor health institution is a poor state. To prove this, it is worthy to point out that all the primary and secondary healthcare facilities in the state have been in a sorry state.
For instance, in all the general hospitals in Arochukwu,Isuikwuato, Aba, Ukwa etc only the mortuary sections seems to be functioning for years. The decay is unthinkable. Staff at the state Hospital Management Board were owed several months of salary arrears, leading to incessant protest and strikes under the immediate past administration.
There is no gainsaying that many avoidable deaths had occurred in most communities in the state as a result of poor health facilities, inspite of the huge amount of money budgeted for the health sector.
Abia has also faced the challenge of poor inter and intra state road network for several years. A journey from Umuahia to Aba and Okigwe used to be “a journey to hell”, because of bad road. Thanks to the administration of the immediate past President Mohammadu Bihari, who fixed the sections of the Enugu- Port Harcourt expressed way leading to the towns.
But it is not yet Uhuru, as most communities in the state like Arochukwu, Bende, Ohafia, Isiala Ngwa, Obingwa and Ukwa has no good access road. For instance commercial drivers charge as high as #3500 from Umuahia to Arochukwu because of bad road, the same amount paid by those travelling from Umuahia to Uyo, the capital of Akwa Ibom State.
The provisions of potable water for Abia residents has for long started and ended as budgetary allocation as no public tap run anywhere in the state.
The only source of water away from natural streams and rivers has been private boreholes. Even when public office holders provide one for their community, they often do not maintain then.
Away from poor infrastructures, the civil service was also run like a private business by successive administration in the state. The on going verification of workers has revealed that the state loses millions of naira on a monthly basis paying ghost workers.
Punitive transfer of civil servants, unmerited promotion, favoritism and nepotism had been the other of the day.
The lack of political will to run the
civil service transparently for probity and accountability led to owing of salaries and pensions in many government agencies and parastatals to the tune of N50
billion by the immediate past administration.
Given the above picture of improper management of human and material resources accruing to the state, it becomes obvious that Abia @32 can be likened to a critically ill person at the intensive care unit”, in modern day hospital, hence the state is in dire need of money to come alive again.
A former chairman of the Abia adviseroy council Late Ezeog Anagha Ezeike, had once lamented before journalists that the Abia the founding fathers fought for was not what he was seeing shortly before his death.
Abia electorate were also aware that the state our founding fathers fought for was not what we now have. That simple fact was the deciding factor for the March 18, 2023 governorship voting pattern that ushered in governor Alex otti.
The fight for a new Abia under Otti, spanned over a period of eight years with major setbacks in 2015 and 2019. But the will of God prevailed during the 2023 general elections.
The Governor had already declared a state of emergency on critical sectors of the state including waste management, security, education, infrastructure, investment, climate change and prompt payment salaries and pensions.
Being a man that matches his word with action, the results of emergency is becoming clear with the heaps of refuse on the street of Aba and Umuahia cleared and daily evacuation of waste by the Abia State Environmental and Protection Agency our cities are now cleaner than ever before.
Civil servants in the state are now getting their salary alerts on or before the 28th of every month as the goverment remains committed to clearing the arrears of salary and pensions amounting to over N50 million left by the previous administration before the end December.
The construction and reconstruction of many failed roads in Aba, the commercial hub of the state even in the rainy season is sure sign that “a Daniel has come to Judgement”.
The otti, led government is also making efforts to expand the Ossah Road which is the major entry point to Umuahia the state capital from four to six lanes to reduce traffic jam on the road during festive periods. The governor had promised that compensation would be paid to those whose structures and prosperities would be affected by the project.
Again with the verification of workers which will be concluded soon, the state will know the actual strength of her workforce, which among otherthings will eliminate ghost workers from the system and make room for proper and timely retirement of workers as well as create the opportunity for future employment.
Ndi Abia there is no better way to rebuild the state than for all hands to be on deck to support the Otti, led government policies and programmes for the overall development of our dear state for the present and future generations.
Ogbonnaya Ikokwu Journalist/public affairs analyst, writes From Umuahia.