By Ogbonnaya Ikokwu
It has become glaringly obvious that former Commissioner for Trade and Investment in Abia State, Mr John Okiyi Kalu (JOK, Nwandugbom) is badly pained by the steps taken so far by the Gov. Alex Otti-led administration, aimed at putting an end to the 24 years of bad governance by the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP).
JOK, who was a three-time commissioner, including being the Commissioner for Information under former Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu, is noticably devastated that the less than five months old Labour Party (LP) government in the state is currently showing capacity in addressing the infrastructure deficit in the state.
He is equally in a dilemma that for the first time in the history of Abia a construction giant, Julius Berger Construction Plc., was hired to execute a road project in the state.
Nwandugbom apparently sees the uncompromising stance of Otti that only reputable companies would be used for construction jobs in Abia as capable of totally eclipsing the few projects carried out by his party.
He is evidently not happy that the payment of salaries and pensions is being addressed without double standards. He is pained that civil servants in the state now get paid by 28th day of every month, while the core and non core civil servants disparity created by the previous administration he served has been done away with.
Nwandugbom is equally sad that the streets of Aba, the commercial hub of the state, and Umuahia, the capital, are now clean and without any offensive odour as they were during the past administration.
JOK cannot understand why potholes on many roads across the state, which were not given any attention by the government he served, are now receiving serious attention, thereby making the roads passable again.
He is still baffled at the lighting up of major streets in Umuahia and Aba, which they left in darkness for years.
All these transformations recorded so far by the LP-led government have, of course, attracted genuine applause from residents, who without any form of inducement, always trooped out in their numbers to cheer up Otti at public functions, an indication that he came to power via popular mandate and divine providence.
JOK, who had sworn during a radio programme to give a “deadly opposition” to Otti has thrown caution to the winds as he continues to dish out lies against the governor, in a futile attempt to sway public opinion against him.
But this is too late for JOK because the people know him and his penchant for cheap media propaganda.
In his latest onslaught, JOK has unwittingly taken steps that were capable of offending the sensibility of Aba residents by callously reminding them of how his boss, Okezie Ikpeazu, “completed 40 per cent reconstruction” of Port Harcourt Road, Aba.
His claim that the road was awarded to Haartland Construction Company in 2017 at the cost of N9,882,752,246.40 (Nine Billion, Eight Hundred and Eighty Two Million, Seven Hundred and Fifty Two Thousand, Two Hundred and Forty Six Naira, Forty Kobo), brings to mind a popular Igbo adage, which says that “when a man performs badly in a dancing competition, his relations will leave the village square scratching their eyelids”.
Port Harcourt Road, Aba remained one of the most deplorable Federal Roads in Abia State nay the South East before October 12, when it was launched for reconstruction by Otti. The road was constructed in the early 1980s by the former Governor of the defunct Imo State, Dee Sam Mbakwe, to link Aba with Port Harcourt before the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway was eventually constructed.
In his recent article, captioned “Mathematics, Geography and Socio-Economics of completion of Port Harcourt Road Aba project”, JOK failed to mention the actual amount that was given to the contractor to execute the project.
Suffice it to say that the Hartland Construction Company was paid a whopping N9.8billion by Ikpeazu just for a mere construction of double drains on the road.
How I wished JOK’s Lagos and Abuja media handlers and audience would visit Abia to see the road their client claimed was 40 per cent completed? Although, pictures on the social media space tell the whole story.
JOK, however, thinks that paying Julius Berger N30 billion to fix the road and addressing the perennial flooding, which has paralysed business and industrial activities in that session of the commercial city, is a waste of the state’s resources.
His hypothesis is that competitive bidding could have reduced the amount needed to complete the road to N5 billion, while N25 billion could have been saved for the state.
One, therefore, wonders why JOk did not advise Ikpeazu, who had boasted in 2017, when he launched the road, that it would be completed within one year, to give an additional N5 billion to the contractor to complete the project, especially when he (Ikpeazu) was seeking the people’s votes to go to Senate in 2023.
The answer is not far-fetched. In the inglorious era of ”blood tonic and feeding bottle politics” in the state, what goes into private pockets of “ndi stakeholders” was considered more important than what was invested into quality infrastructure.
Projects were unnecessarily delayed and public funds looted because PDP believed that they were the landlords of Abia politics and couldn’t be ejected.
It is only politicians who place their personal interest above the welfare of the electorate, as Okezie Ikpeazu, that would demolish people’s homes with brutal force, pay no compensation and abandon the project, yet return to the same people to solicit their votes for a senatorial ambition.
The colossal electoral defeat Ikpeazu suffered in Aba during the 2023 general elections was enough reward for his abysmal performance as governor for eight years.
I believe he has taken his utter defeat in good faith and moved on with his life, even without challenging his defeat in court, but hangers on, like JOK, have not ceased to wash their dirty linen in public.
The Abia electorate have served PDP its deserved sanction by voting it out of power. Interestingly, the people are still ever willing to repeat the same punishment in future elections.
All the media attacks being carried out by JOK and his co-travelers will definitely yield no positive result. PDP chieftains, notably JOK and his cohorts, will keep sobbing like babies forcefully taken away from their mothers’ cuddle.
But not minding the poor and shoddy handling of the Port Harcourt Road by the outgone PDP administration, Otti has taken the bull by the horn and has shown a determination to fix the road for the benefit of Aba industrial and business community.
Recall that on April 27, a team of Julius Berger engineers came on an inspection tour of the road to get a general overview of the scope of work to be done and other fundamental details that would guide the technical designs and specifications.
Having been awarded the contract, the construction giant is expected to reconstruct the road as well as build a flood control mechanism within the area, being part of the flood-ravaged Uratta, Ohabiam and Ndiegoro in Aba.
Otti is of the view that his administration has taken a bold and strategic step in fulfilling one of his major campaign promises, which is to permanently break the jinx of Port Harcourt Road and revive the long-abandoned economic activities along the area.
Speaking at the launch of the project, he said that late Mbakwe’s vision of the road gained a foothold almost immediately as the road became a major hub for the servicing of heavy-duty vehicles, equipment, spare parts, power generating sets and ancillary tools.
The governor frowned at the fact that artisanal activities and other industrial businesses within the state that once gave Aba a comparative advantage, had come to an abrupt halt, following the failure of previous administrations to maintain the road.
He made it clear that his vision was to return the entrance axis of the road, which has multiple adjoining streets, to its status as one of the busiest parts of Aba and a go-to destination for maintenance engineers, procurement officers and contractors working for the multinationals in Port Harcourt and its environs.
Otti insisted that he would not be drawn into the tragedies and heartbreaks in the previous attempts at fixing the 6.7km road, but would invite Abia people to look to the future with great optimism and expectations, assuring them that the days of mediocrity were over.
He said, “For about two decades, it was all bliss and blush for businesses around this area until things began to fall apart in the mid to late 1990s, followed quickly by the unfortunate collapse and abandonment of the 2000s.
“Nothing seemed to work, thereafter. In time, the businesses, including those that had their corporate headquarters around here, began to disappear, finding more favourable locations as it became clear that successive administrations did not have the will to make the right commitments to restore this stretch of road and sustain its economic advantages; until today.
“Perhaps, I should go on and announce that I am partly fulfilled that we have reached another milestone in what had been a very long process, which started immediately after my victory was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the 22nd of March 2023.”
Furthermore, the governor said that the inspection earlier carried out on the road by the contractors was intended to help them have a holistic understanding of what is needed to fix it.
He said: “We also had to invite other construction companies to have a look-in and send us their reports. To be clear, we were careful not to repeat the errors and misjudgements of the past for which the state wasted billions of tax payers’ money without any measurable improvements in the condition of the road for more than 20 years.
“For us, it is either we reconstruct Port Harcourt Road and do it well or we don’t do it at all. Remember that during my several stops in this great city during the campaigns, I made one thing very clear: we shall only go for the best because you deserve no less.
“With the above covenant in mind, we resisted the temptation to start another trial and error on a road as important as this and decided to accept the engineering design and bid presented to us by possibly the most reputable civil engineering company in Nigeria with more than 50 years of operational experience and several landmark projects in all parts of the country to its name, Julius Berger Plc.
“For us, Port Harcourt Road, Aba is not just any other project, it will be a testament of our willingness and determination to “rebuild ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” as contained in Isaiah 61: 4.”
Otti’s intention at delivering a quality infrastructure to Ndi Abia is genuine and the use of Julius Berger is another sure sign that he is not playing politics with the project or any other.
Aba people are already convinced that their God-sent governor is serious about rewarding them with quality infrastructural transformations for their trust and electoral support through their massive and overwhelming votes.
The large crowd that came to witness the launch of the commencement of the project on October 12, including those who killed a cow to celebrate the event, showed that the people are solidly on the same page with the governor.
Abia is on the right track for the first time ever in its development trajectory and good things are really happening already.
#A New Abia is Possible!
Ogbonnaya Ikokwu, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia.