By Ogbonnaya Ikokwu
The Abia State Governor, Dr Alex Otti, has not pretended about his determination to re-write the chequered history of the retrogressive development indices in the state in the past 24 years of democratic governance.
All the actions taken so far by his government since inauguration on May 29 have resulted in making life more meaningful and rewarding for the citizenry and residents of the state.
It is arguable that Abia has never witnessed the kind of wave of positive and all round sectoral development like what has been experienced in the past six months of Gov.Otti’s leadership.
He has brought financial stability in the households of civil servants and retirees through timely payment of salaries and pensions.
And for the first time in history, many government workers got their salaries 10 days before Christmas. This has never happened since the creation of Abia!
Also, the interventions of the state government in waste management, road reconstruction and maintenance, lightning up of Aba and Umuahia, retrofitting of hospitals and free medical outreach have caused Abia residents to heave a huge sigh of relief.
As Abia electorate are still savouring the dividend of democracy, courtesy of their right decision to permanently retire the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) from power, Gov. Otti yet gave them a peep into what his administration hopes to deliver in the next one year.
He unsealed the parcel on Tuesday, December 12, with the presentation of the 2024 budget estimate of N567.2 billion to the State House of Assembly for consideration and passage.
The figure represents more than N400 billion rise from the 2023 estimate of N160.5 billion and was christened the “Budget of New Beginning”.
The governor said the budget targets the expansion of public infrastructure in line with new development targets, scaling up access and quality service delivery in the social sector, with special focus on education and health, “where we are proposing to commit more than 20 per cent and 15 per cent of the aggregate budget spending, respectively”.
He also disclosed that 84 per cent of the budget would be spent on capital projects, while 16 per cent would be committed to recurrent expenditure.
The Government estimated a total revenue of over N166 million, including earnings from Internally Generated Revenue channels, Federation Accounts Allocation Committee, grants from multilateral organisations and income from other revenue sources that would be available to the state government over the course of the accounting year to fund the budget.
Gov. Otti further stated that in the 2024 fiscal year, the state proposes to commit 44.76 per cent of the budget on the economic sector with the larger chunk of the resources going into works, (16.97 per cent), land and housing (9.9per cent), agriculture (5.12 per cent), and finance, (5.23 per cent).
He said: “We shall be committing major resources in the 2024 financial year to the reconstruction and rehabilitation of some of the most important roads along the major economic corridors of the state.
“The budget has provided for the completion of some of the projects we started in 2023, including Port Harcourt Road, Aba, Ossah Road, Umuahia-Uzuakoli-Abariba-Ohafia Road, Ozuabam-Ndi Okereke- Arochukwu Road, the dualisation of Umuikaa-Umuene-Omoba Road, Dualisation of Owerrinta-Umuikaa Road, Nunya-Eluama-Isuikwuato Road, Onuimo-Abia Tower Road, amongst others as well as the commencement of new road projects in parts of the state.
“On the basis of the facts available to my office, we have done quite well in the implementation of the 2023 budget of N160.5 billion and the projection is that we would go well past the 60 per cent budget implementation mark achieved in 2022.
“We have remained transparent and open in the presentation of our budget performance report and this has helped in giving the citizens a good understanding of how public resources that belong to them are being used.”
Gov. Otti also revealed that the government would finance the deficit of over N401 billion, partly by new borrowings, estimated at over N385.2 billion.
He said that 50 per cent of the borrowing would be sourced externally, whilst the balance would be procured domestically.
He pointed out that all the borrowings in the 2024 fiscal year would be committed strictly to capital development projects with direct impact on the economy of the state, especially roads, schools and medical facilities.
“The projection is that the impact of these projects on the general economy in the medium, long term would generate the sufficient returns that would enable the state to meet her obligation to the creditors smoothly and ultimately pay off the loans in due course.”
Gov. Otti insisted that not a dime shall be borrowed to finance recurrent expenditure while maintaining that “borrowing would be negotiated on terms that are favourable to the state”.
Another cheering news delivered by the governor during the budget presentation was a disclosure concerning the Labour Party led- government’s resolve to implement a pay rise for the civil servants to reflect the present economic realities in the country.
“This shall be implemented in the New Year and provision for that has been made in the 2024 budget.
“The government will continue to prioritise the welfare of its employees even as we expect to see greater commitment from our civil servants, who are major stakeholders in the implementation of our governance agenda,” he said.
A major distinguishing feature of the 2024 budget estimates is the huge percentage of the budget (84 per cent) allocated to capital development, with particular interest on road construction, education and health care facilities.
Although many observers, including the state PDP, have raised concerns over the governor’s plan to borrow to fund the budget deficit, the infrastructure development intended to be achieved with the loan makes it urgently needed to boost the economy of the state.
A good road network, which the state lacks at the moment, will help to stimulate economic activities within and across the state.
Trade and commerce will be a lot more easier when the necessary road infrastructure is in place to ease movement of goods and services.
The governor has given assurance that the repayment of the loan would be made a lot easier with return from projects executed with the facility, which would include but not limited to providing a conducive environment for investors to establish industries in many parts of the state with untapped natural resources.
The tourism industry will become a huge revenue earner for the state when access roads to tourist sites are created.
It is also commendable that Education, which is another key development indicator and enabler,
also received a large chunk of the budget.
Appreciating the positives and deliverables from the budget proposal, a former Minister of Education and elder statesman, Prof. Ihechukwu Madubuike, commended Gov. Otti for allocating 20 per cent of the budget to the education sector.
Madubuike, who is also a former Minister for Health, said that visionary leaders “attach importance to education”, recalling that the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, appropriated 45 per cent of the Government’s revenue to education.
Madubuike also revealed
that states in the South-East produce the highest number of candidates seeking admission into tertiary institutions in the country, hence governors in the zone should handsomely invest in the education sector.
In a statement he personally issued, he urged other governors in the zone to emulate Gov. Otti.
The statement partly read, ” I laud the foresight and courage of Governor Otti for budgeting 20 per cent to the Education sector. It’s historic as it reminds us of the supreme importance which our visionary leaders attached to education and the glory and honour it brought to our people.
“Nnamdi Azikiwe invested some 45 per cent of government revenues to Education and most of the States of the South-East are today reaping the benefits. Imo State, for instance, remains one of the most literate states in the country.
“Much as the bold steps taken by the governor to raise the bar of development in the state through a huge budgetry proposal is commendable, the implementation of the budget estimates must be taken seriously.”
A resident of Umuahia, the state capital, Mr Godwin Maduka, said the roads proposed to be fixed by the Otti-led government in the 2024 financial year are important to the residents, but added that the quality of the roads must not be compromised.
He said, “The budget estimates presented by the governor is a welcome development. But the governor must ensure that the budget is implemented to the letter.
“I want everyone living in the state to download a copy of the budget and begin to monitor it’s implementation from January so that the government will not tell us that work has started on radio, while nothing is going on practically on ground”.
But given Gov. Otti’s good intentions for a quality leadership in the state, there is no need to doubt his ability to oversee the effective implementation of the 2024 budget proposals. The era of phantom and unrealisable white elephant projects are gone in Abia.
As Gov. Otti has often reassured Abians in many public fora that their finances are in safe hands with him on board, all it will take is but a short time and the infrastructure transformation of the LP-government will get to our towns and villages.
#A new Abia is possible!
Ogbonnaya Ikokwu, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia.