By Ogbonnaya Ikokwu
The Abia State Governor, Dr Alex Otti, has once again reassured Abia residents that he is prepared to give quality leadership with a special focus on delivering the dividend of democracy to them.
Gov. Otti in a well articulated new year message, captioned “A journey of great expectations”, demonstrated his commitment to make good his new Abia mantra by revamping all aspects of the state economy.
The state chief executive had encouraged Abia residents to embrace the new year with great hope, optimism and confidence, adding that 2024 would be a year of consolidation of the gains made in the past seven months of his administration.
Indeed, Gov. Otti has showed capacity and proved that “change is the only thing constant in life”.
It will be recalled that while delivering his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023, the governor warned all touts used as revenue collection task force by out-gone Peoples Democratic Party-led goverment to leave the streets because of their crude mode of operation.
Nobody believed such a warning could be heeded to since touting had become a powerful cartel, almost capable of unseating a government with its connection with the powers that be in the state.
But Gov. Otti proved that with the right political will, no group of people can be more powerful than a constituted authority. He sent the touts packing, thereby providing a conducive atmosphere for businessmen and commercial motorists to operate in the state and pay their taxes in the most civilised manner, without being assaulted.
The governor equally declared a state of emergency on refuse disposal in the state. Today,
residents of Umuahia and Aba now breathe fresh air because of the assiduous efforts of the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency at keeping the cities clean.
The promise to pay civil servants their salaries on the 28 day of every month sounded like another “American wonder”, the governor did not only keep to his promise, but equally added a swagger to it by paying Christmas bonus, popularly called the 13th month to the workers.
The massive infrastructural transformation that is ongoing in the state is commendable and reassuring of the administration’s sense of commitment to change the uninspiring Abia narrative with seven roads already reconstructed and inaugurated and other ongoing projects, including Aba-Port Harcourt Road and Ossah-Okpara Square main entrance into Umuahia under construction.
The zero-pothole initiative and light-up Abia polices of the administration had also made life easier and more meaningful for Abia residents.
The civil service was not left out as it is currently undergoing restructuring for efficient service delivery.
Gov. Otti has also paid strong attention to improving on the ease of doing business in the state to encourage the growth of Small and Medium Scale Enterprise in the state.
Indeed, without sounding immodest, Abia residents have not witnessed an all encompassing progress from any governor as what they have experienced under Otti in the last seven months.
Nay sayers and political buccaneers, who held the state hostage in the last 24 years since the return of democracy, have been put to shame by Otti’s positive and towering achievements.
It has become obvious that the resources that could have made Abia a model in the country were diverted into private accounts. The multi-billion naira businesses and mansions owned by the past political leaders, called “Ndi critical stakeholders”, are clear testaments that Abia was raped and enslaved by those that led the state since the return of democracy.
However, not deterred or
tired to make a difference, the governor also revealed in his new year message, that plans are almost concluded for the upward review of workers salary to fit into the prevailing economic realities.
“We shall review the salaries of all the employees upwards to reflect the economic realities of the time. Work on it is on its final stages,” he said.
On his promise to defray the arrears of pensions in the state before the end of 2023, the governor said: “It is unfortunate to report that a few challenges have conspired to ensure that we are unable to keep this promise.
“Based on the figures available to us, we had arranged the funds to make good this promise. However, before making the payment, we decided to conduct a digital verification of the pensioners. To our utter shock, we found that there were pensioners who had been owed since 2014.
“At the end of the exercise, just a week ago, the total figure required for the payment was twice higher the amount we had provided .
“While we continue to engage the Nigeria Union of Pensioners, we believe we will be able to make the payment before the end of the first quarter of this New Year.
“If required, we may go back to the House of Assembly for necessary approval to ensure that this payment is made.”
He equally promised that his administration would continue its strategic investments on the education and health sectors.
He said, “Our commitment is to close the funding gap in education and health in the first instance and then see that funds are channeled to meet the most pressing needs of the sectors.”
The governor also revealed that he would seek an international body of advisers, known as Abia Global Economic Advisory Board, made up of accomplished internationally-recognised experts from across the globe, “who will help in our journey to take our state to the world as a preferred investment destination.”
He said: “Our general approach as a government is to create the right environment to support the success of the businesses in ways that will encourage job creation.
“Technology, which has been in the heart of the transformation and reform agenda of the government, shall move to a new gear in 2024, starting with the digitalization of the operations of the public institutions for ease of access and efficiency.
“We shall also leverage the advantages of technology to drive state-wide human capital development, economic empowerment for the youths and more importantly, job creation.”
According to him, the huge sum, which the government will be investing in the critical sectors to spur economic growth, create employment opportunities and revive local businesses, particularly MSMSE that is Micro Small and Medium Scale Enterprises, we have already been engaging other members of the organised private sector to take advantage of our business-friendly policies to invest in the state.”
The improved security, road infrastructure, regular payment of salaries, reinvigoration of the health sector, restoration of security, effective urban management, support to the economically vulnerable, among other achievements, speak volume that he is on a mission to restore and rebuild.
The governor pointed out that a whopping 84 per cent of the 2024 budget has been earmarked for capital project, which includes rebuilding and remodeling of schools and hospitals as well as building a world class Health Village to stem the tide of medical tourism.
He said that part of the 2024 budget will also be invested in critical sectors to spur economic growth, create employment opportunities and drive local businesses.
While describing 2023 as watershed in the political history of the state, Gov. Otti thanked all who contributed in reshaping the political direction of the state, which paved the way for the fresh air being enjoyed by Abia residents.
He encouraged citizens to sustain their support for the government by paying their taxes and also cooperate with security agencies in the state to achieve the needed security.
The taste of the pudding,
they say, is in the eating. Therefore, it will only take months for Abia to take its rightful place in the comity of states in Nigeria.
As Gov. Otti continues to match words with action by fulfilling his campaign promises to Abia electorate, let us give him the needed support to take Abia to greater height.
His penchant for quality infrastructure development, which has spurred him to hire reputable construction companies, such as Julius Begger, China Civil Engineering Construction Company and Craneburg, to handle road construction in the state, shows that Abia will only be a huge construction site sooner than later.
Abia is gradually heading for the destination its founding fathers envisioned during their struggle for its creation.
To God be the glory!
# a new is possible.
Ogbonnaya Ikokwu, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia.