By Ogbonnaya Ikokwu
As the supporters of the Labour Party (LP) led Abia State Government and other well-meaning Abia residents are still in a celebration mood over the victory of Gov. Alex Otti at the Supreme Court, it has become important to point out some of the changes the present administration has introduced in the state, which have come to stay.
The Supreme Court, on Friday January 12, affirmed the election of Otti, earlier upheld by the tribunal and Appeal Court.
The apex court, in a unanimous decision by a five-member panel of justices, dismissed two separate appeals by the candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Okey Ahiwe, and his counterpart of the All Progressive Congress, Ikechi Emenike, that sought to nullify Otti’s victory in the March 18, 2023 governorship election.
Although the series of litigations, which started from a High Court, sitting in Kano, a few days to the inauguration of the governor, were unnecessary, yet those who were rejected by the Abia electorate wanted to force themselves on the people through the Court, but the God behind the New Abia movement said No.
Having sailed over all the legal hurdles the final verdict of the apex court has ultimately affirmed the victory of the God-sent and the people’s choice – Gov. Otti.
In his thanksgiving speech, Gov. Otti vowed to continue to develop all parts of the state, in line with the new Abia mantra, adding that he is determined to restore the dignity of the Abia man. He pointed out that his desire is to ensure that Abia is reckoned with positively in the league of states in Nigeria.
A simple assessment of the seven months old administration of the governor will reveal the changes that have come to stay in Abia with the hope that things will certainly get better in the coming years.
Outlining these changes in no particular order, it is pertinent to remind Abia residents that the streets of Umuahia, the state capital, and Aba, the commercial hub of the state, used to be blocked with mountains of refuse as well as its attendant health challenges as a result of bad odour often inhaled by residents.
But that scenario is now history in the New Abia.
It will be recalled that while delivering his inaugural speech on May 29, 2023, Gov. Otti had declared an emergency on waste disposal in the state. He subsequently constituted a Task Force, led by Mazi Ogbonnia Okereke, to ensure that all the streets of Aba, Umuahia and their environs were rid of refuse.
Acting on its mandate, the Okereke-led team proved it’s worth within few weeks and cleared all the heaps of rubbish dotting every corner of the two cities.
As the saying goes, “the reward for hard work is more work”. So, Okereke was later rewarded with a bigger appointment as the General Manager of the Abia State Environmental Protection Agency. (ASEPA).
Today, the ASEPA that was known for having supper rich bosses, while the road leading to its head office on Winners Road in Umuahia was constantly blocked by uncleared heaps of refuse, to the extent that one of the GMs was fired by the former Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu for negligence, is now living up to its mandate, by carting away all refuse generated within Aba and Umuahia on a daily basis.
Regular Payment of Salaries and Pensions.
Prior to the coming of Gov. Otti, civil/public servants, together with pensioners in the state, were living in uncertainty, regarding when their salaries and pensions would drop in their accounts.
The immediate past PDP administration had introduced an obnoxious system of payment of salaries, which classified the state workforce into core and uncore civil servants. While the so-called core civil servants in the ministries were receiving their salaries, though not as and when due, the uncore civil servants, particularly those in government parastatals and pensioners, were owed for several months.
The above situation further stifled the state’s economy because the purchasing power of those owed by the government got eroded, hence buying and selling suffered low patronage.
Service delivery was equally affected as a result of several industrial actions by the workers, who were constantly protesting on the streets to demand for their salaries.
But on assumption of office, Gov. Otti announced that his administration will be paying salaries on/or before the 28th of every month. The governor has kept to his words since June 2023, with an additional surprise of a Christmas bonus, purpularly known as the 13th month salary in December 2023.
Over Hauling of the Healthcare Sector
The healthcare sector was not left out in the decay that bedeviled the public infrastructure in the state. Apart from poor physical infrastructure, doctors working in the state ministry of health also suffered the huge pain of unpaid salaries. It will be recalled that the state branch of the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA) had to go on a six-month indefinite strike to protest the non-payment of salaries by Ikpeazu led-government.
It took the intervention and assurances from Gov. Otti that his administration would prioritise the welfare of doctors for NMA to suspend the strike, from Dec. 8, 2022 to June 9, 2023.
The governor had hit the ground running since assumption of office and with the state of emergency declared in the health sector, the State Government is currently reconstructing many government hospitals with the Abia State Specialist and Diagnostic Centre, Umuahia and Amachara General Hospital already retrofitted and opened for patients again.
The governor also reconstructed and re-equipped the Abia State University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH), Aba, which facilitated the restoration of the accreditation of the Abia State University Medical College by the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria.
The accreditation was lost under the last administration of Okezie Ikpeazu.
Gov. Otti has also vowed to build a medical village as well as improve the welfare of doctors in the state, all geared towards turning Abia into a medical tourist destination and fighting the Japa syndrome, currently draining the country of it’s trained healthcare providers.
The deliberate allocation of 15 per cent of Abia’s 2024 budget estimate to the health sector is a demonstration of both the commitment and passion of the governor for a transformed healthcare sector in Abia.
Transforming the Education Sector:
The restoration of quality education is of utmost importance to Gov. Alex Otti.
In order to achieve his set goal in the education sector, 20 per cent of the state’s 2024 budget estimates was allocated to the sector.
The governor had reiterated his commitment to rebuilding public schools through massive funding from the State Government to ensure that the glorious days when public schools were a sight to behold would come back to Abia.
Massive Road Construction and Rehabilitation
The administration of Gov. Otti has not pretended over its determination to improve the road network in the state. It will be recalled that many roads in the state were impassable before this administration came on board. It is worthy to note that most roads, especially in Aba and Umuahia, are receiving well-deserved attention, courtesy of the Zero Pothole policy of the state government.
Beyond that, the expansion of Okpara Square-Ossa Road in Umuahia, from four lanes to six lanes, which is nearing completion, the award of Port Harcourt Road, Aba, which was abandoned for over 20 years, to a construction gaint, Julius Begger, for reconstruction and many other roads captured in the 2024 budget, is a sure sign that Abia is now a huge construction site.
It will be recalled that seven roads reconstructed and illuminated with street lights by the LP led-government were inaugurated within Gov. Otti’s five months in office. Many other roads under construction will soon be inaugurated by the State Government.
Improving the Ease of Doing Business
Abia ranked 32nd in the ease of doing business index before the coming of Gov. Otti. The reason is not far-fetched. Business owners in the state had over the years complained of multiple taxation but previous administrations did nothing concrete to address the challenge.
Gov. Otti, in his inaugural speech, addressed the hydra-headed challenge by sending the touts masquerading as government revenue agents off the streets and subsequently introduced a Single Treasury Account System, which has helped to streamline Goverment’s earnings into a single account.
The above arrangement has brought peace to business owners and operators, who now pay their taxes without any form of harassment or intimidation by touts.
The state has also organised several trainings to educate the teeming youth population in the state on the need to acquire digital skills in order to square up with their counterparts in other parts of the world. To buttress the importance of this, a ministry was created by the governor to drive the agenda.
To encourage micro, small and medium scale business owners in he state, government has commenced the disbursement of interest-free loans to them. Following all the interventions of the State Government, Abia moved up and currently ranked 27th in ease of doing business index.
The governor had also during his inaugural speech warned criminal elements in the state to relocate. He was emphatic that no inch of the state landmass would be left to criminals.
Matching his words with action, the governor constituted a special task force, known as “Operation Crush”.
Since the lunch of the task force, comprising the Army, Police, Navy and othe relevant security agencies, the incessant kidnaping on the Lokpanta axis of Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway has reduced to the barest.
Also, car theft in Aba, Umuahia and other parts of the state has been put to check.
Abia residents and electorate are indeed happy with the positive changes the Gov. Otti-led government has brought on board since May 29, 2023 and of course they deserve all the governor is doing and more for standing with him and believing in his dream for a New Abia.
To God be the glory
# A New Abia is Possible!
Ogbonnaya Ikokwu, a journalist and public affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia.