In this exclusive interview with the editor-in-chief of The Realm News, Don Norman Obinna, Abia State Governor, Dr Victor Okezie Ikpeazu, speaks about how his scientific approach to road reconstruction and infrastructural transformation is solving dilapidation and attracting investors to the state, and especially to Aba, which he calls “Nigeria’s SMEs capital”. He also speaks about his successor and the agitation for power between Abia North and South ahead of the 2023 general elections.
The Realm News: There are several ongoing road projects: What is the secret behind the accelerated constructions?
Governor Ikpeazu: As a biochemist, I define issues at the molecular level. What we’re doing is a research-based government. From the beginning in 2015, I had people plan out where we were going. I asked myself, for instance, Aba road in Umuahia, why was it such a difficult road to handle? When I found out the problem, I started to ask what engineering device and strategy we were going to deploy to solve this problem and I got the answer.
The next answer we wanted was, who is competent and capable of doing it? That was how I arrived at Arab contractors. Arab contractors deployed what they called capillary to make sure that the presence of that tube there does not stop the flow of water and that has solved the problem. This is the third year of that road and it’s standing without a pothole.
And you come to Aba, was it that the previous administration did no road? The answer is no. I was part of the last administration when some money was voted for this railway junction along Aba Owerri road. Then, why is it that all the roads, Osusu road and Port Harcourt road collapsed? Ehere Umuola, Ukaegbu roads, all had plantain and other trees flourishing in the middle of the road? Since I had been part of the government, I knew that the government had deployed resources but no solution. Then, I found out that because water had sat on these roads for a while, the texture of the soil has compromised and became silty. So, doing flexible pavement on these roads will not solve all the problems.
The second issue was that those roads were without drainages. We had to start desilting of Aba river to prepare a recipient water for the stormwater because we wanted to channel all drainages there. What you are seeing is a product of painstaking planning and tackling issues at the molecular level until it fits into expectations.
For the first time, we have an end-to-end drainage from Asa Nnentu to No. 1 Port Harcourt road, meaning that I have done 70 per cent of the job. I am being scientific in dealing with the issues that confront us in Abia and much more will happen. I have done Osusu and do Ọmụma. By the time I do Ohanku, Obohia, and Ngwa road, and do Port Harcourt road, I will now ask the people, what else do you want? We will certainly do all these roads.
The Realm News: When are we going to see the completion of the Osisioma bridge and other projects left by your predecessor?
Governor Ikpeazu: We have paid the contractor handling the Osisioma flyover to get the project done. We could not do much last year because the stage they are now can only be done during the dry season. If you go there today, you’ll be amazed at how fast that flyover has gone. I am sure that in a few months, we will be done. For me, in our books, the Osisioma flyover is done and dusted. As for the new Government House, I am a firm believer that government is a continuum. My predecessor left behind many legacy projects. One of them was the ICC. Now, we are on the Government House project. My commitment to you is that I will sleep in that building before I leave office.
The Realm News: The recent microfinance bank controversy seemed to have made a mess of the SME goal of your administration. What transpired?
Governor Ikpeazu: The issue of the microfinance bank is not tied to our SME. We are still the SMEs capital of Nigeria. Those who brought up the issue of the SME and the microfinance bank are clutching on straws.
When we came in 2015, we undertook a deep study of the SME issues. They are funding, electricity, automation and capacity building and marketing. Our people could not engage in e-trading and could not market beyond their customers from Togo. I looked at how we could become part of the big leather and multi-billion-dollar garment economy of the world. How do we capture the 200 million persons in Nigeria wearing Made In Aba?
That was why we consider electricity as the most important. We have ensured that Abia State would become the first state in Nigeria that will have uninterruptible power supply before the end of my administration. We will achieve it through Geometrics. Also, I collaborated with the Federal Government to give Ariaria independent power supply.
The next one was financing. It was out of our control. It’s either through the Bank of Industry or other finance agencies. Getting our SMEs to get access to these grants and loans FG gives through banks was also a problem. We have tried to put them together through cooperative societies and for the first time, some of them have benefited.
Of all of these four problems identified, the one we could control was marketing, and that was how I became the brand ambassador of Made in Aba. I wear and promote Made in Aba dresses. I took it to the National Assembly and the presidency. We took it to former President Olusegun Obasanjo. The culmination of our efforts was the day the military placed an order for 50,000 pairs of shoes. And if you calculate 10,000 per person multiplied by 50,000, you know how much it impacted on the GDP of the common shoemaker in Aba.
The quality of the shoes coming from Aba today will compare to the imported ones. Throughout Christmas, that factory was making shoes for the Nigerian military and couldn’t complete it till the second week of January this year. And we have very bright prospects of doing the same thing for the police.
Another is finance. Can we own an SME of our own? We had a commissioner, Gab Igboko, who, working with the then SSG decided to support the government to acquire a microfinance bank. Their proposal was approved by the State Executive Council and the microfinance bank was opened at Ngwa road and we started lending to people. We opened the bank for the benefit of akara, yam and tomato sellers. But the naysayers and those who feel they want to run the government down decided to write a petition even to the CBN. Whatever they are digging inside the issue around the bank, I wish them well.
I insist that, for the sake of our poor people, the shoemakers, for the sake of the SME we are promoting, we should have a place they can go and borrow money. Some people need ₦50,000, some need ₦150,000, some ₦200,000. Not everybody needs the millions we are talking about.
It’s an unfortunate development that Abia has degenerated into this kind of vitriolic society where we demarket ourselves and the state.
Whether they agree or not, the profound indices of development and socioeconomic growth are a creation of a better life and that is my motto. It’s manifesting that today, between November and January, we have Kilimanjaro, Chicken Republic, Dominos, Cold Stone, Market Square and Cine21 where people go and watch movies. The investors didn’t come here because I am their in-law. They came here because we are one of the states with strong infrastructure.
The Realm News: In one of your outings, a certain traditional ruler asked you to marry a second wife and to also go to the Senate. You didn’t respond. Does that mean you have jettisoned the idea of returning to the classroom?
Governor Ikpeazu: I didn’t respond because I didn’t want to sound disrespectful to him. He should have known that I am in the middle of my second tenure. It’s a time I need to keep my hands steady on the wheels. I am not thinking of 2023. I have a huge government business to do. The operational renewal in Abia is such that you must have your eyes on the ball otherwise even your closest allies will derail.
You have had some people who served as commissioners in strategic ministries going outside to say the government is not doing well. So, I have to personally supervise a lot of things. For such a person who just one year after leaving office becomes a critic it means ab initio, he lacked foresight. That is my way of saying that I am focused on what I have to do.
My voracious publication of 76 scientific academic books in various areas of biochemistry tells you that I have a very strong affinity for returning to the classroom. But it is good for my people to desire that I do something else. But it would be immoral for me in 2021 to abandon governance and begin to think of 2023.
The Realm News: The issue of power rotation versus retention is gathering momentum in the buildup to 2023. Do you have any plan to alter the PDP zoning arrangement?
Governor Ikpeazu: I can’t ensure anything because I am a product of God’s grace, mercy and benevolence. I also do not entertain questions about who want to succeed me in 2023. It would amount to using an elbow to push me out of the seat.
I am still the governor. But I have had my fair share of distraction — 13 court cases lasting three years, COVID-19 year in which I was hospitalised for eight weeks, several months of lockdown and zero productivity from workers. God in his time will make everything right.
The aspirations of my brothers from Abia North is valid and the thinking of some people who also want power in some section of Abia Central is also valid. Until we get to that point, I will talk to those who are from different political families and ourselves about what is the right thing to do. But what will happen will certainly happen. I do not think the attempt of governors to foist successors on people has succeeded 100 per cent. By the time I leave in 2023, I will make sure I won’t be forgetting anything in the Government House.
The Realm News: What should Abians expect from your administration from now till 2023?
Governor Ikpeazu: Completion of all our major projects. A substantially renewed Aba and Umuahia, with more street lights. You’ll also see cottage industries in many local governments. I want to build 17 cottage agro-allied industries. I am happy to say that in a few months we will be operationalising the first phase in seven local governments. The equipment has arrived in 14 containers from India. We are thinking of bringing the expatriates and then thinking of installation in those local government.
So, I want to see a rejuvenation of the rural economy. Abians will see uninterrupted power supply and that will lead to a boom. I am happy to announce that the FG, in January, gazetted Enyimba Economic City as a free zone for manufacturing. That is a milestone. Abia under my watch is the first state in Ala Igbo to record export-free zone, which is futuristic and transformational.
This is the first part of our exclusive chat with Governor Ikpeazu. Stay tuned for the next edition.