GOVERNOR ORJI UZOR KALU
THERE WERE TIMES WHEN ABIA STATE WAS IN THE NEWS FOR THE WRONG REASONS, RANGING FROM KIDNAPPING TO POOR STATE OF INFRASTRUCTURE WHILE THE BRICKBAT BETWEEN FORMER GOVERNOR ORJI UZOR KALU AND GOVERNOR THEODORE AHAMEFULA ORJI COMPLETED THE SPICES. HOWEVER, IN AN INTERVIEW WITH ORJI, THE GOVERNOR TOLD ROLAND OGBONNAYA AND AHAMEFULA OGBU ON WHAT HE IS DOING TO REVERSE THE TRENDS, THE DEVELOPMENTAL FOUNDATION AS THERE WAS NOTHING HE WAS LEFT TO BUILD ON FROM THE PREVIOUS ADMINISTRATION AND HOW HE WAS ABLE TO ARREST INSECURITY IN THE STATE. EXCERPTS…
Do you have a template for the development of Abia State?
Of course yes, and that is the template I am using. The first was to lay solid foundation and that we have realised; that is security, which became a challenge. So we have our security template also; to be on top of security situation always, to sustain it because it is with the sustenance of this security that all the other templates will work. So we have gotten that. Now the next template is laying a solid foundation for Abia State in terms of projects, in terms of roads, in terms of infrastructure, in terms of ideology. There must be a foundation for all these things from where we will advance. I have a template in these areas, one after the other.
How far have you gone into the templates?
Of course we are moving very well and fast also because you have to be very fast to realise these ideals. In the areas of projects, I think we are doing very well. We tag our projects Legacy Projects because of these templates you have asked me and the answer I have given you that we are laying the foundation stone for the State.
We tag our projects Legacy Projects: we have a secretariat, we have not had one before except a dilapidated one built by the federal government; so we have a new one where we want to house all our civil servants and the project is almost 80 per cent completed and by next year, we should be unveiling it. We also have the International Conference Centre, which I am sure you must have seen also because we don’t have that type of structure in Abia. What we had was this Michael Okpara Auditorium, which can’t stand the test of time. It can’t contain people, it only contains about 400 people, but the International Conference Centre that we are building can contain 4000 people and it is of international standard. That is a legacy project and a foundational project.
If you go to our BCA (Broadcasting Corporation of Abia), you are men of pen and paper, but if you go to our BCA, it is nothing to write home about because they lack office accommodation. You can see 10 officers in one room. We have now put a structure that has 48 rooms so that it will be convenient for them to work.
If you go to Ikot Ekpene Road you will see what we are doing for the judiciary. The CJ just left here now, he came to thank me. We are doing that for the judiciary in Umuahia and in Aba. We are building more courtrooms and renovating old ones. Why we are building more courtrooms is for us to first of all hasten dispensation of justice and then get more judges because when they want to assign judges, they come for inspection, if you don’t have court rooms they won’t give you and because of what we are doing, we were able to get the highest number of judges this period. They gave us five, so we are building in Umuahia, we are building in Aba and we are doing so in the ministry of justice.
What other measures have you taken to consolidate security in the State?
You will also see a police outpost we have built that will house both the senior police and military officers. That is done for security purposes; to secure the environment, secure the town, secure Abia State.
What other things can you point out that has been achieved within the life of this administration?
We have our dialysis and diagnostic centres, which been completed. We have one in Umuahia and one in Aba. For the one we have completed the building right now and we have paid for the equipment. The building is set, the next thing is to install the dialysis machines, we have paid already and they have given us one month under which the machines will be installed. This is to take care of the health of our people. You know once one is aging, there are certain diseases that crop up because of old age; one of them is renal disease that is why we have put that dialysis centre to take care of such patients.
In terms of healthcare also, if you go round you will see that we have 250 health centres on ground, equipped and working in all the local governments of the State to take care of our people. A typical example of what we are doing in the health sector is the Amachara Hospital; if you go there you will see that the place has been turned around. It is now a specialist hospital and totally turned around. We have put in a lot of buildings to house the doctors as well as put in place a lot of equipment to make it a standard hospital that can take care of any ailment. There is a Federal Medical Centre here, but it is not enough, the Specialist hospital is here but it is not enough and nothing can be enough as far as healthcare is concerned.
We are doing the same in Okikpe in Ukwa West Local government; we are doing the same for Arochukwu, one in each Senatorial zone, that is as far as the healthcare of our people is concerned because I believe that health is wealth and it is only a person who is healthy that can actually enjoy the dividends of democracy.
Why does it appear your administration has abandoned Aba, which is the commercial nerve centre of the East?
No. If you have been to Aba, you will see that we have started roads construction revolution in that place, not only in terms of road construction, but also in terms of drainage. We are desilting and channelling. We are desilting old drains and channelling new ones so that by the next rainy season, that place cannot be flooded again because that is the major problem that we have in Aba. It is going on right now and the situation has changed in Aba. If you go there you will hear what the people are saying because I told them that I don’t do construction work during the rainy season, that after the rains I will come and I have come with contractors everywhere. If you go there now, it is work and work and it will continue like that until the next rainy season and by that time, I am sure we must have done things that are very appreciable.
What other thing can you point at that your administration has used allocations of the State to achieve?
In the House, the other arm of government, we have not left them. If you go to the House of Assembly you see that their building has been renovated and new ones, legislative offices are there where the legislators can meet their constituents. We are building 24 offices for them. The Deputy Speaker who for long had no lodge, we have finished the construction of his house and he has moved in now.
We have what we call ASOPADED minerals producing area of Abia State, a creation of this government. We empower them every month through allocation; we fund them for development of the oil producing areas in Abia State and the establishment is doing marvellously well in terms of renovation of schools. They are even building roads. In fact, they helped us to build Ukwu Mango road in Aba. They are also empowering people, the youths, poor people, alleviating problems of the poor, paying for students who cannot pay for their WAEC exams or for university entrance examinations and awarding scholarships also to our youths, complimenting the efforts of government even though we have very good youth empowerment programmes here which has been on all along.
We have 4400 youths on our pay roll. They generate funds by appealing to individuals and with that fund they buy things that can encourage the youths to have some livelihood like tricycle, sewing machines, fridge, barbing equipment and distribute to them free of charge. They have done that severally; they have done for Osisioma, Arochukwu and in other local governments. In the Senatorial basis they have done for Aba, so they are yet to do for Abia central, so the youths are appreciative of that and I am sure this is one of the things that have reduced the incidence of kidnapping in Abia State. When the youths are empowered and are actively engaged, they will face their business, they will not think of any evil.
One thing that I have not mentioned to people and is part of our achievement is if you go Osisioma in Aba, there is this oil depot that has been there, which had not functioned for many years. It is functional now and NNPC pumps petrol and kerosene, they were pumping petrol before but we have now made it possible for them to also pump kerosene and from there, these products are distributed not only in Abia but to all other states of the federation like Enugu, Benue, Cross River and Akwa Ibom. We try as much as we can to make sure that products are pumped into that place despite the fact that we have some people vandalising the pipelines. We are on top of that situation. We have security agencies and our own people we formed in conjunction with traditional rulers to watch over the pipelines so that there will be free flow of these products. These are things we are doing.
Since you came, you would have witnessed steady power supply, it was not like this before. Before, we were living in darkness, but we were able to evacuate power from the 132 KVA power station that we have in Ohiyan to this State, to parts of Imo State and environs of Umuahia so that we can have light 12 or 24 hours a day. What the people are complaining now is that the thing is too much, when they put something in the fridge it will block. That is their complaint right now, that when they put their bulb the thing will explode; but we are sure we have done something in that sector.
If actually one can realise these objectives, I think we have laid the foundation for Abia. Like where we are staying, this building was Emeka Omerua’s property, we don’t have a standard government house, we are constructing one right now, a government house that is befitting of this State, not this type of place we are using as government house. If you go to Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Delta State—I was in Delta State the other time and my colleague showed me his government house and if you come here, you will be ashamed to come and sit here. So, these are the foundational projects I am talking about.
If I had a standard government house here, I won’t bother building a new one; I will use the money to build another thing. If I had a secretariat like others do, I won’t bother to build a new one; I will go for another project. If I had a standard conference centre, I won’t bother to build a new one, I will go for another thing; if I had healthcare projects that can take care of my people, I can expand and build few but this one is that you just have all these useless general hospitals without drugs, without doctors, not doing anything, so we had to lay the foundation. These are what we are doing.
Abia State used to host a lot of industries as typified by Factory Road Aba and of course the old Umuahia here used to have many industries, now most of them are gone, what is your government doing to reverse this trend?
In terms of industries, our major concern is to provide the enabling environment for investors to come in. From empirical evidence, which you know, government has been unable to run industries. We have the brewery here that was run by government, we have the modern ceramics, we even have the Abia hotels which we are now building a new one; these things were all in the hands of government and nothing actually happened, so we took a decision that we don’t have any business to be in business but what we do is to encourage people like you to come and invest and how do we encourage that? Provide security first and foremost, let the environment be secured to attract investors and then let the investors come. We give them the land and whatever they want for them to invest and many of them are coming. Since we got security under control, they have been coming on daily basis. We have signed MOUs with many and very soon they will start implementing them.
You mentioned that special attention is being given to Aba and opinions are that if well developed and well harnessed, for the small scale industries Aba used to be that it can generate enough revenue through taxes to fund development; are you doing anything to ensure that Aba recovers its lost glory and begin production again?
We are not happy that Aba has lost its glory, but now that I am at the helm of affairs, it is my responsibility to ensure that glory is gotten back. Now one of the things that ruined Aba was kidnapping. During kidnapping era, every business closed, business men absconded, entrepreneurs were not coming, nothing was happening and that was a lull for Aba within that period, so this government fought to restore security; that is the first achievement and if you go there now you will see business bubbling.
The next approach that we are taking is to make the environment conducive, provide the infrastructure that will attract investors; building the roads and making the town to look neat, desilting the drains that I told you, so that if an investor comes and takes a survey he will know that if he invests, he can recoup his money. So in terms of taxes we are trying to re-orientate the inhabitants of Aba because you see if you go to Ariaria market and ask three people or call 10 people and ask them to show their tax receipt, you will be surprised that none of them has any. Our people are averse to payment of tax, but you have to change their mentality so that they will know the value of paying taxes and how do you change the mentality?
Apart from advocacy, you provide dividends of democracy so that when they see it they will pay and that is what we are doing and we are getting response from this as some of them have started paying. When you go to them to pay tax they will but what they are complaining is double taxation.
Did you inherit any debt when you took over as Governor of this State?
Of course, almost N30 billion, that was what I inherited which is not even comprehensive because I did not include that of Local governments accruing from unpaid wages of local government staff and their allowances. When I computed the local government debts, it was N2.9 billion which I have paid. But the N29.2 billion is from the State, which I inherited. The figures are there including N26 million payment to Sun newspapers that writes nonsense about this State every day. Let Sun say it is not correct. Yes, I am liquidating debts gradually.
Is it not affecting the developmental drive of your administration?
Of course it is. The debts we are paying is weighing heavily on us because these debts are such that when they come first they take it apart from the external debts that they are taking from the federation accounts, these ones also we are paying but someone will come and tell you that he didn’t leave any debt for his predecessor, but we have the facts and figures.
What would you like to be remembered for when your tenure ends in 2015?
I want to be remembered for as a person who built the foundation on which Abia has taken off. I want them to remember me also as a governor who is sincere, who says I will do this and I will keep to my words. If I say I will do this I will do it and the ones I cannot do I will tell you I would not do it. They will never forget me for being the person who liberated this State from the clutches of bondage and autocracy. People are free, people are happy; as a man who united Abia as the man who liberated Abia.
The government we had here you know very well was a government that was not inclusive, wasn’t bringing in people but rather people ran away, notable Abians were not coming home, not because the place was not safe but because of the type of government they saw in place, a government that was not tolerant but today the difference is clear that the Abians are with us and they are contributing immensely, the ideas and all to move Abia to the next level.
In all these programmes in the sectors you enumerated, how are you funding them, are you borrowing?
That is the thing. Talk of security; do you know that security is very capital intensive? If you do not bring out money to fight security you cannot succeed. Do you send soldiers and policemen to go and fight kidnappers empty handed? Won’t you provide their vehicles? Won’t you buy their arms and ammunition shunt? Won’t you provide welfare for their families in case they die? I am giving account of my own security vote because I have used it to maintain security here, which every person knows about. So I don’t regret using any money at all from Abia State to maintain security in Abia.
What is your next move? The Senate like your colleague Governors or what is your next political bus stop?
I don’t have any political bus stop as of now; my political bus stop is to complete all the projects I am doing. That is my political bus stop as of now, the future will tell.