Politics, Governance & Development
Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is the Abia State Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) candidate for the 2015 governorship election in the state. A former lecturer with over a decade experience in public service and governance, he told OLAWUNMI OJO that his vision is to make Abia economically vibrant by running an inclusive and transparent government that would guarantee sustainable development.
What pushed you into the race?
First, there are issues, which I think I am most prepared to address at this time of our development. Looking at Abia State, many talk about infrastructure, developmental strides of various administrations, what has been done and not been done, others talk about speed of development. But I have a completely different view.
I think what we need at this stage is to have a clear-cut economic vision and plan, which would leverage what we have on ground now. There is a strong foundation upon which I feel we can drive a strong private sector-led economy. It is for this reason that I am in the race, especially because some of those in the political firmament now, have not come to grips with this particular gap, which I feel I am best suited to fill.
You have been in the public service before, from your perspective, what specific issues would you address if you are voted in?
It is logical to address issues from known to the unknown. We have some derivables from our democratic experience and the main issue is that a solid foundation has been laid in terms of the socio-economic harmony of Abia people. As I speak, all leaders and major stakeholders in Abia are speaking in one voice and pursuing a common goal. For the first time in a long while, Abians are prepared to stand toe-to-toe on one platform to pursue the common good for all. This is one advantage.
The second one is that if you look at Abia, it has five major cities but people talk about just Aba. We have Ohafia, Mbawsi, Umuoba, Umuahia, Arochukwu, and urguably, we also have Obimozu. Ninety per cent of these cities are interconnected by a rail network. These are some of the things that come to us naturally and we cannot allow such advantage to waste. The next thing is human capital, Abia has one of the richest complement of people well-developed intellectually and well-skilled; people that have made marks in their various fields of endeavour. Some are within the shores and others are outside. So, what we need now is someone who can harness these potentials to run Abia faster and bigger.
Thirdly, Abia State also has the unique gift of Aba, a conglomeration of the best traders. Apart from trade and commerce, Aba people are very good in manufacturing. We are renowned for good leather products – bags, shoes, belts; we are also good in garment making, fabrication and other things we can do with our hands. So, it is not good to allow these things that come to us naturally to slip away.
Fourthly, there is a downturn in the economy and people are jittery about it. But I think this should be a tonic that should bring out the can-do spirit in the average Abian to take our destiny in our hands in all we do, going forward. These are some of the things I hope to do in government using the foundations that have been laid.
You said despite Aba’s immense potentials, it is not getting the right attention from government, infrastructure and finance wise. What are your plans to right this wrong?
I am fascinated when people talk about the deficit of infrastructure in Aba. This is because transportation and movement of goods is very key to trade and commerce. You can hardly hear the same complain about Umuahia; it means that of Umuahia has been fixed or it is better. This is why Aba becomes an issue.
In the days ahead, we intend to drive the economy of Abia State from Aba. And we intend to provide not only good road and rail network that would drive trade and commerce and also help us pilot the small and medium scale enterprises which we are going to build in our industrial clusters, but we are also going to leverage the expected 24-hour power supply that would come as a result of the Geometric Independent Power Plant plus what the federal government has done at Alaoji and Ohia, which would make Aba axis of Abia state one of the first areas in Nigeria that would enjoy uninterrupted power supply.
Then, there is an awesome repository of funds not only within the plan and templates of the federal government, but also from donor agencies that are prepared to invest in Africa, especially in African cities that has capacity for self-sustainability, which Aba clearly represents. So, we have set out a template through which we could access these funds and essentially, key in Aba and Abia’s economic agenda into what the federal government is doing. It is simple mainstreaming; that is what has been missing and we have capacity to do all that now.
What are your programmes to open up other cities and other major towns in the state?
I mentioned some key cities earlier. What we are doing is to look at the location of those cities in terms of geography, and look at special areas and attributes that make those cities peculiar. For instance, if you go to Umuahia, there is a huge expanse of cocoa farm. So we are thinking of industrialising Umuahia along the lines of agro-allied and processing so that we can build a value-chain for our agriculture programmes.
In terms if agriculture, we also intend to set up marketing boards because a lot of our markets are rural-based. Those markets are going to be refurbished. The marketing boards would buy up excess produce off farmers, help stabilise price and ensure food is available all-year-round. It would also help the farmer make calculations and projections profit-wise.
If you allow government do that, it stabilises the chain of agricultural practice and encourages people to go back to agriculture. The chain is usually broken after every farming season because of wastages. When government invests in silos to store and to buy up through marketing boards, we can process, add value and be able to put more products on food shelves all-year-round. So, these are the companies we are conceptualising around Umuahia.
Umuahia has also experienced a boost in terms of medical facilities. There are four tertiary health institutions in Umuahia. One of them is a world-class diagnostic centre, which this government has established. What any serious-minded person should now be thinking about is probably a world-class convalescent centre around Umuahia and the environs. These are some of the things I am thinking about for Umuahia, aside revitalising some of the companies that are there already, some of which are being done by the present government.
Then, beyond Umuahia, Arochukwu has a rich deposit of limestone, which is good for cement. We would attract the federal government to do the Arochukwu road thereby opening the city a little bit, one can then attract foreign investors to come and build cement factory there.
So, our thought about developing our cities is location specific. We are also going to leverage the advantage of having the railway network crisscrossing five major cities in Abia to ensure that goods and services can be moved from one location to the other with ease.
Could you throw more light on the planned inter-city rail?
There are five such cities – Aba, Umuahia, Umuoba, Mbawsi, Ovim. Aba is at the centre such that you can live at Mbawsi and access Aba within 30 minutes. Once in Aba, you have option of either going to Umuahia through to Enugu or from Aba to Port Harcourt. It means that if you have agric products harvested in Mbawsi or Umuoba, you could lift them straight to Lagos or Port Harcourt, assuming you want to export.
We are also conceptualising a Dry Port somewhere between Aba and Umuahia, which has received approval already and the site is being cleared. The only thing we need to do is to find a tangent of railway to connect that Dry Port to the main rail-line. Now, five cities in Abia connected to the Dry Port, that means you can have your warehouse in any of these cities and leverage that port and the railway line to do business. There is no other city in the Southeast that has that advantage.
What would your policy be in the area of education?
We are going to pursue vocation/skill-oriented curriculum. This is because two of the strongest pillars of our economic agenda are agriculture and SMEs. We are going to tailor our curriculum from the vision we have, so that graduates of our high schools and polytechnics would have a clear idea of where they are going. Are you going to be a steel welder or automobile architect to work with vehicle manufacturing companies springing up in Nnewi. We want to integrate activities in the classrooms with happenings in various industries; we need people with relevant capacity to our environment.
That is the kind of education policy we want to pursue. And we would start this by building model primary and secondary schools to tailor-made faculties and curriculum at the tertiary level.
Given the dwindling revenue from the Federation Account, how do you intend to fund your ideas?
No serious government would still be depending solely on federal allocation. This is why our focus would be on Aba where we could generate a lot of revenues. If we build our institutions, strengthen them, make them transparent and put square pegs in square holes, we can substantially raise our Internally Generated Revenues.
Secondly, there are grants available for the Developing countries and cities that are serious. But before you can access such, you must have your data, be determined to do counterpart funding and ensure that when you say it is for apple, it is indeed used for apple.
We are also going to look at private sector funding. This would come when we practise good governance. There would be no reason why somebody coming to do business in Abia would spend four hours without seeing the governor, whether on prior appointment or not.
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