The reason I did not sound my trumpets about my performance as governor was that I had thought government was a continuum and, therefore, there was no need trying to create dichotomy between one administration and another. Again, I had reasoned that since the man who was to succeed me was a key player in our administration he would build on what we had done and carry on with the road map we had collectively designed. Sadly, that was not to be.
Though different books were published at different times in the course of our government, especially toward the end of my tenure as governor of Abia State from 1999 to 2007 documenting for posterity our achievements as an administration, there is still a need to make further clarifications and elucidations through this series. None of the books in question, to the best of my knowledge, was launched in public and, therefore, might not have made the desired impact in terms of outreach and mileage. More so, I am sure it was not every person who should get the books got them for the reason I had given: Our administration was winding down and all attention focused on the hand-over process and the compelling need to get the governor (and my Chief of Staff then) released from prison.
Those who knew what really transpired would confirm that nothing else mattered to me then other than to get Chief Theodore Orji released from prison. The plot of our detractors was to keep him in prison until the date for his inauguration was over. Sensing this plot, we swung into action, pulling all available strings and, in the end (we give God the glory), we sailed through.
The day Theodore Orji was released from prison was my happiest day in life. Our joy almost turned sour when information filtered to us that our detractors planned to re-arrest him to make his inauguration an impossible mission. In our usual way, we devised a strategy to counter this latest plot.
To avoid any mistakes, I personally chartered a flight to take him from Lagos to Umuahia to prepare his inauguration – a few days away. Not only that, I accompanied him on that flight to the Owerri Airport and returned to Lagos on the same flight to ensure that all went well. The crowds we mobilised to receive him at the airport were such that any plot to re-arrest him was almost impracticable. I thank God the whole thing went as planned, making it possible for Theodore Orji to sit atop the affairs of Abia State as governor from 2007 to 2015.
Sincerely speaking, securing the release of Theodore Orji and ensuring his subsequent successful swearing-in remain one of the most exciting aspects of my stewardship in Abia State.
Prior to the Theodore-Orji-for-Governor project we had transformed Abia State in sync with a carefully-packaged developmental agenda. Let me quickly state at this juncture, that on assumption of office on May 29, 1999, Abia State was something in the neighbourhood of a pariah state – infrastructure was non-existent, workers’ morale was down, because of two-month unpaid salaries, with pensions and gratuities of retired workers running into several years in arrears. Added to this bag of liabilities we inherited was an N8 billion debt accumulated by past regimes, comprising arrears of salaries, pensions and gratuities, contractual obligations and other matters relating to the administration of government.
The foreign debt portfolio we inherited was 680 million United States dollars. The loan was secured during the NPP/NPN era for the building of Enyimba Hotel and Glass Industry – both in Aba, Ogwe Chicken Farm in Ukwa, and Metallurgical factory at Olokoro, Umuahia. Curiously, we were made to pay up the loan by then President Olusegun Obasanjo before the end of our administration. The former Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, is there to confirm the veracity of this statement. Again, it is good to place it on record that our state’s share from the federation account reached the N1 billion mark for the first time in November 2004. After that, it oscillated between N1.2 and N1.6 billion. It never at any time hit the N2billion mark. Despite the paucity of funds we were still able to meet our statutory and contractual obligations.
Do I need to shy away from the fact that hundreds of communities had no electricity and pipe-borne water, school buildings were dilapidated and abandoned; facilities in existing health institutions were insufficient, while those available had no operable staff and equipment. The State Teaching Hospital was like a cottage hospital, not to talk of the palpable state of fear among the citizens, occasioned by frightening rates of crimes.
Enyimba Football Club of Aba faced relegation from the elite division to the second division. This was the situation on ground when we assumed office in May 1999.
That is not all: The Enyimba City – the biggest commercial centre in Africa, which is also called the Japan of Africa – was a shadow of its old self. In fact, it looked like a deserted city as its residents wallowed in self-pity and abandonment. There was also no single state-of-the-art conference centre anywhere in the state, except the Okpara Auditorium (which lacked the necessary facilities for conferences and other formal events).
It was in this state of hopelessness and despair that our ship of redemption berthed in Abia State. The few days I stayed in the state before my inauguration revealed the rot in the state and the urgent need to hit the ground running. So, from day one, it was business till the chapter of our administration closed formally in the midnight of May 28, 2007.
I must not fail to express deep gratitude to God for the vision and courage to achieve the much we did in spite of obvious impediments in our way. We thank the well-meaning people of Abia State that believed in us and voted us into power. It was their love and support for our government that made us go into covenant with them. The covenant was hinged on the fear of God and respect for human dignity and life.
In any case, every person who was resident in Abia State in the period I was governor would recall with little effort that we worked assiduously to reposition the state and make it the economic hub of Nigeria, nay Africa. Even a blind man could see the transformation of the state from obscurity to global pre-eminence. We took Abia State to every nook and cranny of the universe, attracting investors and other partners in development, who brought in their investments with confidence.
Aside the economic package for the development of Abia State, we paid serious attention to security of lives and properties. Our thinking was that no reasonable investor would come to a state that was unsecure. The plan we set in place for security was unparalleled. Kidnappers and other hoodlums scampered for safety. In fact, Abia State was adjudged one of the safest states in Nigeria. Security was such that no single case of kidnapping or political killing was recorded throughout the eight years we served. I could count about five brother-governors who approached us then to copy our security master plan.
The success we made of security was hinged on a simple formula: Design a strategy that would nip crimes in the bud. In short, we took the war to the criminals and made the state unsafe for them. We also considered the personnel that would execute the plan and had reasoned that the best way to get the best out of them was to motivate them. Apart from providing them vehicles and communication gadgets and occasional monetary rewards, we also put in place an insurance scheme that insured each of the 3000 policemen posted to our state. These incentives indubitably fired their morale and made them ready to sacrifice their lives in defence of the state and its people.
We kept faith with our covenant with the police – to cater to their welfare. This manifested when we lost a policeman on essential duty. His family was instantly handed his insurance benefit of N10 million. According to available records it was the first time any state in Nigeria could do such a thing.
As people went about their legitimate businesses without fear life started booming all over the state. In less than two months in office we had succeeded in clearing the two-month salary arrears owed the workers by the previous administration and established a system that ensured that workers got their entitlements every 25th of the month. We kept faith with this plan until our exit.
When we had achieved the plan for regular payment of salaries we then turned to pensions and gratuities. We were not deterred by the many years of arrears owed. We started somewhere, hoping to settle a reasonable percentage of the arrears before our tenure ran out. And so it happened. By the time we left office only an infinitesimal percentage of persons were yet to receive their gratuities.
It is important to state here that throughout our tenure there was no single industrial action by workers in the state. There was harmony between the workers and government. The only time workers went on strike was when the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) embarked on a national strike. I went to Abia State University and negotiated a deal with the state’s ASUU and they told me they would join their colleagues to commence the action and would back out after two days. And they kept to their words. And so, academic activities were never interrupted in any of the tertiary institutions in our state throughout the duration of our government, making our students graduate when they should.
Subventions to the Abia State University, Uturu; Abia State Polytechnic, Aba; and the College of Education (Technical), Arochukwu, were arithmetically increased. The same could be said of infrastructure and other facilities that enhanced cognitive capacity in the citadels of learning. I will still come to the rehabilitation of primary and secondary schools.
Next in line were roads. A visit to Aba would make one cry openly. Almost all the roads in the city were in a state of disuse. We sprang into action. Wait a minute! What was our monthly allocation from Abuja then? I think something in the neighbourhood of N150 million. Can you imagine what N150 million would do for a state with non-existent amenities? We were not dismayed. Rather we looked up to God, motivated by the fact that our emergence in the saddle of governance was not by accident.
Determined not to fail, I personally raised N500 million from Guaranty Trust Bank through the instrumentality of its Group Managing Director then, Tayo Aderinokun, who was also a close friend, to start five roads in Aba. Abia State will never forget his invaluable contributions to the development of the state. We pray God to grant his soul eternal rest in Heaven. By February 25, 2000 when then President Olusegun Obasanjo paid his first official visit to Abia State the roads were ready for commissioning. The President was moved to emotion by what he saw in Aba that he openly christened me “Action Governor of Nigeria”. Don’t mind we disagreed along the line and he started tormenting me. What I went through later in the hands of Obasanjo was horrifying. Thank God we survived.
After the initial five roads in Aba we embarked on massive reconstruction of the road networks in the city. We knew this would cost us enormous financial resources and so we were prepared for the task. The bulldozers and caterpillars rolled in. In less than two years the city was transformed. Those who deserted the city started coming back. Life gradually picked up. Aba started regaining its lost glory.
One of the ways we had planned to boost the new confidence in the residents of the city was to save Enyimba Football Club from relegation. The team was on the verge of relegation when we assumed office. Because I had deep knowledge and experience about football and club management I was able to set in motion a redemption plan for the club, which yielded immediate result. By the close of the 1999/2000 football season Enyimba had regained its winning power and evaded relegation. We did not stop at that; we started another project: This time to build a new Enyimba team that would win the elusive African Champions Cup.
By the time the new season of 2000/2001 started we had a brand new Enyimba team. At the end of the season the team won the National League. In 2001/2002 season it won the national League and Challenge Cup. In 2002/2003 it won the league back to back. The next target was the African Champions Cup, which we won for Nigeria for the first time in 38 years in 2003. All these achievements in sports would not have been possible without building the necessary infrastructure. So, we started expansion and upgrading facilities at the Umuahia and Enyimba Stadia.
In subsequent editions we will discuss other crucial issues, especially the finances of our administration from 1999-2007: How much we received and how much we spent and on what. In fact, I’m working toward publishing the financial account of our administration in a fully-paid 24-page pull-out in the Sun Newspaper very soon to put a lie to the culture of falsehood perpetrated by Chief Theodore Orji. I am doing this, despite the fact that our government published monthly report on its finances in the dailies.
To be continued