As the present government of Abia state under Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu embarks on a long mission to "continue from where his predecessor stopped" President of African Diaspora Initiative (ADI) and leader of Diaspora Abians in Asia, Hon. Njoku St.Jerry A., tasks the present government to jettison that slogan and rebuild Abia from the scratch. Responding to interview granted from his base in Beijing, the Diaspora leader frowns at the idea of replicating any legacy that connects with the past.
Njoku: Time will prove those projects as much as I know. As schoolchildren growing up in the village in Ohafia, under the former Imo State government, we learnt of a placed called "Abuo Ruber" - Rubber Plantations, Oil Palm plantations, Aba Textile Mill, Aba Glass Industry, Golden Guinea Breweries etc. Abakiliki rice was famous seconded by another brand of rice from Isiugwu Ohafia simply referred to as "Isiugwu rice." Agriculture was a booming line of business with Poultry farming and nuts production in the lead. Then, there was the city of Aba referred to as 'Enyimba City with its booming entertainment business" and a boisterous commerce. Majority of the foreign investment were in the agricultural sectors with Dunlop and Michelin Tires pitching base as a result of the over thirty active rubber plantations in operations. Golden Guinea Beer "GG" became an Eastern brand, matching NBL Star Larger all over the Southeast! This region was such productive until the late 80's leading to the dream split of the late 90's, then Abia State was carved out as an independent state from former Imo State government with few state inheritance.
The Blue Print, which produces those infrastructure and economic benefits of Abakiliki, Umuahia and Owerre under the former Imo State government, mapping out Agricultural bases, Industrial bases, General commerce and residential communities was designed by the administration of the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe. The road networks and infrastructural facilities were all contained in that Economic Blue Print of the former Government of Imo State as a single entity covering the three states we have now under three different governors.
In order words, whatever infrastructure development enjoyed by the people of these regions were those initiated by the government of the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe. whether it is roads, streets planning, housing, industries etc. virtually everything!...which means there have been no new road network, no new industrial location or industrial set up, no new institution - the Abia State University was an inherited structure formerly under the government of Imo State as Imo State University likewise many of the other economic infrastructures. In other words, Abia state as an independent region is still operating under the economic plan of the late Dr. Sam Mbakwe designed in the 80's till date.
This is 2015 and the state is still stuck on development plans designed about 30 years ago without any modification or adjustment.
The "Golden Guinea Beer" is off the stall of dealers, the Textile Mill is in comatose, the glass industry is in comatose, the palm oil plantations is overgrown by weeds, the Rubber Plantations is overgrown by weeds infact Dunlop and Michelin has long deserted. The entertainment industry in Aba is dead and buried and its hospitality business is in its old shelf, some converted to a dumpsite, e.g the Enyimba Hotels. The streets, road networks disconnected, and a whole lot more while the city's residents continue to struggle to find out what has befallen them. This is why there is so much anger and frustration in the city and the government and its people cannot continue like this.
Abia state is in such a sorry situation today because the previous administration since 1999, the state was born has not deemed it fit to sit down and draw a plan for the new state. - Even after 20 years of its existence - how could you build a decent house without a decent plan, How could you engage in economic development affairs without an economic blue print.
QUESTION: The present government has embarked on a couple of activities aimed to usher in desired development; Do you envisage a change different from that of previous government?
I would like to commend the government of Dr. Okezie on that one; he is a scholar and should be in a better position to learn to behave differently.
I am aware of a group of economic team different from the usual government advisers and hanger-ons in the name of Commissioners and Special assistants, who in most cases constitute fair weather friends that continue to deceive the leader. If I did not envisage a change in this government, I would merely sit back and continue to read the junks that have become news of everything Abia State. But I see great change coming into this state and I have sat with the people selected to work with the governor and I feel comfortable to see such caliber of individuals with record of accomplishment working with the governor.
This is why we in the Diaspora took it upon ourselves to begin to stake our interest by providing ideas for solutions to these worrisome underdevelopment situations because we the ordinary people will always be the direct recipient of the ruins in our state.
The people who are destroying the legacies of this great state do not live here. even after they finished serving their terms of office and would have benefitted immensely from the largesse of the state, many of them run to Abuja, London and now to Enugu to hide and only come here to foment trouble and they know majority of the people here are frustrated, so it is easy to use them for negative purposes.
I challenge Abia state indigenes with the means and entire South Easterners to come to the aid of this government to rebuild this industrial hub of Igboland. Some of us are already taking the lead to embark on trips across the world shopping for rewarding investments and investors on behalf of the government without taking a dime from anyone and it is already yielding fruit, I challenge every Igboman to reconsider where they are investing their energy and finances, time shall come, it will fail them, it is a prophecy and I have no iota of doubt on that.
Bring your billions here to Aba, Onitsha, Asaba etc. It is good to invest in Lagos but a wise man will use his tongue to count his teeth, Lagos is not your homeland and can never be any better than Aba in anything, infact the difference between Aba and Lagos is its coastal privileges and we can replicate that - I feel guilty to see Abia state in its past shelf and if you as an Igboman do not feel any remorse but sit down and continue to complain about this Orji and that Orji then you will blame yourself when time shall come and should shut up and cover your face in shame. I challenge this government and every businessman in Aba and Lagos of Igbo stock to begin to reconsider their priorities.
QUESTIONS; It is alleged that One of the major problem of the state is the lack of fund to embark on projects; What role is Diaspora group playing to encourage investment and boost revenue for the state?
We doing a lot, I personally have been busy traveling the length and breadth of China shopping for capable investment for the state and designing projects proposals that I believe should contribute to Abia State IGR so that this state will begin to match that of Lagos on Internal Revenue Generation. I spend my money and time to pursue such opportunities with my team because I believe in the Change that is about to happen in Abia State. We have designed IGR projects that cover industry, youth employment, housing and public facilities that should be generating monthly income of about $400,000 a month or more.
Fact is; the incentives from sales of Crude Oil will continue to dwindle and Nigerian states will continue to get meager allocation from Abuja, therefore we have sat down and come up with various IGR projects that we envisage should push Abia state close to Lagos in terms of revenue generation.
HOUSING; Take for instance, there were so many estates built by previous administration occupied by ghost and witches, because 70% of those estates either do not exist in structure, unfinished projects, or abandoned once money passed through hands or they mainly existed on Newspaper advertisement.
Now with the increase in restiveness in the North East and across other regions where the people of the South east transact commerce and are always the first target to a violence I will consider as misplaced grudges, people are beginning to awaken to the realities of coming home to invest. The need to buy up properties will increase by this action; the government could go into partnership with our team of investors and build modern and decent structures - not on paper - but in reality. Abia state indigenes worldwide wants to own a decent home, the government could take advantage of that too and we have worked out plans of investment in that area waiting on the government to open a platform of cooperation in this regard.
On average it takes some individuals 2 - 5 years to complete a decent residential while many it takes extra years due to economic situation, but when the government is selling completed apartment buildings, and there are provisions for mortgage purchase, See, this government will be busy making money from all corners and whatever comes from Abuja will be additional.
How? you may ask me; It will cost just about $20 Million Dollars or a little over to build about 100 Units of decent 3 Bedroom and 2 bedroom bungalows with terraced floors and organised environment and the finishing will take just about a year then at the cost of 7 - 20 Million Naira, people will buy off this apartments with ease or with provision for mortgage - the bank will make money, the government will make money and every Igboman here will be making money.
I want to believe Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is not just a scholar but enlightened therefore I want to see this state re-enlightened and we in the Diaspora are ever willing or should I speak for myself.
ON PUBLIC FACILITY: we have designed a structure that will be known as The International Conference Center, Aba (ICC-ABA). On completion, this multi-purpose facility could be giving the state a minimum of #10 - 20Million Naira a month and it will take just a year or less to complete once the state is willing to cooperate with our kind of fast-track development ideas.
How will such money come in? The city of Aba alone boast of active residents that love to have fun after a hard day business activity, the government could key into that and adopt our ICC-ABA model with all the activities including banking facilities, offices, parks etc.
This would reduce the pressure on government struggling to provide employment within its ministries which are already becoming non functional and non productive. Also, remember that residents of the city of Aba are 70% commercial oriented, the government could take advantage of that number and diversify its economic planning priorities. Abia should be self-sustaining with its active residents who have the economic means to sustain this kind of investment.
More so, we will be revolutionizing Digital Advertising within the facility, It takes just about $2 Million Dollars to build a Digital Advert Station that will give the environment here a facelift and every month the state could be earning up to $500,000 net profit - this is part of the IGR projects we have designed for the state. ON EDUCATION AND TECHNOLOGY Transfer; we have designed programmes that will train individuals on manufacturing oriented businesses with provision for equipment transfer from China to Abia State on various areas of agriculture production, Our nuts could be packaged and sold in Malls and across the country.
We could decide to package our palm produce different from what is obtainable in the local market.
We could decide to go into meat processing and packaging with our livestock's farming, etc. , the good idea is this; in whatever category the state will chose to invest and turn its agriculture opportunities into profit making ventures, we have discussed with companies here on subsidized equipment transfer to get this projects started right here in Abia State. We want cooperation from every Abia state indigenes.
ON COMMERCE & TRADE the majority of business people in China are from the Southeast, Nigeria. We hope the government will take advantage of our proposals to provide a platform of cooperation that will motivate a transfer of these growing trips to China to the industrial city of Aba. Majority of what Nigerians go to buy in China could be produced in the Aba with quality that exceeds what is obtainable in China.
Nigerians come to China to import toothpicks made in China, when we ask them why that is; they think it has better finishing quality but they spend more money in this trips - with contempt and ridicule following.
I do not know why black man will continue to think like this whereas it will cost just $10,000 to set a quality toothpick machines here in Aba but Nigerians goes to China to import about $100,000 worth of toothpicks.
This is our proposal to the government; we are in a position to shift the trade imbalance to our favour this time and we seek the State cooperation. This is the kind of proposals we are bringing to the Abia State government and we are mobilizing teams of Chinese business owners willing to partner with this government on equity investment. I don't know how people will expect foreigners to come and build their home, build their toilets, supply them tissue papers to wipe their ass and then put food in their mouth, this is the kind of proposals most African state are putting on the Chinese investment table. it's a very risky approach, how could you control quality when you fold your hands drinking beer and having fun with loose women until all your farmlands is overgrown with weeds and thorns then you want the Whiteman to come and Build for you, Operate the Business and Transfer it on (BOT).
Well, maybe it used to work that way but Businessmen all over the world today are getting smarter, they could construct a structure that will definitely last within the Operation period in the contract only to transfer a junk edifice, it is happening.
Therefore, we propose an equity kind of investment where the investors and the government come into partnership and let things start rolling. As long as the businessman wants to make profit, the government also wants to maximize profit, 50' 50' - It is better to owe for development projects than to owe government workers salaries...that amount to recklessness with incentives that were provided from Abuja to cover all that purpose.
We should desist from this sitting down in the comfort of our offices and wants everybody to come do our dishes and wipe our ass then we feel good but poor in every aspect, we can choose to engage our local banks here, they do have the money and will certainly like to invest.
Since Abakiliki and its rice has gone to Ebonyi State, we could decide to resuscitate the "Isiugwu rice" More so, there is a limestone deposit in this same Isiugwu in Ohafia LGA that is causing a rift between the communities and some faceless investors, the government should be involved in this and begin to maximize this agricultural benefit.
QUESTIONS; The government it is said has embarked on massive hunt for foreign investors, What contribution is China group of Diaspora Abians bringing to the investment table?
We have mapped out strategic plans to host a realistic and result-oriented visit to China whenever this government is ready. It baffles me; Nigeria is yet to grasp the vast opportunities in China to revamp our public facilities and industry. East & Southern Africa is benefiting a lot and I have played major role to such shift. We are not a windy-talking people, we are business-oriented, we try to avoid too much of this entire endless talking workshop that do not bring any structural development to the ordinary people in the state. We believe there are more than 1,000 Abia State indigenes that can easily put the kind of money this government is looking for on the investment table worse still those whose have benefitted from the greed of former administration. Igbo people should begin to question their leaders and desist from this level of ignorance the soonest. Nevertheless, we propose an equity kind of investment between China and Abia State.
Major Chinese industries want to shift base to a freer society with ready-made labour. Many of them have piled up too much money if they don't put back into investment might raise security brows and they would like to go to Africa with its vast untapped opportunities so they contact us, besides China is willing to cooperate with states with such development plans like we have designed to establish an economic model in Nigeria. China is world leading shale oil producer nevertheless what makes China thick is its commerce and industry.
If Lagos economy is huge and paying into the state about 22billion Naira monthly apart from the Federal allocations they receive, Abia could match that 80%! Because 70% of the business interests that gave Lagos such money is controlled by people from the Southeast, imagine if all that business concerns are motivated to establish in Aba with the right infrastructure in place at least 60%. This is my proposal to the State. Hon. Njoku SaintJerry A. is the President of African Diaspora Initiatives (ADI) and Expert on China-Africa Media Relation & Cultural Diplomacy