Abia’s meteoric rise from grass to grace: The Alex Otti phenomenon –

“everything in life has got its time and season, a time to steal and a time to recover; a time to destroy and a time to rebuild, that time to recover and rebuild Abia is now!

 By Eagle Okoro 

There is a legal rule that usually gets me excited each time I come across it. In Latin, it is known as “nemo dat quod non habet” or simply “nemo dat rule”. When translated into the English Language, it means, “no one can give what they do not have”.

Truly speaking, Abia, which was created on August 27, 1991, has been very unlucky with the kind of leaders that had superintended over its affairs, particularly under the democratic dispensation from May 29, 1999 to May 29, 2023.

Looking at the state in the past 24 years raises some pertinent and fundamental questions, regarding the mental quality and makeup of the so-called leaders that were produced as governors. 

What were their credentials and pedigree? How prepared were they while aspiring to govern Abia? What programmes did they come to office with and how did they run the state? What legacies did they bequeath the state and its people – present and future generations? 

These are mere rhetorical questions because their answers are stark naked and stare at us in the face.

The gross underdevelopment of the state, characterised by the huge deficit in physical infrastructure as well as the systemic and crass corruption that was embedded in the entire governance spectrum, could not have been so but for the inept, wicked and corrupt tendencies that defined the infamous leaderships of the previous administrations, beginning from that of Orji Uzor Kalu, then Theodore Ahamefula Orji to the ‘last man’, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu. 

In 2000, when the famous Igbo legend and Biafran Leader, late Dim Chukwuemeka Odimegwu Ojukwu, came for the inauguration of Hotel Royal Damgrete, he described Umuahia as a “rural capital”, apparently referring to the stunted development of the town. 

Also, not too long ago, another prominent Igbo leader, the Anambra-born multi billionnaire oil and gas merchant, Chief Arthur Eze, during a visit to Umuahia in September 2014, chastised the uninspiring administration of Theodore Orji, and lamented in an unmistakable term in a public speech that “Abia is stinking”.

He further decried the decay in the road infrastructure and poor living conditions of the people, adding that “Abia residents have hunger written all over their faces”, apparently as a result of the under-performing government of Ochendo.

The foregoing takes us back to the essence of the Latin phrase in our opening paragraph that “no one can give what they do not have”.

Therefore, let us tolerate and forgive these past Abia governors for their enormous sins of recklessness and insensitivity and for what they were unable to accomplish in their 24 years on the saddle, presiding over a dying state and yet had no remedy.

Truly, they gave their all for the state – chicanery, deceit, criminality, fraud, corruption, avarice and covetousness, clannishness, ostentation, mediocrity, ineptitude and incompetence, name it – all in the negative. 

Of, course, they were helpless! Yes, what they gave was all they had which, unfortunately, was not good enough to pay salaries, pensions and gratuities as and when due. They gave their best but it was also not good enough to fix the huge deficit in infrastructure (roads, electricity, pipe borne water), health facilities, education, security and so on.

And not only did they lack the necessary competence and genuineness of purpose as governors to think outside the box for the development and advancement of Abia, they were also bereft of the vision and commitment to recruit experts and competent hands within and without Abia to do the thinking for them. 

They hired mediocre persons and their incompetent kit and kin for the job of governance, hence the poor outcomes and their disastrous end.

So, the very essence of their desire to violently steal the people’s mandate to be governors was essentially for personal aggrandisement, looting the people’s common patrimony and driving Abia people further down the base of the poverty enclave.

Thus, they came, stole Abia dry and left its economy and people poorer than they met them.

But as the scripture foretold in Eccl. 3: “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven. The legendary Bob Marley of blessed memory put it melodiously thus: “everything in life has got its time and season.” Hence, there is a time to steal and a time to recover; a time to destroy and a time to rebuild. Gladly, that time to recover and rebuild Abia is now!

The difference between the past era of mediocrity in governance and today’s Abia is that the narrative has changed positively, drastically and within a twinkle of the eye. And as a famous gospel song says: “I can see everything turning around” for the good of Abia, God’s own State.

Today in Abia, the ecstasy is no longer about the divine promise that the bones shall rise again but they have risen. And as Gov. Otti’s mantra says, “Help is here” and the state has suddenly risen from grass to grace. 

Today, Abia’s ranking as the most underdeveloped and economically unserious and backward in the Southeast region has recorded a significant, quantum improvement. For instance, from an embarrassing position of 32nd in the ease of doing business index to 27th position in just barely seven months of this administration is no mean feat. 

Moreover, Abia has transformed from a ridiculously low rating among the comity of states, in terms of development, to suddenly become the cynosure of the eyes and attention of serious global economic and investment players. 

Remarkably, all these positives were made possible by the proven commitment and integrity of one man with the superb Midas touch – Dr Alex Chioma Otti – a prodigy in governance and a phenomenon in Abia’s political history. 

Little wonder why, with his emergence as governor in the March 18, 2023 election, many envisaged that the stage was set for the recovery of the stolen and misapplied fortunes of Abia and, indeed, the dawn of the reclaiming and rebuilding process. 

All of those encompass what Gov. Otti stands for as well as the vision and mission that drove his “desperation for power” for nearly a decade.

Interestingly, he has proved the visionary and his admirers right by putting his right foot forward right from the start.

From his inauguration on May 29, 2023 he has been churning out and executing policies and programmes that have evidently continued to lift Abia from one strata of development to another and earning loud ovations for himself and his administration.

For instance, with the declaration of a state of emergency on refuse disposal in his inaugural speech, Abia has ceased to belong to the class of filthy states in the federation. Aba and Umuahia, described in unpleasant terms because of their environmental dirtiness, in times past, can comfortably rank as some of the cleanest cities in the country today. 

On health, the administration has made impressive transformation with the reconstruction and retrofitting of the hitherto dilapidated and abandoned Amachara General Hospital, Abia State Teaching Hospital, Aba, Abia State Specialist Hospital and Diagnostic Centre, Umuahia as well as the ongoing reconstruction and equipping of the health centres in the state.

Work at the Abia Industrial and Innovation Park, situated at the oil-rich Owaza Community in Ukwa West Local Government Area of the state, is making steady progress. 

But what has so far turned out as the administration’s master stroke is the award for the reconstruction of the Port Harcourt Road, Aba, to world-class construction giant, Julius Berger Plc. 

Meanwhile, substantial work has already been recorded at the site,  giving strong hope of imminent return of life and business activities in the area after about two decades.

The road began to fail during Orji Kalu’s administration, got worse but manageable under the watch of Theodore Orji and finally collapsed completely, became abandoned and impassable for the whole of Okezie Ikpeazu’s (alias nwaba gaedozi Aba) eight-year-tenure.

Incredibly, Ikpeazu only unleashed bulldozers on the road to pull down residential, commercial and industrial buildings and rendered many homeless and stranded, with multi-billion naira businesses in the area forced to shut down.

A former member of the state House of Assembly, Obinna Ichita, had consistently called out Ikpeazu to account for the over N27.4 billion World Bank facility he secured for some road rehabilitation in the commercial town, including Port Harcourt Road, Obohia, Ohanku, Ngwa and Uratta Roads plus erosion control.

However, Ikpeazu neither executed the projects nor gave account of how the whopping World Bank loan was utilised. Rather, he abandoned the projects and absconded from Aba for about two years prior to his exit from office.

Still on roads, the Otti-led government also blazed the trail with the award of Ossah Road for expansion from the outdated four lanes to six lanes from the Abia Tower on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway to Okpara Square inside Umuahia town. 

The project, which is being executed by Craneburg Construction Company, another outfit reputable for quality delivery, is fast nearing completion.

The governor has also extended the road expansion contract further from the Abia Tower on the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway through Amachara to Onuimo River, Abia boundary with Imo State.

As commonly said, Gov. Otti has done for Umuahia, what the son-of-the-soil, Ochendo, could not do for his community. 

Today, Umuahia enjoys the fulfilling ambience of a state capital, moreso for a first time visitor coming into the town from Abia Tower through Ossah Road.

Again, driving within Umuahia metropolis has become a pleasant and pleasurable experience with the ongoing zero-pothole programme of this administration. Before now, vehicular movement in the town was hellish. 

As though Ikpeazu got determined to punish the people during his administration, especially motorists and Keke operators, he simply looked the other way, while the roads dilapidate and deteriorate in all corners of Aba and Umuahia. 

Shamelessly, when he saw that the Aba Road in Umuahia through to Ubakala, linking up to Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, became unmanageable, rather than fix it, he resorted to using the Ossah Road to the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway each time he was coming to work from Aba or vice versa. That was quintessential Ikpeazu, Abia’s most unserious governor ever! 

The solar street lighting programme and painting of the median of major roads in Umuahia by the government have not only brightened up and upgraded the aesthetics of the capital city but made it fit for habitation and befitting for its capital status. 

Night life in Umuahia, which was before now at its lowest ebb, is steadily returning with its positive impact on recreation spots.

On security, the government has recorded significant success in curbing the menace of hoodlums, especially with the inauguration of Operation Crush, a joint task force of the military and police operatives.

It is gratifying that the highly dreaded gang of kidnappers that terrorised motorists and commuters on the Lokpanta axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway have been compelled to relocate out of Abia, willy nilly. 

For those who have worked closely with Gov. Otti at any point in time, what is happening in Abia today is no surprise but simply a tip of the iceberg of greater things to happen in Abia in his eight years on the saddle. 

They can comfortably predict, without the fear of contradiction, that more phenomenal and landmark developmental projects are yet lined up for unveiling as the government progresses eventfully from the present tenure to the next. 

What is certain is that the governor has begun the onerous task of repositioning and rebuilding Abia to become one of the biggest state economies with an impressive Gross Domestic Product in the country on a firm and assuring footing, leaving no one in doubt about his commitment and zeal toward achieving a New Abia of everybody’s dream.

What’s more, the governor’s ambition to transform the economy of the state and make it super attractive for local and international investors began to crystalise into greater prospects with the recent inauguration of the Abia Global Economic Advisory Council. 

The advisory body, which is an assemblage of a distinguished specie of 17 eminent and accomplished Nigerian eggheads and economy experts of great national and global repute – first class erudite personalities in their respective professional callings – is expected to avail him its superbly rich and vast individual and collective expertise and experience  with which to consciously, steadily and flawlessly navigate the ship of the state through the tempestous tide to a flambouyant, economically stable and viable state.

Membership of the council includes  the former Director-General, Securities and Exchange Commission, Arunma Oteh, Co-Chairman; former Emir of Kano, Muhammad Sanusi II, Co-Chairman, and Bolaji Balogun, who would also serve as a Co-Chairman.

Others are Ifueko Omoigui Okauru, Mr Chidi Ajaegbu, Mr Uche Orji, Ndidi Nwuneli, Mr Chika Nwobi and Olugbenga Adesida.

The rest are former Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and President, Afreximbank, Benedict Oramah, who would serve as honorary advisers to the council.

With the quality and calibre of members of the council, Abians cannot wait to begin to reap the outcome of the unprecedented, comprehensive and superlative economic initiatives of the governor. To God be the glory!

– Eagle Okoro, a public affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia.

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