Ikpeazu: We’ll Use Aba to Drive Abia’s Development

Dr Okezie Ikpeazu

Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu is a biochemist and teacher by profession. He is a governorship aspirant in Abia State on the platform of Peoples Democratic Party. In this interview with Chuks Okocha, Ikpeazu outlines his ideas for the development of the state if he is elected governor. Excerpts:

What would you do differently from what the current governor of Abia State, Chief Theodore Orji, is doing if you are elected governor?

In the first place, by the time ochendu took over, the socio-economic framework of Abia State was in shambles. It took the transparency of Ochendu to bring everybody together under the big umbrella of the PDP. Even those that are not within the PDP family are also going to him; he was the person that came to unify Abia. That is an intangible achievement, but very critical to development, because if you don’t have unity, you cannot attract the best brains and you cannot move forward. The best he did was in terms of security. If somebody is not secure you can’t think of investment and infrastructural development.

But what I think I will bring to bear is the fact that I have the capacity to contribute towards the unity of Abian’s here and in the Diaspora. We need to bring a little more of Abians that possess expertise in one way or the other to come and join in the rebuilding and rebirth of Abia State. This is also the time for other Abians to bring to bear other competencies and contacts because modern states now are developed not by the internally generated revenue only or from the federation account only, you must be able to attract the interest of development partners across the globe to come in and help you develop your state. No government will have enough resources required to jumpstart the development of the state. Besides, I also think that I have a very good knowledge of the Aba environment and the philosophy of my team and my group is that if you develop Aba you have developed Abia State. The development of Abia State can be driven from the rebirth and re-engineering of Aba in terms of what you will get from internally generated revenue. You know the potentials of Aba, also in terms of what Aba stands for: the Japan of Africa. But we need to fix a few things: electricity, roads, the environment, structure of the markets, and think along the lines of industrial clusters. We have competence and expertise in leather works and textile processing. There is no reason why Abian’s, Nigerians and the entire West Coast cannot depend on Aba for their belts, shoes and bags and clothes.

How would you tackle the huge environmental challenge in Aba?
Incidentally, I don’t think anybody has a better knowledge of the garbage challenge of Aba than I do. I have worked as Deputy General Manager of the Environment and Protection Agency and I know what we met on ground before we came and I also know what we did to make the modest impact that we have made so far. But the gap – the missing link is that as I speak, government is not in charge of waste management at a primary level. And what I mean is that there are three different segments clear cut – the primary, the secondary and the tertiary.

We are only intervening at the secondary and the tertiary dimension. We collect at the receptacle or Dumpsters and take to the landfills but I think that time has come for us to intervene from the primary source. If you depend on other people that are not within your basket to collect from the primary sources, you cannot be sure of where they would take it to. They can even drop it in the drain and cause another problem. So what we intend to do is to provide enough garbage compactors so that we can do street to street collection of garbage straight into the compactor and then straight to the landfill, cutting of the dumping of refuse through receptacles. But that is not even sustainable until we are able to create a demand for garbage at the tertiary dump. What it means is that you must look for ways to turn waste to wealth.

I’ve also studied the constituents of the waste that come from Aba; 65 per cent of them is bio-degradable – vegetables and left over food – which means that we can think about organic fertilisers because it is biodegradable and we can convert it for manure. The other 35 per cent is from metals, plastics and so on. Some sorting will be done. As I speak, we have started to create and inaugurate sanitation clubs in various secondary schools. The idea is to teach our young ones the tenets of sorting from the beginning so that they can go back to the home and teach their parents in turn what it means to sort waste, because you cannot do a waste recycling plant if you have not sorted out your waste from the primary source. We have laid some foundation for that and we intend to continue such that waste would be sorted and then we’ll create a waste recycling plant at the dump. This would give us opportunity to employ more people, this will add value to what we used to call waste, and this will make waste scarce.

The National Planning Commission rated the Abia State economic environment low in its last assessment. How would you generate money to implement the laudable ideas you have espoused considering the dwindling resources of the state?
The reason for that is not farfetched. If you recall, two, three years or four years down the line, Abia had a very serious issue of kidnapping. In fact, even our collapsing road infrastructure in Aba can be traced to those days because I’m aware that the present government tried many times to get contractors to work. But some of them recalled their staff to the headquarters and advised them based on security reasons not to come. The last time that the present Minister for Finance was coming to attend an economic summit in Abia, she was advised from the World Bank that if she attempted to come to Abia, it was at her own risk. But as I speak today, Abia has been lifted from that red zone and people can come and do business. We have lost so many years that would have been useful in terms of reconstruction. No contractor came and nothing was done for two years. While that was going on here, other parts of Abia, like Umuahia, were benefiting from the activities of the present government in terms of good infrastructure.

Once security is in place, the other issue that we need to tackle to improve our poor rating by the National Planning Commission is that the ease of doing business in Abia. This is not good enough. There is need to establish a one stop shop, there is need to place on that desk someone that is very knowledgeable, not only about our local environment, the things we have comparative advantage over, but also about what is happening next door, what is happening in our neighboring states. For instance, how do we tap into the activities of the oil companies in Rivers State? What do we do about the oil wells around Ukpa? There is no reason why we should not be thinking about developing our city towards Port Harcourt. Apart from establishing a one stop shop, I think also that we should be able to strengthen our service delivery institutions because government is built around institutions. If you don’t strengthen institutions and build institutions, you cannot get the results you require. And how do you build institutions? You must be able to involve time tested policies, you must be able to put people that are very competent and you must be able to give them free hand to operate.

Finally, the process and procedure for doing business must be transparent such that an investor can come with his briefcase, walk into your one stop shop, get every information that he or she needs to get without being belaboured by the rigours of the civil service bureaucracy and without hidden charges, hidden taxes, things that are not clear. This is what stops people from investing.

Don’t you think Orji’s shoe may be too big for any successor to fill?
I have about 19 years experience between the corridors of politics and one other thing that counts in my favour is that I’m a home baked politician. I understand the sentiments of the average Abian and I also represent the middle class. Not only have I spent all these 19 years in the trenches with my people, fighting and battling with this present governor for the elevation of Abia State, I also know some of the things which he has done, to make sure that the Ochendu magic is a reality. Many people will not know that I was vying to go to the House of Representatives in 1989. Because of Abacha’s guarded democracy, it didn’t happen. I’m at home with all the political gladiators of Abia State and I have served and served diligently.  Secondly I represent the middle class, I don’t make noise that I come from anywhere and the people know that the best person to trust is one of their own. The greatest challenge of our economy, not only in Abia State, is that the economy has shut down the middle class, so we now have two classes of people, its either you are rich or poor. The middle class is what I represent and they know that their pain is my pain and their joy my joy. My mission is to restore the middle class in Abia State and give them a pride of place.

How would you tackle the problem of corruption?
The greatest attitude towards corruption is to build institutions, because those are the things that would outlive you and to also lead by example. The only way you know that you are going to do well or not is how serious you are in terms of building institutions. I intend to run a very transparent government, I intend to bring all shades of Abia people into governance.

Source: This Day Live