Since the creation of Abia State in 1991, development has no doubt been slower than Abians expect, and this can be attributed to a lot of factors which range from politics to near-absent or constantly dwindling internally generated revenue and federal allocations.
Compared to other neighbouring states who have the luxury of being among the leading oil producing states in Nigeria, hence, they always have federal allocations accruing to them that are far higher in value, Abia can hardly compete with such States, hence, there cannot be room for comparison as some indigenes are quick to do.
So, when people visit such neighbouring states and see the pace of development there, they throw other variables to the wind and begin to say things like, “go to so and so place, you will see well developed infrastructure”, forgetting that both are far apart from each other in terms of what accrues to them every month from FAAC which is today still the major source of income for most states except the ones like Lagos, for obvious reason.
For example, the amount that accrued to Abia State in the first quarter of 2017 was N8.42bn while Akwa Ibom and Rivers States got N34.88bn and N26.8bn respectively for the same period. This leaves Abia with little or no chance for fair competition especially with competing demands between wages and projects in the state.
The sterling management of such scarce resources requires someone with vision and determination to ensure things work and that the delicate balance between scarce resources and meeting the needs of the people is well handled. At a time like this in Abia when even the federal government has had to complain without end about the massive drop in revenue, Dr Victor Okezie Ikpeazu seems to be the person who the cap fits well for this onerous task.
In the very short time he has had to work, considering that he merely just finished the last of his many and complicated electoral cases only in May this year, matters that distracted him so much, and naturally so, the Abia State governor has shown uncommon commitment to the cause of Ndi Abia by pursuing his five Pillars of Abia Development viz: Trade and Commerce; Small and Medium Scale Enterprises; Agriculture; Oil and Gas, and Education, with vigour and enthusiasm.
To actualise these pillars, the governor has relied heavily on two drivers, and these are provision of infrastructure especially roads, and his relentless “Made in Aba” campaign which is meant to refocus the consumption appetite of Nigerians for the less qualitative but highly expensive goods shipped into the country from abroad to the more highly qualitative yet inexpensive goods manufactured by our budding men and women right at our backyard.
Many may be wondering why the governor has chosen these two Drivers to actualise his Pillars of Development. A simple look at the situation today shows that the future of Nigerian component States and their sustainability rely heavily on what the States can generate as revenue internally and not what the States can get from the federation as allocation.
It is either we begin to promote, purchase and use these fine and high quality products from our own Aba in order to improve incomes that accrue to Abia and massively improve upon our GDP or we perish together in no time. God forbid!
As it is now, it is known that the GDP of Aba alone is far higher than those of some of our neighbouring countries. But because of the phobia some Nigerians developed for “Made in Aba” goods, the monumental benefits of those huge potentials coming from Aba are lost.
With Ikpeazu pushing the “Proudly Made in Aba” project, things are beginning to look up again as our entrepreneurs who manufacture all manner of high quality goods and machinery have been gradually regaining the market share they once lost to foreign goods and those who were hit by extremely low patronage that they almost ran out of business have been revived while others who left for other cities in search of greener pastures are returning to put their machines back to life.
This is not surprising because Ikpeazu has deliberately awaken the consciousness of Nigerians patronizing locally manufactured goods which is also in line with the federal government campaign of “Buy Naija to Grow the Naira”, hence, an institution of the federal government ordered for as many as 50,000 Aba made boots in one fell swoop, with more institutions to follow.
In the same vein, the benefit of what Ikpeazu is doing with Aba products is not lost on the federal government. At a time the country needs to save its foreign exchange from collapse, the need to import less and export more is as urgent as ever especially when Aba products compete favourably with the ones from China, Italy, UK, Japan and such other places.
To this end, the federal government recently issued an executive order to all federal ministries, departments and agencies to ensure that they check with Aba manufacturers if they could produce any item needed before they (MDAs) begin to scout for such items abroad. The Order directs that once such products can be manufactured in Aba, foreign option is dropped.
What all these have done is that they have restored the confidence of Nigerians and foreigners alike who do business in Aba in particular and Nigeria in general, as products that used to be manufactured in Aba but stamped “Made in China” or such other countries now bear “Proudly Made in Aba”, sold locally and also exported.
The import of this is that the cost of doing business for the ordinary Abian has been driven significantly low as those who used to “round trip” their products by first shipping them to Asia and Europe and America before returning them to Nigeria as “foreign goods” in order to gain acceptance in the market do not need to do that again.
In collaboration with the federal government and donor agencies, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, who out of humility and reverence for God, prefers to only be addressed as “Mr Governor” to the usual “His Excellency Sir”, has organized exhibitions for Abia businessmen/women in the fashion industry even in places as far as New York which earns the State the rare privilege and opportunity of being recognized ranked among world’s leading fashion cities and its attendant benefits to the government and people of the State.
These efforts and their long term benefits may be lost on some observers; however, critical stakeholders who should know have since recognized the importance of this Driver of Development as the governor was recently honoured by the Business Day Good Governance Awards 2017 for brokering the partnership between Abia State and a foremost federal government institution in the production and supplies of boots. Also honoured at that occasion were the governors of Kebbi and Lagos States for their partnership in rice production.
In honouring these governors, Business Day “confirms that trade partnerships across the competitive advantage of states grow the local economy of the States but more importantly it creates employment, food security, entrepreneurship and enhances inclusive growth”.
That, to discerning Nigerians, seems to be the beautiful end of the matter. Such a beautiful end it would have been except that it is only just the beginning.
(To be Continued)
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.