You may read the first part of this essay, Okezie Ikpeazu: Is Abia on the March Again Or…? (Part 2) HERE.
The “Proudly Made in Aba” revolution is not exclusive to Ndi Abia alone, it is open to all Nigerians from all walks of life who want to take advantage of the business friendly environment and marketing drive the Governor has embarked on for Nigerian manufacturers of all scales including small and medium. For example, one Mr Andrew Etim, a shoe manufacturer in Aba had been quoted by Business Day as rating “the branding, packaging and quality of products” as high during one of the “Made in Aba” exhibitions at Abuja (BusinessDay, March 10, 2017).
This shows that Abia is also home to the Etims, the Kayodes and the Abduls of this world for both business and leisure. For a man who has taken it upon himself to give bite to the State’s industrial and trade revolution, Ikpeazu has shown enormous commitment to creating a business friendly environment for everyone irrespective of ethnic backgrounds, religious beliefs and or political convictions.
If Abia must survive post petro-dollar era which is predicted to be just around the corner, the people must support the governor in his drive to promote “Proudly Made in Aba” products. Revenue generated from that sector alone can sustain the State and keep the people productive even when petro-dollar-funded federal allocations dry up soon as is being roundly predicted by experts.
For instance, the fashion industry alone generated a whopping €8.2bn for Italy in 2015 which in prevailing exchange rate amounts to N3.4trn, nearly Nigeria’s entire budget for 2014. One can only imagine how the future of Abia would be with similar amounts flowing in through our “Proudly Made in Aba” goods, which, with the ingenuity of our people, have been rated superior to some of the imported ones from Asia and other places.
Only visionary and selfless leaders can see this and pursue it with the vigour Ikpeazu is investing in it, as it is said that politicians think only about the next election but statesmen think about the next generation. From the foregoing, it is unarguable that Dr Okezie Ikpeazu is thinking about the next generation for Ndi Abia!
Already, about N1.3bn direct investment has been attracted to Aba entrepreneurs while the city was also recently on CNN for its manufacturers, products and their international standards. Of course a highly reputable and globally renowned media outfit like CNN would not want to associate with frivolities or inferior products. That they covered Aba particularly for the quality of goods that are made there is another indication that it is a city to watch out for and an eloquent testimony that ‘The Elephant’ is about to take its rightful place in the global market.
This is also another reason why the governor has demonstrated unwavering commitment to modernizing the gigantic Ariaria market to make it at par with similar markets worldwide in terms of facilities, aesthetics and functionality. What many critics do not know is that, the leaders of the traders there have resisted the governor’s good intentions for the market and rebuffed the modernization plans over unfounded fears.
To show how committed he is to developing the market and expand it, the governor even went as far as presenting a gigantic power generating set as an alternative source of power supply to the market and a bus to ease movement for the traders, to the leaders, yet, they would not budge.
The question is why are some people so averse to modernity? With the current shambolic state of the market now, especially during the rainy season, it is impossible for it to compete with the kind of businesses its peers command in similar circumstances around the world, and even host foreign investors Ikpeazu’s “Made in Nigeria” campaign is attracting to Aba. Our people in Ariaria market should sit down with the governor and discuss their fears with him, a lot of which are unfounded, yet, addressed.
As far as one understands the governor, he is not in any way interested in the market for himself, his family and or associates. Ariaria market cannot continue to endure the tag of a “Big Nonsense” before local and foreign patrons. If Lagos could redesign and modernize great markets like the popular Tejuosho market in Yaba, Lagos, without any qualms from the traders, the immense benefits which they are enjoying today, why should our own case be different? Ariaria market is not the kind of market that should be left to continue to wallow in decrepit and squalid conditions as it is today. That market which is of strategic importance to both Abia and Nigeria as a whole, needs a new lease of life and it has to get it now that we have a willing and ready governor who is eager to do it or we would all regret it in future.
On the issue of payment of salaries, while it is true that some workers are being owed salaries, the circumstances surrounding such indebtedness cannot be squarely laid at the footstep of the governor.
It is not many people that know that Ikpeazu cleared in one fell swoop 11 months’ salary arrears for the Abia State University Teaching Hospital, ABSUTH, shortly after he assumed office.
He is also reputed to be the only governor in Nigeria who holds the record of committing the entire last tranche of the Paris Club refund from the federal government to the payment of salaries in the State without removing even one kobo from it for projects or for whatever reason. Yes, Ikpeazu committed the entire N5.7bn to salary payment of Abia civil servants despite other contending issues calling for funding. The records are there for those who care to verify.
Also, on assumption, the governor discovered that the Abia state polytechnic was practically under siege and nearly crippled by creditor banks who were fleecing it through very high interest rates on loans that left the institution with little or no fund to run its activities and meet its other obligations. To save it from the jugular of the banks, Dr Ikpeazu released the sum of N2bn to the banks on behalf of the polytechnic to offset the institution’s debts and free up funds for its running.
The foregoing is proof that the governor has demonstrated commendable commitment to not just the payment of workers’ wages in the State but also to their general welfare.
However, the system must cleanse itself to continue to enjoy government patronage, benefits and obligations. The governor frowns at situations where the state wage bill is over-bloated with thousands of ghost workers and pensioners thereby costing the system millions of naira every month. For example, when the governor ordered that workers should be paid via their BVN compliant accounts, it was discovered that some unscrupulous elements had been defrauding the State to the tune of N600m every month, and that was just for the beginning of the exercise. More discoveries are still underway as the exercise continues even with other strategies.
The governor has said at different forums that he would not continue to pay salaries of any institution in the state that has refused to reform and become accountable. He laments a situation where these institutions would continue to generate revenue without remitting anything to government from year to year even when there is incontrovertible evidence that they do generate good sums. Those who manage to remit funds to the state government remit very paltry and ridiculous sums that are not worthy of mention.
The governor has insisted that for such institutions and their staff to continue to enjoy government commitment, they must close the needless multiple accounts they run, plug the excessive leakages in their systems and give account of their financial operations.
From the foregoing, while one admonishes that government continues to demonstrate commitment to workers’ welfare and continue to explore ways of meeting its obligations to workers as and when due, the workers themselves have an obligation to assist government in ensuring that those who corruptly over-bloat the State’s wage bill are stopped in their tracks so that more money would be available for the emoluments of genuine workers.
With the steps Ikpeazu has taken so far in addressing this issue, and with the cooperation of every stakeholder, the knotty issue of salary arrears would surely soon be a thing of the past.
(To be continued)
The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author.