Monday, 4th December 2023

Otti’s strive to restore Abia’s glory after years 0f rudderless voyage

By Kehinde Olatunji
30 July 2023   |   4:03 am
The expectations of Abia State residents and indigenes are high following the emergence of Dr. Alex Otti of the Labour Party (LP) as governor. This is because his victory ended the dominant rule of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.

Governor Alex Otti

The expectations of Abia State residents and indigenes are high following the emergence of Dr. Alex Otti of the Labour Party (LP) as governor. This is because his victory ended the dominant rule of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state.

This is the first time an opposition party will produce a governor in Abia State since the return of democracy in 1999 and the people’s expectations are high, considering the alleged poor performance of the past governors.

Established in 1998, the PDP came into power in 1999 when a former head of state, Olusegun Obasanjo, was elected the first Nigerian civilian president after 13 years of turbulent military rule. Like 20 other states in Nigeria, Abia elected the PDP candidate, Orji Kalu, as its governor, in the same year.

The PDP has governed the state for 24 years – 1999 to 2023 – although the party lost to the defunct Progressives Peoples Alliance (PPA) in the 2007 governorship election in the state.

However, the loss in 2007 was possible for one reason: the outgoing governor then, Kalu, had switched to the PPA, a party he founded in 2006 following his disagreement with the national leadership of the PDP.

Kalu subsequently picked Theodore Orji, his former chief of staff, as his successor, and helped him to emerge governor in 2007 under the PPA’s platform.

But Orji returned to the PDP on which platform he was re-elected in 2011, while Kalu, now a senator representing Abia North District, defected to the All Progressives Congress (APC). The PPA naturally died.

Orji later anointed Okezie Ikpeazu as his successor, who went ahead to win the 2015 governorship election in the state to continue PDP’s rule.

But the emergence of Otti as the governor-elect in the South-eastern state did not come as a surprise to many. It was something many political analysts had predicted, given the odds, which were in favour of the LP candidate.

Speaking during an interdenominational church service to mark his inauguration, Otti said it was time for the Abia people to rejoice and forget their past miseries.

“This is the time for the people of God to rejoice. The book of Proverbs 29 verse 2, says that when the righteous is in power the people rejoice, and I know that Abia people are going to rejoice very soon.

“I promise to be a great conductor, but every member of this orchestra must play his or her instrument and must do so in harmony. Our social contract with the good people of Abia State is that ours shall not be a government of excuses and finger-pointing,” Otti had assured.

Otti’s emergence is seen as a big relief and one that would bring a new dawn to the state. His triumph, hailed by many as divinely inspired, happened in the midst of a stiff opposition and obstacles mounted by the ruling party in his struggle to wrestle power from the PDP since 2015.

Otti first contested on the platform of the All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), and was in clear lead before the votes from Obingwa local council, which is Ikpeazu’s council, upturned the lead and handed victory to Ikpeazu.

Ikpeazu later survived a tribunal verdict that sacked him twice at the lower level and the court of appeal, before the apex court rescued him.

Otti, the former banker, hinged his ‘weep no more, help is on the way’ campaign on a five-point agenda, which included economic and social transformation, public service reforms, and internal security.

The governor assured that he would work tirelessly to ensure the ‘dynasty of incompetence’ in Abia ended, adding that he was prepared to tackle head-on the deplorable and dilapidated infrastructure including roads, schools, and health systems.

“There is no magic wand that can fix all the rot and decay noticed in virtually all segments of the system since the past years.

“For us to have sustainable development, it would require a very painstaking and elaborate layout of master plans to enable us to tackle the menace of flooding and re-engineer our cities especially Aba, Umuahia and other cities that would be developed to support our urban renewal projects.”

He told the people that with their votes and collective will, the gates of hell in the state, cast in iron bars, had been broken and that the kingdom of hell would not prevail over the people.

“With our votes and the collective will of our people, we have broken the gates of hell, and cast its bars of iron asunder. As recorded in the holy book, the kingdom of hell shall not prevail over us,” he stated.

Abia State Commissioner for Local Government and Chieftaincy Affairs, Uzor Nwachukwu, decried the high level of rot, endemic corruption and executive rascality that allegedly pervaded the state before Otti took over power on May 29, describing it as monumental and mind-boggling.

Nwachukwu said but for God’s intervention, Abia would have completely been strangulated by those that held her by the jugular.

He revealed that what they had discovered so far in less than two months of Otti’s administration was enough to make someone lose his sleep.

According to him, only a few individuals and their cronies have been milking the state dry, while the rest of the people “were dying in the midst of plenty.”

He said that Abia was in a sorry-state and needed urgent surgery to breathe again.

“The truth of the matter is that we are in a terrible and precarious situation that if not for God, our state would have completely gone under. We thought it was bad but now that we are in the saddle of leadership, we have seen the great rot that is in this state.

“Some of the things being uncovered will make you wonder if they were perpetrated by Abians or foreigners. Just in one month of verification on local councils, we discovered 2,300 ghost workers, and saved over N220 million for the government. Meanwhile, the workers before now were not paid. Only a few people were embezzling the money.

“There are things that if you hear, you will not believe them. For instance, this newly built Government House, nobody can live there. There is no road to even go there because the roads are bad. There is no light there. The plumbing is not done but it was commissioned. This is so pathetic,” Nwachukwu said.

The Commissioner further decried infrastructural dilapidation in the state that was once the envy of others.

“Look at our roads inside Umuahia here. Ikot Ekpene road to Umudike is almost impassable! There is no road towards the Bende area. You can’t go to Port Harcourt or Owerri or anywhere from Abia and drive on a good road, yet we had a government.

“Ukwa land that made Abia to be included in oil producing states has no motorable roads now. People pay as high as N4000 to get to Ukwa council headquarters by bike. But that same LGA receives over N100 million every month as allocation from Abuja.”

The Commissioner expressed disappointment that only few individuals gathered every month to share funds meant for the development of the state, while the state deteriorated.

“It’s sad to know that what was happening in Abia before now was that they gathered every month to share money. When I took over and was coming to work, they said to me: “Oga, hmm, you are coming to work? People here don’t come to work; you meet them in their hotel rooms.”

The Commissioner, however, did not spare elders in the state as he blamed them for not speaking out, while the state was being ‘raped’.

“When we have children that are not behaving well, we say the children are bad, but we share in the blame for not training them well as parents. That’s part of the collective shame that we now face in Abia.

“That’s why when salaries are paid, we start clapping hands. States like Ebonyi and Akwa Ibom that were previously behind Abia are now ahead of us and showing us what real development looks like.”

The Commissioner said that but for the emergence of Otti, Abia would have become the laughing stock of all states in the country.

“If God didn’t raise somebody like Dr. Otti who has been tenacious in his quest to fix Abia since 2015, that he at some point almost lost his life, Abia would have been completely buried.

“The voices of many elders were silent, probably because they were complicit. Many of them were on lifeblood tonic. Some were receiving N500,000; some were receiving N1 million; some were receiving N2 million every month. So, they looked away and never cared!”

National President of Abia State Elders Consultative Forum, His Eminence, Archbishop Princewill Ariwodor, while weighing in on the conversation, urged the Governor to convene an economic summit where first class brains will gather and produce a blueprint for the state.

He restated their readiness to support and volunteer useful advice to the Governor if he would be willing to recognise the value of elders.

On his part, elder statesman, Dr. Uma Eleazu, expressed confidence in the capacity of Otti to deliver on his promises and rescue Abia from economic hardship.

He advocated the concept of “Strategic Autonomy,” where the Igbo of South East will control the economy of Nigeria from within as against the gitation for a separate country.

Consequently, he called on the governors of the South East states to come together and work to create a conducive environment for such to fructify.

Eleazu said he was confident that Governor Otti would do well because he had demonstrated capacity as a former bank chief executive officer, adding that the people of Abia State needed somebody like him.

“We had discussed many things even when he was not running for office. When he came out the first time in 2014, he came to my house in Ohafia with his team, and we said, yes. These were the elite of the society – technocrats, professionals, intellectuals and business people.

“We said we needed somebody like him. He has been a banker, he’s an economist, understands development, he can reach out to those who have financial houses and all that. But unfortunately, he didn’t get it at that time.

“This time again, he came out once more and was successful. I am confident that he will do well because of his background and success at running a bank,” the elder statesman, who is the Chairman, Board of Trustees of Anya Ndigbo, an inner caucus helping to bring a reform to Ohanaeze Ndigbo, declared.

A resident of Aba, Samuel Chidioke, said governance with Otti’s administration has been different from the abysmal performance and appointments of PDP.

Chidioke said Otti’s appointments are based on merit and qualifications, adding that the optics are good and the people trust him to deliver.

He explained that one of the first things the governor did was to clear the heaps of refuse handed over to him from the last administration.

“On waste management, he shocked them by going the extra length to clear the heaps of refuse handed over to him. It was so bad that waste trucks belonging to the state were not seen and they had to reach out to neighbouring states.”

Speaking on road projects, he said: “Just a few days ago, he made an on-the-spot assessment of some roads and awarded some critical roads to be constructed and work has begun. I witnessed this on one of the roads – Umuimo.”

Chidioke, who is also an indigene of the state, added: “He’s also particular about IGR and accountability. Abia will be moving to the Treasury Single Account by September. There’s a central system on that and he’s consolidating it. Recently, he launched a digital tax payment scheme for the public sector that would come with free medical care for citizens as well.”