BY OSCAR NWOGU & SAM OBINNA IBE
He set sail with an inspired, legitimate vision – to spark an economic renaissance and ultimately build a state that is truly united and secure with opportunities for everyone who lives in it, to peacefully pursue their goals and realize their full potentials in dignity and happiness. On the surface, this appears a tough call. Indeed, it is. But it has also indisputably brought out the best in an unassuming personality who believes that both science and politics fundamentally address human development.
His Excellency (Dr.) Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, an erudite scientist and notable educationist by training, is the 9th and current governor of Abia State, in Eastern Nigeria. Elected on the platform of the Peoples’ Democratic Party (PDP), he has been in office since May 29, 2015.
No less a child of destiny, since his assumption of office, H.E Governor Ikpeazu, has leaned on his large vision of life and totally devoted himself to the well-being of his people and the total transformation of the state. Significantly, this is despite the relatively low receipt of federal allocation by Abia State and three years of unusually bitter, distractive litigations.
Many may not know that Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu seems to have crossed his last hurdle in curious, successive suits challenging his election, as the Supreme Court on Friday, April 13, in Abuja, dismissed an application filed by a governorship aspirant in the 2014 PDP governorship primaries! He simply personifies courage in adversity.
His unswerving governance focus is informed by a deep belief that what affects Abia State, affects his strategic region and Nigeria at large – for good or ill. He has brought his cool-headed scientist’s skills and persuasive educationist’s powers to bear on his governance of the state – adroitly reining-in a truculent political intelligentsia and winning over many of these gladiators by his humility and endearing inclusive footing.
On eight critical governance fronts, H.E Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has indeed redefined what leadership ought to mean in a human development-hungry milieu, in a third world country. Some of the sectors under reference include road infrastructure, agriculture, health, education and SME development, citizen engagement and security.
With 60 completed road projects, 78 ongoing road projects mostly at more than 70% completion level, model schools, 359 new classroom blocks, statistically the second most secure state in Nigeria, 4 million tenera palm seedlings planted to help wean Abia State of dependence on federal allocations, mushroom farms, poultry clusters, new hospitals and improved life expectancy indices in the state, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu is unquestionably a star performer in good governance.
Specific development data often glossed over by many of his peers affirm the passion, sincerity, focus and discipline of the man, especially coming on board at a critical period in the history of the state with major changes on the political chess board of the nation.
The governor actually hit the ground sprinting. True to his promise to Abians, on Monday, 1st of June, 2015, after his swearing-in ceremony on Friday, 29th of May, 2015, Governor Ikpeazu assumed duty at Aba, to flag off the reconstruction of seven key roads in that famous Eastern Nigerian city (Enyimba City). In the governor’s words: “Only an Aba boy can fix Aba for Ndigbo and use the resources from Aba to fix the rest of Abia State”.
The governor’s investments in SME development, citizen engagement, education, health, security, critical infrastructure projects, speak to his passion-driven energy and sense of urgency. A particularly novel approach to governance is his inclusivity and citizen engagement strategy which ensures that government decisions are guided by the knowledge, experience, views and values of the citizens.
One of the flagship projects of Governor Ikpeazu’s administration is the Umuagu- Umuda erosion control work where a lot of work has been done to control massive flood erosion that had threatened human existence within the area. Before the control work, many buildings including the residence of the former Finance Minister, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala were at risk. In fact, some folks whose buildings were badly affected before now had abandoned their homes and relocated to safe places. So, the state government’s intervention was a welcome development which, however, did not come easily. Abia State Government had to pay a counterpart fund of N350 million to attract the World Bank’s intervention through a reputable company, Heartland, that is currently handling the project.
Genuinely worried about improving the state’s rating on the ease of doing business front, the administration spent heavily on the construction of the Abia Investment House, Ogurube Layout, Umuahia. The bottom line, is that soon, investors wishing to do business in the state will do so with minimum fuss.
Roads which were hitherto abandoned have received proper attention. Noteworthy in this regard include Faulks Road being handled by SETRACO. Work has also commenced on the strategic Port Harcourt Road as well as the Ukaegbu, Ehere, Umuola roads and many others.
The Nsulu Poultry cluster, when completed, is expected to generate job opportunities for the teeming unemployed youths in the state. The idea behind the project is to provide a central facility where all those interested in poultry business will come and live. The government will be responsible for the facilities and at the end of the day the proceeds from the business will be shared between the investors and the state.
A proactive thinker, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, late last year brokered a $1.5billion business deal for the establishment of a shoe industry in Aba, which will produce 5,000 shoes per day and employ about 10,000 people. He secured the agreement for the business deal during a meeting with Mr. Zhang Huarong, Chairman of Huajian Group in the course of his official visit to China for the first Nigeria-China Governors Investment Forum.
The Abia-Huajian Shoe Industrial City will be located in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State. The state government will provide the land and other investment incentives for the project while the Huajian Group will fund the entire project. Huajian Group currently employs about 20,000 staff in China and operates a 10,000 shoes per day factory in Dongguan, valued at $2billion.
Also recently, the governor dispatched the first batch of 30 shoemakers to China to undergo intensive training in automated shoemaking technology as part of the administration’s programme to enhance the quality of shoes made in Aba. Governor Ikpeazu announced this as part of the 100 shoe makers the government proposed to send to China to learn automated shoemaking technology.
Perhaps not surprisingly, Governor Ikpeazu has deployed a crucial intellectual dimension to changing the Abia story. The GEEP loan programme of his administration which in collaboration with the Bank of Industry gave out seed funds to about 30,000 Abians and firmly put the governor on the drivers’ seat of a Servant Leader. The general outcome will be reduction in criminal activities among youths, youth restiveness and empowerment of the youths.
In the arena of education and in line with the Abia State blue print and vision of Governor Ikpeazu, having in mind the SDG 4 – Education 2030 Agenda which is to “Ensure inclusive and equitable Education and promote life-long learning opportunities for all”; the Ministry of Education within the past three years, set SDG Agenda as her goal and policy thrust and has successfully built a Functional, Focused, Responsive and Inclusive Education System that promote life-long learning opportunities for all.
Consequently, the Ministry implemented the entrepreneurship and trade subjects’ curriculum in both Public and private Schools compulsorily as well as identified and trained technical and vocational subjects’ instructors in the State. The Ministry also trained and retrained technical and vocational teachers in the State school system and adopted a comprehensive Educational Policy for all schools – inclusive learning opportunities for both male and female students to acquire technical and vocational skills in school even as she converted some secondary schools to technical and vocational colleges as to meet the set target. These are the intangibles of this administration.
The Ministry of Industry, Science and Technology ensured that the State Government entered into a 1 billion Naira funding arrangement for MSMEs. Consequently the Bank of Industry has within a short time granted various supports and funding to MSMEs in the state to generate the immediate reflation of the state economy through the real sector.
Accordingly, the state Government artisans from the state have demonstrated the capacity to produce better quality conference bags in Aba over the ones they import from China which has led to placement of orders by the ICPC for 2000 bags after samples were verified. Presently, they are the sole producers of all ICPC conference bags for their events in all 36 states even as all the orders are shared amongst registered artisans with the ministry.
Additionally, the Abia Business Community currently leverage on the African Growth Opportunity Act (AGOA) to position the state’s products for export to America. About 20 SMEs were mobilized to exhibit Made-in-Abia products in New York recently. Proceeds from these exhibitions do not get into the state government coffers but government is mindful of the impact it will have on the state if the youths are employed, engaged in profitable ventures which will dovetail to growth in the real sector of the economy through human capacity building.
Other human capacity building initiatives of the state government are the establishment of the South East Entrepreneurship Development Centre (SEEDC) in Umuahia for the training of new and existing entrepreneurs from the five (5) South Eastern States of Abia, Anambra, Ebonyi, Enugu, and Imo. Presently, the Centre has graduated five (5) batches of average of 500 in each batches of its participant- Entrepreneurs and the sum of N100m released to the technical advisory committee for start-up funds for the graduates of the South East Entrepreneurship Development Centre (SEEDC). Process of disbursement is on-going and in some cases completed.
The State hosted the maiden edition of the Nation Wide Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Clinic in Aba, Abia State, a programme coordinated by the office of the Vice President of Nigeria to offer MSMEs the opportunity to interact with stakeholders and development partners on issues confronting them and to showcase the products and ingenuity of Abia Entrepreneurs to the purview of the public.
The impact has increased patronage of their products and services. The successful outcome of all these is that the participating banks have opened a wide window of opportunities to finance Abia Entrepreneurs. Currently about 1500 entrepreneurs have accessed this fund.
It’s against the background of this compelling governance story that, for the 2017 period, Verbatim Magazine nominated His Excellency (Dr.) Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, the Executive Governor of Abia State, as its GOVERNOR OF THE YEAR, 2017. We present to you for recognition as Verbatim Magazine Governor of the Year, 2017, this courageous and ebullient man, an outstanding scientist and exemplary educationist and administrator, a consummate politician, a humility-personified leader, a five-star performer whose place in history is assured.
Clearly, this choice is based on his dynamism and the compelling focus he brought to the arena of governance in delivery of democracy dividends in Abia State. As well as being a testament to his leadership, this recognition and award is also a clear challenge that he must hold fast to the development philosophy which has driven his stewardship in 2017.