Abia Today: About five years ago, on assumption of office, you martialed out an action plan for achieving your integrated development strategy for Abia. For the purpose of those who may have forgotten, can you give us an in-road into this strategy?
OVI: In 2015 when we came, we decided to look at those things which Abia does better than other states. In other words, areas that we have competitive and comparative advantage over other states on certain indices of development. We called these sectors Pillars of Development and decided to build on them.
We decided to look at those things which Abia does better than other states. In other words, areas that we have competitive and comparative advantage over other states.
First, we looked at it from an introspective perspective and discovered that yes, Abians are some of the best traders you can find in the world.I have alluded to it in that past that South Easterners are better traders than even the Lebanese.
The second one to Trade and Commerce is Small and Medium scale Enterprises (SMEs) Today, Abia is the SME hub of Nigeria. We have been exporting shoes to other parts of Africa and the world. We are particularly strong in garments, bags, boxes as well as belts and shoes. So small and medium scale manufacturing is strong in Abia. Metal fabrication is also very, very strong.
The third pillar is Agriculture We have one of the most fertile soils in the world. Anything you throw out the window germinates.We cannot be so blessed in terms of soil fertility and ignore agriculture.
The fourth was education.
Education became a pillar because of our belief that our people happen to be the most important resource that God has blessed Abia with. We are blessed with enormous capacities and people who are excelling and doing phenomenal things, within and outside the shores of Nigeria. In this 21st century, whether you want to talk about SME development, or trading or agriculture, you must first of all, educate the mind. So education became not only a pillar, but also an enabler.
Then Oil and Gas. We decided to make oil and gas the fifth pillar because we know that the new economy is not going to be dictated by fossil fuel. We wanted, not only to make the best out of our oil and gas resources in Ukwa but at the same time, develop other things that can help us compete with the rest of the world, going forward. So these became our pillars. But strategically speaking if we want to drive these pillars we must drive them through Enablers. What are those things Government must do every other day to ensure that these pillars begin to flourish because the essence of Governance is to create a better life for our people.
So the Enablers for us in 2015, and it hasn’t changed in 2020, includes Road Infrastructure. If you are talking about trade and commerce, you should be able to move goods, services, and personnel from one location to another. For instance, if there’s no road leading to Ariaria, you cannot be encouraging trade and commerce. You’d be paying lip service to it. So road infrastructure is a very strong one.
The second strong enabler is Security. I know very well that before 2015, whenever a national conversation was being held, Abia was mentioned and known for insecurity. Remember Osisikankwu. Banks closed. The Bank of Industry ran away. All types of banks ran away. In Osisioma, people closed shops and ran away. I am sure that as you were coming for this interview, you must have experienced some traffic jams. What it means is that people have returned in there numbers. I am proud to say that TO THE GLORY OF GOD, there hasn’t been one case of bank robbery since 2015 to date and we are praying and believing God that it will remain so till the expiration of my tenure.
What does this translate to? Abia came 3rd in Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria in 2018- which means that the world acknowledges the fact that Abia remains one of the safest place in this country.
The third enabler is the ease of doing business. We were at number 34, out of 36 on the scale of doing business in Nigeria but by 2018,three years into my first tenure, Abia was listed as one of the 5 States, by World Bank, that has improved on the scale of the ease of doing business. That led to the improvement of the scale of Nigeria as a country. We made that contribution and I am proud that Abia was one of them.
The fourth enabler for us is Health. If a businessman wants to invest $1 billion and live in Abia, he will, first of all, imagine, assuming his wife or his child falls sick, where will he take them to. Today, Abia is the only state in Nigeria that has pioneered TeleHealth. We will talk about that in detail when I want to begin to mention specifics.
Abia came 3rd in Foreign Direct Investment in Nigeria, in 2018- which means that the world acknowledges the fact that Abia remains one of the safest place in this country.
In a nutshell, these are the pillars and the strategy that we have laid out to achieve our agenda.
The journey so far hasn’t been so smooth, but like every other agenda and endeavour, we did not expect that it was going to be a walk in the park. We are dealing with human beings. We are also dealing with entrenched traditions and paradigms -so we try to change methods. Then, availability of funds is also a limiting
Abia Today: Unlike before, Abia is now a veritable destination for donor agencies and development partners. How did you do it?
Ovi: See, the resources we need to develop Abia is beyond what Abia alone can raise. The hallmark of leadership is to ideate and to innovate. If you don’t bring the ideas and you do not create the innovation into governance, there’s little you can do beyond the ordinary. We wanted extraordinary results and to achieve extraordinary manifestations we had to do extraordinary things. We visited World Bank early in this administration, precisely in 2015, and we said to them we are in need of your support in health and infrastructure. Today I am proud to say that the World Bank portfolio for Abia State is the highest in the South East. We were able to pay our counterpart funds and sustain our relationships with our donor agencies and they are giving us full support. That is why our relationship with them is very robust. Also, we established the framework for due diligence and best practices- If you don’t establish that framework, the World Bank would be liturgic and they will not support fully. Also, we are partnering with the African Development Bank on many fronts-, infrastructure, health, commerce and so on and so forth. And beyond that, you are a witness to my recent trip to Lagos when we went for the Made in Aba fashion show, organized by Zenith Bank, Nigeria. This means that the light which we lit in 2015, about the promotion of indigenous products and indigenous crafts, is beginning to gain traction. The interest of a renowned corporate firm like Zenith Bank is huge. For them to spend their time and their money for the promotion of Made in Aba and Made in Nigeria products, is an endorsement of the fact that the vision is strong and it is doable.
The hallmark of leadership is to ideate and to innovate. If you don’t bring the ideas and you do not create the innovation into governance, there’s little you can do beyond the ordinary.
This would be a thing of joy – we would then have a working document that can guide our development of Abia State.
Abia Today: The words, clusters, and hubs, have become a prominent lexicon in Abia state under your administration. What exactly do they mean?
OVI: The idea to develop clusters came as a result of the fact that if your look at the imperatives of the development scale, you’ll find that it is easier to provide joint infrastructure in terms of electricity, roads, security, etc. If you can strategically put businesses in a suitable location. Instead of providing ten generators for ten different factories why won’t we bring all the factories together and then provide steady electricity? In Turkey, there’s this conversation very akin to what we say in Nigeria; the egg and the chicken, which one comes first. In Turkey, their question is: Is it power that drives industrialization or industrialization that drives power. Either way we know that if we have ten to fifteen industries in one location the Power sector will come because they know that the industries can pay.
The idea behind the clusters is to respond to the four major challenges which confronted our SMEs. Their first limiting factor was funding. Their second limiting factor was power. Their third limiting factor was automation- as of today, they are still using their hand scissors to cut leather. And then, their fourth limiting factor was market share.
Abia Today: So, how did you specifically respond to these challenges?
OVI: We decided to look at all these variables and the only ones we could handle easily were Market Share and Production. Our people were producing so much but they were not proud of what they were producing and so they wouldn’t put their names on it. They go to the market shy and timid and they are not too sure of the quality of what they were producing. So we started with the Made in Aba campaign. I am proud to announce for the umpteenth time that these beautiful shirts I am wearing are proudly made in Aba. I have adorned only made in Aba shirts, since 2015 till now. I am so proud of what these my children are doing with their hands. If you don’t say “Hear I am” no one will say “There you are”. If you don’t acknowledge the beautiful products of your children and encourage them, as far as I am concerned, it is a sin. So we started shouting to the rest of the world!
If you go to our various offices, you might see cards displayed, handcrafted by our three-year-old sons or daughters. Why do you keep it there if you are not proud? You keep it there because you know that yes, my little boy used crayon to make a beautiful card for Daddy or Mummy. No other card is better than that one because for every stroke of crayon that card, there’s a lot of love. It is not easy to create things. So, I say to us in Nigeria, with a population of 180 million people, why can’t we buy from ourselves and pat our boys on the back and say you are doing well?
We also found out that many young people have lost interest in Poultry farm. Why is it that young people do not want to go into poultry farming? The answer is simple. They see Poultry farming as a simple process and that is the mistake. Whereas the dynamics of Poultry farming include that you must be able to factor in for the construction of the bird cages, how much you will spend for vaccination, how much you will spend to procure feed -can you process? If you process, are you selling to who?
The best thing, therefore, is to create a cluster. First of all, young, would-be Poultry farmers come into the cluster and they are taken first into a classroom. where someone opens a blackboard and begins to tell them: “Well, if you have one million naira, you must put money aside that will enable you to feed X number of birds. Then you must also put money aside for vaccination at due dates – so that at the end of the day, the birds are healthy”.
If you are unable to sell, the cluster will by off because we have processing facility, storage facilities, and strong marketers. As I speak to you today, all the chickens that we produced in that cluster, up until December last year, has been ordered. The market in Aba and Port Harcourt, we cannot even satisfy them.
So, to every person that passes through that cluster, whether you continue to work in the cluster, or you establish in your village, bring your bird. We will scale it and buy them off you and process them. So there’s no risk here, as it were or the risk has been reduced to the barest minimum. This is the only way you can sustain the interest of the young people because after every six weeks they will see that they have made between the ranges of N300,000-N1 million Naira. Every six weeks! They can turn their capitals over and over again. In a year, there a 52 weeks. If you divide this by six, it will give you how many rounds of turn over that they can make with the capital that they have. So that is the essence of the poultry cluster and I am excited to announce that the CBN pronounced that this is the first time anything of this kind has happened in Nigeria.
I have adorned only made in Aba shirts, since 2015 till now. I am so, so proud of what these my children are doing with their hands.
Abia Today: In the Health Sector, you seem to have veered off into a new world all together- the abia Tele-Health Initiative. Can you give us a cursory look into this innovation?
OVI: What we do in health is a product of our desire and vision to ensure that the life expectancy of an average Abian is superior to the national average. The national average is between 40 and 50. First of all, we looked at the vulnerable extremes. Mother and child on my left and the aged on my right. If you can take care of these people that are vulnerable, then you are beginning a journey towards a superior life expectancy level.
We have set up the Abia Geriatric Outreach. It is a free Geriatric scheme that takes medicare to the doors of our aged people who are 70 years and above. And I have heartwarming testimonies of our Daddies and Mummies, some who have no one to help them. I remember a particular man who when we met him, the sore was so bad. They had to start cleaning up specialist hospital that we are currently building and I am sure that by the first quarter of this year, we are going to commission the project. We have ordered three containers of equipment just for Mother and Child. Children from ages 0-5, and the mother.
Now at the centre, after we have catered for the mother and child and the aged, it’s where those we call able bodied people come in. Those people are mostly vulnerable to road traffic accidents because they move a lot. I have given a mandate to the new General Manager of the Abia State
the man, changing his shirt, shaving him and gave him a cup of coffee. We also changed his tooth brush because he was using one old toothbrush. The man actually taught that one brush can last for a lifetime. He didn’t know that brushes were disposable. I felt like I was taking care of my own father.
Our desire and vision is to ensure that the life expectancy of an average Abian is superior to the national average. The national average is between 40 and 50. Frst of all, we looked at the vulnerable extremes. Mother and child on my left and the aged on my right. If you can take care of these people that are vulnerable, then you are beginning a journey towards a superior life expectancy level.
We looked at his drugs. He had finished his blood pressure drugs and he didn’t know he needed new supplies. He was waiting for his son and all that.. You know? So, we go from one community to the other. Apart from taking care of them in the house there, we also link them up to the closest primary healthcare center around them and if it is not what primary healthcare can handle, we move them to General hospitals and establish a link.
For Mother and Child, there’s a new Passengers Integrated and Safety Scheme- ASPIMSS to ensure that in three or four months time, the Trauma Centres we are building should be completed and handed over to the government. We are encouraging ASPIMSS to put those ambulances on the Highways so that within ten minutes of an accident, the victim can be taken to the hospital. This way, nobody will ask a dying accident victim to buy card. Nobody will ask a dying man “do you have money to pay deposit?”. We will be able to take care of that. Then, within that bracket also, you
Abia Today: Taking care of the environment has proven to be a major challenge for most governments. How are you dealing with this in Abia?
OVI: A lot of initiatives have gone in. It’s an intractable problem no doubt, every day, new challenges come up. For instance, we now have a decentralized Abia State Environmental Agency, [ASEPA]. This measure has more or less made it be more proactive. Again, there’s this ‘Don’t throway’ initiative that is now being spearheaded by the Ministry of Environment. Abia has gully erosions all over and we have flooding in Aba. All of this quite challenging but we are not relenting.
Domestic waste management is driven by the ability to sort waste. Today, I will tell you that in all the wastes in Abia, you will not find any piece of metal because there is a company in Ukwa Wes known as Inner Galaxy, that has developed a factory that turns metals useful end products. They sell all kinds of metals, manufactured from the metals they picked and recycled from our waste. As we speak, they have opened seven other factories, including the battery factory that is using the plastics that they are picking from our waste. So we have, in Abia, developed the capacity to recycle metal and plastic. What we are now battling with is low-density cellophane and organic wastes. We are speaking with people who are interested in turning the organic waste to some form of manure and others are saying that they can turn it to some kind of power. Our government is willing and open to discuss new ideas. Domestic waste will disappear only when you find value for it. Very soon in Umuahia, we are kicking off the House to House collection Initiative. This initiative will cut off the menace of the big buckets that sit on the highways so that they pick from the various households, into the compactor and move on. I want to believe that very soon, domestic waste management issues will be a thing of the past.
I want to acknowledge the fact that we are threatened seriously by gully erosion and the worst scenario is that this government has not received even one naira from the Center in that area. It is our hope that our renewed drive and cry for assistance from the Federal Government will receive the needed attention. We are counting on the support of the members of the National Assembly to particularly focus on this very, very life-threatening developmental situation.
The Governor is that person who has taken it upon himself to transform the destiny and future of Abia State. His acceptance and tremendous push for made in Aba products have given our state a push across the national borders.
Just two days ago on the instruction of the Governor of Abia State, Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, I submitted a new Executive Bill – a bill thought out and drafted by the governor himself to establish an Agency for free home care services for the elderly in Abia- State.
A bill that is aimed at making governance in Abia to conform with the primary objective and directive principles of State Policy which, as is stated in Chapter Two of our
Constitution to cater for the welfare of every citizen. For the Governor to so particularly recognize the importance of the elderly in our society that tells you the kind of humane and compassionate man we have at the helm of affairs in Abia.This bill seeks to provide the legal instrument for the Government to officially provide health care needs of the elderly in the comfort of their homes and to give our elderly people some dignity, respect and love on a regular basis. These health care services will include bedding, dressing, personal hygiene, and general healthcare.
Like I SAID EARLIER, THAT’S JUST
ONE EXAMPLE OF THE KIND OF INNOVATION THAT HAS BECOME
THE HALLMARK OF THIS Government in all areas. If I begin to reel out the Governor’s achievements in details in the different Sectors, it will probably go beyond the scope of this brief interview.
Abia Toady: So, what’s your message to Abians? We have to thank God for Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu – for good health; pray for his family, pray for the legislature and the judiciary because it’s all one government. I also urge the three arms of government to remember that there is only one government, let them work in harmony for the benefit of Abians.
I also want to appreciate the legislature led by Chinedum Orji and the Judiciary led by Hon. Justice Onuoha Ogwe. I also want to remind them that relationship is also symbiotic; we should work in harmony for the development of Abia State.
For all Abians, we’re grateful. Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu definitely will never fail them, The man is on the right track.