MY STEWARDSHIP AS ABIA GOVERNOR (1999-2007) – 8

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(Recovered oil wells, job and wealth creation) 

When I consider the pettiness, lack of vision and the orches­trated and malicious plots to malign my person and our administration by Governor Theodore Orji’s administration, I am always shell-shocked and flabbergasted. This is a man who knew every sacrifice we made as a government to make Abia State a leading economy in Nigeria. Does the governor want to tell me he has forgotten too soon our achievements in the areas of job and wealth creation, poverty eradication and recovered oil wells? What was the situa­tion before we assumed office in 1999?

Let me take them one after another. Re­covered oil wells: The story of the effort we made to recover 43 oil wells, which had hith­erto been ceded to Rivers State, will be told in a more elaborate form someday. But let me emphasize, however, that our resolve to fight for what belonged to our state was motivated by the need to do the needful to ensure social justice and equity. We had felt it was wrong to allow ignorance and timidity to continue to rule the lives of our people. The inability to recover the oil wells before the time we did was because past leaders lacked the fighting spirits and the subtle diplomacy needed to make things happen.

I wish to make this open confession: Fighting for and recovering the 43 oil wells was one of the motivating factors that moved me to contest to become governor. I knew quite clearly there was no way I could have facilitated the recovery of the oil wells with­out making it to the Government House. I knew also the enormous personal sacrifices involved. But I was undaunted.

So, as soon I was sworn in as governor, we swung into action, using the information and facts available to us to launch a vicious diplomatic offensive to get back the oil wells, which were erroneously ceded to Rivers State by the Justice Nasir Mamman Boundary Ad­justment Commission. This tragic administra­tive flaw caused Abia State untold hardship and huge revenue losses from the federation account.

Those not close to the seat of power would never know what efforts went into the recov­ery. Nevertheless, the favourable disposition of the federal government, coupled with the positive attitude of our government, made the recovery possible. I would not want to men­tion the difficulties we encountered and the deliberate designs by some powerful forces to thwart our effort. The most accurate word to describe what we went through is ‘hellish’. Thank God that at the end of all the sleepless nights and diplomatic shuttles we were able to recover the lost oil wells.

Our joy knew no bounds. We thanked and glorified God for the propitious favours he bestowed on our state. I am glad that today Abia State gets what is due it from the fed­eration account. One of the immediate fallout of the recovered oil wells was the shift in our monthly collectible revenue from the federa­tion account. Our monthly allocation, which used to be in the neighbourhood of N400 and N600 million leapt up to the one billion mark for the first time in 2006. Today, the revenue Abia State Government receives swings be­tween N5 and N7 billion monthly. Some­times, when there is windfall, it shoots up to over N10 billion. This excludes the internally-generated revenue and money from sundry sources, excluding money from SURE-P.

Special appreciation should go to late Pres­ident Umaru Yar’Adua who, in his usual gra­ciousness and candour, approved the return of the 43 oil wells to Abia State. I recall with nostalgia his fraternal disposition towards me on my release from Kuje Prison, Abuja. He had invited me to Aso Rock and asked what I would want done for me. He offered me a ministerial appointment, which I rejected and asked him to give to Chuka Odom. All I asked of him was to approve the return of the 43 oil wells to Abia, which file was already on his table. He called his Chief of Staff to immedi­ately write for his approval for the release of the oil wells, which was done without delay. I pray God to continue to rest his soul for he was a good man.

The question is: Now that the Governor Theodore Orji government is the ultimate beneficiary of the long hours of toiling and strategizing that went into the recovery of the oil wells, why has he not performed? As I write, almost every category of workers in the Abia State Civil Service is owed over 6 months’ salaries. Some are even owed about 8 months. The lecturers of the Abia State University, Uturu, have suspended exams to compel the state government to pay them their salary arrears. Worst hit are workers in the local government councils owed for over 8 months now.

One wonders with bafflement why the governor has continued to show apathy and insensitivity to the sufferings of the people of our state in spite of the huge allocations he collects from Abuja. Why has he shown so much disdain for our people? All he is interested in is how to smuggle himself into the Senate and manipulate elections in Abia State to install his stooges in strategic elective positions. The governor is not interested one hoot in the peace, progress and development of Abia State. This is why he has continued to falter and misrule.

It is unfortunate that the governor today sits atop Abia State resources, intimidating and harassing everybody, particularly those with contrary political views to his. He is hell-bent on expropriating everything Abia State owns into his personal estates, because his ap­petite for usurpation is large.

I pity the workers in our state. I pity the pensioners, especially the senile ones among them who have nobody else to help them. Why can’t the governor show them some mercy and release their pensions? Our admin­istration elevated the civil service to the point of dignity and honour. We paid civil serv­ants every 25th day of the month throughout the life of our administration. We organized seminars, workshops and training for their ad­vancement and development. The results they produced showed marked departure from the era of waste and redundancy. Gradually, the old days are creeping back.

In terms of job creation, we carried out a survey in 1999 that showed a yawning gap in employment. Many of our able-bodied youth roamed the streets and engaged in crimes. We drafted them into the numerous skills acqui­sition centres we created across the state and enrolled some into the mass literacy classes. Gladly, many of them have made it in their various vocations.

The local government councils were also beneficiaries of our job creation efforts. In fact, in 2007 alone, we, working in concert with the elected chairmen of these local gov­ernment councils, created 13,000 jobs to fill the yawning gap in employment. This singu­lar exercise took away from the streets many of our youths.

Why has the present administration in Abia State failed abysmally to create genuine employments for our people? What the gov­ernor has put in place is rather an ad hoc ar­rangement called, Ochendo Youth Empower­ment Scheme – a self-serving scheme aimed at massaging the governor’s ego and currying favour from a massively disenchanted people. What jobs has the scheme created other than giving outTokunbo cars to favoured politi­cians and thugs to influence them to do the governor’s bidding?

If I may ask: Why has the governor failed to conduct local government elections in Abia State less than six months to the end of his tenure? He has continued to use caretaker committee chairmen for reasons best known to him. The truth is this: He does not want to organize local government council elections because he is benefitting from the lacuna and is afraid to lose in a free-and-fair election.

I have written in this column about the need to fight corruption. Last week, I dis­cussed the effort our administration made in fighting corruption. Because of lack of space I could not exhaust all the pertinent issues bor­dering on the war we wedged against corrup­tion. It is unfortunate that some of the people Governor Orji surrounds himself with today are the same people we axed for financial mismanagement and other criminal acts dur­ing our tenure. For instance, two of his serv­ing commissioners were indicted by a panel of inquiry and sacked.

Why has the governor found pleasure in assembling these questionable characters out of thousands of other qualified Abians to do his dirty jobs?

As I wrote two weeks ago in this column, no government worked for our people as much as we did. We gave governance the best shots we could, entrenching openness and transparency in the process. What we did in Abia State in eight years was unprecedented in the history of our state. We touched lives, raised the leadership bar and gave governance a human face. We felt the pulse and heartbeat of our people in everything we did. We did not allow the euphoria of the office get into our heads.

Yes, every government should collect tax­es and levies to aid development. But should this be done recklessly and riotously? This is what obtains in Abia. Indiscriminate taxes and levies everywhere! I have heard the hues and cries of our people who groan daily under the crushing weight of over-taxation. I assure them that very soon their plight will be over.

The liberation of Abia State from the clutches of oppression and suppression is a task we have set out to accomplish. But we cannot do it alone. We need the cooperation of the people, who are the custodians of the power to choose who leads them, to achieve this. It makes no sense for somebody to com­plain of oppression and suppression but is un­willing to join the struggle to achieve it.

I do not mince words when I say the gov­ernment of Abia State is anti-people. It is anti-people in its policy formulation and ex­ecution. The past 8 years has been a period of chastisement for the people. There is nothing on ground to make them feel there is a gov­ernment over them. Less than a month ago, it set up a committee alien to the constitution of PDP to organize primaries for elective offices. This committee has no legal or legitimate powers to perform the duties assigned to it.

The committee is a ploy by Governor Orji to circumvent the legitimate process for the selection of candidates for the simple reason that he does not have the muscles to step forward for a free and fair contest. Forget all the noise, Governor Orji lacks the moral and legitimate right to continue to preside over the affairs of Abia State because of his non-performance and zealotry in leadership. He knows deep in his heart that he lacks the char­acter to hold the office of governor.

There is no way the future generations of Abians will forgive him for the incalculable harm and pain he has inflicted on their psyche.

God has a way of vindicating the just. What happened in Abia State last Saturday in the name of congress was nothing but a cha­rade. In fact, reports reaching me show that the governor and his cohorts bastardized the entire exercise, dragging the name of our state to the mud. I have said it time without num­ber that Governor Orji is a desperado and a political misfit. His presence in Abia State has brought untold pains and penury to our peo­ple. Why should Abia State always be in the news for the wrong reasons? The situation is worse when visitors come to our state.

Arthur Eze was here in August and the same thing happened. He saw the way Abia was and openly lamented that the state was stinking. The story was almost twisted out of context by the same shameless operators in the Abia State Government. Now a PDP team came to Abia State last Saturday in the name of conducting a non-existent congress. We were witnesses to the show of shame that characterized the exercise.

PDP is too big for one person to control. This is what the governor is trying to achieve. How easy does he think it is going to be for him? The mass opposition against his high­handedness should serve as an eye-opener to him that the people do not want him any long­er. He may try as much as he likes to delude himself that all is well, it will not be long be­fore the hand of destiny comes down on him.

I am glad our distinguished Senators have tasted the political vinegar the governor had been serving his political adversaries. They have now openly come out to fight. What they saw on Saturday I saw several years ago when I challenged the governor to work for Abia people. His angst against me was simply that I advised him to stop borrowing money from the banks if he did not have anything concrete thing to do with or serve the interest of our people. If there is any other reason let him tell the whole world.

It is a pity that the Senators waited this long before doing something to stop the excesses of the power-drunk governor. But nothing has spoiled yet. The God we serve will deal with him at the appropriate time.

Let the world judge this: Why should a governor who had collected over N600 bil­lion, excluding internally-generated revenue, without anything concrete to show for it seek election into the Senate and his son a seat in the State House of Assembly as Speaker? This is what the governor has been waging all the recent wars to achieve.

Whether he will succeed or not is in the realm of speculation. What is on ground does not show it will be possible, because the peo­ple’s anger is seething.