What led to the emergence of ‘Save Aba Group’?
I convened the ‘Save Aba Group’ when the commercial city was drifting apart into the bottomless pit and every thing was bad. There were no roads and massive unemployment and businessmen in Aba could not find their feet. There was kidnappings, armed robbery and other related crimes. Touts, idle people and drug addicts were being given recognition unnecessarily and Aba was drifting and closing down, while nothing was working. There was then a need for the ‘Save Aba Group,’ which emerged under the administration of immediate past governor, Chief Theodore Orji.
It’s a bit early to assess between the present governor and his predecessor, but have you seen a manifestation of what you fought for under the previous administration?
Aba was absolutely neglected in the past; the then government treated the city as if it was not part of Abia. But understandably Theodore Orji who is now a senator said that he would not do any thing in the city but would hand over to an Aba person to build it. And that was bad because it is unconstitutional for any governor to segregate or be partial in whatever he is doing but be that as it may, the total neglect of Aba then was so unbearable that trailers were being overturned daily and heavy trucks could not come into Aba because of bad roads. Even as the state government was neglecting Aba, the federal roads were also bad that one could not cross Osisioma. Now an offshoot of that administration but with another helmsman with a different perspective, ideology and vision for Aba has come on board and said that he will repair the city. And since his assumption of office, Aba has been feeling the impact and maybe by the time, he is 100 days in office, they will begin to notice that one of their own, is now the governor of Abia state.
There was this allegation then that Governor Ikpeazu was being propped up to cover the tracks of his predecessor?
So Otti would not have covered the tracks too if Orji had given him the ticket? Is Otti an Ngwa man? He knows he is from Arochukwu, there is no document that is owned by Otti that shows that he is an Ngwa man. You see the deceit, the moment you heard that the seat is coming to Ngwa people, then you came back and built a house in Isialangwa south and claimed that you are from there. Where have you been since you were born? He had no house then. Who are his ancestors or relatives there? Let him point them out. We are saying that if you love Ngwa people, at least you should have shown it. When he received his honorary degree, he claimed he did a lot in his hometown of Arochukwu, so he came behind because he believed he has the financial resources and the contacts while the Ngwa people do not have. No body could have done that, it could not have been possible. They would have known that we own part of the state and we are not strangers but God in his infinite mercies knows what he did and we won and Ikpeazu is showing every one that he is not a marginalized leader and that the Ngwa people are not what they think we are. Inhabitants of Aba are living free, nobody harasses them, there is no marching ground syndrome like you see in Rivers state. They are free to build their houses, marry our children and move freely better than they were at their villages and that is why most of them do not go home. We believe it will continue because we do not begrudge people, neither do we envy, what we have is enough for us.
Recently, the governor said he would demolish buildings standing on waterways and drainage channels, what is your take?
Aba has a master plan, if you look at the streets in the city, it is well planned and there ought not to be hold up in the city because all the streets join the other. But, why are we having holdups? It is because there is flood everywhere and people built houses on top of drainages. I remember that in 1971 when I first arrived Aba to live, there was nothing like flood, every water found its way to waterside which used to flow then but today every where is blocked. After the war when this kind of thing was embarked on, we saw all manner of things that were scooped out of the water. Since the Mbakwe era, nobody has thought of cleaning out the gutters. Today, the front of my office, which used to be water logged each time it rained, is now free after the gutter was scooped. I am sure that massive rehabilitation of the roads will commence after the rainy season. Let anybody who takes the government for granted suffer the consequences, if you construct your building on drainages, it ought to be demolished. Aba was well planned but now everywhere has been turned to motor parks and mechanic garages but they will all be removed and there will be a mechanic village. Aba will return to its original plan. That is what we expect the governor to do and by the grace of God, he is going to do it. Aba needs to expand, that is why you see dirt every where because the population is now so heavy that the dirt they churn out daily is in huge volumes that can not be managed. Look at the vast land between Osisioma to Umueka, all those areas have been sold but nothing has been sited there. When the Umuahia people say that Orji never did any thing for them, I say they do not know what development is all about. When you go to the Abia tower, you see that the whole area has been mapped out for development; he built motor parks, mechanic villages and extended markets. In the next ten years, if well managed, Umuahia will expand up to that place and that is development. You do not push everything together in an enclave without expansion. Demolishing those buildings is in order, it is the only way of renewing Aba, let it come back to what it used to be so that we can move forward.
If you are to assess the immediate past government in Abia state, what will be your take?
Orji performed very poorly, if anybody say he performed well, that person is making a very big mistake but he did well in some areas that will yield fruit in the long term. The youth empowerment programme by his son was beautiful, a lot of people were given vehicles. If you quantify the vehicles they gave out through that programme and look at the objectives it ought to serve, you couldn’t say it is a waste, because many of the youth benefited and were meaningfully engaged through the vehicles we heard were given freely to them. There has never been any infrastructure in Abia state, if Uzor kalu had put up the structures that Orji erected, he would not have done buildings like the secretariat in Umuahia but what we are saying is that it is a bad precedence to neglect one place and concentrate solely in one area. Assuming, Dr. Ikpeazu concentrates his energies in Aba, all the facilities put up by his predecessor in Umuahia that were not completed will rot away and it is not the best way.
The governor has slashed his salary by half, rejected chieftaincy titles and requested that appellations like his Excellency be dropped while he is being addressed. Although his detractors wave it off as a populist measure, which is just cosmetic, what does it show you about his personality?
Ikpeazu came from a humble background and suddenly he became a governor. We have never seen a governor in our state inspecting gutters. How many vehicles are in his convoy? Two! He is not flamboyant nor extravagant therefore he cannot be cosmetic. If he was rich as the late business mogul, Abiola and came up to slash his salary, we would have thought otherwise. He has not seen such salary before and is not used to it so he said, let me identify with my people. His people are the down trodden, the people that are being owned and that is why he is taking his time looking for the holes where the leakages were in the payment of the salaries of workers. So I think any body who thinks he is pretending is not being fair to him. Let us watch him for the first 100 days and I like him for saying that he will assess himself by 100days, which means he is setting a mileage to check his performance rather than saying within four years, I will do this and that.
Saint Moses Ogbonna, is a legal practitioner and activist based in Aba, Abia State. The convener of Save Aba Group and Chairman “Nzuko Ohaneze Ngwa Na Ukwa”, (an Ukwa\Ngwa group) spoke to Emenike Ubani, on crucial issues pertaining to rebuilding Aba by Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu.