New Businesses are Still Opening in Abia State – Gov. Orji
Kidnapping seems to be taking a toll on businesses in Abia State. But this has not deterred new business from opening shop in the state. However, Governor Theodore Orji says his administration is doing everything to stall the cankerworm. He spoke to OJIAKU KALU in Umahia, Abia State capital.
You are aware that businesses in Abia are closing shop - PZ, 7-UP, Unilever, etc. What is your government doing about this worrisome anomaly?
SOME more businesses are opening up here also even as those ones are closing down. And some of them have remained steadfast operating in this same environment without closing shops. That place you are taking your business to, is it immune to kidnapping? Kidnapping is no longer domiciled in the South-East. It’s everywhere now. It happens in Lagos also. So if you take your business to Lagos, is Lagos immune to kidnapping? Is Abuja, Kaduna, and Sokoto, immune to kidnapping?
The fact is that kidnapping is a new phenomenon that has come to not only Abia State and the South East, but also the entire country arising from the activities of militants of the Niger Delta region. And we have, as a government, been fighting the cankerworm by initiating laws, empowering the police and generally doing our best to make sure that the thing is eliminated. And we are making gains, tremendous gains in that respect. You can easily and rightly compare the rate of kidnapping now and the rate of kidnapping in Abia about six or seven months ago. You will see that the incident has drastically gone down. With the effort we are making, it will gradually but continuously go down until it is eradicated. So for businessmen that are in Aba, most of them are not from Aba. You know Aba is cosmopolitan.
Yes. Many people there came from different places, and they are very conscious of their businesses. This is peculiar to all businessmen, you will not like to invest where you will not make gains, or for that matter, in an environment that is inimical to the growth of your business. So they see insecurity as a threat. Some of them have left. But there are people who are still here doing their businesses despite the problems. They understand that no particular place is safer than the other. And so with determination, they stay put here. We as a government appreciate their resilience and sacrifices. And for this, government is working hard in their favour to stem the tide.
A section of the state’s political class blame you for the spate of insecurity in Abia. It accuses you of not spending your security votes on the criminals so as to keep them in control.
That is absolute nonsense. They are only being malicious. They are talking out of confusion and ignorance.
At the last count, your government has built and rehabilitated more than 80 roads. In view of the state’s scarce resources, why are the roads not made solid in order to save government the embarrassments. The roads collapse as soon as the engineers finish them.
Now you must ask yourself, which are the roads that have collapsed? Are they the ones built before now, or the ones that we built? That is the first question you have to ask. This administration is building solid roads, and I also know that the roads we built have stayed for sometime. But you know the problem of Aba is flooding. There is no road, if you like, asphalt it to the tenth level, that would last when submerged in water. I know this question is related to Aba because there is no road in Umuahia that has collapsed…
Exactly, Aba in particular
The problem there is flooding. The drains are all blocked by the people. The residents of Aba have an attitude with filth. All their empty pure water sachets are found in the drains. Floods there do not find easy passage, and so the roads are perennially under water. This in turn forces the roads to collapse despite government’s efforts at providing good roads. Water and asphalt are sworn enemies. When the two are habitually married, water would simply wash away the asphalt.
So what we are trying to do now is to maintain the ones that are bad, and build new ones solidly, take care of the drains, and the roads would last.
The crisis in the leadership of Peoples Progressive Alliance (PPA) is said to be the handiwork of the People Democratic Party (PDP), meant principally to recapture the South East, especially Abia. How do you react to this?
We don’t have any crisis in PPA. I spell that out again, we don’t have any crisis in PPA. No crisis at all. Have you not seen parties that have crisis? Talk of PDP that is the party that has crisis. That party has serious crisis. We don’t have any crisis in PPA not at all.
There is evidence that salaries are regularly paid in Abia State. For instance, no state ministry is owed salary in arrears. But what is the relationship between the ministries and their parastatals which are owed salaries in arrears, for example, State School Management Board, Health Management Board?
These are parastatals that are meant to be self-sustaining. Like the HMB you mentioned, have you seen any private hospital that is not making gains? Even in the village, the ones sited in the remotest part of this world, they all make gains and survive.
But because the HMB is a government parastatal that is supposed to generate revenue but is not doing so, they are now depending on government for subvention. The same thing applies to the SMB. You know that we have been operating free education in our school system from primary to secondary school level. And you know the population of our students is very high. And they don’t pay school fees at all.
Besides that, we also promoted everybody working in Abia State. Every person was promoted to the next level, and we are paying that. And that is an increase in the budget for our people in school, though the population of workers in the civil service is less than that of the teachers. For those in the primary and secondary schools, there is not a teacher who is on grade level 7. They are all from level 8 upward.
But in the civil service, many of them are on level 7 downward. Only few persons are on level 15, 16. In the secondary schools, all the principals are all super-principals from level 16, and you know that is big money they are paid. But nevertheless, what has caused the problem is the global economic meltdown.
That is the major thing. If we have the money, we would pay. And we are making conscious effort to make sure that we pay as and when due. We have now gone back to our basics, and that is to raise more money from our internally generated revenue; which we use to pay up our salaries to supplement what we get from VAT.
The State College of Education at Arochukwu is angling for a multi-campus status. They say this would help them go statewide and attract federal attention. Have they made proposals to you, and is the government in support of it?
They have not made any proposal to me. And I know they have to look at the law establishing them. If the law permits a solo or multi campus institution, they should know. They can bring up a bill to the House seeking to make it their dream status.
I tell you this, if they bring such a bill, it would sail through because it is a good idea. It would attract more things to the school as well as engender development in the various communities where the campuses would be sited. So I would support such an idea when it comes to me.
Why are there no federal polytechnic, federal college of education, in the state?
Well, you know Abia was created from the old Imo State. When we were in Imo State, the bulk of these federal institutions were sited there. And since this administration came on board, we have been making conscious effort on our own side to ensure that some of these federal institutions are sited in Abia State also.
What about ceding the ones that are owned by the state to federal government?
Exactly. That is also another way to it. If they can come take them over, it would indeed be welcome. But you know we also have a Federal University of Agriculture here at Umudike. It is an agro-base institution because of our agricultural propensity. The tertiary institutions are however coping with the demands of our people even though can never be enough. We still need more especially from the federal level.
Touts are embarrassingly many in Abia State, and their activities hamper to a large extent, the commercial interests of residents and visitors. Are the touts approved by government?
No. No government approves touts. Touting is never approved by any government. But having said that, I must tell you that the problem is the general attitude of our people who (now) take to touting as an easy means of livelihood for themselves. We don’t approve touts. We are certainly against them, and most of these touts you see belong to the unions. Some of the unions like the transport unions deliberately go out of their ways to recruit and empower the touts to canvass for passengers.
We don’t like that type of attitude, and that is why we continue to advise the unions to ensure that they confine their peoples in the motor parks alone. Let them leave the streets and limit themselves to the motor parks. You see that sometimes you find the motor parks are empty while the transporters come to the streets with their vehicles to scout for and carry passengers. So we continue to warn them to go back into the motor parks and occupy them because those are the places meant for passengers to embark and disembark, and for vehicles to take off to their various destinations. And am sure they are presently moving back into the parks.
There is a growing concern that your government is tacitly supporting Millat Limited and its managing director, Chief Ajike Ukpai, to brazenly disobey orders issued by a court of competent jurisdiction halting the implementation of the ABIIM project on the dispute site until issue of controversies on the land is determined. Do you agree with this belief by the public?
There is no responsible government that will support any person or persons to disobey court orders. Government itself at whatever level, obeys court orders, how much less an individual.
I am here today talking to you as governor courtesy of court order. This seat was contested for, and we went to court to contest it. We knew that our rights were fast slipping out of our hands unless we fought for our rights through the courts. The court therefore, was our last and only hope. We took the fight to the court and the court finally gave me the seat. So I am here today courtesy of the courage and wisdom of the judiciary. So I cannot be a party to anybody coming to disobey the judiciary or court orders in any form.
So, I don’t know, in fact, am hearing it for the first time that Ukpai the man you mentioned, and his company are disobeying court orders over the ABIIM project. But he and he alone is in court. The state government is not in court. I assure you with all my integrity that should the state government be in court for any reason, we will surely obey the court and for that matter, decisions of the judiciary over the matter.
But he boasts openly that your government is behind him.
Who is boasting?
He, Millat Limited MD, the contractor.
You see, that is what happens. You know that people often use government and the names of people in authority to intimidate others. We don’t know about this disobedience, and the boast. Note in capital letters that the government does not and will never support that. I do and will always frown at anybody flouting court orders especially when such a person, for whatever reasons known to him, drops the name of this government or hide under it to intimidate innocent citizens, and to flout court orders.
In essence, what is your summarized position on the matter?
Only the court can adjudicate over the matter. Let the court therefore decide. All I can tell the court is to courageously and sincerely interpret the laws, and by so doing, judiciously mediate between the various litigants. Thereafter, anybody who disobeys the decisions of the court is on his own, as this government cannot and will not, support abuse of the law and the courts. I and this government believe in the rule of law.
By your measurement, are you keeping pace in terms of development with neighbouring states?
Sure! Sure, of course, we are. But you must ask yourself, can you achieve development with empty hands? You have to do development based on the resources and logistics available to you. The more resources you have, the more development you do. And let me quickly add here that it doesn’t even always follow because you can find some people who have resources in large quantity but still there would be no commensurate development. So as far as Abia State is concerned, we are keeping pace with our neighbours in terms of development.
Did you envisage that one day you will be governor, and what activities in your past possibly prepared you for what you are doing now?
Well, I have to be plain with you. I never envisaged that I would be governor one day. No. I never did envisage that. But in all these things, once you are destined to do anything by God, it will surely come to pass. What prepared me for this position more than anything else, I suppose, is that one must have a good background both family and academic, to be in position to beat not only this type of challenge but all other challenges in life because this world is full of challenges both big and small ones. Regardless of their sizes, they would still come as challenges, and one has to be strong enough to not only meet but also beat them. With a good family upbringing, disciplined education and the fear of God, one will triumph over any hurdle in life. Besides these basics, another very important factor is that one goes into the system that would grow one’s career interest.
I have been in the system for a long time. I have been in the civil service for all my working life as a core civil servant. Most of my primary assignments as a civil servant have been about dealing with leaders that occupied high positions like this one I presently do. I dealt with them very intimately. I have had to learn from the experience of working with those leaders, and through my interactions with their close associates also. So I think that also adequately prepared me for what am doing today.