Abia State: Theodore Orji’s Government of Deceit And Falsehood By Don Norman Obinna
The enthusiasms and expectations that greeted the election of Chief T.A Orji as the Executive Governor of Abia state seems to have gradually dissipated. There is a growing disenchantment with the government from every nook and cranny of the state by the people who voted en masse for the Governor they once saw as the man who will lead the state to Eldorado.
Tales of sorrow and gnashing of teeth permeates the entire state as citizens’ recounts their ordeals. Abound are allegations of excessive levies and taxes, deception and despotism against the Governor, ranging from forceful destruction of properties, goods and markets without compensation; false claims of nonexistent employment and projects; forceful acquisition and conversion of people’s properties to personal usage to dereliction of statutory responsibilities. These put to question the underline philosophy of Governor T.A Orji’s socio-political and economic policies; whether they are people’s friendly, solution oriented or not.
Regardless of huge Federal Allocation estimated at #54 billion naira annually; Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of about #48 billion naira annually and #64 billion collected from the Federal account between January and December 2012, by Abia state government; which is exclusive of other allocations such as Derivation (for oil producing states), Excess Crude Account, Domestic Crude Account, Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P), Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) refund and Foreign exchange differentials. The dividend of good governance is comprehensively abysmal in the state.
Furthermore, a recent communiqué issued by the Technical Sub-committee of the Federal Account Allocation (FAAC) for the month of March, 2013 shows that Abia state shared among other states a total of #117,942 billion (26.72%) as against #106,442 billion received for the month of February. With its Local Governments among the Local Governments which shared #90,928 billion (20.60%) against #82,062 billion received for the month of February. Despite all these funds received, there is still a conspicuous absence of infrastructural development; complete collapse of roads in all the 17 local government areas of the state; heaps of refuse and decomposing corpses especially in Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state; dilapidated school buildings and painted uncompleted projects refers to as legacy projects by the Governor and his aides.
Commenting on the “Legacy Projects”, a principal of a popular Secondary School in Umuahia, Abia state capital who prefers anonymity, said those buildings refers to as legacy projects have been in abeyance since T.A Orji’s administration. According to him, they are mostly uncompleted buildings and some existence old buildings, such as old secretariat building, School Road model primary school building, Dialysis and Ophthalmology Centre, Umuahia (former Aloma hospital) and General hospital Amachara hurriedly painted to deceive the Good Governance Team led by the Honourable Minister for Information, Labaran Maku. He revealed that in other to paint those so called legacy projects, workers in Abia state were owed six months salaries. Because the governor had nothing conspicuous then to show for his six years administration; Painting those uncompleted projects he noted, was the only option left as workers were made to suffer for his ineptitude.
His words, “while at the auditorium with the Good Governance Team, Chief T.A Orji said unabashed, I do not owe anybody. Is there anybody I owe?, by then they owed teachers six months salaries, Teaching hospital staff six months as well, I am sure they still owe them close to four months salaries as we speak. To our dismay, the Governor continued, the only local governments I owe are those ones that have refused to bring back their returns. Their money is there waiting for them, when they remit to the state government account they will receive their cheque”
He also lamented what he referred to as the mother of all deceptions during the time of questions and answers by the moderator who he accused of being bias. According to him, passive members of the public were tactically schemed out of participation. Rather some obnoxious paid praise singers who were strategically positioned in the auditorium were selected. “Instead of questions, what we saw to our bewilderment were eulogies and commendations for the Governor. Your Excellency sir, we want to know if it is your money you are using to do all these wonders. You have done excellently well; we have not seen this type of Governor before. A lot have been done in the rural communities. We appreciate you, thank you sir. Can you imagine such ignorance? There is absolutely nothing to show for his six years administration in the urban areas and some people were repulsively talking about development in the rural communities” he concluded disappointingly.
He blamed the deceit on the Good Governance team, for their lack of efforts to ascertaining the actual level of development at least by visiting some of the rural communities. He maintained that the state is at the verge of collapsing if nothing is done urgently. He wondered why a Governor who should be an epitome of integrity would resort to deception and cheap lies. According to him, that was not the first time the Governor would display such deceptive trait. He recalled how Governor T.A Orji publicly lied to the Governor of Sokoto state, Aliyu Wamakko during his visit to Abia state before the very eyes of the media.
His words, “Chief T.A Orji took Governor Wamakko of Sokoto state to Bende road just in front of Abia tower off Aba road and publicly told him that his administration has transformed the major road from single carriage to dual carriage road up to Arochukwu whereas, the dual carriage stopped at Isieke Ibeku primary school less than 10 kilometers from the tower. The most worrisome aspect of it all is that it was done before the very eyes of journalists who incidentally are also residents here. They know the truth but choose to report lies to the public who they ought to be their trustees. They keep snapping and placing Secretariat road on the pages of newspapers as if it’s the only road we have in Abia state. Try to visit our public schools, you will feel sorry for the teachers and students” he said regrettably.
To authenticate the verity of these claims, our correspondent drove through the road and found out that the dual carriage actually stopped at Isieke Ibeku primary school and not to Arochukwu as the Governor allegedly claimed. In fact majority of motorists and tricycle riders, who ply the road often, told our correspondent that the road from that point to Bende and other nearby villages is very deplorable and constitutes a death trap to users. A visit to several public secondary and primary schools within the 17 local government areas of the state also shows that the Education sector in Abia state is obviously in comatose contrary to the Governor’s speech on democracy day.
Almost all the school buildings in the state are virtually dilapidated with leaky roofs, broken furniture, doors and windows; some completely abandoned, with heaps of refuse, human excreta and over grown grasses a common sight. There is a complete absence of modern communication technology such as, computers which is today institutionalized by the educational system. No modern black boards and clean toilets, no functional science laboratory, library, sports development equipment and technical workshop for the technical colleges. A situation some teachers in the state described as pitiable.
A teacher in Holy Ghost Technical College Umuahia (one of the schools, Abia state government recently handed over to the churches) who asked the School Senior Prefect to take our correspondent round the school premises decried the state of education in Abia state and wondered why the state government has decided to toy with the future of the state. Her words, “you can see for yourself the state of the school government said they returned to the original owners. If you had come here some few months back you will feel sorry for this state. Our principal, the Reverend Father has done much in terms of renovation still, it seem as if nothing has been done. How can a responsible government say they have handed over a school with all these dilapidated buildings to a church without a takeoff grant”? She asked angrily. According to her, the only responsibility the state government reluctantly accepted is the payment of teachers’ salaries for a period of time, while the churches take the responsibility of the day-to-day running the schools.
She also lamented the disdainful manner teachers in the state are being treated by the state government. She insisted that teachers in the state are not motivated at all; accusing the state government of making life unbearable for them by their constant renege from promises. She cited the delay by the state government to implementing the 27 per cent teacher’s salary scale and pro rata recently introduced by the state government to buttress her point. Her words, “the Governor promised to implement the teacher’s salary scale in 2010 and nothing was done until we were forced to embark on an industrial action. Truce was later brokered when he promised to implement it on September, 2011 and the strike was called off. But once again he reneged and moved it to 2012 with a promise that the arrears will be paid together. It was the threat of industrial action by Nigerian Labour Congress and Nigerian Union of Teachers that forced him to pay March and April 2013 salaries in line with the TSS which is even a stipend. For the past four years now, leave allowances, which is the 10 per cent of our annual salaries have not been given to us. Yet the Governor introduced pro rata to ensure that what is given to teachers is tactically taken back. We are in July, yet May salaries have not been paid and somebody is talking about pro rata”. She said frustratingly.
The story was the same when our correspondent visited Government College Umuahia, one of the secondary schools Governor T.A Orji claimed to have rebuilt and renovated alongside other schools such as, the former Annunciation Secondary School, Isuikwuato, Umuochaiam Girls High School Abayi, Aba, Ndume Otuka Secondary School, Umuahia and many others he failed to mention their names; to improve the environment for learning. The roof of the official resident of the principal two of the school is broken. The entire school buildings, from Wareham, Erekosima, school dormitory, staff room to the student’s dining hall are all dilapidated; with smell of human excreta oozing out from some of the abandoned classrooms obviously because of insufficient toilets. It was indeed a gory site. Except the 24 block classroom still under construction, there is apparently no rebuilding or renovation works ongoing. When approached by our correspondent who disguised as an old student of the school, the site engineer said when the new classroom block is completed; it will serve the entire school. He however decline to make further comments when our correspondent questioned him on the possibility of the new 24 block classroom serving the entire school considering the large number of students the school has; with average number of students approximately 70 in each class that stretched from class A- J from JSS 1 to SSS 3.
A teacher, who craved anonymity, told our correspondent that such is the condition of almost every school the Governor claimed in his speech have been rebuilt and renovated. According to her, few classes they are managing at the moment were reroofed by the Old Boys Association of the School. She alleged that teachers’ salaries are not paid promptly; citing the case of teachers from Ugwunagbo LGA who she said are owed eight months arrears of salaries as an example of inhuman treatment teachers in Abia state are subjected to. Her words, “this government does not listen to voice of reasoning. What is the rationale behind constructing a 24 block classroom which can hardly accommodate 1/10th of our school population with such colossal amount of money we heard? The best option would have been for the government to renovate the old school buildings. What they have done is penny wise pound foolish, because there is no justification for this administrative blunder. Probably Ochendo wants his portrait in Government College as well”. She said jokingly.
A visit to the old secretariat Umuahia which shelters almost the entire ministries in Abia state by our correspondent lend further credence to the allegation of deceit against the Governor by Abia citizens. Contrary to the picture of the old secretariat published in some sections of the media and social media and the Governor’s speech on democracy day in which he said publicly that the old secretariat built by the Federal Government which was in dilapidated condition has been rebuilt and renovated. Our correspondent saw a dilapidated building, with dirty toilets, broken leaky roofs and office furniture, doors and windows with only the outside wall painted.
A Permanent Secretary in one of the Ministries who took our correspondent round the building and offices to take pictures described the secretariat as a white sepulcher. According to him, the outside was hurriedly painted because of the scheduled visit of the Good Governance Team to Abia state then. His words, “thank God you have taken the pictures, just take a look at the furniture, no toilets for a building that habours thousands of workers. People go inside the bush to ease themselves whenever they are pressed. Leakages everywhere, if eventually it rains now, you will run away from these premises to avoid being drenched. Look at the walls, the windows and doors, no sufficient office accommodation, people sits outside. Snap them and let the world see the true state of things here in Abia state. Nothing is happening in Abia state, government officials are not given money to run their offices, Commissioner and Permanent Secretaries sometimes use their money to run their respective ministries”.
He described the legacy projects as a hoax, and wondered why the Governor would say the old secretariat has been rebuilt and renovated, whereas nothing of such ever happened. According to the Perm Sec, “the only achievements Chief T.A Orji can show for his two terms in office as the Executive Governor of Abia state are the ASEPA building, State High Court building, International Conference Centre and the twin new Secretariat all which are still under construction, except ASEPA building. The rest were in existence before his administration. The Abia Diagnostic centre was former Aloma hospital. The Dialysis Machine he is making noise all over is still not in sight, because the building is still under construction. Should we be celebrating such mediocrity after six years”? He asked rhetorically.
He however busted into laughter when reminded that the present administration not only established a skill acquisition centre but also a youth empowerment programme as well as, placed 4,500 Abia youths on welfare salary. According to him, “the Skill Acquisition Centre does not exist anywhere except on the pages of newspapers. During the Good Governance Team visit, people were mobilized, uniforms given to them and they were presented to the team as students of the institution. They were paid between six thousand to seven thousand naira for about six months or thereabout and were later laid off. They gave some, generating set, some hair drier and some sewing machine. Is that what you call empowerment? What do you expect an indigent person to do with a generating set”? He asked, shaking his head in disbelieve.
On the issue of 4,500 youths the Governor claimed are on welfare salary in his speech on democracy day. The Perm Sec said it is all part of self aggrandizement and gimmickry to deceive uneducated people because they feel people will not ask questions about the verisimilitude of the claims. His words, “who are these invincible youths we cannot identify? How much are they being paid as welfare salary? The Governor should publish their names and data for all to see. Over 2000 youths who paid between #500 and #1000 according to their educational qualifications for Civil service forms, in anticipation of job offer promised by the Governor are still not employed. I can authoritatively tell you that no stipend in form of grant or welfare is given to any of them officially or unofficially. Is that not executive fraud? He queried.
He also alleged that the relief materials meant for the supposedly flood victims in Abia state were hoarded and later shared to the First Lady’s prayer group which assembles every Wednesdays at the Government House Umuahia. “Such is the level of impunity here in Abia state because we have a Governor who does things with careless abandon”. He lamented.
He described Chief T.A Orji as a despotic leader who runs a government of arbitrariness and caprices, citing his refusal to conduct Local Government election as one example of his autocratic dispositions. According to him, not having legally elected Local Government Chairmen in the 17 local government councils of the state is the cause of the gross underdevelopment that has bedeviled Abia state. “How can a Governor who came to power through electoral processes refused blatantly to conduct LGA election on flimsy excuses? Is that not undemocratic?
His words, “chairmen are appointed on interim to run the affairs of the local governments and are laid off between three to six months after appointment. Such retrogressive arrangement is alien to democracy and will never accelerate development as we have witnessed in Abia state. There will be no commitment from the interim chairmen because of lack of motivation. They are being subjected to so many illegalities, but they would not want to confide in you because they are still serving under this government”.
When prodded further to explain the kind of illegality these interim chairmen are subjected to, the Perm Sec alleged that they are force to sign vouchers for money they never collected or in most cases given a fraction of the actual amount they signed. His words, “such is the level of corruption here in Abia state; a state that is yet to find its bearing. One of my friend who served as an interim chairman was full of regrets. He wept while narrating his ordeal to me while in office”.
He described Abia state as a dead state because of dearth of opposition. According to him, “some of the oppositions compromised while those who stood their ground are constantly harassed with the state security apparatus.” They are afraid to talk because they know that the Governor is ready for any showdown. We are not fighting any war in Abia state yet security personnel are almost in every corner of the state”. He said frustratingly.
Contrary to the claim by Chief, T.A Orji that his administration has concentrated enough attention in relocating and building new markets to satisfy the commercial yearning of Abia citizens as well as a successful completion and relocation of the Umuahia Timber Market to a more expansive and convenient location. Investigation revealed that larger number of timber dealers have since relocated to Onu Imo in Imo state, while plans are on the horizon for their colleagues at Ahiaeke to join them.
We reliably gathered that their refusal to accept the Private Partnership offer by Abia state government was simply based on the terms and conditions given to them under the PPP arrangement. This they said led to their forceful ejection by the state government. Goods worth millions of naira were destroyed and lives lost as bulldozers crushed every lockup stores in sight with the help of security officers irrespective of the fact that the case was still in court then. They alleged that their Executive members were coaxed, harassed and threatened with thugs from court premises even to their bedrooms
When our correspondent visited the new Timber market at Ahiaeke Ibeku, the dealers who obviously are planning to reunite with their colleagues at Onu Imo were cautious in making comments but directed him to Onu Imo in Imo State to see things himself. On getting to Onu Imo popularly known as the RESCUE MARKET, our correspondent was greeted with a conspicuous bill board with the portraits of Imo state Governor, Rochas Okorocha, the speaker, Imo House of Assembly, Hon, Ben Uwajimogu and the Commissioner for Commerce and Industry, DR. Best Mbanaso with the inscription, “WELCOME THE PEOPLE’S GOVERNOR. WE APPRECIATE! IMO IS BETTER INDEED” courtesy Timber and Allied Products Market, Umungwa Obowo, Imo State, apparently to taunt the Abia state Governor
Opposite the Timber market are lockup shops under construction. Our correspondent was told that the shops are being constructed by the traders presently at the main market, Umuahia Abia State, who Chief T.A Orji is also planning to displace and relocate to Ubani. The pace at which construction works are ongoing indicate the traders resolution not to comply with the Abia state government directives; should they carry on with the plan of relocating the main market to Ubani.
However, the Executive Members of the Timber dealers who were about to converge for an EXCO meeting, narrated their ordeals in the hands of Abia State Government and their machineries; before Imo State Governor, Owelle, Rochas Okorocha came to their rescue. According to the Chairman of the Timber dealers, they ran to Onu Imo because Abia State Government rendered them useless.
His words, “timber market has been in existence in Afara Ibeku since 1974. The land was given to us by the then government and we built it with our money according to the prototype given to us. We have members who started this business then, who are now old and dependent upon the annual or monthly income they generate from their shops rent age for survival. Trouble started when Abia State government told us to relocate to Ahiaeke Ndume Ibeku. There was never a time we objected to the idea of relocation but the terms and conditions attached to the relocation. We were asked to build the shops and on completion, the total number of shops built will be divided equally between us and government. In other words, if we build 3000 shops, government will take 1500 shops out of it. And we asked them what will be the fate of our members who cannot afford to build even a shop. They told us that government will give them shops from the ones collected from us at the rate of #1.6million”. Can you imagine such insensitivity? How possible is it for someone who cannot afford to build a shop pays such exorbitant amount to buy? He asked angrily.
The chairman explained that the former Timber market at Afara Ibeku, Umuahia was theirs because they paid allocation fee to the then government as well as, developed and built the shops with their personal money. He said that, ‘a balance arrangement would have been for government to allot them land that is the size of their former place with allocation fee and allow them to build according to the prototype, since they have not defaulted in revenue payments’.
His words, “we had about 3000 shops in Afara Ibeku. We pay #2,000 each to Abia government for business premises revenue, #2,000 for infrastructure, #1,800 to Local Government and #500 on each truck that load. Over 500 trucks load daily and the funds go to the government. When you check that, you will see how much it amounts annually”. He maintained the reason the Abia state government treated them like criminals, is because majority of them are from Anambra.
He however, thanked the Imo State Governor, Rochas Okorocha for coming to their rescue. According to him, the Imo State Government paid compensations to the owners of the land unlike Abia state government who will destroy and collect people’s properties by force without compensation. His words, “Abia state government said the reason we were chased out is because they want to build Housing Estate there. But up till now nothing is going on. Probably the Governor want the land for his personal use, because when he got there, we were told he shouted in Ibeku dialect waeee! Ala di ofe ooo! Meaning Ha! There is land here. So what does that signifies? Questions about the ownership of the said Ohobo Housing Estate must be asked after the completion, because it is not just enough to assume that it is a state government initiative”.
He however, said the Rescue Market was given to them for #50,000 by the Imo state government unlike the Abia state government who asked them to pay #855,000.00 for open shops and #1.6milion for lockup shops without guarantee. His words, “The Abia state government told us to bear it in mind that the relocation to Ahiaeke is a temporary one, because government can come at anytime without notice to reclaim it for development purposes. But the Imo state government gave us the C of O of this land to indicate that it is ours. And if the need for relocation arises in the future due to development; we were assured of a proper and safe relocation to the new site by the Imo state government”. He thereafter, relish the progress they have made so far, saying that they have close to 4,900 shops at the moment but are fast expanding to having 9,000 shops before first quarter of 2014.
Experts however, estimate the economic implication of losing timber market to Imo state to approximately 1.5 billion naira annually, warning that the figure would increase if Abia state government does not rescind their plan relocation of Umuahia main market to Ubani village. To them the welfare of the citizens should be the paramount thing to any responsible and responsive government. They therefore advised the Abia state Governor, Chief T.A Orji to always put people’s susceptibilities into consideration before taken any action. According to them, 85 per cent of Abians are self employed and should be supported by the government instead of making lives unbearable for them. And in a state where there are no industries except trading and menial jobs like Abia state; government should be supportive of the citizens instead of subjecting them to unnecessary suffering.
A senior staff of the Ministry of Commerce and Industry in Abia state who prefers anonymity decried the level of intimidation and suffering in the state. These he attributed to the Governor’s highhandedness and insatiable appetite for material possessions. “This is a man who claims he is working with lean resources but has close to 100 buildings in this state. Go to Aguiyi Ironsi Layout he has virtually bought every property there. He will either force the owners out or coax them to sell their properties to him. He bought Empire Hotels from Chief Empire Kalu and rechristened it Benac Hotels. Go to his estate at Ochendo close, off Azikiwe, he has acquired almost all the properties there from the owners forcefully. His personal house in the estate has been going through construction and reconstruction since 2007. Because whenever the Governor traveled out and sees current design, he will come back and pull down parts of the building to accommodate the new design. Unfortunately Chief T.A Orji and his personal investments are immune to the lean resources which has grossly affected development and socio-economic activities in Abia state”.
He also, dismissed the Youth Empowerment programme that witnessed the distribution of buses, cars and tricycles at inflated prices to supposedly Abia youths along with a musical concert as a show of shame. He wondered why a Governor will celebrate such anachronism with such elaborate media publicity and fanfare in a contemporary society that placed a premium on education and exposure of the youths to modern communication technologies.
His words, “the Governor acted impulsively as a result of pressure and shame of nonperformance. There was an urgent need for quick fix because people were obviously becoming frustrated and disillusioned. So the distribution of the vehicles under the guise of youth empowerment then was the only handy option; but was blown out of proportion because of his love for media hypes and praises. The beneficiaries of these buses, cars and tricycles are mostly political thugs and sycophants who are not less than 45 to 60 years old, while the real youths are the drivers, conductors and the riders. Others who cannot condescend; mostly the graduates are roaming the streets as derelicts. Many are mentally ruined as a result of heavy indulgence in hard drugs. Go to former Mgbuka, there is a building where this illicit drug business is going on. You will see the alarming rate thousands of Abia youths are smoking and sniffing their lives and future away. Government cannot claim ignorant of the existence of this building and the illegal activities going on there. It is very sad that we are haplessly watching Abia state collapse right under our watchful eyes”. He said painfully.
He however, bemoaned the exorbitant rates these buses, cars and tricycles were given to the beneficiaries; insisting that it look as if government is treading with the future of the beneficiaries. “The Toyota Hiace buses were given out at the rate of #7million, while the Sienna Space Wagons were given at the rate of #2.8million. The Passat Saloon cars and the tricycles were given at the rate of #1.8million and #650.000.00 respectively. Except the Toyota Hiace buses, the other cars are tokunbo (fairly used). What is the life span of these vehicles? If the beneficiaries manage to pay at the end; would the vehicles thereafter, be able to sustain them”? He queried. He therefore advised the Governor to look for something more solution oriented, like revamping Golden Guinea breweries and Ceramics which will not only provide reasonable employment to aspiring and enterprising Abia youths but will also revive Abia economy to a large extent.
Narrating his ordeal, one of the spare parts dealers whose goods and shop were affected, because of the forceful destruction of Mgbuka spare parts market told our correspondent that he would have since relocated to the village if not for his wife who has been sustaining the family. According to him, “we were given a short notice to relocate to Ohia village and before we could even state our case; government bulldozers have started destroying every buildings and shops on sight. Nine upstairs which are not part of Mgbuka, with C of Os belonging to individuals were pulled down forcefully without notice or compensation. One of the owners of the buildings known by the name” Rejoice in the Lord” is left frustrated. Everyday people die of heart attack. The booming businesses in Abia state are Keke (tricycle) riding and bus driving; people have suddenly grown older than their ages. Some have turn to tigers, while some to drug addicts and drunkards. Please you people should ensure that President Jonathan hears these”. He passionately pleaded with our correspondent.
he story was even worst when our team of correspondents visited Aba the commercial nerve centre of the state. Contrary to Governor T.A Orji’s claim in his speech on democracy day, that In the past two years, his administration has forcefully tackled some of the State’s lingering and abandoned infrastructural facilities, especially in Aba where the major road that link the city have been executed, while others are on-going. There was no sign of road construction or rehabilitation going on; rather heaps of refuse, flood and decomposing corpses littered the entire city. Virtually all the schools from Primary to Secondary school buildings are at the verge of collapsing, while majority have already collapsed. National High School, Eziama High School, Wilcox Memorial Comprehensive School, All Saints Secondary School, just to mention but few are just shadows of their old selves. Except the access road to Aba Township which was poorly executed and inferiorly constructed; every other road in the city is deplorable and flooded. The situation forced our correspondents to abandon their car and boarded Keke (tricycle) for the reportorial assignment.
Ikot Ekpene road is completely abandoned, both Omuma road, School road, Clifford road, Eziukwu road, have been taken completely by flood, Kaduna road to Cemetery is permanently closed. Saint Michael’s road, close to CPS Headquarters, Osusu road, Urata road, Obohia road, Force road, Nkwo Ngwa market road and Port Harcourt road are no go areas, while Asa road by Pound road and Ngwa road by Ohanku road, just to mention but few are completely covered by heaps of refuse almost as high as a story building. In fact decomposing corpses littered the city nickname Enyimba City.
The odour emanating from the heaps of the refuse constitutes a serious health hazards to the residents and traders, who surprisingly ignored it for their business transactions apparently because they are use to it. Most traders and Keke riders who spoke to our correspondent are actually aware of the danger trading in such dirty environment poses to their health but maintained that their daily bread must take precedent over every other thing.
A trader who identified himself simply as Ekene, described T.A Orji as the worst Governor to have governed Abia state. He wondered what the state government has been doing with the revenue being generated from the five main markets they have in Aba. His words, “excluding these streets trading, we have five main markets here in Aba. Namely: Ariaria, Aba shopping centre, Cemetery, Ala Oji spare parts and new market where we are now. Look at the level of negligence and how people are suffering under sun and rain to survive. What the Local Government is good at is to collect revenue and overlook the refuse. Undermining the horrible state of Aba, Abia State Environmental Protection Agency, (ASEPA) will go from house to house, street to street arresting and extorting money ranging from #10,000 to #15,000 from people for minor environmental offences whereas, government is the worst culprit”.
He narrated how the Governor, Chief T.A Orji was pelted with sachets of pure water the last time he visited Aba, insisting that they are ready to do it over and over again as that is the only practical way people can collectively vent their anger and frustration on the Governor; since staging a peaceful protest in the state now is completely unthinkable. When asked why people are afraid to exercise their democratic and civil rights, he said that the pioneers of the protest will either be killed or kidnapped the next day. The occasional cases of kidnapping and killing of some residents of the state by unknown persons, our correspondent gathered might not be unconnected with their resistance and refusal to be coaxed into doing the Governor’s biddings.
Another trader, Ikenna by name, accused the state Governor of insensitivity. According to him, Abia state government is only interested in revenue generation, while they neglect their core responsibility of providing healthy environment among other social amenities to the people. His words, “there is no kind of revenue, rate, emblem and ticket we are not forced to purchase in Abia state, yet nobody knows what the state government is using the money for. No viable projects on ground, we only heard about the Governor’s achievements on Broadcasting Corporation of Abia (BCA) whereas in actuality, those things propagated are nonexistent”.
In his view, Abia and Anambra states are the only states that can boast of a commercial city among the other South East states, yet Abia is the list developed, despite the fact that their Federal allocation is higher than some states like Enugu state. Enugu state he maintained cannot be compared to Abia state in terms of infrastructural development yet you cannot hear the Governor praise himself or make noise unnecessarily about his achievements unlike T.A Orji whose noise is far greater than his so called achievements you can hardly see. “People are the ones singing Governor Chime’s praise because his achievements are too obvious. The transformation of Enugu state is so tremendous; even a blind man can feel it”. He insisted.
He however warned the Abia state government to rescind its plan to introduce #3500.00 taxes for individual shop owners in Abia state; as such action will lead to chaos and total breakdown of law and order. His words, “after paying all manner of taxes and levies, Abia government has concluded plans to introduce another #3500.00 individual shop owners tax. We heard from a reliable source that the proposed tax will take effect from July. You can imagine a government that has done nothing to ameliorate our suffering imposing tax upon taxes on us; the most annoying part is that you cannot even see the effect of all these revenue in Abia state. We are waiting for them; it will be tenaciously resisted by the people”. He assured.
Tricycle riders and motorists are also not left out of the complaints about the state of affairs in Abia state and the excessive taxes they pay to government in form of tickets and emblems. They blamed the constant damages to their buses, cars and tricycles and the huge amounts they spend on maintenance and repairs on the state government for failing to repair the roads. The tricycle rider who took our correspondents round Aba lamented the excessive payments motorists pay to government daily.
His words, “we buy two types of daily tickets, one for #200.00 and the other for #20.00. We also buy five annual emblems namely: ASEPA, LG, Ministry of Transport, ASATOA and ASPEN for #500.00 each. That amounts to #220.00 daily and #2500.00 annually for each keke. The same applies to the buses and taxis, but theirs is a little bit higher compare to ours. We have about 100,000 kekes or thereabout as well as, uncountable number of buses and taxis in Abia state. When you calculate what it amounts, you will agree that government has not been fair to the masses. Except few civil servants, majority of Abians are self employed; I wonder why things have turn out this way”. He said confusingly.
When calculated, based on the information given to us by the Keke riders, the total amount of revenue Abia state government generates on tricycles (Keke) alone, amounts to #22million daily, #660million monthly and #8.17billion annually. This amount is exclusive of revenue generates annually from commercial buses and cars in Abia state, main markets, lockup shops and recently introduced #3500.00 individual shop owner’s tax and revenue generating method known as Consolidation Assets and Resources Inventory System (CARIS). The system which entails the enumeration of all buildings in the communities in the whole of the 17 Local Government Areas of the state and the identification of purpose for which each property is used, commercial or residential as well as indicate the type of business being done in each of them to enable the state Board of Internal Revenue easily assess the taxes due to them.
According to former Golden Guinea breweries Senior Manager, who is now a pensioner,” with such funds available for the state government, the complaint of working with lean resources by the Governor is unfounded. How much funds were available for the late Chief Sam Mbakwe, the former Governor of the then old Imo state who constructed the roads and built the projects that have lasted for 34 years, which Chief T.A Orji and his predecessors have abandoned to their alter disgrace”?. He fumed. He noted that Abia state has not been lucky with governance, but maintained that the administration of Chief T.A Orji, popularly refers to as Ochendu is the worst ever in terms of development, transparency and accountability
His words, “what is governance without transparency and accountability? We are yet to be told how the 2012 budget of #129.96billion which the Governor christened “Budget of Transformation” and claimed would stimulate economic growth and development of the state was implemented. He has submitted a whopping #134.14billion budget for 2013. Budgets are submitted and read each year without plans for proper implementation and you dare not ask questions. The indigenes don’t even know how they are being governed. Recently, we were told that Abia state through an act of parliament instituted the Abia State Oil Producing Areas Commission (ASOPDEC), to tackle the issues of development by deploying at least 30 per cent of the 13 per cent derivation fund accruable to it for development projects in the host communities. That was the last we heard, when you visit these oil producing communities you will wonder if 30 per cent from the derivation actually gets to them”.
He however, berated the Abia House of Assembly for fraternizing with the Executive arm of the government which they are instituted to check in order to ensure prudent spending. His words, “the House of Assembly members have shamelessly abandoned their job of legislation in favour of praise singing. Instead of their legislative duties, they have become spokespersons and regular guests of Broadcasting Corporation of Abia (BCA) disseminating propaganda and falsehood to our sheer trepidation”.
He therefore implore Chief T.A Orji to channel these funds being wasted daily on media hypes to providing democratic dividends to the people of Abia state who voted for him en masse and pay little or no attention to these insatiable sycophants and political subversives with egoistic disposition in the House of Assembly and around him, who keep telling him that the people are happy.
According to him, “the truth is that Chief T.A Orji is very susceptible to gossip and media hypes. His aides are aware of these self destructive flaws and are using it to his disadvantage. They keep telling him that all is well whereas the people are disenchanted, and are already complaining. There is consensus of opinions especially among the commoners that Chief T.A Orji has completely reneged on his electoral promises. He should not be deceived, the office he presently occupies and not his personality is the reason these sycophants are all over him. He should not wait till 2015 to realize these verities of life.” He sincerely advised.
Speaking in the same vein, a trade unionist, Comrade Darlington Chukwu corroborated the views of others, insisting that Chief T.A Orji is the worst Governor Abia state ever had. His words, “even the military administrators performed better than Ochendo, because I can still recall that it was during Amadi Ikwueche regime that Ndiogoro Flood was drained and the owners of the land were able to reclaim their lands and rebuild their houses. But in this present administration nothing is happening in the whole of Abia state, except beer parlours, motels and petty trading. People do all kind of silly things in Abia state just to see that they feed. Even married women have joined the single ladies in immorality just because of hardship the entire citizens are subjected to”. He said painfully.
He also bemoaned the exodus of viable companies and industries from Aba; insisting that their departure is as a result of the deplorable state of Aba. His words, “those days in Aba we use to have billionaire business owners and companies competing among themselves. Companies like Onwuka Inter biz (a metal nail company), Onwuka Inter Land LTD. (manufacturers of soft drink), Cristo Park Hotels (one of the best in the eastern region then), Bodex (a telephone company), Enitona Hotels, Star paper mills ETC. they have all left Aba. People like, Chief SAB Ejimofor and Chief John Anyaehe, just to mention but few have all left Aba. Those days, Ekenna and Margret Avenue were competing with Ikoyi in terms of rent. But today those areas have become shadow of themselves. The most painful aspect is that you cannot sell your three storey building in Aba today and use the money to purchase a storey building anywhere in Lagos”.
He also recalled that schools such as, National High School, Wilcox, All Saints, Eziama, and Osusu Secondary Schools which have all been abandoned to ruin by the present administration produced some of the great footballers; like Ben Iroha, Okechukwu Uche, Chidi Nwanu and the rest who played for the Super Eagles in the past. He regretted that the Abia government has failed to build on those successes as the schools do not have common conducive classrooms not to talk of playing fields.
He accused the Governor of making reckless statements and wondered why the Abia House of Assembly has not dimed it necessary to impeach him. His words, “how can the Governor say that his immediate predecessor prevented him from working? What the Governor fails to tell us is whether the past governor is the one who was collecting the Federal allocation, internally generated revenue, 13 per cent derivation and five per cent VAT on his behalf then. This is a man who had nothing to campaign with in 2011 election except the liberation slogan. I asked liberation from whom? It is now that Abians are experiencing a real political bondage and the earlier the liberation the better”.
He however berated Chief T.A Orji for abandoning his responsibilities to following President Jonathan about like his errand boy; insisting that it is a political strategy to circumvent imminent arrest by the Economic and Financial Crime Commission (EFCC). His words, “is T.A Orji the only PDP governor? Serious minded governors are in their various states attending to some pressing matters, while our governor is busy gallivanting around the world with the President like his Personal Assistant. He will come back tomorrow to tell us that he is seeking for foreign investors and expects us to benefit from his foreign trips; as if we do not have learned people in Abia state anymore. The reason he is following President Jonathan around is very obvious. He wants presidential protection from the EFCC; knowing that the chances of Jonathan ruling beyond 2015 are still there. But any attempt to shield him from arrest will spark off protest in Abia state”. He warned.
When contacted on phone to respond to some of these allegations against the Governor, the, Chief Press Secretary to the Governor, Mr. Ugochukwu Emezue said the process of cleaning Abia State is ongoing and cannot be achieved over night. He however, blamed the immediate past administration for the slow progress of Chief T.A Orji’s administration. His words, “it is no more news that the past administration did not allow Chief T.A Orji to fulfill his electoral promises to the good people of Abia State in his first tenure. Now that the Governor has started working, he should be encouraged”. He pleaded.
Though he declined to respond to the questionnaire forwarded to him through his email box; he however denied on behalf of the Governor the statement credited to him in his 29th May (democracy day) speech, where the Governor said that the old secretariat has been rebuild and renovated. His words, “the Governor did not say that. He only said that renovation work is ongoing and will soon be completed”. When reminded that the full text of the speech is still available with us; he said the governor was probably misquoted by the person who copied the speech and made it available to the public. He however said that Governors like Babatunde Fashola of Lagos state, are performing simply because of the strong foundation their predecessors left behind which is not the case in Abia state. He promised to re-invite our team of correspondents formally to Abia State in August when according to him; the Governor will be commissioning some landmark projects. He thereafter, directed us to the Special Adviser on e-governance and Strategy to the Governor, Mr. Nnaji Obed, for further clarifications. When contacted, he requested that the questionnaire should be forwarded to him, but took time to explain what the Abia state government has been doing in the past two years to accelerate infrastructural development in the state and also debunked some allegations of deceit leveled against the Governor by some citizens of the state. When asked to explain why Governor T.A Orji told Governor Wammako of Sokoto state that his administration had transformed Bende road from single carriage to dual carriage road to Arochukwu, whereas it stopped at Isieke Ibeku Primary School, less than 10 kilometers from the tower, he only said Bende road is a Federal road and declined to make further comment on the issue.
He waved aside the comments of the Permanent Secretary who accused the Governor of deception and mediocrity as baseless; insisting that the PERM SECS are the least people to trust or listen to when it comes to governance and administration. His words, “who are the people behind the ghost workers fraud? The Permanent Secretaries; who are the people behind the Ministries’ poor output today? The Permanent Secretaries; you see, the reason that PERM SEC said what you alleged , is because the Governor has blocked all the illegal means through which the State is reaped off and has demanded total commitment from the Civil servants. His gross isn’t farfetched”. He concluded.
On the teachers complaint of their leave allowances which have not been paid for four years and the delay in payment of their salaries; Mr. Obed said that it is in the attitude of teachers all over, to complain over delay or nonpayment of their salaries. His words, “teachers would not confide in you whenever they are paid; it’s only when there is a little delay that the whole world will hear. All I can tell you is that one of the priorities of the Governor is to ensure the adequate welfare of workers in Abia state”.
He also said that the state Governor is living no stone unturned in his effort to revamping the education sector; insisting that renovation works have started in most Secondary and Primary schools he failed to mention their names within the state. He however, declined to explain further or respond to the questionnaire forwarded to him, but promised to invite our team of correspondent to Abia State in August to ascertain the level of progress then.
According to him, “activities have been mapped out by the Executive Governor, Chief T.A Orji for the commissioning of ‘the legacy projects’ in commensuration with the 22nd anniversary of the state since its creation from the old Imo state by the then military government led by General Ibrahim Badamosi Babangida in 1991”. He also explained that the reason those projects are referred to as “Legacy Projects” is simply because they were not in existence in Abia State before; until Chief T.A Orji made them possible. He however pleaded that the publication should be put on hold till August when the Governor must have completed and commissioned the “legacy projects”.
Though the Chief Press Secretary and the Personal Adviser on e-governance and strategy to the Governor failed to tell us why Abia State Government posted contrasting information and pictures of the old secretariat and some of the “legacy project” buildings on the social and traditional media as well as, a good reason they want the publication put on hold till August except some project commissioning activities. Their blatant refusal to respond to the questionnaire forwarded to them through their email boxes lend credence to the allegations of misappropriation, insincerity, falsehood, despotism and deception against the Chief T.A Orji’s led government by the Abia state citizens.