My Good People of Abia State
It gives me great pleasure to address you today on the occasion of the beginning of a new year. We return all the glory to God for granting us the privilege and look up to Him to guide us accordingly as we begin our journey into the new year.
I trust that you all had memorable experiences in the course of the holidays. We thank God for the peace and security that He has blessed us with in Abia State. We have, through concerted efforts and the painstaking dedication of all stakeholders, kept crime and criminality to the barest minimum in Abia State. We will not rest on our oars. We will continue to work to ensure that criminal elements are not able to operate in Abia State. We thank all those who have played one role or another in enthroning the current atmosphere of peace and safety we enjoy in Abia State.
The beginning of a new year traditionally presents an opportunity to look into the future with optimism. I am excited about the prospects of the year 2020 as we have put in place modalities to ensure that we achieve our expectations for Abia State.
On the 24th of December, 2019, I signed into Law the Abia State 2020 Appropriation Bill passed by the Abia State House of Assembly which has now become Law and which takes effect from today. This is the first time in a very long time that Abia State will be running a Budget cycle that starts on January 1. It is a signpost of our determination to do things right and lead by example. I thank the Speaker, Leadership and Members of the 7th Assembly for working with us to attain this milestone.
YEAR 2019 IN RETROSPECT
Dear Abians, the first half of the year 2019 was dominated by electioneering activities and the elections proper. Again, Abia State proved its name as Gods own State as the elections came and went with minimal rancor and acrimony.
You the good people of Abia State resoundingly asked that my Deputy, Rt. Hon. Ude Oko Chukwu and I, continue to steer the ship of Abia State and we are honoured by the confidence you reposed in us.
In the year 2019, we consolidated on the strategic focus of our administration which is creating conducive environment for local and foreign investors, providing opportunities for human capital development, revitalizing social services as well as building critical infrastructure for sustainable development. I will provide a quick summary of how we fared in some critical sectors.
While still prioritizing urban infrastructural development, we ensured deployment of resources resources towards the realization of a number of critical arterial rural roads. The internal roads connecting Isialangwa North and South LGA to Obingwa LGA comprising Umuene-Omoba, Umuene-Obikabia and Umuene to Umuikaa were all tackled in the year 2019. Also, in collaboration with the World Bank through NEWMAP, we also ensured erosion remediation and link roads at Umuakwu Nsulu in Isialangwa South LGA and Umuda-Amato-Ossah in Umuahia North LGA. With the abatement of the rains, we have mobilized contractors and returned to site. As I speak, our contractors are on 14 sites around the state working simultaneously and the bulk of the projects are scheduled for completion before the rains return by the end of the first quarter of the year.
It is important for me at this juncture, to explain the circumstances surrounding the delay in completing some of our road projects. In Abia State, our developmental objectives, especially as it concerns road works, are tied to two major factors. The factors are the limits of our finances and the climatic belt we are located in. Our state is faced with a myriad of challenges all struggling for attention and allocation of the funds at our disposal. We will continue to do our best to creatively manage our resources to meet our pressing needs. The second challenge is that of times and seasons. Abia State is located in the thick rainforest belt in Nigeria and we witness torrential downpour for upwards of 9 months in a calendar year. It is a given fact that effective and enduring road construction can only take place during the dry season which is why we are usually constrained whenever the rains set in. Government is however, responding to this challenge by introducing the Rigid Pavement Road Construction.
I am constrained to remind us that as of the time we assumed office, there was literally no way of accessing Aba and businesses were grinding to a halt. Today, to access Aba from Port-Harcourt, we have the options of coming in through, Ifeobara on Faulks Road, Oomne Road, or Tonimas Road, or MCC/Chima Nwafor Road. These roads link to Umule Road, Faulks Road, Old Express Road and can be used to access Aba-Owerri Road through Umuocham Road or Umuatako Road. Exiting Aba on the Southern flank, options abound. You have the option of Kamalu Road to Opkulo Umuobo, Ehere Road, Ukaegbu Road and Umuola Road from Ogbor Hill all terminating at Obikabia Junction which takes you either towards Umuene to Umuikaa or Old Umuahia Road which also links you to Ekwereazu Road leading to Akwa Ibom State.
I am proud to state that our administration built all of these roads I have listed above which ventilated Aba and are now daily being used to access or exit Aba. Let us not forget. I am always the first to admit that we have not done everything we set out to do but we have also done a lot. Governance is incremental and no one administration can solve the entire problems of the state. Our administration will not prioritize speed over quality. We are building to last.
In the spirit of accountability, I wish to explain here that Faulks Road have not yet been completed. The contractor – Setraco – have been recalled to site by the Abia State Ministry of Works and they will return to site after the holidays. Faulks road will be effectively completed with all arising issues resolved before the rains set in this year. This also applies to the Osisioma Underpass where the contractors have fully returned to site and are advancing the project. The delays will be compensated with the delivery of world class outcomes.
In the year 2019, we completed the revitalization of the Golden Guinea Breweries Plc. The journey was long and arduous but I am proud that the company is back on its feet rolling out products and providing direct and indirect employment to teeming Abians. I salute the spirit of the core investor in the Company, Chief Okey Nzenwa for his determination and recommend same to other industrialists in Abia State.
In the same vein, Inner Galaxy Group, that began operations recently with 1 subsidiary, have grown to 7 subsidiaries expanding into a full industrial cluster. We are hand-holding them and encouraging them to continue expanding as over 90% of their staff are Abians especially from that area.
We have also identified other industries especially in the Agricultural value chain we are supporting to expand their operations. I have no doubt that we will do more in 2020.
In the year 2019, among other milestones in the Agricultural sub-sector, we were able to operationalise our Poultry Cluster at Nsulu, Isialangwa South LGA where over 50,000 birds were harvested in the course of the yuletide. It is an integrated facility comprising training facilities for those intending to go into Poultry Farming and processing plants for all inputs and by-products of the Poultry Business. This project was executed in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria and UPS Farms.
In 2019, we also assumed our rightful place as a Rice Producing State and ranked higher than states that were renowned before us. Hitherto, Rice cultivated in Abia State was taken to other states to be milled. This counted for those states as their rice but we have reversed that trend by setting up 5 Rice-Milling Clusters around the State backed by aggressive marketing which ensured that Osikapa Abia was readily available during the yuletide for local consumption and distribution to other states. I am glad to announce that Abia Rice Farmers have never had a better year than 2019 due to the sheer volume of trade they engaged in during the yuletide. We also distributed improved seedlings to our farmers which ensured better quality of rice harvests. We are currently working on modalities for year-round Rice cultivation which will ensure that we maintain our status all-year round as a destination for rice. Recall that we had planted about 4M Tenera Palm Trees between 2016 and 2018.
Therefore government is establishing cottage oil palm processing industries in rural areas to add value and provide jobs for our youths
Dear Abians, in 2019, we maintained the first position in the Senior Secondary Certificate examination for the 4th year running. This is the product of consistent investment in educational transformation. We are rebuilding schools and restructuring the incentives to teachers and working to strengthen the education curriculum by integrating technical education into it.
Our policies in Education so far have raised the enrolment in public schools across board. The free school lunch programme in the state was also sustained with improved outcomes.
We sustained our support to Abia State University to ensure that they maintain their track- record of excellence. Abia State University has thus far ran four complete sessions without any form of disruption. The distorted employment situation at Abia State Polytechnic, Aba, which has been a major drag on the
Institution’s academic progress, has also been resolved and the school is back on its feet. We have also appointed a vibrant Governing Board for the institution.
Furthermore, I recently inaugurated a Committee to explore the feasibility for the setting up of a University of Science and Technology in Aba. We have a number of high-volume industries and factories in Abia State and it is important that we produce the manpower that will work in those industries and factories.
I am aware that the Commissioner for Education is driving some critical reforms aimed at sanitizing the Private School system in Abia State. I am also aware of some of the concerns that have been raised but plead with all stakeholders to cooperate with government in other to implement needed reforms.
TRADE AND COMMERCE
My dear Abians, we have taken steps to stem the proliferation of street markets in Abia State. This measure has implications for the longevity of our roads, enhanced security, the cleanliness of our environment, the comfort and safety of our pedestrian and vehicular traffic as well as fostering order and decency in our society. I sympathize with those whose goods were damaged in the course of the demolition of street markets undertaken by relevant government officials but also note that adequate notice was given before the demolitions. This therefore comes as a cautionary note that the deadline extended to certain categories of street traders especially those at Isi Gate in Umuahia, was 31st of December, 2019. As from today, any goods found displayed around the area will be destroyed. Abians are urged to work with Government to keep peace and ensure order in the state.
This same relocation order has been effectively implemented at the Enyimba Area of Ariaria International Market where the Abia Public Utilities and Maintenance Agency has commenced the greening of the area.
In a further bid to decongest our city centres and provide our traders with a more conducive environment to carry on their trade, the Abia State Government is implementing a plan to relocate the following trading groups:
• Dealers in Tiles at Faulks Road will move to the Aba Mega Mall at Osisioma
• All motor vehicle spare parts dealers within the Aba Metropolitan City Centre will move to the Asa Nnetu Spare Parts Market at Alaoji.
• All GSM and Electronics Dealers will move to the agreed location at Ngwa Road
It is instructive to note that the above listed trader groups chose the new locations by themselves and government is grateful for their cooperation so far and will work with them to ensure that this relocation process is completed by the end of the first quarter of 2020 unfailingly.
In the same vein, Government has concluded modalities to relocate the Abia State College of Health Sciences and Management Technology from their current location within the Aba City Centre to a location that is being finalized.
As I promised in my new year Speech of 2019, we have set up the first Automated Shoe Factory in Abia State complete with the most modern shoemaking equipments currently in use by contemporary shoe factories in the world.
This factory, located at Aba, which will become operational in a few weeks, will mark the commencement of automated shoe production in Abia State and also create opportunities for new skills, technical transfer, technology transfer and all-round improved output from the leather cluster in Aba and Abia State.
We also launched our Abia State SME Microfinance Bank which was set up to provide micro-credit facilities for our SMEs and other businesses operating within that range.
The aim of the bank is to bridge the funding gap at the micro level to catalyze SME scaling and growth. We hereby encourage all our traders as well as small scale manufacturers to visit the Abia State SME Microfinance Bank for all their funding solutions.
2020 IN FOCUS
Dear Abians, I am happy to announce that we have put in place financial and logistic modalities to ensure the completion of a number of roads in 2020 and we will intensify efforts in that regard. We are also working towards the completion of the processes required for the drawdown of the African Development Bank facility that will enable us revamp infrastructure in Abia State. In 2020, we will continue to partner with the World Bank through NEWMAP, RAMP and other intervention programs by sustaining the payment of our counterpart funds to ensure these projects continue.
Overall, the outlook for infrastructural development in 2020 is very bright.
We recently strengthened some of our critical Agencies with new Management to enhance their effectiveness and in 2020, we have given them new mandates to ensure optimal delivery. Going forward, we have also given a mandate to our Agencies to fashion out creative means of self-sustainance without having to add to the financial burdens of the state. A number of them have rolled out critical programs for the year 2020 and as a Government, we will support them to succeed.
In the year 2020, we will intensify our pursuit of on-going partnerships for the realization of the Enyimba Economic City project. It is expected that the first phase of construction work on the project shall commence shortly in collaboration with our private partners and anchor tenants. This project remains the darling of investors everywhere we go and we are elated that it is located in Abia State. We have no doubt whatsoever that the project will succeed.
In the year 2020, we will continue our support to the Agricultural sector as a key pillar in our development agenda. While intensifying support for primary production, our focus is also shifting to agro-processing. We have earmarked four products – rice, palm produce, cassava and poultry. In this category, we will continue to boost both the production and marketing of Abia rice and other specific products. I therefore wish to reiterate my call to Abians with the means to invest in production in Abia State.
Our economy will grow faster if Abians with means invest their resources in the productive sector of the state. Our state is an investment goldmine and I call on our brethren both at home and abroad to come and invest in Abia State so that together, we can strengthen the economy of the state.
We are rebuilding markets and shall continue to train our traders and artisans on global best practices to increase their competitiveness. We shall engage every legitimate instrument to ensure our capacity to advance Abia products in the global market place and integrate technology into the productive activities of our people. Our revamped Marketing and Quality Marketing Agency has been mandated to embark on an aggressive standardisation drive to ensure the quality of goods and services in Abia State and I urge businesses to cooperate with them.
Ndi Abia, Permit me to announce to you that with the success we recorded with Golden Guinea Breweries Plc, efforts are ongoing in earnest to restore other moribund industries in Abia State. Our Administration has deliberately separated the Ministry of Industry from Trade and Investment, so that it may give attention to this purpose. No effort will be spared by this Administration to see these industries back to production.
We are working towards ensuring that by the end of the year 2020, we will announce that one or more of these industries have come back to production.
Our programme of building the capacity of teachers through continuous training and retraining on core subjects remains ongoing. Our policies on Education so far have raised the enrolment in public schools across board. The school lunch programme in the state will be sustained to further improve the outcomes in 2020.
On the welfare of workers in Abia State, we have substantially improved our ability to pay our workers their wages and on time too. This is evidenced by the fact that we have sustained the payment of salaries to our workers by the 26th of every month and we were able to pay December salaries by the 24th of December. I have also received the report of the committee which I set-up to advice me on modalities for implementing the new minimum wage in Abia State and I wish to announce to you that Abia State will, effective January 2020, pay its workers the new Minimum Wage.
Government is also mindful of the challenges faced by Pensioners in Abia State and is making deliberate efforts to address pension and other debt arrears. This is also evidenced by the fact that we have started paying our pensioners from December 2019. We will sustain this going forward and ensure that pensioners get paid every month while working out modalities to clear arrears that predate our administration.
We have reengineered our financial sector for optimal functionality and In the year 2020, we shall endeavour to ensure that all civil servants in Abia State including teachers, staff of parastatals and their pensioners receive their emoluments every month.
My Dear Abians, we are undaunted by the challenges that face us in our journey to build an Abia State that we will all be proud of. These challenges provide for us, platforms which we will climb to get to the heights we aspire to. Abia is a great state and we will continue to make it great. We have no doubt about our destination and together, we will arrive at the Abia of our collective aspirations.
I once more thank you immensely for your immeasurable support and understanding over these past 5 years that I have had the privilege of serving you as Governor. I once again reaffirm my commitment to working with you to collectively build the Abia of our dreams.
I feel encouraged by the sheer number of people especially Abians in Nigeria and the Diaspora who returned home during this yuletide. The fact that this number of people felt confident enough to return home bears testimony to the conducive and secure atmosphere we have created in Abia state. It is now my expectation that this confidence will also translate to our brethren investing in the state.
I wish safe travels to all our sons and daughters that will be returning to their various stations and pray God to continue to grant them His favours in all their endeavours.
2020 is the beginning of a new paradigm in Abia State and I assure you that we will make you proud.
I thank you all very much for your attention and I wish you a successful 2020.
God bless you and may God continue to bless Abia State
Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, Ph.D, FNES Governor, Abia State
January 1, 2020