Abia state held a promise when it was created. With gifted human resources that had excelled in commerce, military and diplomatic service, Abia was blessed with a commercial city which competition was only Onitsha in terms of industry, innovation, trade and commerce. Many believed that it was just a matter of time before Abia became the Taiwan of Africa and a center of trade and leisure that would draw every businessman to the east of the Niger.
A journey through Aba in the early 1980s and late 1990s left one with hope for the future. That future is today and the story draws tears to the eye. The factories that competed for space in Aba are all gone. The city that was built by traders and artisans is now ruined by filth. Ditches have replaced roads some of which were built by communal effort. Schools that once attracted the best students are now part of the story of a past that many remember with sighs. Shops that fabricated all sorts and made Imo count loses when Abia was created out of it, are struggling to stand. The summary? Abia is dead. Yes, it is dead to poor leadership insight and meaningless politics which had created a self-defeatist leadership recruitment process.
Looking back at Abia state since 1999, one is left with no conclusion than to say that mistakes have been made. The mistake began with the recruitment of a leadership that saw managing affairs of a state as an extension of a fraudulent lifestyle. It is sad that since 1999, Abia has found itself being led by persons whose integrity had huge question marks and who did not prepare themselves in any way to understand the meaning of building a future and an economy. Simply put, Abia has suffered in the hands of integrity challenged characters whose only claim to leadership is ability to rule the streets and who take brigandage to governance. They counted leadership success not on the transformation they brought to Abia state but in the way and manner their family ran riot on the resources of the state. Basically, that is reason Abia is still reeling despite huge resources available to it.
Both Orji Uzor Kalu and his hand-picked successor, Theodore Orji, ravaged the state with lack of vision. They left the state worse than they met it. They did not build infrastructure. They failed to build the people too. Rather, they created a system where their families ran riot on the financial resources of Abia. Effect of their leadership styles was the creation of a system where youths, who hitherto were engaged in some aspects of commerce, abandoned them and returned to the streets as praise singers. Okezie Ikpeazu, who was thought to be a departure, has himself failed to rise to the challenge to leadership. His failure to govern Abia, as expected, is a direct consequence of how he emerged the governorship candidate of the PDP in 2015. It has become evident that Ikpeazu cannot deliver on the promise of a progressive Abia because of the stranglehold on him of by his predecessor. And it is crystal clear that Abia will not be able to rise above its current state of under-development if its people refuse to rise above the penchant to sing and dance around persons whose actual purpose in seeking power is to self-enrichment.
Fact is, for Abia to walk a different road, it must choose a different driver whose vision is built on integrity either in private or public sector. That is the opportunity that 2019 presents for Abia state. That opportunity is one that must get our people looking at where their state ought to be in the next decade. Whatever vision the people of Abia have for their beloved state, it must be pushed forward by credible characters who are capable of standing on world pedestal to make a case for the sort of investments that would tap into current advantages the state enjoys for its growth. Abia ought to now be playing on the global stage. At that stage, being Ngwa of Ohuhu means nothing. No investor will come to Aba because it is Ngwaland. Investors will come because Aba has the necessary infrastructure to drive, protect, sustain investment and ensure a return on investment.
Current governor of the state has failed to do this because he views governance of the state from the prism of the Ngwa. While not disparaging the great Ngwa people with this, one feels that Abia state is bigger than Ngwaland and as such a serious leadership will tap into the quality human resources that abound in the state to drive its development instead of the myopic view of governance as an avenue to ‘settle the boys’ and, an also used them against would-be opponents. Therefore, for me, for Abia to begin the journey towards self-redemption and re-position itself to play on the larger platform, 2019 must be used to make a statement about breaking away from a past that was blighted by lack of vision and mission.
I expect that our people in Abia will work hard to change the narrative in our state. We can no longer see a governor as our Santa Claus rather than a servant for all. Our governor must be one who has the capacity to create wealth and also galvanize the people towards actions that are ennobling. We must be able to sieve through the pack and elect one who has the integrity and capacity to bring the best out of Abians. Our youths must be able to see that indeed, it is their future that has been toyed with. They must realize that praise singing will not transform lives, create jobs or see them through the best of schools. Sometimes, one is made to believe that our governors spend more money and pay greater attention to praise singing than they do to education, health, infrastructure and human capital development.
Isn’t this why even common diseases are a problem in Abia; and a task as simple as collecting and moving refuse to dumpsites, is such a huge problem for us? Truth be told, anyone who expects Abia state to rise to greatness while being managed by integrity challenged persons, is suffering self-delusion. Our best bet is to see 2019 as our chance with destiny and use that to change the story of Abia by sending to Abuja, only persons who are of proven integrity who had impacted on the society by their works in either the private or public sector. We must redirect our minds to send to Umuahia, legislators who have capacity to stand for the state and her people, not persons whose lives are tied to apron string of the governor. We must resolve to elect a governor whose background will not become a burden to the development of the state. This will mean a total departure from our ignoble leadership past and announcing our name, as God’s Own State, on a different note on the scale of seriousness.
That is the choice before Abia people in 2019.
*Uma writes from Umuahia in Abia state