If he remains in office till May 2023, Dr. Udo Oko Chukwu would become the first deputy governor in Abia State to complete eight years with his boss without any rancour. In this interview with reporters in Umuahia, the state capital, the former House of Assembly Speaker speaks on a wide range of issues, including how he has been able to cope with the pressure of his office and his cordial relationship with Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
What has been your experience as a deputy governor in Abia State, which has a chequered history of sour relationships between governors and their deputies?
It has been an eventful six years and still counting. I have a cordial relationship with my boss and governor of Abia State, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu. We came on board in May 2015, and based on the fact that I had the benefit of being around and having a little idea of what happens around government, it wasn’t too stringent for me. I have been part of the government of Abia State for some time. I also know the power play between governors and their deputies. It is the human factor. Two individuals are involved; the governor and the deputy governor. Their persons determine to a large extent the relationship that would exist
between them. It will also determine to a large extent, the kind of administration that the state will have.
Therefore, coming from the background of my boss, I will say he is a man flowing with the milk of human kindness. He is a man who has a good heart. One who is determined to achieve a lot for the state; a man who is determined to make his mark in governance and this is Governor Ikpeazu for you. He is a person who is considerate and committed to what he is doing and has no time for trivialities. In most cases, when you see people, especially in politics, disagree over trivialities, it is usually the handwork of people who are outside the two parties. If you have people who don’t have time for trivialities, then what you get is peace and unity. Gov. Ikpeazu has no time for trivialities. I have a very cordial relationship with him.
As the chairman of Abia Economic Team, how has the state’s IGR improved under your watch?
The state’s internally generated revenue (IGR) has remarkably improved and I commend Gov. Ikpeazu for creating the IGR council. You should ask what the IGR status of the state was before we came in. When you consider where we were before we came in and where we are now, you will appreciate the efforts of this administration. We have been able to introduce lots of technology into revenue generation. We have laid a solid foundation to ensure that the IGR base of the state keeps growing. Today, all the state’s revenue are generated through e-tickets. Abia is the only state doing e- ticketing. No more crude method of collecting revenue. The process of revenue collection is now seamless and no longer cumbersome. The problem of multiple taxation has also been settled in Abia through the introduction of consolidated demand notices. If you see anyone collecting revenue by cash and other crude methods, such person is not from the government. Our demand notices contain all the taxes/revenues an individual or company is expected to pay to the government. We have laid a solid foundation for improved revenue generation in Abia.
As the chairman of the state boundary committee, how has it been managing border crises involving some communities in the state?
That is one of the most challenging aspects of the Office of the Deputy Governor because when you are talking about boundary issues; you are talking about crisis; you are talking about crisis between one or two states; you are talking about people from different backgrounds; and you are talking about people having different needs and understanding. Each of them claims that the particular site belongs to them, rightly or wrongly. You discover that because life is involved, and that land is the essential commodity which you can’t add to, it becomes a complex matter. And during farming season, you have several clashes. For us in Abia, we are very lucky in some area, but unlucky in others because we have boundaries with seven states; Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Cross River, Ebonyi, Rivers, Imo and Enugu states. So, there must be one boundary issue with one or two of them. Some of the states like Akwa Ibom has boundary Abia in two areas: Ini Local Government Area (LGA) have border with Ikwuano LGA (Abia); Obot Akara (Akwa Ibom) has boundary with Obingwa LGA (Abia); Ika LGA (Akwa Ibom) has with Ukwa East LGA (Abia). These three locations are always erupting. At present, we are battling at Ikwuano LGA and Ini LGA, and too many lives and properties have been lost already. We have been talking to the communities in the two states. I have a wonderful colleague in my Akwa Ibom State counterpart. But even with all the meetings we have done, the clashes are still escalating. However, we have been able to manage it.
What is the role of the National Boundary Commission (NBC), considering that some of the boundary disputes have lingered for over 20 years?
The role of the NBC is simple; it is to delineate the boundary between two contending states. And for you to delineate, it takes lots of processes. You must go for tracing, meet and engage the parties and after tracing, you put your beacons. When you complete this process; sometimes, one state may be ready and the other is not ready. In another situation, the two states may be ready, but the NBC won’t be ready. These have been the issue militating against the resolution of most of the boundary disputes. It bothers us as a state and even all the parties that are involved. Not until these boundaries are finally delineated, we can’t have an end to the boundary clashes. We have been talking to our people. Those who live along the border corridor have most things in common. They inter-marry, understand and speak the same language and most of them are brothers. We urge them to live in peace. Work has gone on well on the delineation of our boundary lines with Anambra, Ebonyi and Enugu States. Abia State is always ready for the delineation of our boundary lines because we are committed to protecting lives and properties.
The state government has embarked on the infrastructural renewal of Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state. What informed this decision?
At the inception of the administration, Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu promised to rebuild Aba. The decision was informed by the fact that if you get Aba right, you get Abia right. Aba is the economic hub of Abia State and the Southeast zone. In Aba, you have every segment of the Igbo nation and Nigeria represented. There are lots of commercial activities in Aba. What drives commerce is good infrastructure. If we must be able to sustain Aba as the economic hub of the state, serious attention must be given to the city. Once this is done, you can be sure of generating enough revenue from the city. In Aba, you get lots of economic activities which generate the revenue that can be deployed to the development of other segments of the state. This is why Ikpeazu is committed to building strategic roads leading to economic centres. You see the ongoing works in Port Harcourt, Ngwa, Obohia and Ohanku roads respectively. Ikpeazu no doubt has turned around the infrastructural state of Aba. Once we complete the works on these remaining strategic four roads, it will give further boost to economic activities and the economy of the state.
There are insinuations that the Ikpeazu administration has not done much in citing projects in the Abia North zone. What’s your take on this?
We may not have done as many projects in Abia North zone as we have done in Aba, but it doesn’t mean that the government doesn’t have projects in Abia North. Doing well as a government is a function of many things. There are lots of road projects going on in Abia North. The Abiriba-Nkporo road has been completed and commissioned. The first phase of the Abiriba ring road has been completed. Work on the Ohafia ring road is almost completed. We have done the Okon Aku road and bridge. We have also done the Arochukwu Bridge which has reduced the journey to Arochukwu by half. There is a golf course being built at Ohafia. We are also doing roads in Umunneochi and Isuikwuato and other parts of Bende LGAs. This administration is also rehabilitating the bad spots along the federal road passing through Isuikwuato where kidnappers are abducting people. Therefore, it is unfair to say that the government has done nothing in Abia North. Consider Gov. Ikpeazu’s intervention on the Abiriba–Nkporo road which did not receive government attention until 2014. Since the road was created, it has only been maintained through community effort. During my tenure as the member representing Ohafia North state constituency, I was attending to that road annually to make it motorable. The first award of contract was in 2014, but the contractor didn’t do a good job. So, when Ikpeazu came to commission that road, it was like light brought to Nkporo.
The opposition parties are threatening to oust the PDP from power in 2023. What’s your reaction to that?
Anybody can say anything, comments are free and talk is cheap. They can say they want to take over, but they lack the capacity to do so because Abia is a PDP state. How can they take over a position that is not vacant? It is a tall dream. PDP is Abia, Abia is PDP. The opposition parties lack what it takes to defeat the PDP in Abia. There is no cause for alarm, the PDP is in control. Are you not seeing that members of the APC and the APGA are decamping to the PDP daily? You saw what happened in Umuahia South, it was like a tsunami where over 2,000 APC members joined our great party. In Aba, you can see that the people are happy with the governor; you see the huge crowd always around and hailing us when Gov. Ikpeazu visits to inspect or commission roads. The support base of the opposition parties is only in the media. However, we are not talking about 2023 because we are focused and won’t allow ourselves to be distracted. When the time comes, you will appreciate the fact that the opposition parties are nowhere in Abia State.
The government recently inaugurated a committee on youths. What is the government’s strategy to tackle youth restiveness?
All we need to do is to engage the youths. Let them be part of decision making and governance, creating jobs for them and helping them to acquire skills. We inaugurated a team of youths. The essence is for them to sit back, brainstorm and come up with ideas. This will enable them to meet with the state government and say what they think can be done. Perhaps, there are issues that the government is not aware of, which the youths may know. The federal and state governments have done a lot in tackling the problem of youth development. More discussions and actions are still ongoing. Some of the causes of this restiveness are that the youths feel that they don’t understand what is going on in the government. You bring them into governance; appoint them as Commissioners and SSAs, so that they can be able to know what is going on. In Abia, this is why Gov. Ikpeazu conducted local government elections to give opportunity to youths to be involved in governance as chairmen and councilors. The governor also introduced the Education for Employment (E4E) to help youths acquire skills. You see youths who have acquired certificates that aren’t relevant to industrial needs. This is why we have reintroduced technical colleges in the three senatorial zones of the state to boost skill acquisition.