The journey to a liberated Abia State began Thursday with the formal handing of flag to Dr. Alex Otti, governorship candidate of Labour Party (LP) by the national leadership, signifying the flag-off of the gubernatorial campaign for the 2023 election in the state.
Abia has been under the stranglehold of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) for the past 23 years with no meaningful economic, social and political development.
All the state could boast of within this period is a huge debt profile, to the tune of over N150 billion (according to statistics by Nigeria’s Debt Management Office, DMO), unpaid workers’ salaries, and retirees’ pensions of between 30 to 45 months; poor basic infrastructural development, including roads, water, waste management, and medical care.
However, Otti declared in his message of hope, proclaimed to the residents of Abia State on the football pitch of Ngwa High School, Aba, venue of the campaign flag-off, that all these ills will become part of history when he takes over the mantle of leadership in the state in 2023 as governor.
“Let me quickly set the agenda: this gathering is a declaration of intent to rescue Abia from the grip of bad governance that has held it down for 23 years! After this occasion, and from this field, we will disperse to all corners of Abia with our message of freedom, hope, and renewal. We will continue with the message until the day of our victory,” Otti announced to the milling crowd with a sense of urgency, in his speech titled, ‘Ozuola! Ozo emela! (Enough! Affliction shall not arise a second time).
He continues: “Ndi Abia ndi nwem, we have travelled this path before. Eight years ago, we decided that enough was enough and collectively came together to defeat the evil cabal that had dragged Abia into the path of darkness, misery, poverty, unemployment, and economic retrogression.
“We stepped into the ring and roundly defeated them. Our victory was so loud and resounding that it reverberated in the state legislative chambers, where we won almost half of the available seats. But just like Ray Andersen said, The powers that keep people in bondage do not relinquish control very easily. The same axis of evil, knowing how defective the electoral law then in operation was, exploited it and shamelessly stole the mandate of Ndi Abia. They had compromised many gatekeepers of electoral sanctity and bullied the state’s returning officer into declaring a false result.
To their surprise, rather than deter us, their daylight robbery became the gas that powered the engine of our struggle. We pursued the electoral heist at the judiciary, where we won at the court of appeal but the supreme court relied solely on technicalities and reversed the judgment, and awarded the PDP an undeserved victory. The rest is now history.”
Delving into a terrain that is at the heart of Abia’s underdevelopment, economy, the first-class economist churned out mind-boggling statistics of poverty, debt, and misery.
He said: “Of the close to five million people in our dear state, about 31% live in poverty, not knowing where their next meal will come from. But that is not all. About 51% of our labour force is unemployed. It means nearly one million adults able and willing to work cannot find any job in Abia.
“Not paying workers’ salaries has since become routine in Abia. Some workers are owed as much as 30 months’ arrears of salaries. Our state’s only polytechnic lost accreditation owing to over 30 months of unpaid lecturers’ salaries. As if that is not enough, less than six months ago, our only teaching hospital, Abia State University Teaching Hospital also lost accreditation.
“Pensions are not paid, same with gratuities. Just last week, pensioners protested in Umuahia, the state capital, some too feeble to move. These are our parents who should be resting at home and looking after themselves, thrown into the circumstances that compelled them to throng the streets in protest of unpaid pensions and gratuities, some for up to 45 months!”
Going forward, Otti, the former Group Managing Director of Diamond Bank Plc (now Access Bank), who took the bank from a loss-making position to one of Nigeria’s systemic important banks, within a space of three years, said: “If we were dissatisfied in 2015, we should be outraged today. And, collectively, we must rise and declare, for our future and that of our children: Ozuola! Ozo emela!”
The frontline candidate for the office of governor of Abia State told the gathering that included the Labour Party presidential candidate, Peter Obi; his running mate, Yusuf Datti Baba-Ahmed, National Chairman, Comrade Julius Abure and members of the national and state executive committees, that Abia will rebuild under his watch as Chief Executive of the state.
He said details of his plan has been encapsulated in a 48-page manifesto, which he personally wrote, and which was officially presented on the ground of the flag-off. He described it as his covenant with Abia people.
“Starting from May 29, 2023, we will begin Abia’s rebuilding process upon taking the oath of office after successfully sweeping away the Abia locust years. We will clear up the unpaid salaries and pensions so that our workers will have their deserved wages and our senior citizens, the money to cater for their retirement years.
“We will begin industrialising our state so that our working population can have jobs. Our job creation program will focus on bringing back the industries that left Abia in the last 23 years. We will also directly build new, modern ones, even if it means using government resources. Do not fear the famed lack of government’s ability to do business. We will not run those industries. We will build and transfer to the Abia private sector to run under different tested models.
“We will also intentionally get involved in the birthing of thousands of new Micro, Small, and Medium Scale Enterprises (MSMEs). We will make this possible by converting the state’s security votes to a massive investment fund from which young people who want to do business can draw start-up capital and pay back on friendly terms. In all these, the aim is to create jobs and more jobs.
“We will move Umuahia and Aba from day time economies to 24-hour economies, so that money that enters these two cities will never go to sleep. With our two major cities running 24 hours, we will enjoy a higher velocity of money that puts profits in many hands and helps expand businesses, thereby increasing our GDP from a paltry N3.5trn to over N7trn in no time.
“To make this possible, we will build solid infrastructure (including lighting up every part of the state) and create local security so people can go about their businesses without fear. A full-fledged ministry will be set up to handle the renewal of infrastructure amongst other needs of Aba,” he enumerated, while comforting the people to “Weep no more”, saying, “Help is on the way”.