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FENRAD congratulates Abia @30, says infrastructure deficit still plagues the state

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Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy and Development, FENRAD, a pro-democracy and human rights advocacy group wishes to congratulate the Abia State government and people on the occasion of the thirtieth (30th) anniversary of the state after its creation through military decree 21 of State Creation and Transitional Provisions programme during the regime of Gen. Ibrahim Badamasi Babangida on August 27, 1991. Abia was carved out of Imo State through the promulgation of the said decree.

FENRAD acknowledges that the journey has been a chequered one – as is with other states in the federation – with highs and lows.

The first eight years of the state from 1991 creation to 1999 recorded five military administrators and one executive governor in office – instability at best; whereas since 1999 return to democracy, two democratically elected governments have each served for eight years (with the incumbent nearing same number at its sixth year out of two elected tenures of four years each) with no significant facelift, economic or social advancement. While the first eight years with five military administrators – who are only answerable to the military president or head of state – and one elected executive governor could hardly deliver the good given the nation’s inherent instability, a full two terms of 8 years served by any one individual governor should tell a different story. Today, it is a hard task to tell apart the first eight years of, say, unstable political experimentation and those when Abians became masters of their fate by deciding those who govern them beginning from 1999.

In 1991 hope was high that before long the state, growing at its own pace, will have its own airport, stadia, good road network, increase in GDP and income per capita, job opportunities and creation and the like given the vast industrial potential it has, but today after thirty years Abia still occupies a rented property as Government House and offices!

It appears today as though the better years are the ones behind than those yet to come, like those years when Sam Mbakwe governed what is now Abia, Imo and Ebonyi combinedly, or when Dr. Michael Okpara governed nine states that used to be Eastern Region.

There are few key policy areas where credit should be given to the state especially areas like: Open Government Partnership (OGP); State Fiscal Transparency Accountability and Sustainability, SFTAS which facilitates Fiscal Sustainability Plan (FSP); domestication of Violence Against Persons (Prohibition) Act and sundry landmark legislative achievements under the Ikpeazu-led government, yet the journey is far from halved or even begun.

Infrastructure deficit still plagues the state frontally. Roads like Port Harcourt Road, Ngwa Road (now under repairs), Ohanku Road, Cemetery Road, Faulk’s Road (which collapsed soon after construction), even those arterial and feeder roads in Aba are mostly impassible. Though Governor Ikpeazu had recently embarked on his Kinetic Abia project with massive road construction at places like Eziukwu, Ebemma, Umuafo Roads, the infrastructure lull that befell Aba and by extension the Abia from from 2007, is a huge setback.

The politics of Port Harcourt Road and the World Bank loan of ₦27.4bn is no longer news, especially after an honourable member raised alarm and moved a motion for evacuation of the mountainous dirt along Port Harcourt Road and for road construction (HAM/16) in Abia State. With the commissioner for information giving a clear detail of how the World Bank loan drawing was phased requiring a ‘no objection certificate’ from the Bank before withdrawal, fact remains that Port Harcourt and some other Roads in Abia had taken long to fix, thus affecting ease of doing business even as many industries – local ones for the most part – hardly break even. An environmental protection agency like ASEPA should be alive to its responsibility just as the Abia people and residents are expected to pursue hygienic living than block drainages and manholes with dirt, debris and detritus.

Debt profile of the state current release from Debt Management Office (DMO) showed grew astronomically by 110% in the course of six years, precisely from ₦33.53bn (December 2015) to ₦70.57bn (March 2021). Until a review of the second quarter (Q2) of 2021 (i.e June 2021) becomes much a public record one cannot tell whether the debt has reduced or increased. Though governments everywhere need funds to operate, and may sometimes borrow money to fund projects, unsustainable borrowing will hinder future performance of the state.

Again, since 2011 the issue of salaries and pension remains much a grey area. There are protests against backlog of unpaid salaries or pension from both active and retired workers with some claiming theirs come as and when due. In all, old citizens especially pensioners deserve their pay and perquisite having served out and paid their dues to the state.

This said, Abia has vast potentials that can engender and drive development – one the state can leverage too. For example, Aba alone has the capacity of putting the state on world manufacturing map with industrial clusters and cottages here and there needing harmonisation. Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu whose dream it is to see the made-in-Aba products compete with foreign manufactures and enjoy comparative advantage at the domestic front based on best practices must do more in stimulating growth by unlocking this great and vast potential as such will create the much-needed value chain.

FENRAD, aware that Abia State quotes ₦1.5b as its monthly internally generated revenue (IGR) numbers, advises the government to spread its net farther not by introducing new or obnoxious taxes but by ensuring fair taxation of all taxable persons – both corporate citizens and businesses – and to be circumspect enough at ensuring financial discipline on the part of tax agents, Abia State Internal Revenue Service (ABIRS), State IGR Council and all the minisitries, departments and agencies (MDAs). Only flying revenue from tricycle operators, commercial vehicles and transport/road unions can give Abia a favourable IGR, not to mention tolls from markets, taxes banks and other companies all which are taxable legal persons, FENRAD says. Abia’s quotations do not tally well with the available indices!

Though Abia had always enjoyed the lead when it comes to education, the state, unlike its neighbours like Akwa Ibom and Rivers, does not have a functional library. This is not made any better by the fact that at subnational level Abia invests below 5% of her budget to education as the previous budget made a sectoral allocation of ₦6.5bn from ₦136.bn the state had from both statutory and independent sources according to 2020 budget outlay.

Construction of roads in Abia will sure grow the state revenue. If roads linking to all the markets in the state had access businesses will grow and shore up revenue dearth from the federal source – FAAC. FENRAD calls on Abia State Road Maintenance Agency (ABROMA), Abia State Public Utility Maintenance Agency (APUMA) to intervene in places where potholes have hindered access to markets.

It has never been a smooth ride in the last thirty years, but FENRAD believes Abia can get better and calls for prayers and support towards Governor Ikpeazu, the man at the helm of affairs, that God uses this one and half or so years left to turn things around for the better. It is still possible to have the Abia of our dream as envisioned by the founding fathers in the present time.

Signed.
Long live Abia State and happy anniversary to God’s Own State, people and government!

Signed: Comrade Nelson Nnanna Nwafor Executive Director Foundation for Environmental Rights Advocacy & Development FENRAD Nigeria

Barr. Olusegun Bamgbose
Head Legal Team FENRAD Nigeria.

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