Abia 2015: Dr Okezie Ikpeazu says he is ready to serve from day one

By admin on 19/11/2014

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One of the PDP governorship aspirants in Abia State, Dr Okezie Victor Ikpeazu, met with selected online social media friends at his Aba campaign office last week for a no-holds barred interactive session. A member of Factnews editorial team was among the visiting group.

Excerpts from the interaction are presented below.

Why are the achievements of the incumbent governor seemingly under reported online and in mainstream media?

I like it that some us have realized that Ochendo is one of the under-reported leaders of our clime. It may be because of his modesty or because of his background as a civil servant. If I'm not careful, I may also fall into that too because I like to approach quietly. That is why so many people, especially my contemporaries and co-aspirants, looked at me when I threw my hat into the ring and said what Goliath said to David. I remember one of them was in second year in 1997 and yet he made bold to say I was not experienced whereas I was teaching undergraduates at the University at that time. That is somebody who will actually be a student in my class if it was same school and department.

Tell us a little about your background.


I want to say my background is teaching. I studied Biochemistry and graduated with 2nd class upper division in 1984. And then, from then I took a straight PhD after my youth service. By 2002 when I became a local government Chairman, I had taught in four different tertiary institutions, I had also become an external examiner to post graduate students in UNN. I was doing very well as a Biochemist and I enjoyed being addressed as a Biochemist because that is my primary constituency. But on this other flip of public service, I've done a few things. I have been a local government chairman, a special assistant to the government; I've been general manager of employment parastatals twice. I've also been Chairman of the council of a tertiary institution and I resigned on the tenth of last month from my position as deputy general manager of ASEPA.

How has your background impacted on the performance of your different assignments?


All these duty posts bear their symbolism in my life and they make their landmarks such that each time I'm given a mandate, I ask myself what is success for me. I try to define what ‘success’ is in the given assignment and begin to work towards it because in public service, if you are appointed, there is nobody who will come to tell you what to do and what not to do. It is up to you to define the trajectory you push through. And I scored a few first in the course of my stewardship.
I was the person who initiated Abia State Accident Intervention Scheme. That intervention had a complete cycle of medical service for accident victims, provision of ambulances manned by competent hands skilled in the management of accident victims. Inside each ambulance, we had different equipment that were imported from England that could help in administering infusions, even blood, stabilize the patient and then we take the patient to the nearest hospital. We had retainership with four hospitals very close to the highway where we were operating. Our aim was to provide medicare within 10 minutes of the event of an accident and I was ready to reduce it to less than that because the first 30 minutes after an accident is very critical in preventing the patient's death. Many accident victims come up very very helpless. You may have all the money in the world but can't help yourself when involved in an accident. So we were paying the hospitals N50,000 each every month just to give emergency treatments until we are able to contact the next of kin of the victims. That was pioneered by my team under my leadership.
When I served at the College of Health, the assignment there was to transform the School of Hygiene to a College of Health. That mandate may look simple but it involves re-engineering the curriculum, engaging the appropriate staff and actively engaging with the NBTE, the appropriate body that will give you the required accreditation. And then facing the accreditation proper. We started with five courses and within one year, we got accreditation for three courses out of those five, which by my own calculation, anybody you asked that have managed a higher institution, will tell you that it was not easy. By God's grace we achieved that.
When I came to ASEPA Aba, the thing that most people will see is me working at odd hours even at 2am with my staff. Aba will do 5,000 metric tonnes of garbage every day. We push it out on Saturdays and Sundays, everyday whether its public holidays or not. Major problem was not only to evacuate, there has to be a plan. I developed the first management plan or waste management policy which the African Development Bank is working with as a basis of what they want to do with Abia State. When I developed that plan, I didn't know they were going to come handy with ADB but I said to myself, that the only way I can be sure that when I go somebody can sustain our effort it is to develop a working plan.
I am not saying we are yet where we are supposed to be in terms of waste management. There is a huge gap between where we are now and where we are supposed to be. For instance, I hope that in Abia of tomorrow, we should be able to manage the primary collection of waste but we are not doing that now. Once we are able to manage primary collection, we can be sure of collecting from households, and then we put a recycling plant at the tertiary dump. We would have solved the problem of waste management because you will create demand for waste. Once you create a demand, nobody will throw the waste away. If any truck comes, you weigh it and sell it. It’s doable and we will do it if given the mandate to lead.

What is unique about Dr Ikpeazu's candidature?

When I decided to run for office of Abia State governor, I decided to ask myself what is unique about me because all these other aspirants are also eminently qualified with robust pedigree. There must be something unique about me which I need identify and run on it. Then I said to myself, first, I'm a truly home-bred person. I've been here, I've understudied the incumbent Governor from his time as Chief of Staff and he doesn't need to speak to me for me to know what he wants. And from track records, without sounding immodest, I have been able to interpret his vision without supervision. By the way, by the time I left ASEPA, I had received ninety awards within eighteen months from reputable bodies like FIDA. Of course I won't pay anybody to give me awards; I will never do it because I don't even need any more. If I have a PhD at the end of my name, it doesn't matter what you add again or not. Reputable bodies recognized our hard work, they saw determination, they saw a plan and they saw our tenacity to pursue that plan. They also saw that I was able to engage 500 people that were implementing that plan. We started that agency from about the scratch. They “handed over” to me under a tree. Nobody handed over to me in short. They said go and resume at Aba and I resumed under the tree. Under that tree, the only plastic chair there was owned by one of the staff who goes home with it.

So I said I’m coming from home here and I understand what the problems are. I also know how strong the foundations that Ochendo has laid, therefore I'm in a better position to know how many storey building I will put on top. I know what it can carry. I know what the super structure should be. There's an international conference centre, for instance. It takes somebody who is on ground to know what to do with that. What kind of conferences are you supposed to bring into Umuahia to use that centre and add value? I know.

I also know that many people don't know that Abia is a major cocoa producing state and what we need is a cocoa processing company, just to add value to the product so that you don't export raw cocoa. We should produce cocoa based drinks around Umuahia. Umuahia is friendly enough for anybody in the world to establish a company therein. Apart from that, I also know that we have rich mineral deposits around Abia North. Extractive industries can thrive there.

For Aba, I know what we can do in leather works; I know what we can do in textiles. Industrial clusters should be established in Aba. Expansion of the city of Aba should ordinarily start from a ring road. There should be a bridge, for instance, so that somebody going to Port-Harcourt does not need to get to the city centre before he passes.

What do you think is wrong with Aba currently?

Many people do not know what is fundamentally wrong with Aba. The truth is that the plan of Aba is inconclusive. We had to go to Owerri in Imo State to bring out that master plan which is inconclusive. But apart from developing the complete master plan which should be followed, I also know that the household stock in Aba has grown arithmetically, whereas the population has grown geometrically. So the drainages are strained. The underground drainages have to be converted to open drainages. If you allow water to be passing under and the thing stops somewhere like Azikiwe road, we don't have the requisite equipment to go "under" but if it is surface it is easy to maintain. And then we should redesign our roads also so that there will be space for pedestrian walkways and if someone wants to use bicycle he can also do that. The way it is now, you can't ride bicycle and be sure of going home. That has to change and we shall change it, if elected.
A lot of people will tell you collect storm water, let it go to water-side. No, it is not as easy as that. For you to do that there has to be a central storm water treatment plant that will ordinarily treat that water and make it safe for aquatic life.

I want to assure you that, most importantly, I have the humility to bring all ideas to the table because we are all working for the common good of the people. On this note, I want to invite you to partner with us here. We are thinking of the primaries on the 8th of next month but we're also thinking beyond that. We're saying that the time for everybody to come together and develop what we call our manifesto so that we can all think about how to move Abia forward collectively is now. Every idea you bring that is good, you can be sure that I will run with it. You can be sure that if we agree in this room, that a certain building should be pulled down so that a road could pass there, once I go out, consider that house pulled down. Nothing will stop me from pulling it down. , I'm not somebody who can change my mind midway. If we agree on something and see that it is worth doing, I'll do it.

How has it been with your campaign?


Another major achievement which Ochendo has brought to Abia is that he has returned Abia to the hands of the people. Today I'm talking about becoming Governor, and I have had to see over sixty elders and still counting. You don't need to ask me whether they are delegates. Ochendo has said to all aspirants "if you want to be governor, go and talk about your state with "ndi nwe Abia". Before now, icho iwu governor, you just go to Margaret Avenue there. You just enter keke and go there, you will see the Governor's mother, once you discuss and she agrees, ighola governor. But today, if you want to be governor, everybody will have a say. Just 2 days ago in Abuja, I met with Ukwa/Ngwa elites and old Bende elites to sell my candidacy and seek their support. I had to arrange to meet them in the evening and have a chat with them and they asked questions. Just like you guys are doing here. One of them asked me if I'm angry enough concerning what is happening in Aba, to bring change. I told him "oga we have gone beyond anger, we are talking of what to do". It is not enough to say I'm very very anger, what matters is action. Some of them don't even seem to understand what is happening. That Ochendo has brought us out from the rubbles of nonsense where you could become governor by talking to a lady. Today you can only be governor if you talk to all the leaders or the stakeholders and then go for general election. You must go to them and say, this is who I am and this is what I will do.

Do you consider yourself the best "equity" candidate?

I'm not running because I think I'm from Abia South. I am running because I have the pedigree and right combination of experience to do an excellent job. I am only lucky that the current zoning by my party, PDP, is tangential to my ambition. It is not the main thing. I want voters to assess me based on my pedigree and my determination to bring a change and further add value.

What personal changes do you expect if you get the nod of Abians?

This job is not a job you wear suit. The days of suit will end after the election. I will wear jean and hit the lawn running. I know we have great work to do but we are also happy that we are not going to do those things which Ochendo have done for us.

Tell us more about your waste management plan for Aba in particular?

Nobody understands this waste management task better than me in Aba and Abia Sate. I started thinking about it when I was Special Adviser in 2004. I undertook the enumeration of waste generation per capita. I didn't know I was one day going to do ASEPA work at Aba. You can see, coming from that time to 2014 to do waste management in Aba. I thank God for preparing me for that assignment early enough otherwise we probably wouldn't have recorded the modest success we recorded.

Note this: the volume of waste that comes from Aba is very high. About 5,000 metric tonnes and they must be evacuated daily to avoid an epidemic. Secondly, the waste management pattern in Abia generally interfaces only at two points - the secondary and the tertiary. That is to say that our interventions are only at the levels of collecting from the receptacle and then dump site. That is why at times you see buckets at the middle of the road. They ask people to bring wastes from their houses to these buckets (that is secondary collection). Then tertiary collection is what happens at the dump. We are not in charge of the primary collection and that's a major challenge. What it means is that in between the house and the receptacle, somebody can decide to drop the refuse in the gutters. There's no way you will know what someone is carrying. The other problem is social i.e. the attitude of some Aba people. Before we came, dumping of refuse was indiscriminate. The third one is technical and we can't shout about it. There is no assignment that gives you everything you require to solve the problem from day one. You are to manage scarce resources to pull out beautiful results. That is the challenge of a manager, without that there will be no point studying management. So we had to manage the number of trucks we had; we could have done better with more trucks.  But waste management is not the only challenge the state is saddled with. Other areas are also competing for scarce resources.

Moving forward, we are going to intervene from the primary point. But we also have a more beautiful option which is to use Private Public Partnership (PPP). Aba has 27 zones. We'll reduce the function of ASEPA to policy making, monitoring, assessment and evaluations as well as management of the development of the areas. Let private organizations collect the wastes from houses, move them to the dumpsite and recycle the wastes. If we follow this option it means that we will create jobs as well as make waste profitable in Abia. Also every infrastructural development going on in Abia must come with a concrete plan for waste management. If you are building a market, you must tell us how you are going to manage your waste. This might shock you: many houses in Azikiwe do not even have lavatories. We have an idea of what to do.

Can this wonderful plan be sustained?


We really need to sustain waste collection from the primary source. If you collect from the house, you will reduce even the time the individual households spend in handling waste. That is the way to go and once it is properly instituted with enabling laws, it won’t matter who is Governor: it will run from generations to generation. We shall also back up the program with a sustained social re-orientation campaign. My people, we are ready to deliver great values to Abians.

How exactly do you intend to build from where Ochendo stops?


I am more fortunate than Ochendo because I'm taking over from someone that has done something. Ochendo took over and he was engaged in a battle because he was trying to extricate Abia from idolatry, selfishness and all kinds of things. We were in a dark room, but the monster had a black form based on which he decided to mount a media war against Ochendo. I am lucky that that is neither my part nor lot but I expect the same media war against me from same sources too. It will likely be sustained and it is actually against Abia. It is not against Ochendo, not against me but against the state and it will continue from that quarters. But my response to it will be strategic engagement, with the people of Abia state who are my employers. I will encourage town hall engagements as well as street level interactions from day one. I'll engage and I'll allow sufficient input from the various strata of the society as well as those that matter on every issue.

There's something we do in environmental sciences. We call it Impact Assessment. Part of our approach to governance will be to have social interaction with the community that will benefit from projects so that you tell them that these things we are going to do will put some gas in the air, for instance. This gas is not harmful or it may be harmful. You discuss it. Once they agree, we do it. Nobody can come and blackmail you with it afterwards. So if I do strategic engagement with the people and do socio-political impact analysis and communication properly, we can guide and lead seamlessly. But I'll also need the hands of everybody on the till.
People don't engage you upfront, in most cases. It is when they begin to die slowly that they say what we do to the scheme. So I want a situation where we can chart the course and begin to run on it together from day one. And everybody will begin to see the flowers as they begin to blossom. For instance, in Abia now, this state is second least indebted state in Nigeria. Abia's exposure in terms of debt is only about N3bn and it will be wiped out before March. But one neighboring state owes over N400bn while another owes one hundred and twenty something billion.

This is not a state where you can wake up and say let me do bond of N30bn. I want to do flyover, stadium etc. The monster of Abia will raise people to say don't do the flyover. These are the things that this government battled and continue to battle. A neighboring state took N400bn to do flyovers but you can't even talk about it here. Once you talk about it, there won't be a consensus. And most of the dissonance will be sponsored. Some Abians in the National Assembly might even go to town and say you've been using their money for this and that. Yet we have to do what we have to do because you cannot tell stories to our children. Whatever we need to make sure their future is secured and rosy, we shall do.

Who says a plot of land should not be N10 million in Aba? We can get there if we develop necessary infrastructure. We can replicate the Dubai standard of shopping plazas here and do away with the current market styles. People are doing all sorts of high rise buildings elsewhere. Development in certain places is now tactical. When you want to do a small market, you consume a lot of land. Who says we cannot also go for a seaport at our border between Rivers state and Ukwa West?. We can compete favorably with neighboring cities if we do the right thing.  We can also look at what they need and present it across the river there for them to come and buy.

Going forward, there should be no difference between some of the neighboring major cities and here. But again, there seems to be a conspiracy amongst our neighbors to destabilize this city. We have heard whispers from certain quarters to the effect that they are going to put in N25bn to destabilize Aba and Abia. What have we done to them? You are trying to do a market and your brother governor will come and do one at the boundary and ask people not to go to your own market. Whereas we are supposed to be thinking progressively in an integrated manner. We can learn from what our brothers in Nnewi are doing. All of us know that you cannot talk of spare parts in Nigeria unless you go to the Nnewi. We should be working together as a region instead of voting money to destabilize Abia. That's the kind of things we are battling here.

Abians, especially those resident at Aba have complained about "multiple taxation" and harassment by touts. How do you intend to handle this if elected?

His Excellency Ochendo TA Orji has already reviewed the situation and I believe that between now and January he will make positive pronouncements on harmonization of the collectable revenue. The overall thinking within the government is that the days of multiple taxes are coming to an end in Abia.
On "touts" and "touting" you will agree with me that this challenge is not peculiar to Abia. But in some states the people we call touts have been given uniforms and absorbed within organized structures like LASTMA in Lagos. We shall review that model and fine tune it in such a way that the negatives will be eliminated while the positive aspects are further developed. You may not know this, the current government in Abia has done a lot of work in terms of empowering the youths of Abia to be productively engaged. Feel free to verify this, the government has given out thousands of cars, buses, tricycles etc to the youths of Abia state at zero cost to enable them fend for themselves in a decent manner. Not even one of the beneficiaries paid for it and all that the government demanded for was that they be used for transport business within Abia. In other states beneficiaries of such projects receive the vehicles on hire-purchase basis. Again, unlike in other states, the empowerment project of this government was fully focused on the ordinary Abians as against those within the corridors of power sharing the vehicles among themselves.

We shall further expand this laudable scheme to reach more Abia youths and take them away from touting. If elected, we will train many of them in ICT and develop an Abia version of "silicon valley". The building blocks are already there at the new Abia e-library. We also intend to not only make ICT education compulsory in Abia schools from primary through secondary, but will provide required ICT resources, including materials and manpower, at all our schools. Private schools will be compelled to follow our lead because we don't want to leave any Abia child behind. Our people are technologically inclined and we will give all necessary support to enable them excel and compete at the global level.

Of course I take note of the commendation of one of you on the consistent second position of Abia State in WAEC results. We are going to build on that and ensure that we not only come first consistently but ensure that the gap between us and the nearest state is as wide as possible. Once more we are lucky that a lot of works have already been done in this direction by the Ochendo administration and we are best positioned to build on that foundation.

Finally Sir, tell us about your family.

I am married to the most wonderful woman on earth, Nkechi, and God blessed us with four lovely children, three of them are undergraduates, while my last child is in high school.  As you may have read from the material issued by my team, we have been happily married for more than 27 years and God has been faithful to us and our children. My first son is currently undergoing industrial training here at Aba and all members of my nuclear family live here in Abia. I am not a mercenary politician (general laughter).

Please take a message to Abians and our other online social media friends who are not here: together we can build the Abia of our dreams. Tell them Okezie is ready to serve, if Abians send him.

God Bless Abia State and Nigeria.

 

Posted on November, 19 2014

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