Abia Oil Windfall
The governor of Abia State, Chief Theodore Orji, has lauded President Umar Yar’ Adua over the recent restoration of 46 oil wells in the state. He also described the President as a listening leader.
Orji, who credited the restoration to the hard-fighting regime of his predecessor, Chief Orji Uzo Kalu, carpeted former President Olusegun Obasanjo over the role his administration played on the controversial oil wells.
It will be recalled that the state was denied control of the oil wells by the Obasanjo administration, despite the long-drawn protest of the Kalu administration. Said Governor Orji:“It was a long battle. When we came on board we got fighting. Fortunately, unlike what we experienced in the last eight years under Obasanjo, we now have a president that listens, a president that is fair. That is why we had those oil wells.
“It means a lot to Abia State, because the money that comes from there will now be given to the state and will be used to develop the state. You know the Niger Delta Development Commission has one of their representatives here right now. When Obasanjo was president, it didn’t come to us. It only came to us during the administration of Yar’Adua.”
The governor, in this interview, also highlighted his achievements in the last 100 days and assured Abians of his administration’s readiness to bring the needed development to the state.
He also spoke on why his party, Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA), agreed to join the government of national unity proposed by President Yar’ Adua and his relationship with his predecessor.
You recently marked your first 100 days in office. Looking back now, what have been your challenges?
There have been many challenges. First of all, is having to contend with opponents. Secondly, there were many areas in the state that needed to be developed. That does not mean that the last administration did not try its best. It worked, but there is the challenge of continuing from where it stopped.
It was reported recently that some oil wells have been restored to Abia State. Considering the fact that this was denied the state by Chief Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration, would you say this is a coincidence or a deliberate attempt?
Yes, 46 oil wells have been given back to Abia State. And this is the result of the efforts of the immediate past administration led by Chief Orji Uzo Kalu. It was a long battle. When we came on board we got fighting. Fortunately, unlike what we experienced in the last eight years under Obasanjo, we now have a president that listens, a president that is fair. That is why we had those oil wells. It means a lot to Abia State, because the money that comes from there will now be given to the state and will be used to develop the state. You know the Niger Delta Development Commission has one of their representatives here right now. When Obasanjo was president, it didn’t come to us. It only came to us during the administration of Yar’Adua. So, as far as I’m concerned, it’s President Umar Yar’Adua that gave it to us.
There was also an allegation by your predecessor that part of the allocations were being unduly cut…
(Cuts in) Yes, I agree with you because they were taking everything personal with the former governor. Because of that, they refused to give us what was due to us. We fought for these oil wells to be restored. We talked about it, shouted about it, during the regime of former President Olusegun Obasanjo. Nothing happened. But right now, under the administration of President Yar’Adua, we just asked and he gave it to us. So, it is Yar’Adua that we recognise that has given it to us.
When you were talking about your first 100 days in office, you made mention of the opposition as one of the challenges so far. How do you mean?
I’m dealing with the opposition in Abia State. The strive to reconcile with them; the strive to tell them to come to me and join me so that we can move the state forward. Those people never gave me any chance. They thought I’d never be governor. They were not on ground, we were on ground. But they connived and sent me to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), which detained me for 10 months. They refused to give me bail. But eventually, God was by our side. I got there. And they said that I would not be sworn-in but I was sworn-in. Now, they are at the tribunal. They can’t win at the tribunal. I’ve told them severally because all the people that contested election with me are from the same senatorial zone with me. They are all my brothers. Why not come with me and join us. If they were here, they couldn’t have done better than me. But, of course, they couldn’t have been here because I was on ground. I was born here; I worked here. I never worked outside. I was mixing with my people. I was Chief of Staff for eight years. I touched the lives of people. But none of them has done that. Most of them don’t live here. They are either living in Lagos or living in Abuja. They only come during elections and after elections, they would disappear.
In what particular way have you approached them?
I’ve said it openly that my doors are open to receive anybody who wants to come. And there was one man who contested under Alliance for Democracy (AD). He’s my friend and my brother also. He has withdrawn his case from court, because he’d seen that what I’m doing is actually what he would have been doing if he became the governor. So he withdrew the case. But the other people are very very stubborn. They think they can win the case but the facts are there.
Is there any plan by your administration to build another Government House and a state secretariat in view of the complaint of some people that what you have now are not befitting?
Of course, I have a plan. You see, the secretariat we have is not sufficient to accommodate the people. The furniture there are nothing to write home about. But when I came on board as governor I said now, I have to put a structure for which I’ll be remembered. Moreover, I’m a product of the civil service. We have to give them a sense of belonging by creating a conducive environment for them to operate, so that they can perform. For that, we have chosen a contractor and soon, he will be mobilised to start building the secretariat.
As for the Government House, I think that’s not our priority for now. This is because it’s the governor that is there, and I’m the governor. I’m okay with this place. I’ll rather like to get the development to the masses than to find my personal comfort. And to that effect, I have also started building a market for Umuahia. If you enter Umuahia, it doesn’t look like a capital.
The road that leads to Umuahia is a federal road and we are planning to dualise it. So, we wrote a letter to Mr. President and he gave us approval to do that. As you were passing through the tower to here, you would see that the road has been marked for expansion. The same thing with the road that moves from Nmuakpa to the town. Also in Umuahia, we’re trying to put structures on ground because we have a lot of land. We also have plan to build three industrial zones for the three senatorial zones in Abia North and South. We’ll do this by acquiring a large piece of land and pay organisations to put infrastructure. Then private investors can come in.
In the area of education, you know we have a free education from primary to secondary school. And that is still on. I also want it to be on record that it was during my time that Eyimba Football Club of Aba won the Super Cup competition. That is an achievement in the area of sport. If you’ve gone to Umuahia also, you find out that water is running. We’re trying to build infrastructure for the people. I’ve also tried to revive the free transport scheme, which was initiated by my predecessor. I did this by bringing in more personnel and more equipment, and we are moving from ward to ward, village to village carrying people free-of-charge. These are some of the projects we have taken on in Abia in the last 100 days, to make sure that people enjoy the dividends of democracy.
Aba is a hub of commercial and industrial activities. What plan do you have for that commercial city?
Before you start expanding or installing new things in Aba, you have to talk of the present situation in Aba. The present situation is that the roads are bad and there is nothing you do for the people in Aba that they’ll be happy except you do their roads. If you go there today, they will wave at you and point at their roads. Not that the roads were not repaired. Of course, they were, but because of drainage problem most of them have turned bad. So, we want to repair the roads. And the people are the problems. They will block the drainage and put their buildings on it. When you give them the roads, then they go over, especially the markets where they trade. The roads in Ariaria market are bad. When I stayed there I gave out contract for the repair of 89 lines timber market and the contractors are right now working there. I have also discussed with Chambers of Commerce on how we’re going to market products of our small scale industries. These are the things we have done to make sure that we open up the space for commerce.
We have already given out 40 hectares of land for an industrialist so that those who work in Port Harcourt and don’t live there can come and live here. The man has also applied for another 30 hectares of land to build our own wharf. All these are some of the things we have done for the people and the development continues.
How would you make sure that all the development projects to be carried out by your administration will not elude the people of the rural areas?
I’m governor of Abia State, not that of Aba or Umuahia. And the state is made up of three senatorial zones. So whatever we do must be distributed equitably among these zones. But we have to start from somewhere, and that has to be from Umuahia and Aba, which are the state capital and state’s commercial nerve centre respectively. The demands of the rural areas are not many. Once you give them roads, give them water, light and hospital, then you’ve satisfied them. I have told them to be patient. That does not mean that we are keeping quiet. We’ve awarded two contracts for the construction of roads in the rural areas. And they know this is the raining season. That is just to give them a sense of belonging. But what I’m doing in Umuahia and Aba is important, because this is the place you see when you come to the state. It is the impression you have here that you’ll carry to these rural areas. That’s why I told them to be patient.
This is the first time you have attended the World Igbo Congress in your capacity as a governor of an Igbo State. What is your assessment of the event?
Well, it’s a good event in the sense that it brought all the Igbo together. But I have observed that the problem with the organisation is that, though it makes good decisions, the decisions just die there. They are never implemented. That is the fault I have discovered with that meeting.
Don’t you think the location of the meeting in the US is also faulty? One would have thought it’s more symbolic that the congress holds in either Umuahia, Enugu or anywhere else in Igboland.
I think it’s the issue discussed that matters, regardless of where the congress holds. The idea of US is good because it afforded the Igbo abroad the opportunity to be part of the discussions concerning issues affecting them at home. It can as well hold at home, either in Umuahia or anywhere in Igboland, but you know we have to pay to sponsor these people to come home, because some of them have never been home in many years.
Part of the decisions taken at the congress was the integrated development for all the Igbo states. How best do you think this and other decisions could be implemented?
That is a project for the future. As for now, I think the concern of every individual is to develop his state. I cannot leave Abia now and start developing other states. You can bring those ideas but the problem is funding. I sincerely believe that it is a good idea but we have to start from somewhere and that’s our home base. And that is what I’m doing at the moment.
In the last eight years, Igbo’s claim to have been marginalised led to the clamour for the President of Igbo extraction. From being number three in the last dispensation to ‘number zero’ currently at the federal level under PDP, how would you define the Igbo man?
You have already defined it. We are number zero. We are nowhere; we are marginalised. And the marginalisation is still there in Nigeria that all of us built.
Many have said that former Governor Orji Uzor Kalu did not enjoy the full support of his fellow Igbo political leaders in the last presidential election, which brought the conclusion that the Igbo are the cause of their travails. Do you support this view?
Well, that may be correct to a certain extent, that we are not very united among ourselves. This is not peculiar to the Igbo alone. But the Igbo are worst hit because they don’t support their own. They would rather go and join others where they will gather very well. In the last dispensation, the past Abia State governor was a very sincere person. He had the interest of the Igbo at heart. And the majority of the Igbo supported him. But some people intentionally went and caused a division. And that’s the problem we have. We are not united.
Do you think President Yar’Adua has faired well with respect to the appointment of ministers and aides in his constituted Government of National Unity?
I support the Government of National Unity and that’s why our party, Progressive Peoples Alliance (PPA) is part of it. This will make all to be committed and work in the interest of the country. It means when they start sharing positions, there is no way it won’t get to the PPA. Already our party has got a slot for ministerial post, which could come from any part of the South-East.
But there is fear that the GNU will lead to the absence of a credible opposition, which does not augur well for democracy.
That’s not correct. The opposition parties are still there. They can pull out at any time if the government is not doing well. The parties are not dissolved. Once you’re there and you are not satisfied, you can pull out. What we are doing is to make sure that there is peace in Nigeria.
Some are saying that you’re a stooge to former Governor Kalu. How true is this?
That is not correct. They are saying that because I worked closely with him for eight years. I am a different person. How is he teleguiding me? I’m here alone and he is facing his business. He doesn’t interfere in the affairs of the governance of Abia State, except the one I asked him. And when I did that, he gave his genuine and dispassionate opinions.
You worked with him, what are the things you learned from him?
I didn’t learn any negative thing from him. Of course, at my age I wouldn’t learn negative things. But I did learn positive things. He is a very brave man and not everybody can have the capacity to fight like him. He is a very focussed man, sincere and very hardworking. These are some of the things I learnt from him.
How are you coping with the big men who control politics in the state?
They are on their own. None of them is a threat to me.
Not even in the area of appointments?
Well, this is politics. You can call one or two people to give you names of people that are trust-worthy, people that can sincerely assist in serving the people. Most of the stakeholders are from the other side. But if they come with good intention, I’ll consider their request.