BY PAUL NWABIUKWU
Sometime in the mid2000s, during my first stint in government, I was part of a Federal Ministry of Finance team that paid an official visit to the capitals of Cross River and Abia States. The Calabar part of the trip was very pleasant. Under Donald Duke, the streets of the Cross River capital were lovely; clean, welldrained, decked with flowers. The Government House Calabar was even lovelier with comfortable, well-appointed rooms and office spaces and fastidiously maintained facilities. I particularly remember the delicious meals served by the experienced chefs.
The meetings were intensive but the hospitality took the edge off and we departed the city with a measure of regret. Umuahia, the Abia State capital was different, very different. The auditorium at the temporary Government House was full of substandard, rickety furniture and the quality of service made Calabar seem like the capital of a first world nation in comparison.
“ABIA IS GENERALLY IN THE NEWS FOR THE WRONG, UNINSPIRING THINGS. IT HAS BEEN IN THAT INFAMOUS CATEGORY OF STATES THAT, EVEN BY THE LOW BAR THAT CHARACTERIZES GOVERNANCE IN NIGERIA, ESPECIALLY AWFUL. ABIA IS THE STATE THAT PEOPLE OF OTHER STATES THANK GOD THAT THEY DON’T COME FROM”
The government team we engaged, with a few exceptions, was also very different, with some of the commissioners looking and sounding like His Excellency’s house boys. The next morning, we had to make The just concluded presidential election in Nigeria presented a spectacular scenario. With what was commonplace on social media platforms populated by people with higher educational certificates and professional/vocational exposures, it is not likely we are going to have that new Nigeria in the foreseeable future… With that election done, and the self-styled potentates dusted, it would be difficult for some entities to retain their pre-election statuses and reverence. I was deeply worried about my uncle’s heart. He has a blood pressure challenge.
Thank God I was in Uyo when the 2015 presidential election result was announced. I had advised him much earlier against placing too much premium on election outcomes, but should always keep an open mind because anything could happen.
I told him that permutations on ground did not favour his then preferred candidate; that he should create room for the unexpected. He dismissed my advice, citing what he regarded as solid indicators. It almost cost his life.I had just returned from my sojourn in Abuja as one of the principal officers of the 2014 National Conference. Given my orientation as a journalist, I had carried out a survey among a very potent political population that made up the delegates. I knew their thinking and dispositions.
I placed our own arrangements for breakfast because “bread don finish, Oga.” My colleagues didn’t miss the chance to make light hearted fun of me, the only Abian in the delegation. I offered a half-hearted defence by citing the prudence of the Orji Uzor Kalu administration.
That was, of course, a joke because neither that government nor any of its two successors can be successfully prosecuted for possessing integrity or prudence. I eventually gave up when a large rat emerged from some corner of our assigned quarters and quickly disappeared into another.
A decade and a half, later and a few days to the 2023 presidential and legislative elections, many Abians wish rats were the only problem confronting the state. Abia is arguably the worst managed state in the country today.
Along with Benue and a few others, it is one of the states that regularly fails to perform the most basic function of a state in our “feeding bottle democracy”: pay civil servants salaries regularly. Abia is generally in the news for the wrong, uninspiring things. It has been in that infamous category of states that, even by the low bar that characterizes governance in Nigeria, especially awful. Abia is the state that people of other states thank God that they don’t come from. The attitude is: “we may be bad but at least we are not Abia.” Consider: Abia is the underperforming rump of the five states of the South East. Every other state in the region has had its bright points since 1999.
Enugu had the taciturn performer Sullivan Chime who boosted the infrastructural glory of the former regional capital. Ebonyi has its stabilizing statesman-governor Sam Egwu and the incumbent, the abrasive David Umahi who has some sparkling expressways and bridges as well as a medical school to his credit. Imo is not exactly a shining light on the hill of good governance but it has had its revolutionary moments – the mutinies that ousted Ikedi Ohakim and prevented the efforts of its penultimate governor from making Government House, Owerri a branch of the Rochas Foundation.
Anambra has had Chris Ngige who came in as a lackey but proceeded to fight off the vicious godfathers squeezing life out of the state; followed by Peter Obi whose time in office brought stability and improved the quality of governance in many significant respects. But Abia has had no respite from awful rulers since May 29, 1999. It has been a procession of the dodgy, followed by the dubious complemented by the despicable. Orji Uzor Kalu was the pioneer.
His defenders say he “tried” and he was not as bad as those who came after him. But this pitch quickly collapses when subjected to scrutiny. Orji Kalu was the pioneer who set the state on the path of shameless underperformance and cruel insensitivity that it has remained on. He also set the tone for the anyhowness that defines governance at all levels in the state. Governance in Abia is anti-competence.
The many Abians who excel on the national and international stage are hardly found in the state. The few that manage to sprout like … in the desert don’t get a chance to contribute their best in the squalid politics of the state where small men with small minds hold sway. The provincial state capital which can pass for a local government headquarters in other states is a metaphor for the lack of bold and innovative thinking that defines governance in Abia. The current situation in Abia is doubly sad because Abians are among the most hardworking and innovative in Nigeria.
The state’s youth are consistently among the top performers in WASC and JAMB. Multidimensional poverty rates in the state are among the best in the country because of the robust culture of entrepreneurship.
But youth unemployment is over 30%, higher than the national average of about 23%, according to some estimates; in 2010, it was almost 10% less. Abia youth has been hit hard by a combination of unimaginative governance and the impacts of the ruinous IPOB stay at home order. This is why the coming elections are critical for the state. There are many promising contenders but in achievement, experience and sheer commitment, the Labour Party candidate, Alex Otti stands out.
PDP which has had positive spells in Cross River, Enugu, Akwa Ibom, Bauchi, Jigawa and some other states has been a disaster in Abia and its current candidate, like previous ones, does not inspire confidence. It’s time to root out the rats, human and otherwise, that have brought Abia so low. 2023 needs to be different.