By BONIFACE OKORO, Umuahia on 28/12/2015
On Christmas Eve, Abia State governor, Okezie Victor Ikpeazu (Ph.D), unveiled his government’s plans for the next 100 days during a parley with newsmen at the Government House Umuahia. Going by the plans, 2016 holds bright prospects for people of the state as the policies, programmes, projects are tailored towards enhancing the welfare and quality of life of the citizenry, while, at the same time, striving to improve infrastructure. Part of the plans include making Abia the poultry centre of Nigeria, building of trade centres to boost vocational education, equipping the hospitals and tightening security. Coming with these plans is a tax regime that would assist government shore up its Internally-Generated Revenue to make up for the shortfall in federal allocation to the state. News Express Regional Editor BONIFACE OKORO was there. Excerpts:
Question: Mr Governor, you had earlier disclosed that your administration would run on a 100-day cycle. With the second 100 days gone, what are we expecting in your third 100 days in office.
Governor Ikpeazu: I want to say that most of you are conversant with the trajectory of this government since inception. We have done about six clear months now and you are aware of the economic situation in this country which was also reaffirmed by no less a person than Mr President himself. Consistently, our allocation has resonated between N2.2 billion and N2.4 billion every month. You all are aware of the salary burden which we bear as a matter of sacred responsibility to Abia workforce.
As I speak, our allocation is hardly sufficient to carter for our recurrent overheads and we are just trying to find a way to readjust and make sure we increase the content of our Internally-Generated Revenue (IGR) as part of our projected revenue going forward because that is, perhaps, the only way we can expect to keep afloat. This is also in addition to the strategy of delivering world-class infrastructure so that we don't have to spend the meagre resources we have going back to projects that we are supposed to have done.
So, durable, top quality infrastructure, top quality service at minimal cost plus enhanced IGR will be the strategy for our survival in the years ahead. I quickly want to draw your attention to six different issues.
In terms of governance, I am happy to say that we have full complement of commissioners which means that the state Executive Council (EXCO) is in place now and all the commissioners are up and running, doing their job with some measure of satisfaction. I am confident that our state is safe in the hands of this present crop of persons that are in the state EXCO:
Going forward also, I will like to mention that we have put in place, some agencies, including the Traffic and Indiscipline Management Agency of Abia State (TIMAAS) which personnel have just returned from training at the Federal Road Safety Corps camp. It is of note here to point out that this agency was born as a result of the collaboration between Abia State Government and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC). So we expect that FRSC will bring to bear, their wealth of experience and professionalism. This is our strategy to make sure that what we call agberos and those who interface with our people, either in terms of correcting some acts of indiscipline or commit various traffic offences are corrected and brought to book in a most professional way. That is why we have decided to institutionalise our traffic management, traffic control and other traffic infraction problems through an agency. I am happy to say that the third derivative of this particular strategy is that we have employed at least 200 young people in that agency.
I want to draw the attention of our people to the mandate of TIMAAS. Those days when we can wake up and drive our vehicles against traffic have gone; days when you take your car to a car wash on the road and then they will be washing your car there on the road, we will impound that vehicle and anybody repairing Keke or converting the road to a mechanic workshop so that you can pour lubricants on the road and then dissolve the asphalts and make us come back to that road in less than six months, we will also apprehend the mechanic and impound the vehicle. If roads are designated one way, nobody should go against the traffic. If there is a traffic jam or hold up, all of us, including myself, should sit on the hold up until our time comes. If you can’t sit on the hold up, you can leave your house by 4 am so that you can arrive where you are going before 10 am. If you wait until it is two minutes to your appointment and you are in such a hurry that you want to confiscate the lane and right of way belonging to somebody else, TIMAAS officers will chase you down. I know, especially in Aba, the reaction of our people will be to give a fight and those people have been trained to be very, very polite and courteous but they are also trained to defend themselves so that if anybody want to poke his finger into anybody's eye, they will resist it because we all want change, we all want ommelette but we also love our egg, we don’t want to crack it and it doesn't work that way
So, in the days ahead, that is what we are going to see. If you also have a problem, your vehicle is broken down, there will be a telephone number, if you call that telephone number, the vehicle will be removed from the road. Nobody will ask you to pay money immediately but certainly, you will pay for that service. But to say that “ah! my vehicle is spoilt, I cannot tow it” and then you abandon that vehicle there, and traffic will build up, TIMAAS will help you take it to a safe place and then whenever you want to repair the vehicle or give it attention, you will just pay TIMAAS for the service of removing your vehicle from the road.
Another agency which I will like to mention under governance is the Public Infrastructure Management Agency. This agency is also saddled with the responsibility of making sure that those who go about to remove the battery of our solar lights, those who go about to steal the solar frame itself and those who go about trying to steal the armoured cables with which we are powering these streetlights are discouraged. They are also responsible for maintaining facilities at common places like the grass verges around the roads because more often than not, you see that some people purchase parcels of land within choice areas in the city and abandon them and make them look very bushy and provide an abode for reptiles, snakes and criminals. So, this agency will go about in future to make sure they put such places in shape and, of course, those who will come to claim ownership of those places will now pay us for the job we have done on their behalf. But that is our way of saying that we will maintain zero tolerance for filth, abandoned plots and buildings within the city centres to make sure that we protect the lives of those who are available.
I am also very, very happy to say that this year, despite our constraints and despite the fact that the FAAC meeting from where we usually get our disbursements on monthly basis was postponed, that this government was able to pay staff salaries before Christmas Day.
I want to also say that in terms of works, road in particular, we are on over 47 active sites and job is on-going even today that is the 24th. You people were witnesses to the fact that three roads were commissioned in Aba a few days ago. But as I speak, we also have more than four roads that are ready for commissioning in that same city. For instance, the road leading through Living Word, to Ukwu Akwu, off Aba-Owerri road is ready and is more than a kilometer. The adjoining road that leads from Tonimas filling station on the express road to the same Ukwu Akwu is ready. We are waiting for the third leg of that road which will lead you through both flanks to Faulks road at a location they like to call Seven Deck.
As part of our strategy for zero potholes in Aba and Umuahia, we have asphalted at least, five roads within Umuahia and as I speak, the entire length of St. Michaels road in Aba is wearing an entirely new look, completely resurfaced with asphalt overlay. Same thing for Park road, same thing for Kent and Ube, just to mention a few of them and in Aba, it is part of our strategy to embark on this asphalt overlay, doing a mandate of 300 metres, at least, each night by the various contractors. And we have all our contractors working. If you go to Aba in the night, I was out in the streets by 2 am this morning and job was ongoing along Park road and we are combining it with street lights. We have two kinds of street lights the galvanised steel frames for streetlights and the stainless frame which we are using for our major roads, especially in the state capital and some of you would have seen samples along Bank road.
We have completed a brand new bridge at Okon in Ohafia local government area, that is different from the realignment of the bridge at Umunneochi. The new bridge at Okon will be commissioned very soon but we are waiting for the solar light which we are erecting on both sides of the bridge to make sure we enhance visibility of the bridge for those that would like to travel in the night.
Just by way of emphasis, Abia State is pioneering the cement rigid pavement technology which entails that after compacting with either sharp sand or laterite, we do the stone base surfacing on top of the compacted soil and then follow it with a four-inch concrete, then we place our iron metal mesh or BRC on the four-inch concrete and close it up with a six-inch concrete before we do the asphalt overlay. This is our way of trying to see if we can expand the life span of these roads, making sure that we don’t come back to them year in, year out.
We have reached advanced stages with Dangote and he has sent the highest ranking officer in his company in terms of Marketing to Abia. They went to Aba to see what we are doing. Very, very soon we will be bringing cement at a considerably reduced price.
In addition, Dangote will be helping us to acquire equipment that pave roads with cement at the rate of 1.5 kilometres a day and that is why we say that Abia is pioneering the use of rigid cement technology in road building.
And we are expecting that very soon, a new contractor will be on hand to begin work on the new Umuahia road leading to Aba through Ururuka and also on Faulks road in Aba. We have chosen these roads for first class contractors because we want to first of all give unfettered access to Ariaria International Market in Aba and then reduce the traveling time between Umuahia and Aba as short as possible because we are expecting and predicting that development may start to move in the direction of Aba from Umuahia. If we can bring those two cities together either by road or by rail, then it will tell good stories about the economic development of Aba and Umuahia simultaneously.
On education, you are aware of our thoughts in this sector. We started with E4E (Education for Employment) and part of what we want to do in that area has led to the designing of an MOU between a private investor and our government to make sure there is a trade centre in addition to the Boys Technical College in Aba for Abia South, in Umuahia for Abia Central and Ohafia for Abia North. The Trade Centre will be supervised and handled by some Mexicans and Phillipinos. The idea is for them to begin to teach our people once again, the rudiments of carpentry and joinery, and the rudiments of masonry and house wiring, as it were, so that we can produce our interlocking tiles, we can produce our school chairs and school forms of consistent quality and consistent form. Our idea is that between now and the next 12 months, no child from Ania State would have any reason, of course, to sit on the floor because we would have developed factories that would churn out so much in terms of school chairs and forms that we can even begin to export to other states, and as I speak, the construction of the factory has reached an advanced stage and those who are going to supervise it are already in Abia State and they have imported the first set of modern devices and equipment for carpentry and joinery.
Of course, you know that in other climes, people no longer use saw and everything is done in the digital way. That is what we want to also bring to bear here. Then we expect this trade centre will empower people with skills and create employment in a massive way.
There is a strategy for the Ministry of Education to start from the Month of January, to start the standardisation of our secondary and primary schools. We must find a way to make sure that the primary schools that are privately-owned which are going to be licensed are those that will have to meet our minimum standards here in term of full complement of teachers, teacher-pupil ratio, playground and facilities and equipment to also train our children.
But for the public schools, we are working hard to make sure that we reverse the drift to private schools. In as much as we cannot determine for parents where they can take their wards to, but we want to create stiff competition in such a way that the facilities that are available in public schools will compete favourably and even do better than the facilities we have in our private schools. As I speak, I am sure that the best of teachers are found in the public schools rather than in the private schools but all we need do is to encourage them a little, help them undergo some training and retraining, do one or two things about their orientation and perception about their job and then also make sure that the environment in which they do their job is good enough.
You are aware also of our private sector-driven initiative under Friends of Abia Adopt a School Initiative (FASAI), that is ongoing. About 2, 000 Cortina shoes have been produced by Aba shoemakers and we are waiting to take delivery so that we can officially launch FASAI in the rural areas. I want to call your memory to the fact that our attention is focused on the poorest schools in our local governments, four number in each local government, because we agree and we know that what dilutes the standard of education in Abia State and everywhere else, is not the standard of the best schools but the standard of the poorest schools. So, we want to speak to those poor schools and these poor pupils to see how we can bring up the standard of these schools and make it the envy of everyone.
Under FASAI, with N6 million, we have a design that will give you a building that will house 30 pupils from Elementary1-6, with a computer room, a library and a common room and the headmaster’s office as well as conveniences for the children.
And coming with it also is our initiative to provide free meals, three times a week through the Ministry of Women Affairs and as I speak also, from the month of January 2016, we will be able to provide free meals, Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, for pupils in10 schools at a go in all the 17 local governments and pray that God will give us the resources to sustain that initiative. But while that is going on, we work hard also to make sure that we get the mind and engagement of companies that produce all kinds of beverages and the kind of foods that children enjoy to make sure that they give back something to society as part of community responsibility and that is our way of saying that we hope that the burden of feeding our children will leave the desk of government to private sector people who are driven by their urge to return something to society and also make Abia a better place. The philosophy is zero tolerance for exotic food.
In terms of agriculture, we are focusing on poultry and some arable crops like cassava, cocoa and oil palm. As I speak, the process of unbundling our oil palm estate is ongoing and we are working hard to put ourselves in good and regular standing to access the assistance of the Federal Government, especially, the Central Bank of Nigeria in terms of agriculture in the days ahead.
I want to also say that in terms of poultry, our state government will in the days ahead sign an MOU with Obasanjo farms for us to begin to establish Abia State as a poultry centre, not only in the South East but Nigeria. We are going to focus on egg production and broilers and we have started discussions that will lead to the signing of the MOU in a few weeks time.
We are going to make sure that we minimise government participation in this, we are going to encourage young graduates who have flair for agriculture and indeed, every person that is capable of eating. Every person that is capable of eating food should also be capable of producing something in his farm. We want to tackle unemployment, we want to enhance the economy of our people, we want to first of all put food on the table of our people and have enough to export to other people. Our desire and ambition is to make Abia synonymous with poultry production in the years ahead.
On the environment, we have continued to support the enhanced waste management initiative in Aba and I thank God that the negative narratives about filth in Aba had receded to the background. But I have to mention that nobody is happy, including myself, with what is happening at the Umuahia dump, that is just a few metres away from Ubakala junction. As I speak, road construction is on going there by Strabag and we have identified a new dump site that is away and removed from the sight of people. We are hoping that before the First of January, 2016, ASEPA Umuahia will stop and desist from using that dump site there. They must also step up their game in terms of dump management.
People at Aba have mastered the strategies that are employed and deployable in dump management. If you see the dump site at Osisoma, it used to be a sorry site but today, people are coming for that land for all kinds of developmental purposes which means that it is possible to do it better and do it well and we will do everything to see that that is done before the end of this year.
Going forward also, we expect to move away from placing buckets here and there and replace it with the use of garbage compactors which are safer, healthier, in the days ahead. It is capital intensive because we have to deploy so many trucks, it also requires us to retune our roads because you can't do waste management if your road is poor and we hope that as we continue to improve on the state of our roads, that we can switch from open conveyance or transportation of waste to the closed device which is the garbage compactor. We have a few now but we need to replace all our vehicles with garbage compactors so that we can be able to move the waste safer and cleaner.
On health, I am happy to announce that our visit earlier this year to USA has started yielding positive results. We are expecting to take delivery of two full container loads of brand new hospital equipment that we will use to retool our hospitals, especially in Arochukwu, Ikwuano and parts of Abia South. We want to make sure that the hospital buildings we have already are equipped and that they are linked to secondary health centres in the days ahead. We will only embark on the construction of specialised Surgery Centre, they call it super tertiary facility, at ABSUTH in Aba and an Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in Umuahia to make sure that at least we can keep people alive until they get help from other areas that are better.
In 2016, we are going to lay emphasis on Child and Maternal Care through the enhancement of primary healthcare strategies because environmental healthcare has a way of breaking the cycle of disease because every disease you suffer, 90 per cent of them come as a result of mismanagement of our environment. So, if we have cleaner and safer environment, good water, good food, it is possible to reduce chronic diseases by more than a half. We are going to lay emphasis on preventive medicine, while keeping an eye on curative medicine. So, maternal and child care will take the front burner in the days ahead. We will also complete the trauma centre at 100 Timber Road which is about 40 per cent completed. Incidentally, I started that project when I was the General Manager of Abia State Passengers Integrated Manifest Scheme (ASPIMS) and I think that the time to complete it is now, so that we will have a specialised hospital to take care of accident victims whenever it occurs.
Of course, a Trauma Centre would be useless without the compliment of the ambulances. So, we are going to, in the first quarter of next year, also make sure that we bring ambulances. As I speak, before the end of this year, the Commissioner for Health would have completed the comprehensive scoping and analysis of our facilities, the way it is now because if you don't know where you are, it will be difficult for you to find your way to where you want to go to. That is foundational and fundamental and I think we will be ready with that by the 31st of this month.
In terms of security, we are aware of the challenges that occasionally raise their heads. In Umuahia what we hear often is car snatching, burglary and armed robbery. In Aba, all the three I mentioned earlier, plus kidnapping, seem to be the order of the day. But our security agencies seem to be poised to deal with it. We have managed to maintain a robust security architecture, using three-prong approach which include our gatekeepers in the various communities that tend to give us information about the movements of the miscreants we are looking for; may be, enhanced Police patrol which has slowed down a little bit because of vehicles. Our response to that is that today, we are going to give out about 25 brand new vehicles to members of the security forces and agencies. Our strategy is to ensure that every critical junction in Aba and Umuahia have police presence. They are not there to harass people but we have fixed some communication equipment to ensure, that one, their presence could serve as a deterrence; then, two, it is possible for them to report movements and behaviours that are suspicious and then collaborate and get help from one another. We have also procured some motorbikes which we are going to, within the week, without ceremony, further hand over to the Police and TIMAAS.
Question: How do you hope to realise these dreams in the face of dwindling revenue, particularly, the allocation from the federation account?
Governor Ikpeazu: We have a strategy to shore up our IGR which is two-pronged: the first one is to minimise wastages and leakages because there is a huge gap between point of collection of revenue and government account. Before the money travels from the point of collection to government account, nearly 70 per cent of the money evaporates. So, what we want to do is to close that gap and make sure that monies are lodged direct into specified government accounts. So, we have adopted a quasi-Treasury Single Account (TSA). We have one account for revenues, it doesn't matter which ministry or agency that is remitting it. This warehouse account will automatically give whatever commitment we have, either to the so-called agent or MDAs, whatever percentage we agreed. Assuming the State Ministry of Education generated N30 million and we want to give it 10 per cent of that money, once that N30 million hits that account, 10 per cent automatically goes into the account belonging to whichever agency.
The other strategy is to make sure we find a way to bring more people into our tax net. More than 60 per cent of those who are in Abia and doing business are not within our tax net. What we want to do is to find a way to make sure that if we have an interface with you, say you are apprehended because the particulars of your vehicle is not up to date. In responding to that, the next question will be, where is your tax receipt.
So, even if at the point of first contact, you are made to pay N1,000 or N500 only, as the case may be for the whole year, you have entered our tax net, we are not interested in how much you have paid because we know that since we have your identity on our data base, in the course of your doing business, if you go and buy a N200 million house along Aba Road in Umuahia, we will now know that that N500 we charged you last time is not commensurate with your income. So, we are trying to expand our tax net. When we bring people into our tax net and make sure we reduce the distance between point of collection and government account, we are very, very confident that Abia can comfortably do N1.5 billion IGR a month.
But beyond that, we can ask Aba people or Umuahia people, on account of the cement rigid pavement technology, on account of these streetlights, we have done, please pay, on account of the garbage we have removed from your door steps every day and provide other services, please pay. So, it is a two-way thing, as we try to deliver on our promises, we expect the people to respond and comply to issues of tax.
Question: There has been this rumour that governors are contemplating either reducing the N18,000 minimum wage or sack their workers because of worsening economic conditions. Are you contemplating any of these.
Governor Ikpeazu: For now, it is not on our radar. Times are hard but I don’t Abia is within the relegation zone, we are not. We are above average and our body language does not suggest that we are prepared to go down. I will rather ask the workforce to double their productivity and output because there is no limit to what you can pay your worker, especially if the worker is adjudged to be making very meaningful contributions to the stability of government, the growth of our economy and the welfare of Abia people.
If they help me to achieve my target of N1.5 billion revenue monthly or go beyond it, then they would have secured their place, they would have secured their environment. So, we are not contemplating downsizing our workforce neither are we contemplating reducing their salaries.
•Photo shows Governor Ikpeazu.
Source News Express
Posted 27/12/2015 10:32:05 PM
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