Chief Ikechi Emenike is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Abia State. In this interview with IFEANYI EMMANUEL, he speaks on governance in the state and the kind of leadership the state requires come 2023
Are you satisfied with the level of development in Abia State compared to other states of the federation?
It is shameful and disgraceful that as of 2022 people still use roads as campaign promises in this country. If someone had told me when I was younger that we’ll still be talking about roads now, I would have doubted it. We all travel; I want to challenge anyone who has travelled to show me one country in Europe, where those seeking elective positions come to tell people to vote for them because they will build roads. These things are given. They’re normal. It is the work of the commissioner for Works to handle such; a governor comes up ideas to drive the state to a higher level.
What can you link this underdevelopment of the state to?
The budget of Abia this year is N147.2 billion. It means that poverty will still be here this year. For anybody to make meaningful improvement, the budget of Abia should not be less than N300 billion. With all the ones they’ll steal, how do you expect Abia’s budget to solve the problems available? It doesn’t require rocket science to solve; even individuals do that in their homes. When you evaluate the cost of your rent and your children’s school fees and it’s obvious that your salary can’t handle it, you have to look for another means of earning legitimate income to augment what your normal income cannot handle. We can’t rely on that. I remember that in the First Republic, we had many industries in the Eastern Region that helped us. Any government depending on monthly allocation will translate to annual misery for everybody. We need a government that can generate income.
What is your idea of an ideal budget for Abia State?
I left banking for the university to teach Economics and I thought about budget. Let me tell you one thing about budget. Usually, I had a dramatic way of introducing second-year students to budgeting. I bought a big mirror for that course and I usually keep the big mirror in the middle of the class and ask all of them what they see? Some will see only themselves, others will tell you they saw their friends and blackboard behind them and someone must tell me he or she sees the entire class. When I get such an answer, I’ll accept it as the definition of budget. An ideal budget is a mirror through which everybody in a state must see themselves. Let me ask you this, how many people see themselves in the Abia State budget? Let me make sure you understand this properly. You see the teachers; their monthly salaries are their own view of that budget. It is the same for the pensioners and contractors. For the students, their own views and benefit are good schools and affordable education. What we have now or what we create is a budget that doesn’t carry people along and has nobody’s interest. We must create a holistic budget that’ll help this state move forward.
How can Abia improve its budget since it is obvious that allocations are not enough?
Aba is the key to improving Abia State budget. In 2006, I told Aba people that we need to rebrand made in Aba products. I was the first person to say that. Then I was contesting for the governorship. I made it clear to them that I’ll be the Chief Marketing Officer of made in Aba products, not a governor that will use the siren to gallivant. Chief Marketing Officer is not about giving money, it is about empowering our artisans in shoe making and bag making with some reasonable amount of money to make samples of shoes for many federal agencies, especially those in the defence that need such and I’ll present such to them to patronise us. That will ensure that all the budgets that concerned such agencies will end up in Aba and it will improve our economy and increase our income. This is what I said as of 2006 and the evidence is there. The opportunities are still open. I will take it further to all the Francophone countries that are still having challenges. Nobody is pursuing spreading the reach of made in Aba goods to many countries to improve Aba because they are all interested in allocation coming from Abuja. The allocation coming from Abuja can’t save us; it can solve our problems.
Many people have different opinions about Aba; to you what does Aba represent?
Aba represents opportunities yet to be harnessed. Aba is the head of Abia State. If you remove letter ‘I’ in Abia everything become Aba. Aba is a great land and the busiest city in Nigeria with indigenous people who are the most liberal Igbos. Aba is a great land that has survived through self-help but the government helped in the destruction of Aba and it is still the government that will help to revive Aba. If we get Aba right; Aba alone can feed the entire Igbo land and be a centre of attraction in Nigeria and internationally. Do you know that there’s a dying and ageing entrepreneur population with no one to replace them? For some of them, the government here has turned them into nobodies. People who developed this state need to be appreciated for their efforts in creating employment. We have prominent people whom we should celebrate, but how many youths are replacing them? Nothing is working in Aba again. Churches have taken over factories, but the reality is that churches will not thrive forever. Take a good example from Europe and you’ll understand.
What are the major things you think the city of Aba needs to blossom again?
They are many. For instance, do you know that Aba is the only major city in Nigeria without a public university? In 2006, when I ran for governor, I told them my plans to convert the Abia State Polytechnic, Aba to a university and improve the Abia University Teaching Hospital (ABSUTH) in Aba and build another one for Abia State University, Uturu (ABSU). Go to states like Osun and see that university is a huge industry; education is a big industry. Again, when you tell someone that there’s no bank in Aba, the person will think you are joking. They’ll start listing branches of commercial banks with headquarters located in Lagos. What you people call banks here are nothing but cash collection centres. Their job is to collect money. If you need big loans you go to their head offices in Lagos, if you need serious employment, their head offices do that. They can only employ cashiers and messengers here. Whatever bigger level of employment you need must be in Lagos. It’s only in the South-East especially Aba that you’ll see people who have PhD doing pretty trading because they cannot find alternatives. Abia and Aba in particular need a government that can regenerate its economy. In 2006, I told Abia people that if we win the election in 2007, we’ll create a financial base for Abia State. We’ll create a state bank that can handle our affairs. America which is the centre of capitalism has state banks. We all remember the role the Bank of the North played in the First Republic in the northern part of Nigeria. We still remember the role of Wema Bank and National Bank in the South-West. African Continental Bank (ACB) and the Cooperative and Commerce Bank (CCB) were for the East. But today, there’s no bank anywhere in Nigeria except Lagos State.
2023 is drawing closer, what’s your message to the Abia State electorate?
What Abia needs now is the very best and only God knows our hearts to know who the best in Abia is. Whenever campaigns start, people will abandon quality and start talking about their candidates and who are their kith and kin. Let me tell you this; if it will take Governor Okezie Ikpeazu’s blood brother to fix Abia after his administration, let him come and lead.
What about this issue of voter apathy?
It is a huge problem here. The population of Abia State is over six million, but those who vote during elections are no more than 250,000. Now, out of over six million people, 250,000 come out to support those who are holding us down. My prayer is that at least 300,000 Abia people will get up and say enough is enough. Any party you see a candidate whom you’re convinced will serve Abia well from day one, please vote for that party. I’m saying Abia must rise. Our mission is not just to rescue Abia, it is to rescue and rebuild Abia. Let me ask this, is 24 years not enough years of suffering? Our people are being chased around all over African countries because of the things happening here. Some die in deserts. The poverty and misery anywhere in Abia is our collective property and misery but we can end it by electing a party that will serve. They will come out tomorrow to give people N20,000 to vote for them and that will be the price people will sell the state to their oppressors. Please let those who have not voted before try very hard to participate in this one.
What are the chances of the APC both in Abia and at the national level come 2023?
They will always tell you that APC is a party of strangers, who are not from the East. Please, is it a stranger who is not from the East that will be a governor in Abia State? Beyond that, under the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), can anyone show the roads they made better in this place? But we have a N1.2 billion project in a village here in Abia from the Federal Government. President Muhammadu Buhari’s government has achieved a lot in Abia and the entire South-East that PDP never attempted. I’m not saying this government is perfect and the best, but it has done something we should acknowledge and appreciate. We must be conscious and refuse to be deceived. However you see it, APC will retain the Federal Government. I am telling you what I know. It is a matter few months. We need a government that will be part of the national in Abia. We need a governor, who will be part of that victory in Abuja, not a governor who doesn’t know the road to Aso Rock. The competition is beyond winning elections, we should be competing in development and to be better than the best. Abia is number one alphabetically; it is not a mistake. Abia needs to be number one not just in alphabetical order of states.