Abia State Governor, Chief T.A Orji fielded questions from journalists on the margins of the National Good Governance Media Tour of the state. Excerpts:
There are fears about the completion of the many ongoing projects in the state before you leave, what assurance are you giving?
I am assuring Abians that I am going to finish the projects that I have started. I cannot start any project that I know that I 'm not sure I will finish. We have the funding for most of the projects that you are seeing on ground. And as we are progressing, I know that the revenue of the state will continue to improve on a daily basis because of the machinery that we have put on ground.
One lingering question is how are you getting funds without borrowing to execute these projects?
It is by the prudent management of the one that we have. If you move around, you discover that we are not extravagant in the first instance; we are not doing showman's business. We have all buried our ambition to make sure that we achieve these projects. We are cutting our coat according to our size.
So what drives you?
What is driving me is the determination to improve Abia because I know what we have suffered. Before now, if you compare Abia with some of the states that were created with Abia, you would see that it was lagging and people were insulting us, some of them refer to Umuahia as a glorified village. But do you hear that again? People came to Umuahia in the past and said that it was like a glorified village yet we had governors here who were having their personal agenda.
I don't have any personal agenda. I am not a businessman, I don't own any company. I am not interested in business because I have said it that if I go into business, I will be cheated because I don't know anything about business. What I know is this thing that I am doing and I 'm here to utilise any little money I get and ensure that such is invested on the people. We want to do something for which we shall be remembered.
You have relatively formed a consensus among the political class here and minimized antagonism. How were you able to do this?
If I were a cantankerous governor, we would have been fighting here everyday but we have seen those things as mere distractions and we decided to face governance and you don't govern alone. You have to carry your people along and what we did was to bring those people that were disenchanted by what was happening before and give them a sense of belonging.
It didn't cost us anything. What we did was to give them sense of belonging which was not given to them before now. Instead they were driven away and nobody listened to them despite their age and experience. At that stage in life if you find yourself in that position, where nobody cares about you or consults you, what you do is to relax and leave the state to drift to any situation.
I formed the Elders Council (EC) that involved all those elders that will be giving their advice on a regular basis to the government. So, that is a sense of belonging. When you go to those people that you see as pessimists or enemies or visit their houses, they will express surprise. I made Gen Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), the Chairman of the reconciliation committee and he was going from house to house reaching out to those people who were attacking us and today most of them have come together.
If people give the stakeholders a sense of belonging, and empower the youths and the masses just as we are doing, they will rally round your government. Before now what the former administration used to give the youths in the name of empowerment were shovels and head pans. You as a young man, if I give you a shovel and head pan, will you be happy? You will curse me and that was the mentality during the time of the former government because they don't want anybody to surpass them.
But in our youth empowerment, we are giving out brand new cars and tricycles. I banned the use of Okada here and replaced them with tricycles. We gave out refrigerators and barbing equipment and other items that are tangible which can add value to the lives of the people. You can now see the difference. When you touch the youths in that positive way and give the elders the sense of belonging, you will see that all of them will rally around you. So that is the magic that we are doing.
Some people are advocating going back to the cultivation of some of those things that used to give Nigeria money in the past like palm produce, cocoa and rubber, do you have the intention of reviving that aspect of the economy of this state?
We have already gone back to that. For example, we have the rubber plantation in Ndioji that was wasting but today we have brought in investors who are currently managing that place, tapping the rubber gums, selling them, making money and also giving us our own share. As at now, they have employed 1300 youths for rubber alone. Now we are establishing liberation farms in the senatorial zones. We have started from Ukwa West.
Some assert that you are not doing much on the matter of sports development. So, what efforts are you making to promote sports development?
My brother, who told you that sports has not received an attention here? Enyimba is there. Do you know how much it cost us to keep Enyimba Football Club? Since 2007 that I came on board, they have won many laurels, nationally and internationally, and it takes us a big chunk of money to run that club and they have been in the top league all along from 2007 till now.
Apart from that, just two weeks ago, I rewarded the Paralympics, I gave to each of them N1 million. They won medals in London for Nigeria and not for Abia but we decided to encourage them. So we do encourage our sports people. We don't come out to blow our trumpets but we are spending a lot of money in that area.
You see, it is only in Abia that we have three football clubs that we are running: Enyimba Football Club, the Comet and the Warriors. Some people are only running one club and they are shouting but we have been running three clubs in Abia since 2007.