Mr Ikpeazu made many promises in his first and second terms as governor, but the question is: has he been able to live up to his promises and the people's expectations?
Okezie Ikpeazu, the third governor of Abia State, was first elected in April 2015 under the platform of the Peoples Democratic Party and re-elected for a second term in 2019.
In his first inaugural speech on 29 May 2015, Mr Ikpeazu pledged to grow the state's economy by facilitating ease of doing business, building infrastructures and improving the healthcare services in the state, among others.
"Our land Abia is blessed with its strategic geographic location and direct access to seven other states. We can regain our status as a major commercial and transport hub in the South-east and South-south regions of Nigeria.
"We have opportunities to forge partnerships that enable us all to implement economic goals, drive accelerated growth in our key economic sectors so (that) our hopes and dreams are achieved," Mr Ikpeazu said.
The governor listed the "key economic sectors" to include agriculture, trade and commerce, startup business, manufacturing, oil and gas, education and sports.
In his second inaugural speech on 29 May 2019, the governor promised to "consolidate" his "achievements" in the first tenure while carrying out more projects in the state.
"Ndi Abia, you have heard me talk over the past few months about the Enyimba Economic City. This will be the legacy of our administration, our flagship project," he said.
"Six hundred and fifty thousand jobs will be created, 300, 000 units of urban housing will be built, I.5 million people will live and work there. Two thousand industrial/business units will be established there and annual value output of $5 billion will be realised in the city.
"The pointer to the value of this project is that the Federal Government of Nigeria has invested into it by taking 20 per cent equity worth N100 billion. This project will succeed. This is my pledge to Ndi Abia," Mr Ikpeazu assured.
On 29 May, Mr Ikpeazu will exit office as governor of Abia State after eight years in office.
PREMIUM TIMES examines data on key socio-economic indicators to discover how Abia State fared under Mr Ikpeazu's administration between 2015 and 2023.
Promise to establish Enyimba Economic City
Despite announcing, in May 2019, that the Enyimba Economic City would be his legacy project, Mr Ikpeazu failed to build the project, four years after.
Although a site was partially cleared for the project, no work had been done as of mid-May 2023, findings by PREMIUM TIMES showed.
An official of the government, who asked not to be named, told this newspaper in May that "there were several projects earmarked" by the current administration that were either not accomplished at all or shoddily done.
"The Enyimba Economic City was supposed to be done under a public-private partnership arrangement, but as we speak, nothing has been done on the site," he said.
Internally Generated Revenue, FAAC Allocation
In 2015, the year Mr Ikpeazu took office as governor, the internally generated revenue (IGR) of Abia State was N13.34 billion. The state's IGR ranking stood at 12th, data released by the Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS) shows.
By the end of 2019, months after Mr Ikpeazu's second term in office, Abia's IGR slightly grew to N14.77 billion but declined to the 24th state with the highest IGR nationally and second lowest in the South-east after Ebonyi. The state raised N8 billion in the first six months of the year and N6.77 billion in the last six months.
In the same year, the state received a total of N52 billion from the Federation Account Allocation Committee (FAAC), taking the amount of total revenue available to N66.8 billion. The FAAC disbursement contributed 78 per cent to the total revenue of the state in 2019 while the IGR contributed 22 per cent.
This indicated that the state relied heavily on funds from FAAC in 2019.
In 2020, Abia cut its operating expenses from N53.1 billion in 2019 to N50.4 billion in 2020. The state also avoided a heavy decline in its IGR. Of the 18 states that saw a decline in their 2020 IGR, Abia recorded the smallest shock, only a -2.66 per cent decline from N14.77 billion in 2019 to N14.37 billion in 2020, data from the BudgIT shows.
Again, the state depended even more on FAAC disbursement for the year which stood at N55.39 billion, accounting for 79.4 of the state's recurrent revenue of N69.76b billion, while IGR contributed just 20.61 per cent. In 2020, the state's total available revenue stood at N91.81 billion, quite a gap when compared with its total expenditure of N105.36 billion.
Abia State's dependence on statutory handouts from the federation account, instead of its IGR (like Rivers and Lagos states) exposes it to risks of indebtedness, BudgIT noted.
When analysed on a per capita basis, Abia State's IGR in 2020 stood at N3,462, the 20th highest among the 36 states and the fourth highest in the South-east region, slightly better than that of Imo State which had N3,441.
In the 2021 fiscal year, Abia grew its IGR by 17.41 per cent year-on-year from N14.37 billion in 2020 to N16.88 billion in 2021, according to records by BudgIT.
However, the state still depended heavily on FAAC disbursement for the year with 78.51 per cent of Abia's total revenue (N87.2 billion) coming from the federally distributed revenue which stood at N61.6 billion.
Further analysis of the revenue shows that Abia State's per capita IGR was N3,957, less than the average IGR per capita of N6,131 for the entire federation.
The state's capital spending in 2021 increased by 22.48 per cent from N35.53 billion in 2020 to N43.52 billion in 2021, ranking it second in the South-east. Its capital spending per capita is N10,202, which is higher than the N8,557 figure from 2020 but lower than the N12,063 average capital expenditure per capita for all states in the country.
Still, on the IGR, the state dropped to the 23rd position in 2021 from its 19th position in 2020 nationally. Again, when the state's 2021 IGR is analysed on a per capita basis, which is N3,957, it is lower than the subnational average IGR per capita of 7,166.91.
From the foregoing, Abia's IGR grew from N13.34 billion in 2015 to N16.88 billion in 2021, an increase of N3.5 billion in six years, under Mr Ikpeazu.
BudgIT annually assesses the fiscal sustainability of the 36 states in Nigeria using four indexes. These include the ability of a state to cover its operating costs, and loan repayments without borrowing. Other indexes include a state's fiscal capacity to borrow more, given its low debt burden relative to its annual revenue, and the prioritisation of capital over recurrent expenditures.
Within the first six months of 2015, two months after Mr Ikpeazu assumed office as governor, Abia State was ranked 14th on the fiscal sustainability index, the second lowest in the South-east after Imo State.
By 2020, the state ranked 25th on the index, emerging as the lowest in the South-east.
The state, however, improved in 2021. It ranked 15th in the index, finishing second lowest in the South-east after Imo. But it dropped further in 2022, ranking 18th in the index, also the second lowest in the South-east.
This indicates that Abia State performed poorly in fiscal sustainability index rankings between 2015 and 2022 as it dropped from 14th to 18th overall.
Available data shows that Abia was on continuous borrowing under Governor Ikpeazu's administration, resulting in a rising debt burden.
In 2015, when the governor took over office, the state's total external debt stood at $41.5 million, while domestic debt was at N33.5 billion within the period under review, according to data released by BudgIT. It emerged as the 26th most indebted state nationally and fourth in the South-east.
By the end of 2019, months after Mr Ikpeazu's first tenure in office, the state's total debt burden rose to N98.31 billion. This represented an increase of 223.43 per cent within six years from N30.40 billion in 2014. Still, in 2019, Abia's domestic debt stood at N68.76 billion, the highest in the South-east. Its external debt grew to $96.59 million, the third highest in the South-east and 12th nationally.
By 2020, Abia State's domestic debt stock surged by 29.63 per cent from N68.76 billion in 2019 to N89.14 billion. Its external debt grew to $96.79 million, leaving it with a combined total debt burden of N125.82 billion.
The state, consequently, ranked the 19th most indebted state in the country, the data showed.
Within the same period, the state's total debt per capita stood at N30,324, higher than the country's average of N27,316 per citizen.
Abia State was the 18th most indebted state in the federation as of December 2021, with a total debt stock of N136 billion. The state's domestic debt stock grew to N95.21 billion while its external debt jumped to $101.13 million.
The state's total debt stock increased by 8.78 per cent from N125.92 billion in 2020 to N136.98 billion in 2021, representing an increase of N11.06 billion, data from BudgIT showed.
As of 31 December 2022, Abia's domestic debt had surged to N103.7 billion, becoming the second highest indebted state in the South-east after Imo State, according to records by Nigeria's Debt Management Office (DMO). Within the same period, Abia's external debt stock slightly dropped to $94.2 million, becoming the third less indebted state in the South-east after Ebonyi and Imo.
Thus, Abia State's external debt stock grew from $41.5 million in 2015 to $94.2 million in 2022, an increase of over 100 per cent, in more than seven years, under Mr Ikpeazu. Its domestic debt also surged from N33.5 billion in 2015 to N103.7 billion in 2022, an increase of over 200 per cent, in more than seven years, under the governor.
Available records show that in the third quarter of 2017, about two years and four months after Mr Ikpeazu took over, the unemployment rate in Abia State was 28.6 per cent. It surged to 31.6 per cent in the third quarter of 2018, the highest rate recorded in the South-east, data from the NBS showed.
Thus, Abia State's unemployment rate grew from 28.6 per cent in 2017 to 50.07 per cent in 2020, an increase of nearly 100 per cent in three years, under Mr Ikpeazu.
In 2019, after Mr Ikpeazu's first term in office, Abia State had a poverty headcount ratio of 30.7 per cent, the third highest in the South-east after Imo and Anambra. The ratio placed Abia among the states below the national average.
The report, released by the NBS, was based on data from the Nigerian Living Standards Survey.
The poverty headcount ratio, also called the poverty rate, is the per cent of people's population who are multidimensionally poor.
By 2022, the figure increased to 33.9 per cent, the worst in the South-east.
Ease of Doing Business Ranking
A conducive business environment, experts say, plays a huge role in inspiring investments in a state. There is a general belief that investors usually consider the business environment when making a decision about where they should invest.
There was no data on the ease of doing business ranking as of 2015, the year Mr Ikpeazu assumed office. However, an Ease of Doing Business ranking by the BudgIT in 2017 indicated that starting a business in Abia would take an average of 44 days, the highest in the South-east.
In 2018, Abia State was ranked 16th on subnational data on the ease of doing business, the second highest in the South-east. It scored 77.10 out of 100.
The ranking was published in a report, Comparing Business Regulation for Domestic Firms in 36 States and FCT Abuja with 189 other economies. It focuses on whether an economy has in place the rules and processes that can lead to good outcomes for entrepreneurs and, in turn, increased economic activity.
By 2022, the state recorded a significant drop in the ranking. It was ranked 32nd on subnational data on the ease of doing business, the lowest in the South-east.
Thus, Abia's Ease of Doing Business Ranking dropped from 16th in 2018 to 32nd in 2022, under Mr Ikpeazu.
Under-5 mortality rate, Access to health
Between 2016 and 2017, about two years after Mr Ikpeazu took over office, 86.1 per cent of pregnant women in Abia State had access to four or more antenatal care visits, according to data by the NBS.
The state emerged second highest in the South-east after Anambra and the fourth state with the highest percentage of the nation's 36 states and the FCT.
By 2018, the state slightly improved with 89.2 per cent, becoming the third best state in access to antenatal care visits across the country, just after Osun and Ogun States. The score placed the state above the national average of 56.8 per cent for the year.
In 2021, the NBS data shows the figure slightly dropped to 89 per cent, becoming the seventh best in access to antenatal care visits across the country. The state, however, emerged the best in the South-east.
On the Under-five Mortality, data showed the rate for Abia State between 2016 and 2017 was 83 per 1,000 live births, the second highest in the South-east after Imo, although data for Enugu was unavailable for the period.
In 2018, data showed that the under-five mortality rate in the state was 86 per 1,000 live births. With the figure, the state clinched the third highest position in the South-east and 20th nationally.
By 2021, the figure increased significantly to 115 per 1,000 live births, recording the highest position in the South-east and 11th nationally.
On the other hand, the number of women married or in unions who use or whose partner used contraceptive methods in Abia State was 16.6 per cent between 2016 and 2017, placing the state as the fourth best in the South-east and the 17th nationally.
In 2018, the state dropped to 12.9 per cent to emerge 13th lowest nationally and second lowest in the South-east.
Thus, the percentage of pregnant women in Abia State that had access to four or more antenatal care visits improved from 86.1 between 2015 and 2016 to 89 per cent in 2021, under Mr Ikpeazu.
Also, the details above indicate that Abia's Under-five Mortality rate grew from 83 per 1,000 live births, between 2016 and 2017 to 115 per 1,000 live births in 2021, an increase of about 40 per cent, under Mr Ikpeazu.
Similarly, the number of women, married or in unions, who used or whose partner used contraceptive methods in Abia State dropped from 16.6 per cent between 2016 and 2017 to 12.9 per cent in 2018, under Mr Ikpeazu.
Budgetary Allocation to Key Sectors - Education, Health
According to experts, there are important sectors that require investments to engineer the socioeconomic development of every society. Two of those are education and health.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation recommended that governments of various countries should allocate 15 to 20 per cent of their total annual budgetary allocation to education. Similarly, heads of African Union countries, in April 2021, recommended the allocation of at least 15 per cent of their annual budget to the health sector.
An analysis of the Abia State Government's budgetary allocations to the education and health sectors under Governor Ikpeazu's administration shows that the state has consistently failed to meet the minimum benchmark for the sectors.
For instance, in 2017, Abia State allocated N4.4 billion to the health sector, out of a total annual budgetary allocation of N102.5 billion. The allocation was less than four per cent of the total budget, which is below the minimum benchmark for health.
In 2018, Abia's health budget is 7.5 per cent of the total budget, data from the BudgIT showed.
Also, in 2019, BudgIT pointed out that the state's actual capital expenditure on health and education at N251 million and N683 million respectively was "incredibly low and cannot transform the state" in the long-term with regard to the sectors.