By John Okiyi Kalu
Permit me to weigh in on the issue of approval for Abia State to access $200m facility from African Development Bank (AfDB) for infrastructure development, as a common citizen of the state only.
I personally find it strange that of all the states given approval to access International funds with very low interest rates, long repayment period and 7-10 years moratorium, only the approval granted to Abia is attracting organized attacks by the political opposition in the state.
The Abia AfDB facility is part of the $30b borrowing plan of the Federal Government of Nigeria. At a recent interview, the Director General, Debt Management Office (DMO), Dr. Abraham Nwankwo, copiously explained that the $29.96 billion borrowing plan is a strategic action to free funds for domestic borrowing and drive down the cost of funds in the process.
According to the article published by Thisday Newspaper, where Alex Otti writes a weekly column, the external borrowing option was equally taken because of the concessionary window offered by foreign lenders. Nwankwo also disclosed that in seeking the loans, the DMO had carried out a comprehensive Debt Sustainability Analysis (DSA) and factored in Nigeria’s ability to service the debt as well as existing ones.
Frankly, the rhetoric I have heard and read makes me question the motive of those who call themselves opposition politicians in Abia State. My political science teacher told me that people acquire political power to further public good and around that reason are parties formed.
In Abia State that appears not to be the reason our people in opposition are in partisan politics.
While many of our people in opposition are quick to lambast our former Governor, Chief T A Orji, for not doing enough with Aba roads, they tend to forget that he actually initiated moves to get AfDB to fund infrastructure development at Aba, with support from our sister and eminent economist, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who was then the Minister of Finance of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
In 2014 I published a note where I accused the then Jonathan led Federal Government of abandoning Aba and Abia roads thereby forcing Ochendo to take the fall for what they should have solved given that our people massively voted for Jonathan and PDP. I noted that the major problem with Aba was the 3 entry-exit roads: Aba-Owerri road, Port Harcourt Road and Aba-Ikot Ekpene road. All 3 roads are federal roads and the state lacked the resources to do the kind of work needed to fix them and one would have expected that a Jonathan led Federal Government will rush to our rescue and fix them while leaving the state Government to do adjoining roads.
The key problem with those roads was the failure of the underground drainage system that led to the flooding of those roads with concomitant damage to the roads.
Shortly after my note was published, I spotted Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala at Umuahia and obviously assumed that Ochendo must have impressed on her the need to support the state to fix the key Aba roads and other federal roads in Abia State. She later went on inspection tour of some federal roads in Abia before returning to Abuja.
Not long after her assessment tour and return to Abuja she used her international contacts to invite AfDB to come and look at the infrastructure challenges at the state where she is married and represents at the Federal cabinet as Minister of Finance.
That was exactly how the $200m AfDB facility saga started, to the best of my knowledge. The Ochendo administration celebrated when it looked like we were soon going to get help with our roads, especially key Aba roads, and signed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with AfDB.
If the Ochendo administration had successfully accessed that facility nobody would have had cause to complain about the state of Aba roads.
It is important to note that at that time, Dr Alex Otti and Dr Uche Ogah were close to the Ochendo administration and NEVER raised a voice against the $200m facility. They were presumably happy we were going to fix our roads and other infrastructure, like other states were doing.
May be that also explained why Otti gleefully told members of Aba Chamber of commerce in February 2015 that he had, in his private capacity, secured a loan of $100b from International Finance Corporation (IFC) for infrastructure development at Aba and was ready to deploy it "from day one" of his imaginary administration in Abia State.
Permit me to digress a little and point out a few things. Never mind the fact that it was always impossible for a private citizen to borrow on behalf of a state, as falsely claimed by then APGA candidate Otti who was apparently forced to review the outlandish figure after he was challenged that the amount reported was even not possible for Nigeria as a country to borrow at once.
In my eyes, former Governor Peter Obi was a superstar Governor of Anambra state. I also like the efforts ex-Governor Martin Elechi and current Governor Dave Umahi made, and are still making in Ebonyi state to develop infrastructure at Abakiliki in particular. I have also observed that Abia opposition politicians want to make those two neighboring states their development benchmark for our dear Abia State, though I firmly believe that Abia is the greatest state in Nigeria because we have the best Human Resources in Africa.
Yet the same Abia opposition elements seem not to know or have forgotten so soon that Peter Obi leveraged on the support of world bank and donor agencies like NEWMAP and RAMP to develop infrastructure in Anambra.
Where those in Abia opposition partying while the debate on whether Anambra was borrowing from Islamic development bank or not raged in 2011, during the administration of Sir Peter Obi?
They have also chosen to forget that Elechi started the process of borrowing that Umahi has now actualized for the development of Ebonyi State. Aside other facilities, Umahi's Ebonyi state also got approval to borrow additional $70m AfDB loan that will be co-financed by Islamic development bank for Ebonyi ring road alone. While Enugu State got approval to borrow $100m for infrastructure development.
Even with the latest loan approvals from the National Assembly, Abia opposition elements have not yet noted that Ebonyi and Enugu are also borrowing, with one of them even borrowing from Islamic development bank sources, without much ado or noise from the political opposition in those states.
The same Abia opposition hypocrites who inundate us daily with pictures of development projects from Enugu, Ebonyi and Anambra states don't want to see same development in their own state.
Is that not uchuism of witchcraft proportion?
Where will Abia ordinarily get funds to develop, at this time, to the even poor level Abia opposition benchmarked for her? Is it from Dr Otti that does not pay one kobo as Tax in Abia state? Or the other character who lives abroad and comes to Abia only when there is election?
If anyone in Abia opposition has demonstrated any semblance of commitment to Abia State it is Uche Ogah, even if he made his Uturu investment with political considerations at the back of his mind. In contrast, our "Abia First" exponent chose to build a massive hotel in Lagos instead of Aba or Abia that he professes to love first.
For the avoidance of doubt, let me state that the issue of misappropriation of the facility does not arise because the Abia State Government will never have direct access to the $200m as AfDB is expected to hire contractors and pay them on their own. Not even one kobo will go into the state's account. At best the Ikpeazu administration will only supervise the agreed projects to ensure conformity to specification and need.
If not for malicious politicking folks in Abia opposition should ordinarily be expected to know these facts. In any case, in the unlikely event of funds being misappropriated or diverted, there is EFCC and ICPC to do their statutory diligence, in addition to the state legislature.
A responsible Abia opposition should have applauded the efforts put in by the Ikpeazu administration to realize the designated projects and may be demand to be allowed to review and monitor the relevant projects.
Let no one have doubts about this: the only reason Otti and co are scampering, like rats out of a hole, with regards to this facility is because they believe that if the associated projects are implemented Governor Ikpeazu will be virtually unbeatable in 2019.
For Abia opposition, it is all about 2019 politics, as against the interest of Abians.
I challenge them to honestly deny this fact and tell Abians that they will be satisfied if Abia is granted the facility and the projects delivered diligently.
The issue of over borrowing is just stuff for the gullible and those who can't read. Abia is among the least borrowed states in Nigeria. The loan exposure of the state stood at about N6b, at the inception of the Ikpeazu administration, according to Commissioner for finance, Obinna Oriaku. Even that loan portfolio was restructured by the Federal Government and spread over a period of 20 years at single digit interest rate, as part of the arrangement for the bail out funds the state received.
All the neighboring states to Abia, including those borrowing again, have much higher debt exposures than Abia. Please google and check from Debt Management Office (DMO) website. These facts are available for verification.
For instance, neighboring Cross River State has more than N40b loan exposure. Imo, Ebonyi, Enugu and others also have much more loan exposures than Abia.
Even with massive oil derivation funds, former Governor Godswill Akpabio borrowed to fund infrastructure development at Akwa Ibom State, that some now hypocritically compare to Abia. That was at a time Akwa Ibom state was getting as much as N17-20b monthly from FAAC. The state had more than N30b debt exposure as at 2015.
Yet those who lost and won elections in Akwa Ibom state regularly come together to plot how to further develop their state, unlike the perpetually recalcitrant and bellicose Abia election losers who have rejected all peace moves and overtures of Governor Ikpeazu to join hands with him and develop the state.
Are we cursed with malicious opposition parties and individuals?
For those who belong to the social media age, permit me to inform you that we have been here before. In 1979 when late Chief Sam Mbakwe became Governor of old Imo State, that included present day Abia, Imo and Ebonyi states, he met massive post civil war infrastructure decay challenge in the state with little support from opposition (NPN) led Federal Government of Alhaji Shehu Shagari.
It was the state of Aba in particular that turned Dee Sam Mbakwe to a "weeping Governor" and he was actually lamenting his government's financial handicap with regards to positively turning around the terrible state of Ndiegoro and other areas of Aba. He was rightly advised to borrow from international development banks and agencies to fix the problems and given that at that time you don't need federal approval to borrow, he borrowed heavily to fix Aba, Umuahia and Owerri.
While Mbakwe was borrowing to send MCC, Bencov and Feugerolle to Aba, Owerri and Umuahia, opposition NPN politicians were wailing like present day Abia opposition elements and maliciously calling him names. They railed against him and did everything possible to suffocate him and stop the progress of our people. Even during the 1983 polls they ganged up against him and tried to torpedo his re-election, until he audaciously showed up at IBC radio station and personally announced election results he collated from his agents from all the polling units in old Imo State, thereby tying the hands of a rigging prone Federal Electoral Commission (FEDECO). Ultimately he was declared winner of the 1983 Governorship election in Imo State.
Today, no man born of a woman dare insult Mbakwe in Abia, Imo or Ebonyi states. He was and still is our champion and we love him.
It is interesting that history is repeating itself again in 2017; 37 years after. This time, it is happening in Abia state where Mbakwe arguably did the most work.
The players this time include humble and focused Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, who has made Aba and Abia infrastructure renewal the cornerstone of his service to Abians, against a motley crowd of Governorship wannabes in APC, APGA and PPA.
Just like in the 80s, I am firmly convinced that Governor Ikpeazu will emerge triumphant against his transducers. I see the signs of victory and I am already singing the songs of a NEW ABIA because, try as hard as they might, no opposition politician can stop the AfDB infrastructure development facility for Abia State that has been long in coming.
They simply lack the capacity to do that but surely have the capacity to make themselves enemies of Abia people forever. May be we should help them self annihilate politically.
Finally, permit me to explain that not all the $200m facility will be committed to roads in Abia. We have challenges with sanitation and Governor Ikpeazu is committed to deploying systems that will convert our wastes to wealth while ensuring that our streets are clean and dirt free. $50m of the AfDB facility will be devoted to sanitation projects while $120m will go to roads. To meet the perennial erosion challenges that mostly bedevil Abia north and central senatorial zones, there is $18m for that.
Indeed if any man says he loves Aba and Abia State but opposes the $200m AfDB facility he is a liar and the truth is not in him. It is this facility that is expected to fix PH road, Uratta road, Ngwa road, Osusu road, Omuma road, Ikot Ekpene road, Aba-Owerri road, Obohia road, Ohanku road and many more roads scattered around Aba, Umuahia, Ohafia, Arochukwu, Isuikwuato etc. In addition, the erosion at Amaogudu junction of Abiriba, Isingwu erosion, Isuikwuato erosion and many more will also be tackled alongside the sanitation challenges we have in Abia.
As far as I am concerned opposition is good in a democracy but when opposition is premised on maliciousness it becomes anti-people and useless to the people.
Stop hiding behind repayment plans to attempt to punish Abians because you lost elections or want to be our Governor at all cost. Those who are availing this facility must have seen and approved the repayment plans presented to them. And if my generation have successfully repaid the loans late Chief Sam Mbakwe took to restore old Imo State after the war, my children can surely repay the $200m facility Governor Ikpeazu is accessing to restore Abia infrastructure.
My name is John Okiyi Kalu and I have written as a tax payer, resident and citizen of Abia State. I dare you to reply me if you are a resident, tax payer and citizen of Abia State too.