Mr. Charles Ajunwa is chief press secretary to Abia State Governor Theodore Orji. In this interview with journalists in Umuahia, Ajunwa talks about the politicisation of the state’s recently reversed civil service indigenisation policy and the benefits of the coming national dialogue, among other issues. Anayo Okolie was at the session. Excerpts:
How would you describe your experience so far as chief press secretary to the governor?
It’s a new experience and I am challenged by it. It’s worth experiencing. The job is quite exciting and as somebody that is coming from the media, I don’t think I have much problem. I am equal to the task. I will be on top of the game. I must also use this opportunity to thank His Excellency, Chief Theodore Orji, for giving me this rare privilege to serve my state in this capacity and I will maximally use this opportunity to serve the state to the best of my ability and also not disappoint the confidence he has in me. Of course, with what I have seen so far, my job has been made simple because there are so many projects this government has handled and they are there for me to let the public know that Abia is, indeed, working.
Can you tell us more about the governor’s recent visit to Israel?
He was one of the governors that accompanied President Goodluck Jonathan to Israel for this year’s holy pilgrimage and as the governor of Abia State, he also used the opportunity to interact with the business community there. His interaction with the business community in Israel was quite positive in the sense that many investors showed interest and are keen on coming down here for investment because of the peaceful environment and the resources that abound in the state. Don’t forget that the governor’s visit also gave him the opportunity to receive spiritual and physical reinvigoration for the work ahead. I can say he came back with a new anointing and you can see it in his renewed zeal to serve. Immediately he came back from Israel, in his first executive meeting, they took far reaching decisions. It was resolved in that meeting that more windows of opportunity should be opened for Abians by way of employment. It was an opportunity for the youths, those relocated from the North where we have some security challenges as well as the non-indigenes that were earlier laid off by the government. The laying off of the non-indigenes, as you know, was politicised by some political leaders in the affected states. It was the period the minimum wage issue came up and due to the paucity of funds, given what the state gets from the federal allocation and given what the state wanted to pay as its minimum wage, there was a challenge to take certain critical decisions to be able to pay the workers. Why I said the issue was politicised was because Abia State was not the first state to take such decision. Some other states did theirs and Abia indigenes came back and were re-absorbed.
Which state did it before Abia?
It was not a matter of one state doing it, at least I can recall that three states in the South-east have done it and that is Imo, Anambra and Enugu states. Then Abia State did not play politics with it nor made any political capital out of it. But given the compassionate nature of Governor T.A.Orji and given the fact that he has worked towards improving the revenue generation in the state, he felt there was need to engage more people. It will surprise you to know that most of those non-indigenes that were laid off till date have not been given employment in their respective states, despite the promises by their states to absorb them. With this window of opportunity they have been congratulating the governor for the unique opportunity he is offering them. It is a show of leadership. It shows he is a national leader who feels not only for the indigenes but across states. This is a landmark achievement.
The presidential committee on national dialogue was in the state recent. How would you describe the position of the state on the major issues in the committee’s terms of reference?
The committee headed by Chief Femi Okurunmu visited here and Governor T. A. Orji articulated the position of the state. The governor sees their assignment as the first step in the journey of healing this nation and consolidating our national pride. He charged the committee to ensure that whatever decisions will be reached are implemented. He requested that there should be equity, fairness and mutual cooperation.
The governor made certain requests from the committee, urging them, among other issues, to resolve the ethnic distrust which still dominates contemporary Nigeria, resolve unsettled issues of the Nigerian civil war and the continued marginalisation that affect Ndigbo in politics, state and local government creations in Nigeria, resolve the growing conflict of resource control and equitable revenue sharing in our over-centralised federal system.
Other requests put forward by the governor include resolving the issue of equity in political power control between the component units of the Nigerian nation, resolving the growing cost of governance in the nation as well as the development cost implication of corruption in our system. The concern of Abia government is that the committee must set the agenda, like ensuring equity and equal representation of the various geopolitical regions, ensuring that no discussion should be off-limit in the dialogue, ensuring the outcome of the dialogue forms the basis of a people’s constitution, which must be adoptable through a referendum of Nigerians as well as ensuring that there must be a clearly defined time-frame for the dialogue and its implementation. These are issues that are dear in the heart of His Excellency.
The governor has already come up with the list of delegates to represent Abia and they are, indeed, our first eleven. They include people like Professor Joe Irukwu, Professor Anya O. Anya, Professor Chibuzo Ogbuagu, Senator Uche Chukwumerije, Chief Onyema Ugochukwu, General Ike Nwachukwu (rtd), Professor Ihechukwu Madubike, Professor Mkpa .A. Mkpa, Dr. Kalu Idika Kalu, Dr. Eme Okoro, Hon Mao Ohuabunwa, among others.
What is the current position on the relocation of the Umuahia main market to Ubani Ibeku?
The exercise is in progress. You know the governor during his electioneering campaign promised Abians that he will transform and beautify the state. So this is part of its realisation. The bulldozers are there and working and you can see from what is done so far that the beauty of the state capital is coming out as it should be, given the original master plan. You know the Umuahia main market has been there for over 70 years and that location is no longer in tandem with the modern touch the governor wants to give the state. The strategy is in two folds, one is for urban renewal and urban expansion. The movement of the market to Ubani-Ibeku will also help satellite towns to start springing up in those areas like what we are having in Abuja with towns like Kubwa springing up. You can see that Umuahia is almost congested, so there is need to open up the space to enable the capital city take its desired nature that will be a pride in terms of beautification and structural arrangement.
What exactly is the task before the inventory committee recently set up in the state?
The governor is a very thorough professional. So he wants all the projects of his administration to be documented. The committee is headed by the very capable Information and Strategy commissioner, Dr. Eze Chikamnayo. You cannot document your projects if you did nothing. So the idea is to let people know all the legacy projects this government was able to do. It will set the records straight to avoid controversy. The committee has already started sensitisation visits to government ministries, agencies, parastatals, etc. They will visit all the 17 local government areas in the state and all projects of the governor will be recorded and documented. Governor Orji’s legacy projects are massive, they will be documented.
There is no way you can criticise the Orji government if you know all he has done. Anybody doing that is either ignorant of the reality on ground or the person is simply being mischievous. There is no sector that is not positively affected. The state is planning a rich Abia festival this December and it will be another opportunity to focus on our tourism sector.