To Chief Theodore Orji, the governor of Abia State, what is uppermost on his mind is to complete his transformation agenda for the state before he leaves office in 2015. After a project tour of Abia State, the governor took time out to field questions from Sunday Vanguard on issues ranging from his successor to the steps taken by his administration to transform the state. He also spoke on the challenges posed by kidnappers and baby factory operators in Abia. Excerpts:
We have gone round and seen the infrastructure in place including the youth empowerment programme. Is there anything more you want to do for the youth under the empowerment programme?
As a government, what we want to do for the youth is unlimited but we are taking them in sequence. First and foremost, you have to provide a means of livelihood for them. Employment by government is not easy because the fund is not there. So, providing employment through government agencies like the civil service is very limited. A lot of people are unemployed; if you go through government agencies, it will only take a limited number of youths but then they have to live and they have to move forward.
Therefore, what we can do is give them the ones that will give them immediate employment like what we are doing here now. There are a lot of programmes like the skill acquisition where they can be trained and, on graduation, you equip them and give them money to start up. The most immediate one is this issue of transportation; you buy the vehicle and give to them and they become the owners, they become transporters and entrepreneurs.
Of course these were people who were not doing anything before. They are self-employed and now they have eased a congested transport system in the state. They help to transport goods and services from one location to the other with ease. Another one is farm settlements or liberation farms where these our youths are employed. We also have a palm estate being managed by some persons. They have been employed from the three senatorial zones. We have our park estate, which someone is managing. We are in partnership with a company recruiting our youths there, over 500 of our them and in the estate over 1,000; this is a way of getting our youths busy.
Do the beneficiaries include those displaced persons?
Of course, they are the major beneficiaries. Any person that was displaced from the former market will be considered before any other person in terms of shop and price. That was the condition we gave; the price must reduce drastically.
Many people thought it was not going to be possible; but kidnapping disappeared. How were you able to tackle insecurity in the state?
As I always tell people, I will not come and tell you the secrets I used because these are security issues. First is determination. You have to be determined to fight kidnapping and that comes with a lot of things. You have to put in a lot of resources, because it is capital intensive, buy equipment to give to security agencies; spend money on information gathering and on the populace to help you.
It is something that involves life and death. Before you send a person to do such a job, you make that person happy. You have to inject some resources into that â€¦then the people must cooperate with you. These are the people that gather the information; they get it even more than the State Security Service (SSS). The people know the kidnappers, because they live around. When they give information to the police, the army or SSS about kidnappers, their work will be made easy.
It is very expensive to get information, because there was a time one traditional ruler gave out the name of a notorious kidnapper, who was apprehended. From outside the state, they organised and came to murder the man and his wife. So, for a person to volunteer and get information, a lot of things must be put in place, and you have to keep the identity sources of your information secret.
These are some of the things you have to do; it is the function of the government, which can pull you down as well as lift you. You will achieve it when you know the gains that will come; it will spur you to action. When you know there are people who have confidence in you; they will more than determined to follow you, because they know you are protecting their lives and their property. Life is essential as well as property, because if it is destroyed over-night you wonâ€™t be happy.
In every 12 there must be a Judas but that doesnâ€™t mean security agents didnâ€™t cooperate with us â€“ they gave us maximum support. The team took a higher level when the army came in. Before it was only the police that was handling it; but the inadequacy in the police did not allow them to fight very well; though they did their best. But when the military was involved, that was when the kidnapper ran away. You know our people donâ€™t like soft hands; the khaki of a soldier terrifies them. When they saw it, they knew it wasnâ€™t business as usual. The army engaged them seriously.
Their leader died in the course of exchange of fire when soldiers went to his camp. His men fled, because their general had been killed.
What about the issue of baby factory that has surfaced in the state?
The level is quite low, just as the level of kidnapping is very low. I will be telling a lie if I say there is no kidnapping again in Abia. But now you can have one incident of kidnapping, perhaps, once in a long time, which is very encouraging. There used to be six to seven issues of kidnapping in a day, especially in Aba. There was a time almost the entire Aba people ran away. Today, it is just minimal. The kidnappers do it with fear because they know the consequences. We have police posts everywhere in Abia with the establishment of army unit in Ohafia. So, kidnapping is drastically reduced.
That of baby factory, which is a new phenomenon, started after the battle against kidnapping. We confronted and arrested the people involved. We demolished their buildings. Now, baby factory issue has diminished. The same happened in Umuahia south local government; one woman who was living there was said to be running a maternity home, recruiting girls and inviting men to impregnate them and she would take the baby and sell. When we learnt about that, she is a very rich woman, making money from the business, we went there and brought down the building, some of her vehicles. We are on top of the issue as we are beaming our searchlight everywhere.
Do you have a blueprint as the chairman of South East Governors?
Yes, I have that in mind. We have this Southeast Economic Summit by Engineer Chris Okoye. He has to come and champion this issue in conjunction with government so that we can now have a blueprint of what we can do as a group and individually and what we can do with foreign participation and in alliance with our colleagues in the South-south and South-west, if possible. If we have that blueprint, by the time our tenure is over, we will be in a position to put up a standard which we may accomplish to a certain extent and if we donâ€™t achieve it, those coming behind will follow the footstep and do something.
You have on ground huge projects. How do you ensure they do not become a waste after you have left?
If you didnâ€™t come to Abia, you wouldnâ€™t know anything as you have seen is on ground especially with the propaganda championed by the person we all know. We took a lot of things into consideration before we started building. The first thing now is that we are considering some event/property management people, because after building, including the secretariat; if you leave it for government to manage, in the next two years, if you come to that conference centre or secretariat, you will weep. Now we are trying to bring in experts, who will cater for the structures to make sure they are maintained. If there is any fault, they will take care of it and government will be paying them.
Secondly, they have to organise events to make money. So they will run that place like a business venture not government going there every day; not paying anything. Anybody who wants to use that place will have to pay money to government and that money will be used for other projects. That is what we have in mind about the international conference centre, the secretariat, the BCA building and the e-library among others.
What programme do you have for women?
We do not discriminate; women are all involved in our programmes. When we have our empowerment programme, if women that come cannot drive, we advise them to bring one of their children. So their children enjoy our empowerment programme, they benefit from scholarship as well as bursary and our health facilities. They and their children get involved in the skill acquisition programmes.
Often times, you will see my wife building homes for widows and widowers and empowering them with cash. Some of them will come and meet you to also assist them on personal issues and you will oblige them. These are little things you do to make them happy. That is why you see them in the field; or anywhere I go; they are ready to die for you because they know you care.
Most second term governors plan to go to the Senate. Are you going too and do you have an anointed candidate to succeed you?
Really, there is no anointed candidate! I have promised Abia people that they will be the ones to elect the next governor. What I have done here is to provide a level playing ground to enable Abia people achieve their aim of electing any successor.
On the Senate issue, I never thought of what I would be after here until the people of my zone, Abia central, began to mount pressure on me. They started coming, beginning from members of the House of Assembly who passed a resolution that I must go to the Senate, that they would buy the nomination form for me; I was their consensus candidate.
The whole of Abia Central senatorial zone has come to mount pressure on me. The pressure is so much that you cannot refuse. This is politics and your people are telling you that this is the first time something like this would happen in Abia when a sitting governor is there and they are urging him to go to the Senate, that they will vote for me.
If you go out, you will see my posters and billboards. And these are people who are enthusiastic; doing it on their own. I have never brought out one kobo and told someone to go and print poster for me. We have issued press statement asking people to stop printing posters for me but they are persisting.
How do you assess President Goodluck Jonathanâ€™s performanceâ€¦?
You donâ€™t assess somebody in isolation but comparatively with what others have done. Now, if you look at what President Jonathan has done, he is doing well; donâ€™t mind what people are writing about him. This is campaign period; people must have to say something and must have to write now that we have opposition party. In all sectors, Jonathan has done well. There is no sector that Jonathan has not touched, forget about the opposition propaganda.
The other day, we had the ground breaking ceremony of the Second Niger Bridge. He is not the first President, who came and promised us Second Niger Bridge but still he promised and has kept his promise. He came and said he would do it within a time frame and the money is available. This is sincerity! How else do you assess a leader who gives you his word and keeps it.