Most people, when given the opportunity to choose between a trip to a country they have visited several times and a trip to a part of Nigeria they have never been, more often than not they are quick to ignore the latter. For me, however, visiting places I never have, especially in Nigeria is always a thrill. Hence my excitement when I was invited for the second time to join the National Good Governance Tour.
After a break from the tour of the North West geo-political zone, the team embarked on a tour of the South Eastern states with Abia being our first port of call. On January 16, we left Abuja at noon, so it took us almost the entire day to get to Umuahia, the state capital.
We were welcomed by a large entourage of government officials and what can be best described as a retinue of ‘fanatical’ supporters, who kept singing praises of ‘Ochendo’ as (Governor Theodore Orji is popularly called) all the way.
As we began inspecting projects the next morning, we visited a newly completed Industrial market which we were told is aimed at promoting skilled manpower and generating employment particularly for the youth. We also visited Nigeria’s first private owned power plant in Aba. The company, Geometric Power Ltd, is owned by former Minister of Power Barth Nnaji. We were told that the 140 megawatt plant will provide uninterrupted power supply to Aba and its environs when commissioned in March.
For a moment there, I wondered if there was a reason why a project like this could not be replicated in other parts of the country. I found myself asking if the lackadaisical attitude ‘we’ have towards development was due to greed or outright folly.
Considering that Nigeria has over the years suffered an epileptic power supply, I said to myself this is great news for Aba residents. If Geometric gets it right, not only will it bring succour to businesses that rely solely on electricity to thrive, it will also play a major role in creating employment and boosting the country’s economy.
Though Nigeria is way behind when compared to some of its African counterparts like Niger and Ghana, in terms of power generation and stability, it was good to see that work was ongoing in earnest at the Alaoji power plant. When completed, Alaoji, which will have the capacity of 1,074 megawatts of electricity, will not only be one of the largest power plants in Nigeria, it will go a long way in reviving ailing industries in the South East and neighbouring states.
Before now, the only state I had visited in the south eastern part of Nigeria was Enugu, so I was really looking forward to seeing the other states. I was surprised to see that all five of them were quite close to each other.
As we travelled, we inspected road, education, health, housing projects and a host of other infrastructure. While some were started by previous administrations and completed by the present administrations, others were initiatives of the sitting governments.
Our next port of call was Imo State. By now, we had become used to the dancers and singers who welcomed us at almost every stop we made. As we inspected a number of projects, I noticed that priority was given to education in the state. We began with the inspection of a 200 room capacity hostel at the Federal University of Technology, and a 168 room capacity hostel at the Alvan Ikoku College of Education both in Owerri.
We learnt that both projects, which were powered by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), were awarded in 2004 for over N400 million each, but were over the years reviewed to N1 billion each. All these years however, not much progress was seen to have been made. Leader of the team, Labaran Maku, did not only express disappointment in the delay, he regretted that huge sums of money were put into the projects, but there was still very little to show for it.
As we continued with the tour, the team visited a capacity building institution, the Imo College of Advanced Professional Studies and the Young Scientists College in Owerri. We were told that most persons who obtained certificates from the college of advanced studies, were readily accepted into the oil and gas industry
It is no longer news that education is free in Imo, so I was not surprised even as Governor Rochas Okorocha kept drumming it in our ears.
What was new for me was the dress code for all civil servants and his commissioners (rescue team as he calls them) singing to the team when we paid a courtesy call on him. They sang something which sounded like “Imo must be better, must be better, must be better; education must be free, must be free, must be free…” Interesting as it may seem to some, to say I was mortified is putting it lightly. As I write this, I still wonder if that was a state anthem or a commissioners’ anthem, and why they even had to sing to our delegation.
As we went through the region, I noticed it was blessed with vast land which somewhat looked abandoned, again, I wondered why one keeps hearing about killings and communal clashes over ownership of land ,when they have more than they can contend with.
In Anambra, we visited the Lower Anambra Irrigation Project for massive rice production in Omor, Ayamelum Local Government Area. For a project which began in 1981, one would expect that by now rice production will not only be steady, but that the project would yield the estimated 30,000 tonnes of rice annually, which will go a long way in boosting Nigeria’s economy. Unfortunately, not much activity was seen to be done here. Maku, who blamed lack of maintenance by previous administrations for the poor state of affairs, assured that the Federal Government will reactivate the project in order to explore its potentials to maximum capacity.
The team also visited a food storage facility in Igbariam which has been scheduled for completion April. Here, we were told that the silo complex has a 25,000 metric tonne storage capacity, and is already at 70 percent completion stage. The reserve is expected to be of immense help in times of national emergency as well as ensure price stability in times of inflation.
For a country seeking to revive agriculture, constructing silos across the country and reactivating dead agricultural practices is one major step in the right direction, one that can only be achieved if the synergy between the government and the private sector works.
For most part of the journey we were on our toes. Sometimes the bus (which had about 20 journalists on it) got really lively; you wouldn’t know what came over us and other times the mood got so tense because everyone was trying to file report with the very unreliable internet reception.
As we continued, we visited Nigeria’s first private owned car manufacturing company, Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) in Nnewi and a few other projects. I was pleasantly surprised with what I saw at the car company.
Back on the bus everyone was so engrossed with their work. Just when I thought the situation could not get tenser, the convoy began to slow down and I heard someone in the front row say ‘robbers, robbers’.
I watched through the window as security operatives jumped off their vehicles, guns in hands, looking as though they were ready to face the enemy, a number of journalists got out of their seats, some trying to peep through the windows (which were shut by the way) and others asking to know what was going on (as though we were not together on the bus).
While I prayed the situation would be controlled without any one of us getting hurt, I saw school children (or so they looked) running in different directions, then we were told it was a false alarm. They were just a group of young adults who had barricaded the road. Though I never got to see the barricades or persons who were said to have put them there, I was relieved that there were no robbers after all.
We visited the International Helicopter Training School in Enugu, the first of its kind in the West African region. We also inspected ongoing projects at the Akanu Ibiam International airport, also the first international airport in the South-East. My jaw dropped when we visited a 2.8 kilometer Awkunanaw dam project by the Federal Ministry of Water Resources, and we were told that a little over N500 million had stalled its completion. For a project which began in 2007 and is expected to supply 25 million litres of treated water per day on completion, one would think it will be receive priority.
For Ebonyi State, the focus seemed to be on infrastructural development in rural areas. We inspected a number of road projects and bridges too. We learned that over thirty bridges were being built in different parts of the state, in order to open up rural areas to the cities, and to decongest traffic amongst other things.
At one of such projects in Onicha Local Government Area, residents said before the Ezzama bridge was constructed, the roads were not passable (particularly during the rainy season).
They said the only passage before the bridge was by the use of a canoe which wasn’t always available due to high demand. One of the residents who identified himself as Emmanuel said, “During the rainy season it was turbulent. Sometimes there were many passengers with no canoes because not many were willing to take the risk, especially because so many canoes capsized. The bridge became passable about a year ago, since then the lives of our villagers have improved. Our major profession here is mat making, and we often have to travel across the river to buy the materials we use. In the past, it was very difficult but now our work has been made easier.”
While definite dates have been given for completing most ongoing projects and assurances have been made by the federal and state governments to meet the people’s expectations, Nigerians watch intensely as the good governance tour train continues to move forward.
The tour seems like a perfect opportunity for all tiers of government to showcase their achievements, improve on their performance and fulfill their obligations to the people; but I believe it should not revolve around inspecting ongoing projects or revoking failed contracts, it should include following up to ensure the projects are completed and development is registered even after the tour.
The trip to the South-East was sponsored by the Federal Ministry of Information