The Abia Governor-elect, Dr Alex Otti, performed his first major assignment on Friday, April 15, following his declaration as the winner of the March 18 governorship election with the inauguration of a 100-member Transition Council.
The council is indeed an assemblage of eggheads, first class materials in their various professions, captains of industry as well as men and women of great accomplishments in different areas of human endeavour.
The think-tank is Chaired by Mr. Victor Onyenkpa, of Partner and COO, KPMG, and Co-chaired by Ifueko Omogui Okauru, former Executive Chairman of the Federal Inland Revenue Service.
Other eminent members include the Director-General, World Trade Organisation, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, former Director-General of Nigeria’s Securities and Exchange Commission, Arunma Oteh, Prof. Ndubuisi Ekekwe, a Nigerian-born inventor, who helped Apple to design a semi-conductor for the iPhone, Mr. Uche Orji, the immediate past CEO of Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority, Victor Okoronkwo, GMD of Aiteo Oil and Gas, Mr. Frank Nneji, Founder of ABC Transport Company and Chief John Udeagbala, an Aba-based business mogul.
The members cut across different spectrum of society, such as the economy, health, energy, science and technology, commerce and industry, entrepreneurship, oil and gas, finance, environment, security, politics and Law, amongst others.
It is interesting to find names of other outstanding Nigerians from states and geopolitical zones outside Abia and Sourh-East in the long list.
The inauguration, which held at the main hall of Panyu Hotel, Aba, the commercial nerve centre of the state, had practically all the members in attendance. They were also in high spirit to commence their assignment.
A major highlight of the event was the stimulating keynote address presented virtually by Okonjo-Iweala via zoom.
In the no holds barred speech, she made an expose of Nigeria’s parlous economy, occasioned in the main by bad governance.
According to her, Nigerians have lost confidence in government because “they no longer believe that their government can do anything for them.
The nation’s former Minister of Finance and Coordinating Minister of the Economy said: “Nigerians have lost trust in government, you know that.
“Many Nigerians, especially on our side in the South-East, don’t really believe that government can do anything for them.
“On the one hand, maybe it’s a good thing because everybody then becomes their own government.
“You dig your own borehole to get water, generate your own electricity, do everything for yourself.
“That is entrepreneurial but on the other hand maybe that is not the best way to run things.”
Okonjo-Iweala said that for government to regain its lost confidence among the populace, it “must get a tight and better and cleaner governance that must be transparent”.
She, therefore, appealed to the governor-elect to lead the way in instituting transparency in governance and running of government in Nigeria, saying that she did the same when she was the finance minister.
“We used to publish the finances of every state, what the Federal Government gave each state every month because I found out that governors were telling their people, ‘oh, we didn’t get any allocation from the Federal Government this month that’s why we cannot pay salaries, that is why we cannot pay teachers, that is why we cannot run our health system’. And when I visit a state, they will be so hostile.
“When I was Minister of Finance in 2003 and started asking, why are people so hostile to the Federal Government, when I would hold meetings or townhalls people would tell us, Federal Government didn’t give us allocations, therefore, salaries have not been paid, teachers are not paid and I found out that they were being told things that were clearly not true.
“Then I went to President Obasanjo and said, can I start publishing what states get each month so their people will know they’re getting this money. He said, yes.
“So, we started to publish it in the newspapers of every month after the FAAC meeting and then put it on the internet so you can go to the Ministry of Finance website and see.
“This helped change people’s attitude because people could see and say, oh my state got this 60 million or 100 million this month.
“We want our State Government to set an example by being transparent about its finances.
“This is a governor that everybody is looking up to.
“His Excellency is educated, knows how to manage cost because he’s been a bank manager, he’s done so many things.
“So, can we set an example in Abia for good governance, transparency… because he has what it takes?” Okonjo-Iweala asked.
Responding to the long admonition, Otti began by expressing his profound gratitude to Okonjo-Iweala for accepting the invitation to present the keynote speech.
The former Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of the defunct Diamond Bank Plc, said he had taken note of her wise counsel.
He gave assurance that the time for good leadership in Abia had finally come.
He said: “I have listened to our sister, Ngozi.
“Every time I speak to her, she says, ‘congratulations, but I don’t envy you.
“In fact, I sympathise with you because the expectations are high.
“You can’t afford to disappoint us, at least let’s have one good thing happening in Abia State’.
“The truth is that there are lots of good things happening from Abia people but not in Abia State.
“What we never had was great leadership and this is the time.”
The governor-elect also spoke on the cost of governance, saying that he had been an advocate of trimming down the cost of running government.
He said: “I believe very strongly that part of the problems for this country is the cost of governance.
“I’ve written extensively about it, I’ve condemned it and I can’t be caught dead doing the same thing that I have condemned.”
Although he admitted the enormity of work to rebuild the state lying ahead of him, he said, “the good news is that we’re prepared to do that work”.
Otti, who recalled his experience when he served in the Prof. Chukwuma Soludo’s 150-member Transition Council in 2022, allayed concerns about the number of the Abia council being unwieldy.
He said that the Anambra transit council began with 80 members but was later expanded to 150.
He said that the Onyenkpa-led team was at liberty to co-opt more experts as it may deem imperative, especially in the area of environment.
He expressed implicit confidence in the ability and commitment of the star-studded council to do an excellent job and deliver on its mandate ahead of his inauguration on May 29.
The governor-elect gave a word of assurance that the document from the council would be “flawlessly implemented”.
He justified the choice of Aba, the Enyimba City, for the inauguration of the council, saying that it was to underscore the strategic place the commercial nerve centre occupies in his development agenda.
In an acceptance speech, the council Chairman, along with his Co-chairman, expressed confidence in the leadership qualities of the governor-elect and his ability to deliver on the mandate.
They promised that the transition team would produce a document that would take the state forward going into the future
“Our duty is to thoroughly discuss the manifesto sectorally and recommend a roadmap for its smooth and effective implementation,” the priest said.
He said that the council had commenced deliberations in earnest and gave assurance that their report would be ready by the middle of May, ahead of Otti’s inauguration.
“I am assuring you that he will do well. He is prepared for the job.
“I assure you that he will disrupt the system, but be assured that Abia people will be happy.
“He has already promised to clear the backlog of unpaid salaries and pensions within the six months of his assumption of office,” Anokwuru, who is the Provost, Madonna College of Health Technology, Olokoro, said.
Also, Anyaele, who is the founder and Executive Director, Centre for Citizens with Disabilities, commended the governor-elect “for taking steps to lay a framework that would guide his response to the numerous problems facing Abia.
“For over 24 years, this place has been reduced to rubbles and there is no better way to start to clean up the mess than having a guideline or document that would help him to navigate through the challenges,” he said.
Anyaele expressed satisfaction with the composition of the council with distinguished Abia and non-Abia indigenes.
“This is a clear indication that the governor-elect is serious. I am glad that virtually all the participants are doing the job free-of-charge for Abia.
“That is to show you the kind of interest and goodwill the governor-elect is attracting to ensure that Abia people benefit maximally in this four year,” he said.
It is expected that the roadmap to be produced by the council would further help to equip the governor-elect to hit the ground running the moment he takes the oath of office as Abia governor on May 19.
Sam Okoro, Public Affairs analyst, writes from Umuahia