In an interview with THE WHISPERER on Friday afternoon, Chief Umeh Kalu (SAN), a former Attorney General of Abia State has applauded the performance of Governor Alex Otti of Abia State.
On Governor Otti’s performance, he said: “100 days may not be enough time to make any meaningful assessment given the enormity of the problems we have in Abia State for those who understand.
“I understand what is on ground. They have taken off; he has been able to appoint his commissioners and some principal officials of government. But you can still say that we have some kind of problems and challenges— and it is a very serious one facing him.
“It is surprising that as we speak which is what is actually worrisome to me, the fact that the government more or less having no operational base like we have in other states. The government house is not being put into use because I understand that it is virtually not in existence.
“The governor still operates from his private residence both in terms of job performance and hosting people who come. So it is actually sad for a state that is about 32 years old. This is one of the things which people like us severally years back when I wrote a letter to the then governor asking him to take certain steps so that we avoid situation like this. It is sad that after 32 years, we don’t have an official residence of the governor. We don’t have an office properly built for the governor— and it should be of concern to every Abian —man or woman including myself.
“But I think the government is doing something about that because those are the things that we need to kickstart. If you are a lawyer, you should have an operational base or office; If you are a journalist, you should have a take off point. So in a situation in which things are the way they are here, It is actually difficult to access the government.
“The government house should be bubbling in terms of activities. People coming in and out but you can see the situation. I am not in Abia, but I understand the situation. I must say this because nobody can actually point an accusing finger on the governor, because even before Otti, Ikpeazu was there, he was operating from his village and another guest house in Aba, which I complained in that letter.
“So if we had put these structures in place, it would have been a smooth take off for Otti’s government.
“I think they have challenges. I understand the deputy governor too is operating from Ohafia, because the deputy governor’s office has nothing in there. This is the situation we found ourselves. It is a sad situation that we have.
“Although, I have seen some activities happening in Aba. From the pictures I saw, there are some jobs going on. Attention is being given to some roads in Aba; That’s the much I know or have heard.
“I equally noticed that efforts are being made to start paying workers their backlogs. I don’t know how much that they have paid, but it’s a step in the right direction. Some Judges have told me that there is a meeting between retired judges and Otti towards getting the amount for their pension funds, arrears and gratuities. I heard the government is taking steps in this direction to clear the arrears.
“So to me, those are happening events. I heard there is an effort in waste management in Umuahia. I don’t know if there are other challenges. I noticed equally that there are shifts in appointment of government officials. I can see some technocrats coming in place. That’s square peg in a round hole if I must say so. I equally know that there have been some knocks. Some politicians have been running and complaining that most of the people that they see in government that they didn’t see them during campaign and all that. But for me, the most important thing is to get this state working. If we get these technocrats and we are able to fix the problem of Abia, it’s good.
“I always tell politicians that there are still much to be done. The appointments have not started. So I am appealing to them to exercise some patients. Let’s get things fixed. If there are progress, there are areas which these politicians will come in and I am sure they will play their roles. The job is quiet huge and I am sure that most people will be accommodated. But for now, I think it is important to lay a solid foundation.
“The problems of Abia I must tell you are huge. I have been involved. It’s not as easy as people think it is. I don’t envy Alex Otti and his appointees, because they have a huge problem in their hands— and Abians are not ready for excuses because he equally saw those things and those are the issues he campaigned with.
“We are looking up to him that he should deliver in his promises and he is coming up. So we keep a tab, watching to see how things are going.”
On PDP’s allegation of poor performance against Otti, he said: “Talking about the economic blueprint of Governor Alex Otti, I think the governor has just clocked 100 days in office. What economic blueprint did PDP put in place for the 24 years? If for twenty something years, nothing happened and they are assessing somebody who just spent 100 days. I don’t agree with them entirely.
“Like I keep saying, I accept the fact that I was there with them. I am in a position to equally assess them. What assessment do they have for eight years of T. A Orji and for the eight years of Ikpeazu?
“I don’t want to talk about eight years of Senator Orji Uzor Kalu because I wasn’t there actually but I am saying about the one that I experienced. I am not saying that Otti should not have opposition or that the opposition parties shouldn’t air their views, but it must be objective. If they are saying that nothing has happened then they have to take the blame. Governance is a continuous process. It’s like a relay race, you pass over the baton to the person in front of you. If in that relay race, the person who is passing the baton is kilometers behind, then you must do the extra miles to catch up.
“Otti like I said has a huge problem in his hands because he inherited virtually nothing. How can you talk about a government that you are coming into and you are talking about pension arrears of multi-years? You talk about the debt burden which they left behind; salary arrears and many more. So what nonsense are they saying? Most of the tertiary institutions have not been paid. Abia State University has about 11 months unpaid salaries, College of Education has about 30 months, Abia Polytechnic about 30 months. So what nonsense are they saying? Refuse bin in almost all the places in Abia State covering main roads when they were handing over.
“So, these things have to be cleared. It takes whole lots of money. People talk about things that were vandalised— government properties looted, these are issues. Like I said, 100 days may not be enough but there are signs that things are going to be fine.
“Even those who were asked to pay taxes in Abia State are happy paying it. Those things are being put in place. So for me, it’s a gradual process. I don’t expect any magic from Otti in 100 days, but I can tell you that they have started and they started well.
“Cost of governance has been reduced unlike what it used to be. They are working on the IGR, because there are two aspects of governance actually: the income and the outflow. If you are able to increase the income by way of IGR increment and you are able to reduce the cost of governance. All the loose holes blocked and people don’t go about stealing government money, funds will be conserved and they will be put in good use.
“I come from Ohafia and I am getting good news from Ohafia that the light issue has been fixed. I have not been there but very soon I will confirm it because I don’t like listening to stories. Somebody told me that there is light in Ohafia now especially in my village and other places. I can tell you that we were in darkness for eight years and just within 100 days, the light has been fixed. I don’t know how they did it but someone told me that the deputy governor was involved, but I haven’t verified it.
“These are positives coming. You can see inflow of people coming into Abia in terms of investors. Fo years, former Finance minister, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who is a prominent Abian has no business coming to Abia State even to talk about the things happening, but you can see changes now.
“People are looking inwards, because they have seen someone who is ready to change the situation in Abia. I am not the public relation officer to Governor Alex Otti, I must tell you neither am I in government, but I am an Abia man and I want the best for our state. I am being positive and objective in my assessment. If tomorrow the man goes the other way, I will form part of the opposition.
“I want the best for Abia state, considering my age and status. I am an elder statesman. So I must say the truth. In a nutshell, what I am saying is that so far so good, Otti has started very well,” he said.