Sam Hart

Over time, the most impactful leaders across generations and epochs have been the ones who are most able to craft and articulate their vision for their society and get the critical mass of people behind that vision. Leadership rises and falls on vision. Vision remains one of the most potent tools of effective leadership for what you cannot imagine and see, you cannot aspire towards.

Dubai today is celebrated as a global destination. A dry desert patch in times of yore which has been converted into a breathtaking tourism and business hub with cutting edge buildings and innovative technology across sectors. In his book ‘My Vision’, the Ruler of Dubai, Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum gave credit to his father, Sheik Rashid for envisioning the Dubai we all see today.

In Abia State, a similar paradigm is unfolding. We are witnesses to the crystallization of the vision of Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu for the quantum industrialization of Abia State.

Upon assumption of office in 2015, Governor Ikpeazu was very clear as to where he wanted Abia State to be – encapsulated in a well thought-out vision document containing steps to be taken to arrive at the envisaged destination.

A part of that plan was to channel developments to the 3 Senatorial Zones of Abia State according to the pre-existing comparative and competitive advantage of each zone. Abia North Senatorial Zone, long renowned for agrarian prowess was to be the Agricultural production hub of the State. Abia Central, already housing all government administrative offices was to be the administrative hub as well as agro-processing hub in the State while Abia South Senatorial Zone would receive attention geared towards promoting its pre-eminent position as the Industrial Hub of the State.

In this treatise, we will concentrate specifically on Abia South Senatorial Zone and attempt to paint the narrative of what Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has done to position Abia South Senatorial Zone as the Industrialization Hub of Abia State.

As alluded to above, first was the planning phase to be able to set out the vision of what Governor Okezie Ikpeazu wanted for Abia South Senatorial zone. As established in various communications, the Ikpeazu administration came up with a policy document that outlined 5 Pillars of Development and Enablers upon which to anchor its developmental objectives for Abia State. The Pillars are Agriculture, Education, Trade, Commerce and Oil and Gas. The Enablers include Comprehensive Healthcare Development, Infrastructural Overhaul, Urban Renewal, Education, Ease of Doing Business, Security and Social Reorientation.

As it concerns Abia South Senatorial Zone, the Key Pillars that relate to the Zone are Trade, Commerce, Oil and Gas and virtually all the enablers.

Thus, upon assumption of office, mindful of the challenge of access into Aba to ventilate the commercial city, the immediate task before the administration was the ventilation of Aba by opening up hitherto clogged arteries into and out of the city to allow for free flow of customers into Aba which was already a commercial centre-point but was suffering trade hemorrhage due to lack of access roads.

It was on that premise that his first action as elected Governor on day one of his tour of duty was to commence the construction of key roads leading into and out of Aba. Thus was Ukaegbu Road and Ehere Road flagged off on day one. The two roads have since been delivered with several others opening into the commercial heart of Aba like the Oomne Road, Umuola Road, Umuocham Road, Umule Road, MCC/Chima Nwafor Road, Umuatako Road, Kamalu Road, Osusu Road, Road, Old Express Road, Faulks Road, Ururuka Road, Ekwerazu Akwa Ibom Road and Samek Road. Port Harcourt Road is also expected to ease access into Aba upon completion complemented by Aba-Owerri Road where solid work is also ongoing.

These road works were of course preceded by a massive exercise to open up blocked drains, desilt the existing drains which had been clogged for decades and dredge the Aba River to accommodate the inflow of stormwater from newly opened existing drains and new ones that were compulsorily built for each of the aforementioned roads.

Contemporaneous with the massive efforts to open up Aba for trade and commerce was the Made In Aba Campaign which saw to the highlighting of the already existing strength of Aba as the commercial centre-point of West Africa. The Campaign, which the Governor personally led and championed was a reorientation campaign leading to a re-embrace of locally produced clothes and finished leather goods.

The Governor led by example by insisting on wearing only items of clothing that were made in Aba and followed it up with a marketing campaign which saw him take the products to social and political influencers where he preached the need to patronize local goods with emphasis on Aba produced goods.

The campaign would soon yield massive dividends as the Nigerian Army placed an order for 50,000 military boots to be produced in Aba. At a ballpark figure of N10,000 per boot, that move alone drove N500M into Aba. The campaign was at the same time escalated to other military and paramilitary agencies including the National Youth Service Corps. Fashion and marketing shows were held in Abuja, New York, Lagos, London, South Africa, Egypt, the Gambia and several other locations to announce the rebirth and showcase the quality of Made in Aba goods.

The campaign opened many doors. Doors of international relevance for the Aba producer. Aba Producers are now regular features at international events. They have gone abroad in several batches to different countries. China, South Africa, Rwanda, Gambia, Egypt, the United States of America. Aba has gone global. They are signing partnership agreements with new markets, funders and development partners and accessing funds hitherto out of their reach. They are no longer pesky irritants and fake goods merchants. They now have a seat at the table of all Micro Small and Medium Enterprises conversations in Nigeria and beyond. A new respect has been put on the name of Aba.

To date, the total value of trade in goods and services that have come into Aba as a result of the campaign is estimated at above N5B while the new jobs created by the campaign stands at 500,000.

Having re-established the place of Aba as the pre-eminent destination for trade and commerce especially in fabrics and finished leather goods in West Africa with empirical and verifiable evidence, the next frontier in the well-articulated vision was to drive the production of those goods and services in Aba instead of the pre-existing reality of Aba being just a trade centre for goods from other places and goods manufactured on a small scale in the city.

The first step towards realizing the Make in Aba Vision was tackling the challenges to production in Aba. The challenges were creation of access into and out of Aba which had been addressed via massive infrastructural works. The other challenges were electric power, access to cheap funding and automation.

Prior to the advent of the Ikpeazu administration, the two sources of electric power for production in Aba were the epileptic and unreliable National Grid and the more dependable but hugely uneconomical reliance on power generating sets of different capacities. But through the untiring efforts of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and his deft bipartisan economic diplomacy, he wooed the Federal Government – which controlled the levers of power (financial, regulatory and electric) – to come into Aba and support the rebirth efforts. It was as a result of that diplomacy that Vice President Yemi Osinbajo as Acting President, visited Aba with Heads of all Federal Government Financial and Regulatory Agencies to hold the maiden SME Clinic where the challenges highlighted above were brought to the fore.

The then Acting President mandated the Heads of Agencies to set up offices in Aba to tackle the diagnosed challenges. Thus did the Bank of Industry, Nigerian Investment Promotion Council, Nigerian Export promotion Council, Federal Inland Revenue Services, Corporate Affairs Commission, Rural Electrification Agency, National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control and all other such agencies open offices in Aba.

Having identified the challenge of lack of reliable electric power in Aba as a major hindrance to production, steps were taken to remedy the situation via a two-pronged approach. The first was a novel partnership with the Rural lectrification Agency to provide electric power for Ariaria International Market via an off-grid arrangement that would not rely on the epileptic National Grid. This arrangement led to the Aba Integrated Power Project funded by the Rural Electrification Agency which led to the building of a Power Plant at Ariaria International Market. The pilot phase saw 1,000 shops in Aba enjoy uninterrupted power for 6 months after which the project was scaled to cover 35,000 shops which all enjoy uninterrupted power today at competitive prices.

The second leg was the Governor taking centre stage in the resolution of the lingering situation hindering the realization of the Geometric Power Project in Aba. The Governor leveraged the full weight of his office to work with the promoters of Geometric Power to untangle the web that had held them down. He led meetings with the Federal Government, the Federal Ministry of Power, contending Enugu Electricity Distribution Company and other stakeholders. Having worked to resolve the regulatory and bureaucratic knots around the project, he also joined in the search for funding to re-start the project. He travelled with the Geometric Team in search of new investments at African Export Import Bank in Egypt, Ruyi Group in China and other local and international lenders and investors. The result of those efforts is that new funds have been pumped into Geometric Power and their revival is imminent to provide alternative and competitive source of Power for the wider Aba Industrial belt.

Again, through the efforts highlighted above, Aba Producers are now recipients of support from Federal Government and Corporate Private Lending Institutions. The Bank of Industry set aside N500M for Aba Producers, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the Nigerian Export Import Bank and the Bank of Agriculture all have facilities for Aba Producers at low interest rates. The Aba Producer now has options of sources of capital for their trading activities.

A thorough diagnosis of the challenges of industrialization in Aba was the realization that 90% of production of goods in Aba were manually driven and concentrated in micro shops. The logical next step to scaling production in Aba thus was a deliberate project to automate production in Aba. This led to efforts to expose Aba producers to machine-led production rather than the manual production they were accustomed to.

To kick-start this initiative, the Governor sent 30 selected Aba producers to China to be embedded in a shoe production company to learn the art of machine production. The pilot producers have since returned and the Governor has ordered the machines they used in the Factories where they were embedded.

As stated above, the full production line that the Aba producers worked with in China have been purchased by the Governor and installation has commenced at the gigantic factory location at Umukalika Obingwa near Aba. The factory will have capacity to produce 10,000 shoes per day. The 30 producers trained in China in the use of the machines will be the pilot staff of the shoe factory while they train other producers to work with them. The factory is expected to have a full staff capacity of 300 at opening – a number that will grow to 500 at full production with another 500 ancillary job opportunities.

Part of the drive of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu for the opening up of Aba to industrialization saw him travel to Brazil to inspect shoe factories in the country. He held meetings with the Chambers of Commerce and invited them to set up a shoe factory in Aba. The result of that trip is the NIBRA (Nigeria Brazil) Shoe Factory at Obuaku, Ukwa West Local Government Area of Abia State.

The Nigerian Export Import (NEXIM) Bank have partnered with the company with an initial take-off facility of $10M and construction of the factory building is at an advanced stage.

This is unarguably the most ambitious project ever embarked upon or executed East of the Niger. The Abia State Government is partnering with Crown Realtors to actualize the project. It is Private Sector-driven with the full support of the Federal Government of Nigeria. It is the first Free Trade Zone in South East Nigeria. One of the trios of pilot Special Economic Zones in Nigeria alongside the Kano and Lekki Special Economic Zones. The project is spread across 9,800 Hectres of massive Industrial Area spread across 3 Local Government Areas of Abia State. It consists of Factories, Assembly Plants, Manufacturing Hubs, Clusters, Residences, Hotels, Hospitals, Schools, etc. It will provide 650,000 jobs, 300,000 units of urban housing, population of 1.5M people, 2,000 industrial/business units and annual value output of $5B. The Federal Government of Nigeria has invested into it by taking up 20% equity worth N100B. The list of Anchor-tenants already signed-on are international consortia. They include the Ruyi Group, the largest garment and power producer in the world. 4 other Anchor-Tenants of that magnitude are also on board.

This is part of the trans-generational vision of the Ikpeazu administration to industrialize Abia State for today and for the future.

As part of the wider campaign to industrialize the State, the Ikpeazu administration embarked on a drive to revitalize moribund industries in Abia State. It is worth stating that most of these industries, which were hitherto owned by the Abia State Government had been privatized prior to the emergence of Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu as Governor of Abia State.

That notwithstanding, the Governor directed an audit of the industries with the objective of finding out what had led to their collapse and how the Abia State Government can assist in their revitalization. For most of them, the issues were outdated equipments and machinery and lack of funds to drive the necessary turnaround to bring them back to life. Governor Ikpeazu took it upon himself to work with the private owners of the industries to bring them back to life for the benefit of the people they were employing who are mostly Abians.

The first fruit of that initiative is the re-opening of the Golden Guinea Breweries Plc. The company had been moribund since 2003 but Governor Ikpeazu worked with the core investors to leverage his office and secure for them audience with relevant funding agencies who provided the funds needed to install new equipments at the Brewery.

Today, with the installation of a new Brewery and recalibration of its operations, the Golden Guinea Breweries Plc has resumed production of its flagship Golden Guinea Beer and it is now in the markets. The implication of this milestone for the economy of Umuahia – nay Abia State – is unquantifiable. Countless direct and indirect jobs have been created and a new set of empowered individuals have emerged.

Having resolved the issues that kept Golden Guineas Breweries closed, attention has shifted to Modern Ceramics Umuahia and there is a concerted effort to resolve its issues and have it re-opened.

The same will also be done for other closed factories in Abia State.

If the first term of Governor Okezie Victor Ikpeazu was about setting out his Pillars and Enablers of development, his 2nd term is about casting the structures that will rest on those pillars and enablers. It has become obvious that Governor Ikpeazu was deliberate and calculated from the get go. Everything has dovetailed into everything and it is all making sense now. He has laid the foundation for a prosperous, exciting Abia State of tomorrow and posterity will be kind to him.

Tomorrow will be exciting in Abia State. Tomorrow is here.

Sam Hart is Special Adviser to the Governor on Communications

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