Friday, 9 September 2016

Celebrating Abia at 25



2 Abia recently marked 25 years of its creation as a state.
Emmanuel Ugwu who covered the event, reports that the silver
jubilee was celebrated in low key.

In a normal situation Abia State would have rolled out the drums
to celebrate its silver jubilee. It had done so in past years during
the anniversary of the state on August 27, the day it was created
in 1991 by the military administration of Gen. Ibrahim Babangida.
But this year the mood of the time translated that the setting was
not conducive enough for the state to mark its 25 years
anniversary with pomp and pageantry.

The economic vagaries and political uncertainty have viciously
combined to rob Abia the opportunity of having a loud silver
jubilee celebration. In the run up to the anniversary the deputy
chairman of the Abia State Advisory Council, Sir Bob Ogbuagu
had at a press conference hinted of a possible low key 2016
Abia Day, citing the “mood of the state”.

He was alluding to the legal tussle for the governorship seat,
which has lingered for 14 months now since Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu
was sworn in as governor. Those fighting to remove him from
office have caused a cloud of uncertainty to descend on the
state. Then coupled with the biting harsh economic realities it
was understandable why the silver jubilee was largely celebrated
as a moment for sober reflection.

Ogbuagu, who is one the living founding fathers of Abia,
disclosed that the State Advisory Council, which has the
responsibility of organising the anniversary, had planned for a
grand celebration to mark the 25th anniversary only for the legal
tussle to intensify. According to him, it wouldn’t make sense for
the state to roll out the drums when the governor is yet to be
allowed to concentrate on the business of governance for which
he was elected.

The low key ceremony was commenced with an
interdenominational thanksgiving divine service and re-dedication
of Abia State. Ogbuagu said that the divine service was intended
“to lift the hearts of our people”. Thanksgiving service has always
been a constant feature of Abia Day no matter the pitch of the
celebration. And it couldn’t have been otherwise for a state that
prides itself as God’s own state “where the Almighty God resides
and from there visits other states” of the federation. Abians from
all walks of life filled the Michael Okpara Auditorium and several
canopies mounted outside as they lifted their voices in songs and
praises with two choirs taking turns to lead the congregation in
hymns or praise songs.

It was indeed a soul lifting worship as the clerics from different
denominations interceded for the state, calling down the
blessings of God upon Abia while asking for divine protection and
direction of the state governor and the men and women working
with him to pilot the affairs of the state. The outpouring of
heavenly blessings on God’s Own State and its people was
palpable as the rains, which had heralded the day, poured down
to wash away whatever is slowing the pace of Abia in its
developmental stride. The President of the Eastern Nigeria Union
Conference of Seventh day Adventist Church, Senior Pastor
Bassey Udoh, who delivered the sermon frowned at the activities
of those seeking to remove Ikpeazu and assured the embattled
governor that God would continue to make him triumph over his
adversaries. He enjoined him to remain steadfast as he wards off
the evil plans of his political opponents.

At the end of the divine thanksgiving service it was time for soul
searching and appraisal of the distance Abia has covered in the
past 25 years of developmental race. The nagging question was:
to what extent has the dream of the founding fathers been
realised? Ikpeazu, the fourth democratically elected governor of
Abia acknowledged that the founding fathers of the state “had
lofty aspirations for Abia State upon creation (but) while we have
not fulfilled all their aspirations, we have made remarkable
progress.”

Since its creation via the fiat of the military president, Babangida,
Abia has been governed by a succession of military
administrators and civilian governors with varying tenure
durations. The military men, five in all, that were sent to preside
over the affairs of Abia at various times, were mainly on military
postings that lasted between six and 24 months. The pioneer
military administrator, Group Captain Frank Ajobena was in office
for six months after which he handed over to Abia’s first
democratically elected governor, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, who is
currently the Minister of Science and Technology.

But after taking the reins of power Onu could only spend 22
months out of his four-year tenure before the military intervention
of late Gen. Sani Abacha ended the Third Republic. Following
Abacha’s ascendancy as Head of State Col. Chinyere Ike Nwosu
was sent to administer Abia in December 1993 and was replaced
by Navy Capt. Temi Ejoor on August 1994, who in turn vacated
seat for Col. Moses Fasanya in August 1996. With the death of
Abacha and a new transition to civilian rule programme initiated
by his successor, Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, the fifth military
administrator, Col. Anthony Obi was sent to Abia and after the
general election of 1999 he handed over the affairs of God’s Own
State to Chief Orji Uzor Kalu on May 29, 1999. It was the second
opportunity for Abia and other states of its age to enjoy a period
of civilian rule and as the military finally left for good Kalu
completed his four-year tenure and was re-elected for a second
term of another four years. Chief Theodore Orji, who is now a
Senator representing Abia Central at the National Assembly, held
sway for two terms of eight years like his predecessor.

As they came and went each of the past leaders made their
modest contributions in the quest for the development of Abia
within the limits of their vision and duration of tenure. Recounting
the state of affairs after the creation of Abia, Sir Ogbuagu said:
“We did not have the opportunity of having a silver spoon in our
mouth”. But he insisted that as a state “we’ve not done badly”.
The nonagenarian did not hesitate to award a 75 per cent mark
to Abia, saying, “it is a good pass” given what the state has
achieved.

Nonetheless it was during the tenure of Senator Orji that the state
made a significant leap. The man popularly called Ochendo by his
admirers actually gave the state capital a new face lift,
transforming it from a glorified village to a befitting capital city. It
was during his tenure that a modern secretariat was built for
Abia, along with many other infrastructures, including the
international conference centre, judiciary complex, e-library. Most
significantly Orji summoned the political will to relocate three
major markets from the city centre to the outskirts thereby
expanding the development of the capital city.

The relocation of Umuahia Main Market to a modern market built
at Ubani-Ibeku thereby catalysing the emergence of a satellite
settlement as a housing estate has already sprang up in the
area. The relocation of the industrial market to Ahieke Ndume
and spare parts market to Ohia as well as the modern motor
park cited away from the city centre have all helped in giving
Umuahia its best look since it was made a capital city 25 years
ago. It was also only Ochendo out of all the past governors that
saw the need for the Government House to move out from a
rented property to a befitting permanent edifice. He gave life to
his dream by commencing the construction of new Government
House at the Ogurube layout section of the capital city and had
completed the governor’s lodge before the end of his final tenure
as governor.

In retrospect Governor Ikpeazu stated that the 25th anniversary
represented a milestone in the existence of the geographical area
known as Abia State within the Nigerian federation. “At 25, it is
time for us to take stock and review where we are coming from
while setting a clear agenda for where we are going to,” he said.
Ikpeazu disagreed with the naysayers who have refused to credit
Abia with any achievement since its creation, saying, “While we
have not fulfilled all of their (Abia founding fathers’) aspirations,
we have made remarkable progress”. He assured that the
prospect for greatness remains very high for the state given that
“Abia State has all it takes to succeed under any circumstance”.

According to him, “my confidence stems from the indomitable
spirit of our people, the resilient blood that runs in our veins and
the resolute determination of our administration to succeed even
in the face of stiff challenges”. The governor, while
acknowledging the contributions of his predecessors, noted that
his administration has started with a commitment to further drive
the wheel of development in Abia and was already recording
good results. “From road construction to our intervention in
health, education housing, agriculture, environment and other
critical sectors, this administration has defied the negative
economic indices to march resolutely forward,” he said in his
anniversary broadcast to the people of Abia.

In the political realm Ikpeazu said that Abia has attained a “major
milestone” by electing a governor from the Ukwa/Ngwa axis of
the state, adding that the founding fathers of the state would be
glad that this has become a reality. He said: “I consider it a
major milestone because by this singular action, every Abian from
all the quarters of the state can confidently aspire to the
leadership of this state in the full knowledge that they enjoy the
full rights and benefits of an egalitarian state united by a shared
history and confidently marching towards a shared future.”

Stretching from the old Imo State, the aspiration of the Ukwa/
Ngwa to produce a governor has been emotive laced with
rancour and cries of marginalisation. But at the silver jubilee
celebration Ikpeazu declared that “Today the circle of Abia unity is
complete and the only thing left for us is to march on”, adding
that “Abia will rise and shine” and take its leading role as the hub
of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the South-east and
Nigeria in general. The enthronement of equity in Abia politics
was yet another of the legacies of Senator Orji as governor of
Abia.

Though the 2016 Abia Day was devoid of the various categories
of awards usually given to Abians who have distinguished
themselves in their chosen fields of endeavour, it didn’t just pass
off without memorable features. Ikpeazu unveiled the Abia State
anthem and the official logo of the state, both of which represent
the expression of Abia’s distinct identity and the new spirit of an
industrious people raring to soar beyond the skies. Special
Adviser to the governor on Public Communications, Mr. Sam Hart,
who gave the concise details of the Abia heraldry design,
explained that the black and gold eagle at the helm of the logo
signifies strength and grace. The silver shield quartered in blue,
gold, earth and green signifies labour and enterprise (blue), sun
and abundance of warmth (Gold), welcoming and hospitable
nature of Abians (earth) and fertility (green).

According to him, the elephant (Enyi) standing majestically at the
centre of the logo is the traditional image of Abia while the open
book signifies education, scholarship and the Holy Bible, a
symbolism of Abia’s sobriquet as God’s Own State. The logo
which is rather congested symbolic images also contains four
ordinaries – artisan, the Abia Tower, industry and two hands
gripped in a handshake. The base of marigold field on which the
shield stands and supported by four palm trees further signify
fertility and abundance while the base theme of the flag design
centred black and gold, which are the “nationally allotted colours
of Abia State.” The flag incorporates the Abia coat of arms and a
green forward facing pennant indicative of life and progress
whereas the background of the logo is predominantly white
signifying peace.

As Abia looks ahead after its 25th anniversary, Ikpeazu is
optimistic that whatever remains of the aspirations that the
founding fathers had for Abia would eventually be realised. “We
will do all within our powers to ensure that Abia State is not only
the first in alphabetical order in the comity of states (in Nigeria)
but in deed the first in all positive ramifications,” he said.

The aspiration is already becoming real in the field of education
where Abia has placed first for two consecutive years in the May/
June West African Senior School Certificate Examination. With
such positives Abia can after celebrating its silver jubilee march
on assuredly knowing that it would definitely reach the silver lining
behind the dark cloud.
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