OPINION: ‘Still on Transparency in Abia State by JOK(Audio) | #NwokeukwuMascot

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I want to express my appreciation to Governor Alex Otti for reportedly making good his promise to hire Julius Berger (JB) to complete the Port Harcourt Road, Aba, project that was started by his predecessor.  When a leader fulfills his electoral promise, it gladdens my heart, and this particular move is a good one for many reasons, including the psychological benefits of having another grade A contractor work in our state. Former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu used five grade A contractors in addition to local contractors including Setraco, Hartland, Arab Contractors, Bulletine, the Chinese Company that constructed Osisioma Flyover and some very experienced local contractors such as Rockwaters, Ferotex, Trackare, Tunnel End, etc.

While I appreciate the coming of Julius Berger to Aba, the reoccurring issues of transparency in governance are being thrown up again and I wish to call on the Governor to take advantage of his proposed Flag off of the recommencement of work tomorrow to address the issues, and going forward learn to front load critical information to close the gap between his administration and rumor mills.

Two days ago  I received information from a top government official in Abia State that the Otti administration awarded the completion of the reconstruction work along Port Harcourt Road, Aba,  for N30b and the additional 2-lanes of the existing 4-lane Osaah road in Umuahia for N8b. Of course I couldn’t wrap my head around those huge amounts and decided to verify before asking relevant questions. But this morning, I’ve read the same information all over social media with the dominant response from aides and supporters of Otti simply being “we don’t care if he spends N30b” and that worries me. To me, this is a huge red flag.

Click here to listen to Amb Chigorom Okiyi discuss Otti’s lack of transparency in government policies.

For those who may not have necessary background information, reconstruction of Port Harcourt, Aba, was awarded by former Governor Okezie Ikpeazu in 2017 to Hartland Nigeria Ltd; the same grade A contractor that the federal government awarded Umuahia-Ikot Ekene Federal Road and Okigwe-Umuahia segment of Enugu-PH federal highway projects to. The total sum of the project as awarded by Dr Ikpeazu was N9.98b for 6-lane with BRT, gutters on both sides end to end. As at the time Governor Ikpeazu left office in 2023 Hartland had done more than 40% of the work with the gutters established end to end along the 5.9km road as well as the drains discharge channel to Umuagbai pond, already implemented.  Further work was obviously stalled by limitations in fund availability with competing needs.

It is shocking to hear and read flying rumors that the same project completion has now been re-awarded for N30b of tax payers money to JB and I wish to call on Governor Otti to use the opportunity of the flag off to explain this to the people of Abia State. Some of the issues he has to address includes the actual award cost to JB, information on due process, including advertising the work in national newspapers, bid amounts by others who indicated interest in the project, if any, and budgetary approval by the state house of assembly to spend the rumored N30b on the project. The public also deserve to know if the contract was directly awarded to JB, and if not, which company is employing JB and at what amount did they get the job. We will then be free to compare the value we are getting for our money vis-à-vis what other states like Rivers and Akwa Ibom are paying for similar jobs.

The Alex Otti of APGA, APC and Labour Party would have demanded similar information bothering on transparency, and he made a personal commitment to be transparent in governance when he stated during his inaugural address on 29th May, 2023 that “The time for the rebuilding process has begun. Transparency, accountability, and public trust shall be at the centre of everything we do,”

Furthermore, we have also heard through same back channels that the two lanes being added to the existing 4-lane of Ossah road in Umuahia is costing Abia Tax Payers a whopping N8b or more. Suffice it to note that in same Umuahia, former Governor Ikpeazu awarded and completed 4-lane Aba road up to Railway junction at Afor Ibeji with gutters and at least 2 major culverts at the cost of N975m  The project was executed by Arab contractors, a grade A construction company in Nigeria. How on earth will Ossah road of 3.5km cost N8b to do additional two lanes even if we factor in the N700m Otti confirmed was used to pay compensation? The Otti administration hired a local contractor, Cranberg, for the job yet we are allegedly paying N8b?

It is not rocket science to know that when a government is not transparent with management of resources belonging to the people all sorts of rumors fly here and there. I was personally surprised that during his recent interaction with newsmen Governor Otti stated that someone alleged that he used nearly N700m to rehabilitate structures at Commissioners quarter in Umuahia, yet, he didn’t seize the moment to inform journalists of the actual amount used to do the job. Obviously he is either hiding something or believe that nobody should question him on the cost of projects or application of due process to contract awards. Probably because, according to him, he removed feeding bottle from people’s mouth and in the process earned the right to keep all the feeding bottles in his own mouth only.

Once more, since Governor Otti is about to flag off the reconstruction of (or is it “commission” in his preferred language)  Port Harcourt road tomorrow , I urge him to seize the moment and use the microphone to give verifiable information to the world instead of referring us to his aides. Alternatively, billboards should be erected at the project sites to indicate who is awarding to who and at how much.

Governor Otti voluntarily promised to be transparent and was not compelled. This is what transparency entails: making financial information public and using due process to execute projects.

Those who come to ask what former administrations did or did not do are not being fair to Ndi Abia because they are inadvertently making those past administrations the standard of leadership in Abia State rather than seeking progressive improvement in leadership.  Similarly, those wishing and pleading that some of us keep quiet should open their Bibles and read Proverbs 24:11-12 and Mark 10:46-49.

Alternatively, they can learn from Edmund Burke who said in his “Thoughts on the Cause of the Present Discontents” (1770): “When bad men combine, the good must associate; else they will fall, one by one, an unpitied sacrifice in a contemptible struggle.”

-Nwandugbom John Okiyi Kalu is a citizen of Abia State

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