‘Journey of Great Expectations’
BEING THE TEXT OF A SPEECH DELIVERED BY GOVERNOR ALEX OTTI TO NDI ABIA ON JANUARY 1, 2024, TO MARK THE CELEBRATION OF THE NEW YEAR
1. Umu nne m Ndi Abia, I joyfully welcome all of us to the New Year, 2024. We thank the Almighty God for preserving our lives over the past year and for bringing us into the joy of what promises to be a great cycle for our people.
2. We also remember our loved ones who journeyed to their final resting place and all who suffered different forms of personal tragedies in the past year. We pray for peace to the souls of the deceased, fortitude to the families of the bereaved, and restoration to all who went through painful losses in the last 12 months.
3. 2023 was a watershed moment in the political history of our great State and I am most grateful to God and the individuals and groups He used in resetting the political direction of our beloved Abia. Nothing that was achieved in our political history in the past year could have happened without the divine direction and infinite support of the Almighty who orders human events as it pleases Him. We therefore give all honour, adoration and glory to our Heavenly Father.
4. We have marched victoriously into the New Year and I join every family in the state to celebrate the joy of a new beginning. We have been called to embrace the New Year with great hope and optimism, confident that no challenge, however daunting, shall overwhelm us.
5. The past year offered us the opportunity to take back our collective destiny and I am glad we drove home the message that in a democracy, power belongs to the people. It was the year the majority came to a consensus that we had stayed for far too long on the mountain of mediocrity and failure, and needed to advance forward to reach the Promised Land.
6. Although we are still far from our desired destination, the fact, as attested to by many, including apolitical observers, and even honest partisan watchers in other political camps, is that Abia is changing for the better and a new sense of optimism is emerging about our dear state and its future.
7. With our modest accomplishments in the last six months on road reconstruction and rehabilitation, especially in Aba and Umuahia, reinvigoration of the health and education sectors, restoration of security in communities that had been previously overrun by criminal gangs, effective urban waste management, prompt payment of salaries, support to the economically poor and vulnerable amongst others, it is evident that we are on a mission to rebuild and restore the glory of our fatherland.
8. Umu nne m, you may wish to recall that while speaking to you shortly after we took the oath of office on May 29, 2023, we made a solemn commitment that we shall make regular payment of salaries and pensions a priority. It gladdens my heart to report that our workers and retirees now know exactly when their entitlements will be paid and thankfully, we have never failed them. In the New Year as we had promised, we shall review the salaries of all the employees of the State Government upwards to reflect the economic realities of the time. Work on this is in the final stages.
9. Beyond our strides in improving the social and economic conditions of the Abia public, we have also done very well in fostering harmonious relationship with the other arms of government, the legislature and the judiciary, providing all the necessary support as we consistently build trust in ways that make for robust engagements in the discharge of our constitutional responsibilities to Ndi Abia.
10. The media, members of the civil society, traditional, religious and community leaders have been very supportive in driving the message of the New Abia to all parts of the state. May I assure you that we do not take your goodwill for granted.
11. The year 2024 will be our year of consolidation on the gains made in the past 7 months. We recently signed the 2024 appropriation bill of N567.02 into law after It had been passed by the State House of Assembly. To show the direction of this government, an unprecendented 84% of this sum has been earmarked for capital expenditure including road projects, rebuilding and remodelling of schools and hospitals and a proposal to build a best-in-class medical village in the State to stem the tide of medical tourism by our citizens.
12. Beyond the huge sums which the state shall be investing in the critical sectors to spur economic growth, create employment opportunities and revive local businesses, particularly MSMEs, we have already been engaging members of the organised private sector to take advantage of our business-friendly policies to invest in the State, especially in manufacturing, trade and commerce, transportation, mass housing schemes, hospitality, sports and tourism. Our general approach as a government is to create the right environment to support the success of businesses in ways that enable job creation and the expansion of opportunities for individuals and local entrepreneurs in all parts of the state.
13. Technology has been at the heart of our transformation and reform agenda. We shall move to a new gear in 2024 starting with the digitization of the operations of our public institutions for ease of access and efficiency in service delivery. We shall also leverage the advantages of technology to drive state-wide human capital development, economic empowerment of the youth and most importantly, job creation in high reward areas, especially outside our geographical borders.
14. The world is changing rapidly and we cannot afford to be left behind. ICT offers us a pathway to sustained socio-economic development. As a government, we are keen to take advantage of the opportunities emerging therein to advance our governance objectives.
15. My office, working closely with the ministries of science and technology and digital economy and SMEs, has articulated the State’s strategic blueprint for the ICT sector. In the New Year, the components, including hands-on training and exposure, business plan competition with financial grants and seed funding to those with bankable ideas, mentorship and so much more shall be rolled out for the benefit of all interested participants.
16. Recently, I signed the Greater Aba Development Authority (GADA) bill as passed by the State House of Assembly into law. GADA, on the strength of the law setting it up, will drive the holistic development of Aba into a functional, modern mega city, supporting enterprise growth, family life and leisure as promised in our manifesto.
17. In 2024, we shall continue our policy of being attentive to the needs of the poor and vulnerable. In addition to our independent initiatives aimed at supporting economically disadvantaged individuals and families, we shall continue to honour our commitments in the various programmes of the multilateral agencies we are subscribed to, mainly ones that are targeted at persons living in chronic poverty, nursing mothers and those with difficult medical conditions.
18. The State recently secured the support of the European Union to develop a robust social register. When completed, the Abia Social Register will direct our allocation of resources to the vulnerable. Additionally, it will help relevant agencies of government to monitor how the various programmes and initiatives sponsored by the State and its Partners impact them.
19. Before the end of this month, we shall be setting up an international body of advisers known as Abia Global Economic Advisory Board, (GEAB) made up of accomplished internationally recognised experts from across the globe who will help in our journey to take our state to the world as a preferred investment destination.
20. We plan to expand our set of economic advantages as a State by working closely with the Mayors at the LGAs to make every community a major centre of production. We are currently developing a more comprehensive resource map of the State where the comparative advantage of each community shall be captured. The map shall be used as a marketing instrument to investors and development partners.
21. In the social services sector, we shall continue our strategic investments in health and education. The 2024 budget proposal has already made substantial provisions for our programmes in the two sectors with a combined allocation of more than 35% of the total budget outlay. Even with this generous spending proposal, we shall also keep our eyes on grants and other aid schemes in support of education from local and international development partners.
22. Our commitment is to close the funding gap in education and health in the first instance and then see to it that the funds are channelled to meet the most pressing needs of the sectors, paying careful attention to infrastructure, personnel recruitment and development, and the efficiency of service delivery. As I had said repeatedly, our administration is determined to make Abia the home of the most educated, healthiest and wealthiest citizens in this region.
23. Fellow Abians, as you would agree with us, our plans are grand and our commitment genuine. Our promise is that we shall never let you down.
24. As you equally know, we cannot achieve much of our grand plans for 2024 if citizens are not faithful to their civic responsibilities, particularly regular payment of taxes and other statutory financial obligations. In the New Year, we encourage you to take full advantage of the innovative structures we have put in place, including digital platforms and channels, for the regular payment of your individual and business taxes.
25. You are also expected to cooperate with the security agencies by reporting suspected criminal activities and individuals in your communities and neighbourhoods to the nearest security station for prompt action.
26. Let me repeat my earlier warning that the State Government shall not look kindly to any traditional or community leader, landlord or head of any organisation who harbours criminals. Any tolerance, subtle or open support for crime in any part of the state would be seen as an act of sabotage and the government will not hesitate to do what it must do to protect the life and property of the citizens.
27. In the new year, government will pay a lot of attention on environmental sanitation. We have done a lot to keep our towns and villages clean. However, we still see pockets of garbage and filth around us. We would appeal to everyone to join in the crusade to keep Abia clean. You will be hearing more on this from the state orientation agency.
28. You will recall that during the campaigns and up till recently, we had made a promise to pay the arrears of pensions being owed our retired civil servants by the end of 2023. It’s unfortunate to report that a few challenges have conspired to ensure that we were unable to keep this promise. Based on the figures available to us, we had arranged the funds to make good this promise. However, before making the payment, we decided to conduct a digital verification of the pensioners. To our utter shock, we found that there were pensioners who had been owed since 2014. To ensure that the verification exercise did not add extra burden to the already owed pensioners, we took it down to them at their respective wards. Those who were sick or too old, had their own verification taken to their houses. At the end of the exercise, just about a week ago, the total figure required for the payment was twice the amount we had provided. While we continue to engage the National Union of Pensioners, we believe we will be able to make the payment before the end of the first quarter of the new year. If required, we may go back to the house of assembly for necessary approvals to ensure that this payment is made.
29. Our expectation is that 2024 will be a great year for everyone. However, we must admit that we cannot make perfect predictions on what the year will bring as several factors are entirely outside our control. Our assurance to all as we begin another journey of hope and expectations is that your government will always be there for you, offering necessary support and direction to help you take advantage of the many opportunities that are to emerge in the course of the year, as well as navigate the storms of unexpected events.
30. My dear brothers and Sisters, let me use this opportunity to welcome you all to a brand-new year. Thank you for listening and have a wonderful 2024.
Dr Alex C. Otti, OFR.