Chief Jerry Kalu is the President of the Aba Chamber of Commerce Industries, Mines and Agriculture (ACCIMA). In this interview with EMMANUEL IFEANYI, he speaks on how political decisions and government policies have impeded development in the South East geopolitical zone….CONTINUE READING....CONTINUE READING
How are your members and other business people fairing amidst the economic situation in the country?
As the mouthpiece of the Aba business community, I must tell you that it has not been easy for businesses to thrive here. I must also let you and the world know that the super-structures are no longer functional. When I say super-structure, I mean the necessary facilities. For example, all the major federal roads that connect the city of Aba with other states are in deplorable condition.
These are roads that the Federal Government should look into. This Chamber met the former Minister of Works, complained about our plight over the sorry state of the Aba-Port Harcourt expressway. We used drones and took pictures to show him the condition of the road. We explained how much money, goods and human beings the road has cost us. We pleaded for repair work on the road.
He promised to do something, but up till now, nothing has been done about it. Everything is getting worse. Aba to Port Harcourt is not more than 45 minutes ordinarily, but now it takes almost four hours. We try to look at this as if it is a sabotage where some people want us to abandon the two ports within Port Harcourt. They want to force all of us to the Lagos ports.
By refusing to do anything about that all-important road linking Aba, our major commercial city, to Port Harcourt, the major port city very close to Aba, we see it as a deliberate effort and this has been killing businesses here. Many people from other states who even want to access Aba for business purposes or go to major markets like the Ariaria International Market cannot do so anymore.
Every aspect of business and commerce is suffering in Aba as people find other routes to go to other places to buy their goods. So, they are killing our economy here in Aba. Another area is the energy sector. I don’t understand what the Federal government is doing. They need to forget whatever it is and help us because our economy is dying fast.
Why is this issue of deplorable federal roads more prevalent in Abia State because some states are handling theirs?
I get your point and I’m happy it is coming from you, a journalist who knows the governors well both past and present and should be asking them about their efforts. However, there is a reason why certain roads were tagged federal roads. They are Trunk-A roads that connect economic and political centres in the country. In fact, they’re national roads that should be done by the Federal Government.
Some of these Trunk-A roads will take a huge amount of money to be put in proper shape and it’s not all states that can handle such. However, if I were a governor, I will meet the Minister of Works to discuss road re-construction and re-reimbursement because the responsibilities are clearly stated. Now, I can tell you that with the kind of federal roads we have in Abia and their current conditions, our state doesn’t have the capacity to handle them.
I can tell you this because I see the analysis and the money they receive. As a president of ACCIMA, I know a lot of statistics when it comes to monetary allocations to states. I probe into all these things and I know that we’re not near states like Akwa-Ibom, Rivers and Delta. Probably those in Imo State handling their own federal roads from the available examples may have met the Minister for Works and agreed for the governor to handle it before embarking on such.
I recall the experience the past administration in Abia shared with us about their dealings with the Federal Government on the Old Aba Owerri road. It was everywhere and widely reported how Abia government tried to fix that road but the Federal Government stopped it. If they could stop them on such a small road, although very important to our economy, what do we now expect when they dabble into major highways despite my knowledge of the inability to tackle such considering our financial status. This is why I see that as sabotage.
If it’s not so, let them come and fix our federal roads, so that commerce can go on here. We’ve not done anything wrong. Our people are crying every day. I have to speak out. We’re Nigerians and we pay our taxes. Why are we suffering like this?
Can you estimate what the Aba business community loses because of these roads you’re talking about?
I weep for my people because our economy is crumbling because of what is happening on our roads. What we’re losing is unquantifiable. On the Aba-Enugu-Port Harcourt Highway, we lose goods daily and most times after spending money to even recover the goods in fallen containers you end up getting nothing.
Our people who want to move their goods from the port in Port Harcourt now have to pass through Imo State, turning twice around the whole area before eventually returning to Aba. When they get here after paying so much money to truck owners, the prices go high and the common man on the streets bears the brunt and suffering continues.
The Eastern Rail Line that could have helped is still under construction; are you comfortable with the pace of work?
How can I be comfortable with such a slow pace? That’s exactly what I was trying to make you understand that whatever concerns us from this part of the country, they delay it. They’ve not been able to tell us what we’ve done wrong.
Who doesn’t know the importance of train in commerce? Who doesn’t know why the railway was linked to strategic places like the seaport to other places where goods are produced? But honestly, I don’t understand what’s happening in this part of Nigeria, which is why we suspect deliberate sabotage. From what I’m seeing, that railway may not pass Aba. It may not get to Umuahia because before they started the work you’re talking about.
The train was only moving from Aba to Port Harcourt. Nothing passes through Umuahia not to talk of heading to Enugu or Maiduguri. I recall how it used to be before when one could move from here to the North through the railway but everything has collapsed.
Given the volume of commercial activities going on around the South-East, don’t you think the governors should do better?
Yes, they should and I advise them to come together, reason together and think of how to maximize the new law on railway and electricity because so many changes have been made recently. Since states are now free to own railways and generate and distribute electricity, they should come together and plan the funding because such projects will improve the economy of the South-East. I think our people should take advantage of the new laws and improve on what we have.
We should borrow a leaf from the Bavarians in Germany, who industrialized their land. We can emulate other economic hubs. This is a time governors ignore party differences and come together to think of what way forward. Lagos has already taken advantage of the railway line is- sue. This is what I call thinking faster. What does it take for the South-East governors to forget politics, come together in consultation with the people and create a railway that’ll connect all our capital cities and commercial hubs?
Such a rail should have a link to Sam Mbakwe International Cargo Airport in Owerri, it should have a link to the proposed dry port at Ntigha, it should have links to our major markets like Ariaria, Ogbete, Main Market Onitsha and other markets in Ebonyi. This will attract diaspora investment and repatriate our people’s wealth abroad back home. It’s not magic. We need to think better. We’re business people and we need our political officeholders to think faster and liaise with the business community to make things better.
Does Abia govt work with ACCIMA in budget planning?
For the first time since the creation of Abia State 32 years ago, a few days ago, I received a letter from the Ministry of Budget and Planning that we should be present at the budget planning to see what they are doing. This is the first time such has ever happened.
What’s ACCIMA doing to ensure that the Inland Dry Port at Ntigha is realized?
Since our last meeting, we’ve been told to organize ourselves to meet the governor. We’ve written to all the people concerned to come for the inauguration and I believe they’ll be here by next week. After that, we’ll meet the governor to have a discussion with him and after that, we’ll take it up from there. I’ll not say that he has not heard about the dry port before although it’s a new government.
Good enough, the project will be situated in his domain because he’s from Isiala-Ngwa and if I were him, that’s the first project I’ll take on because it’s important. He’s lucky the project is coming there because 80 per cent of those who’ll work there will come from there. We’ll meet him and I believe he will do something.
Apart from failed superstructures, what else are business people here yearning for?
Well, the major thing we need is these superstructures. Our roads and electricity. Let me tell you, by now we should have been talking expansion of Aba. We should have met up with Umuahia and met up with Obehie forming a unique urban settlement as you see overseas.
We should be talking about moving from Aba to Umuahia and Arochukwu without seeing it as a serious movement. If we can prop- erly link Aba to Obehie, to Obigbo it’s already linked to Port Harcourt.
We should be thinking such not turning around an old urban centre in Aba without making any en route into new areas. I still consider the roads extremely important because people don’t know what we’re missing when important roads like Obohia, Ohanku and Port Harcourt roads are bad….CONTINUE READING