1. I’m glad that we are taking yet another strategic step in fulfilling one of my major campaign promises which is to permanently break the jinx of Port Harcourt Road Aba and revive the long-abandoned economic activities along this corridor, activities that once gave Aba a set of peculiar advantages, starting from the early 1980s when our revered leader, Dee Sam Mbakwe, Governor of Old Imo State, constructed this road to feed into the expansion of the booming oil industrial complex in Port Harcourt.
2. Dee Sam’s vision gained a foothold almost immediately as this stretch of road became a major hub for the servicing of heavy-duty vehicles, equipment, spare parts, power generating sets and ancillary tools. In no time, this axis emerged as one of the busiest parts of Aba and a go-to destination for maintenance engineers, procurement officers and contractors working for the multinationals in Port Harcourt and environs, bringing Immediate prosperity and a host of other economic and social advantages to the city of Aba.
3. For about two decades, it was all bliss and blush for businesses around this area until things began to fell apart in the mid to late 1990s, followed quickly by the unfortunate collapse and abandonment of the 2000s.
4. Nothing seemed to work thereafter. In time, the businesses, including those that had their corporate headquarters around here began to disappear, finding more favourable locations as it became clear that succeeding administrations did not have the will to make the right commitments to restore this stretch of road and sustain its economic advantages; until today.
5. Perhaps I should go on and announce that I am partly fulfilled that we have reached another milestone in what had been a very long process which started immediately after my victory was announced by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC, on the 22nd of March 2023.
6. Recall that on 27th of April this year, I led representatives of Julius Berger on an inspection tour of this very road to get a general overview of the scope of work to be done and other fundamental details that would guide the technical designs and specifications.
7. We also had to invite other construction companies to have a look-in and send us their reports. To be clear, we were careful not to repeat the errors and misjudgements of the past for which the state wasted billions of taxpayers’ money without any measurable improvements in the condition of the road for more than 20 years.
8. For us, it is either we reconstruct Port Harcourt Road and do it well or we don’t do it at all. Remember that during my several stops in this great city during the electioneering campaigns, I made one thing very clear: we shall only go for the best because you deserve no less.
9. With the above covenant in mind, we resisted the temptation to start another trial and error on a road as important as this and decided to accept the engineering design and bid presented to us by possibly the most reputable civil engineering company in Nigeria with more than 50 years of operational experience and several landmark projects in all parts of the country to its name, Julius Berger Plc.
10. For us, Port Harcourt Road Aba is not just any other project, it will be a testament of our willingness and determination to “rebuild ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated” as contained in Isaiah 61: 4.
11. I would refuse to be drawn into the tragedies and heartbreaks that attended previous attempts at fixing this 6.7km stretch of road but would rather invite you to look to the future with great optimism and expectations, certain that the days of mediocrity are over. We are here to rebuild, and this flag off exercise is a definite confirmation that Aba’s days of glory are about to be restored.
12. For the purpose of clarity, we are not just talking about pouring asphalt or doing any haphazard job just for cheap political capital. We have brought Julius Berger here for some well-defined reasons: to do a holistic job of fixing the road, addressing the age-long flooding problems especially at notoriously problematic points using appropriate technology and expertise; and ultimately see to it that with very minimal maintenance at regular intervals, this road shall continue to support the existing, new and returning businesses and their activities for at the very least, another twenty years, post-commissioning.
13. My team members and I, including the state commissioner for works and many senior engineering staff of the ministry, worked closely with the team from Julius Berger to ensure that the technical design and specifications adopted answered all the important questions regarding durability, reliability, flood control and other critical parameters.
14. It is our expectation that on completion, the reconstructed Port Harcourt Road will drive the economic rejuvenation of this resilient city and send a clear message to the businesses that had left that the Elephant is back on its feet, never to stumble again.
15. It shall not be long and you will see the evidence that if the right structures are in place, as I had long emphasised, one does not need to travel round the globe looking for investors because the investors themselves have their independent antennas at alert all the time, picking out signals on the right investment destinations. I can tell you that in the next 12 months, the economic prospects and opportunities in Aba will be too attractive for any serious investor to ignore.
16. I am glad that the Contractor understands the strategic importance of this road and why it had been chosen by the inter-ministerial committee that evaluated the bids and assessed the suitability of the many construction groups that expressed interest in this project.
17. As agreed by all parties, this project has a delivery timeline not exceeding 18 months. My expectation is that whatever needs to be done to meet the target would be done, including working round the clock. On our own part, we have set up a robust financing structure to see that we complete the payment on schedule to eliminate any setbacks arising from payment delays.
18. Let me now invite the good people of Aba to offer the Contractor and its team all the support they need to be able to deliver this project within the agreed timeline. There will be several moments of inconveniences and those living around the construction corridor may see periodic disruptions in their regular activities.
19. Although the Contractor has sufficient experience in projects of this nature to be able to adequately manage the inevitable social costs that are bound to occur over the next 18 months, we urge you to cooperate fully with them and bear those short-term inconveniences as necessary sacrifice for the good of this city.
20. I am obliged to thank the hardworking people of Aba for your fortitude through these two decades of great difficulties. I assure you today that your patience and commitment to genuine change have paid off. As you can see from the already completed and several other on-going road projects, we are poised to honour our covenants and commitments with you.
21. We shall spend the next twelve to eighteen months working to reset the fundamentals by making sure all the economically significant roads in this city are in good condition, re-organise the waste management system for enhanced efficiency and see to it that the basic facilities investors and residents look out for are in place.
22. You will see more activities, not just on roads but on the broad spectrum of social infrastructure including modernisation of the markets and commercial passenger and cargo transport hubs, effective urban water supply system, healthcare facilities, educational institutions, skills acquisition centres, ICT hubs and so much more.
23. I have set up an executive committee to create a database of all the strategic public and private business concerns that once thrived in this city but are now moribund. We are developing an appropriate template to revive and bring them back to life, subject to economic fundamentals. On my watch, Aba shall witness the kind of economic revival that is very difficult to come by in this part of the world.
24. As I mentioned when we launched the Abia Industrial and Innovation Park (AIIP) in Owaza two weeks ago, we are not promising to do everything in one day but we shall move with the kind of determination and commitment that would leave you in no doubt that we are here for serious business.
25. We ran for office simply because we believe that we have punched far below our weight for too long. We were driven by a passionate desire to change that narrative and that we must do, without looking back.
26. We are spending so little on publicity because we are convinced that when a government does the right thing, the people on their own will take up the responsibility of promoting its programmes and activities using every tool that is available to them.
27. I am humbled by the show of love coming our way from millions of young Nigerians on social media, majority of who are not even from the state but are impressed with what we are doing, and these include celebrities and thought leaders on traditional and social media platforms. I must also acknowledge some young men and women who have kept vigil on this ground since Julius Berger started moving their equipment here. I salute your energy.
28. My promise to you is that we shall never let you down; we may make mistakes as humans, but you can go to bed every night assured that the present Labour Party government in Abia, elected with the overwhelming support of the majority, is poised to reset the tone of governance in our state for good.
29. Our present commitment to creating an enabling environment for businesses to thrive through unprecedented investments in infrastructure is principally aimed at driving job creation and poverty elimination which are very critical to our general development agenda.
30. We shall be providing regular updates on the progress of work on this road even as we continue to strategize to rebuild the entire infrastructure landscape of the entire Aba to accommodate the scope of our vision. As you can see from the size and quality of equipment already on the ground, only the best is good enough for Aba and Ndi Abia.
31. Do not relent in paying your taxes as at when due because as you are aware, we are dreaming big, and making it materialise would require consistent financing. We must ultimately realise that no progress can be made without commensurate sacrifices on the part of all concerned.
32. We have resolved to serve selflessly, honestly and with unmeasured dedication. I have literally gone to the ends of the world to hire some of my team members, causing them to forgo more materially fulfilling jobs to come serve their fatherland because of our conviction that there is nothing more rewarding than service to fatherland.
33. All of us must therefore do our part through regular payment of taxes and other statutory fees and respect for the rule of law. We are also encouraged to remain vigilant, guarding public assets against sabotage. Remember, this is your government and you must defend its interests with great zeal and commitment.
34. Thank you for listening. Now let the bulldozers, pay loaders and other earth moving equipment go to work.
35. May God bless you all.
Dr Alex C. Otti , OFR