Will media siege on Abia end now?
AS Nigerians across the different states rejoice over yet another smooth transition from one set of democratically elected administrations to another, it will be a different celebration in Abia State. Abians will sigh in relief in expectation that the siege laid on their state by two newspapers owned by one of their own will be over.
Although their outgoing governor, Chief T.A. Orji, has performed to their general satisfaction, an illustrious son of theirs has been seemingly unrelenting in using his two newspapers to wage a psychological war on the state’s citizenry, for supporting the governor in its programme of transforming the state. The quarrel between the newspaper mogul and the governor is a personal one with the former using his media prowess to paint the state as a place where nothing works. The attacks on the state has been persistent; but for the fact the Nigerians are familiar with the idiosyncrasy of the newspaper proprietor as someone who sees himself as the only shining star in the state, Abia would have since become a pariah.
Today, as Abians salute “T.A.” for a job well done, it is difficult for Nigerians who never visited the state in the last eight years to believe that it is not an assemblage of never-do-wells. Such is the tragedy of a people hitherto seen as among the most discerning and hardworking. Nigerians should note what the politics of hate could do to a people who have in the last eight years collectively worked in one page under T.A.’s supervision.
Governor Orji proved his mettle in trying to improve the lives of Abians through the provision of infrastructural amenities. His administration will perhaps be most remembered for bringing the people of the state to work together for their collective good. Before T.A. Orji’s coming, Abia was fragmented into many tendencies and there was a complete breakdown of elite consensus.
The preceding administration preferred to reign over rancour; the political elite virtually decided to dissociate itself from the state while the government of the day fancied itself as a champion of the federal republic instead of seeing to the welfare of the local citizens. It is to Orji’s credit that Abia has been returned to a place where members of the political class work for a common goal, regardless of partisan differences. With the benefits of an insider who witnessed the oddities of his then boss, Orji embarked on reconciliatory moves to bring the elite back to the state to work together, and for eight years running, it has been equanimity among the political class.
The ruling party in the state, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), became cohesive under Governor Orji. Abia became the only state in the entire Southeast, where Senators and Ministers of the state’s origin sit at the same high table with the governor in a function. In the neighbouring PDP states, governors and their ministers are hardly in talking terms.
To be sure, governors who do not have the background to run consensus building administrations have tried to make up that lapse by inundating their people with physical infrastructure that are in most cases phantom or achieved at provocative costs.
It was in such circumstances that Orji took over the affairs of the state. The state could not boast of even a secretariat more than 11 years after it was created. Civil servants crisscrossed the state capital between make-belief private buildings that served as offices, with the attendant negative implications on productivity.
Also, the security situation in the state became so bad, no thanks to the precedence that encouraged political brigandage and violence in a bid to get even with anybody or group that showed traces of dissent.
By 2011, as the governor was settling down for his second term in office, the crime rate in Abia State, especially in the area of kidnapping, had risen so high that the state became a pariah state. Residents of Aba and the state capital, Umuahia, fled to other parts of the South-East. Orji knew that war was not going to be fought on the pages on newspapers. He went into a rare collaborative effort with the security agencies and kidnappers were routed in the state. Some critics tried to dismiss the crime fighting feat as infinitesimal; something that cannot be over-dramatised. The governor however excelled even in the realm of physical infrastructure. Consequently, the World Bank in 2014 rated Abia State as number four in infrastructural development out of the 36 states of the federation.
In late 2014, a PDP fact-finding team, after an extensive tour of Abia State, declared Orji as the best performing governor in the Southeast. The team was quick to observe that there was a “media conspiracy” against the governor aimed at diminishing the giant strides of his administration in raising the bar of governance to the people. The highlights include the 5000-seat capacity international conference centre; a new Government House; and the e-library complex. There is also the Joint Account and Allocation Committee (JAAC) building and Abia State Universal Basic Education Board (ASUBEB) building. For Health, there is the diagnostic centre built by the administration and equipped with the latest technology. The hospital is now a major referral centre in the Eastern part of the country.
But Abians look at T.A. from the point of view of a liberator, who brought them out from the jaws of the caterpillars of the common wealth who pillaged the state resources while the cow that produced the milk languished in severe want. Initially, watchers of events in Abia thought Orji orchestrated the bitterness of his former boss and ex-governor of the state, Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu. But the bitterness is real. Eight years on, the former governor daily deploys more deadly arsenals on Orji and his administration. Some observers hoped that a line would be drawn at a point. But it gets worse and the reason is that contrary to expectations, Orji posted monumental achievements in the face of scarce resources. But the respite the people may experience now that T.A. is leaving the stage may, after all, be a temporary one. Already, the newspaper editorials have served what looked like a notice to the incoming governor, Dr. Okezie Ikpeazu, after labelling him as “part of the infamous Orji administration.” Nigerians are thus waiting to see how the Abia newspaper mogul and his outfits will express their assignment as the policemen of Abia State after Orji’s exit.
•Nwachukwu wrote from Umuahia Abia State.