Appraising Abia Town Hall Meetings

By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu

The recent town hall meetings in Abia State afforded both the government and people of Abia State numerous opportunities. There was no better platform to explain the challenges faced by the government than the meeting. A state which federal monthly allocations have dwindled to as low as N1.8billion deserves to convene such forum to chart the way forward.

The policies thrusts and directions of the government need to be appraised for the people to be carried along. Such policies as the recently launched Free School Meals Initiative, which has generated a pocket of divergent opinions, requires to be explained to the letter. Abians are entitled to know that the programme is not funded from the purse of the government rather supported by farmers and partners.

The explanations accommodated the fact that the programmme aims at promoting the nutritional state of these children, encourage school enrolment and discourage children dropping out of the school as a result of hunger. It will enhance the implementation of the Child’s Right Act, which was domesticated by the Abia State House of Assembly recently. It will expand their opportunity to reach their full potential , and enhance the academic performance of children.

It will boost the agricultural economy of the state and thereby creating employment opportunities .It will be recalled that every meal component of the initiative ( water, beans, eggs, and rice) would be sourced locally. When the initiative comes on full stream, 136,258 pupils are expected top be fed weekly. The quantity of fresh eggs expected to be bought from farmers in Abia State is 408,774, and 1,022 of 100kg bag ofada rice would be bought from local farmers every week, while 255 of 150kg bag of beans would be bought weekly from the local farmers.

The town hall meetings provided the opportunity to explain to the people the efforts of the government in salvaging the dilapidated state of the public schools. Currently, the state government has rehabilitated over ten schools and sunk boreholes is some of the schools to forestall future occurrence of pupils beign knocked down by vehicles in search of water across the major roads.

Also, through the Friends of Abia School Adoption Initiative (FASAI) some schools have been rescued through the donation of desks and rehabilitation of some of the dilapidated classroom blocks by some well- meaning Abians.

The Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, was able to explain reasons why emphasis on infrastructural development of the major cities of the state, especially Aba, the commercial- heart beat of the state. If Aba is fixed, the entire Abia State is fixed. An improved infrastructure in Aba, especially roads, would motivated the people to pay their taxes thereby improving the revenue base of the state.

In all, the meeting allowed all segments of the Abia society representing various interests an unfettered access to the governor. One of the beneficiaries of this opportunity is the disabled persons in the state. Unarguably, this group has been relegated to the background in the scheme of things in the country due to their perceived unfortunate situation. But in Abia, their narrative has changed.

Responding to their demands which included establishment of the school for the deaf, empowerment through appointments as Special Assistants, among others, the governor has directed the local government chairmen in the 17 local government areas of the state to employ two disabled persons as the assistants; also, other things being equal, the state will establish a school for the deaf before December.

Throughout the town hall meetings from Ohafia where it took off to Isuikwuato, Umuahia South, Isiala Ngwa North, Ukwa West, and Aba North, where the curtain for the programme was drawn, attentions centred on some major areas. They are youth empowerment, agriculture and rural development.

In the present Abia, emphasis is now on ” teaching the youths how to fish rather than giving them fish (hand out)”. This has shaped the new model of youth empowerment in Abia State which lays emphasis on skills acquisition. This philosophy drives the concept of the establishment of the multi- skills acquisition centre across the three senatorial zones in the state .That of Abia South has already taken- off.

The centre will expose the youths to multiple skills such as carpentry, masonry, block moulding , among others. And it is the passionate appeal of Gov. Okezie Ikpeazu for the youths to key into this and equip themselves with skills. If the youths meaningfully engage their energies, crime will be reduced to the barest minimum. Besides, Ikpeazu has made strong promises that the youths after acquiring these skills will execute contracts from the N4 billion grant which is meant for rehabilitation of schools and equipping them with desks .The centres would be supervised and handled by some Mexicans and Pilipinos.

Similarly, the National Directorate of Employment ICT Skills Acquisition Centre at Osieke in Ugwunagbo LGA of the state has commenced training with full support from Abia State Government. The governor also promised to place the first 125 intakes into the scheme on N25,000 monthly stipend.

To engage the energies of the youths meaningfully, Abia State Government has laid emphasis on providing employment opportunities for them. This motive drives the current efforts to revitalise moribund industries in the state.

The International Glass Industry (IGI), Aba has already rebounded and Golden Guinea Breweries is seriously waiting in the queue. Golden Guinea before it closed shop over a decade ago, had about 5000 workers in its employ and when it commences into full operations this time around the staff strength is expected to double. With strong assurances from the management that 70 percent of its staff will be sourced locally, the unemployment situation in Abia will soon witness a turn around.

Government has created agencies such as the Traffic Indiscipline and Management Agency of Abia State (TIMAAS).The mandate of the agency include traffic control & enforcement of state and national laws that govern the safe use of vehicles on roads in Abia State; to deter and apprehend road traffic offenders; to conduct highly visible day & night traffic patrols ; to enforce traffic rules and regulations; and to rid the highways of obstruction, among others. The establishment of the agency has provided employment opportunities for over 200 Abia youths.

Another agency that has provided employment opportunities for Abia youths is the Public Infrastructure Management Agency. The agency is saddled with the responsibility to maintain and protect public facilities across the state.

It is widely held that urban development without corresponding rural development is not development because good percentage of the population live in the rural and semi- urban areas. In a bid to close the gap of infrastructural development between rural areas and the cities, the administration has constituted the Abia State Rural Infrastructural Development Initiative (ASTRIDE). The initiative is charged with providing at least one project in each of the 184 INEC wards in the 17 local government areas in the state .This translates into planned rural electrification and beautification of Ohafia, the third largest urban centre in the state. The governor has not only directed the State Assembly law makers to identify projects in the various constituencies but also to grade the roads in their constituencies.

The ongoing agricultural revolution in Abia State has received a boost. The state has secured a N1 billion loan from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to boost agricultural production. The distribution of the loan to genuine farmers would commence soon.

Indeed, the Abia town hall meeting was a huge success and Abians are yearning for more. It provided the governor the opportunity to present the score card of his one year in office, explain his policies and there was room for the citizens to do what is referred to as in media circle ” agenda setting” for the government.

Ukegbu, a public policy analyst, writes from Umuahia, Abia State.

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