The Progressive Abia Youths(PAY), a non governmental organization championed towards good governance has condemned in strong terms the level of indebtedness of Abia state government due to what the group described as “irresponsible borrowing by the State Government”.

According to the records presented by Ekejiuba Daberechi Kingsley, the President General of PAY in a press release in Umuahia on Saturday has the record that in 2015, Abia’s debt profile was N33.53bn and now risen to N70.57Bn, representing a 110% increase under the administration of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu accused to have borrowed N37.04bn.

PHOTO: Ekejiuba Daberechi Kingsley, President General of PAY

PAY also expressed deep disappointment and concern on issues bordering on lack of basic education, poor environment for entrepreneurship development, poor social welfare, unemployment, poor infrastructural development, insecurity, environmental degradation, 2023 election, Local and External Debt.

The group affirmed that they came to the conclusion for the press release after a comprehensive sampling of the opinion of over 122,000 Abia State Youths on issues of state and National importance.

The youth group had their representatives from the 17 local government areas of Abia state at the press conference.

PHOTO: Representatives from the 17 local government areas of Abia state at the press conference.

Full Press Release reads below;

ISSUED AT THE GENERATIONAL PRESS CONFERENCE OF THE PROGRESSIVE ABIA YOUTHS HELD ON SATURDAY, 27TH AUGUST 2022

We the Progressive Abia Youths after an extensive deliberation and comprehensive sampling of the opinion of over 122,000 Abia State Youths on issues of State and National importance, resolved as follows:

1) Education: We acknowledge the role qualitative education plays in the economic, social, and infrastructural development of developing countries in building capacity, improving quality of life, and preparing future generations for the challenges that lie ahead. Today, evidence shows that developing countries like Rwanda spend more than 11% of their budget on improving education, but sadly, this is not the case in Abia State, not the case in Nigeria. The governor of Abia State signed the “Budget of Economic Recovery Through Industrialization and Inclusive Growth” into law in
January 2022, wherein the sum of #147, 282, 196, 200 (One Hundred and Forty Seven Billion, Two Hundred and Eighty-Two Million, One Hundred and Ninety-Six Thousand, Two Hundred Naira) was approved to cover expenditures for the 2022 fiscal year; less than 8% of that budget was allocated to education. Sadly, accumulation of salaries in the public education sector is now a norm in Abia State with over 60 months (5+ years) of cumulative salary arrears owed to lecturers and other staff, including primary and secondary school teachers (more than 20,000). Due to the fact that the state governor was once in the Academia, we are in rude shock over the abandonment of Abia State Polytechnic, which had its operational license withdrawn as a result of over 30 months’ salary arrears owed to lecturers of the school. On the other hand, the primary and secondary schools in the school district are perpetually moribund, and while a majority of them are understaffed, others are completely dilapidated. As a result, we urge the incumbent to declare a state of emergency in all the state-owned schools in a bid to tackle this issue and restore pride in our public education sector before the end of this administration. We request that the school feeding program, gulping hundreds of millions of our revenue, be suspended and the resources be channeled to the payment of teachers’ salaries. It doesn’t make sense to feed schoolchildren when their teachers are owed. School is not an eatery; it’s a place for learning and the priority is on education, not eating or feeding as you call it.

2) Entrepreneurship Development: It is a truism that Abia is not just in the comity of states with the highest concentration of small and medium-scale businesses but also prides itself on being the Japan of Africa as a result of the many artisans in Aba and other parts of the state. Abia is also blessed with many human and natural resources. Over 70% of products made in Aba are born out of the ingenuity of Abia entrepreneurs. On this 31st anniversary, we celebrate Abia artisans who have continued to make our state and nation proud. On the flip side, it is regrettable that despite the resources at the disposal of the state, we have become a crawling lion as a result of the negligence of the government in providing an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. The Abia SME Bank was established to assist SMEs in the state, which we applauded, but it has underperformed in all measurable metrics of “Nontribal Business Support to Young Abia Entrepreneurs. We urge the government to harness the many opportunities in the state for the good of the citizens and provide essential infrastructure for businesses all around the state to thrive.

3) Social Welfare: We believe that social welfare is essential for a functional, peaceful, egalitarian state. In this context, care for the aged, retired, people living with disabilities, and disadvantaged citizens ensues. There’s no gainsaying that there is little or no social welfare package for Abians in this cadre. Pensioners are owed more than 36 months (3 years+), PWDs are left to fend for themselves, and disadvantaged citizens are left at the mercy of their God. With these realities in mind, we urge the government to rise to the occasion and hold the special group in our society accountable. Ours is a principle of inclusion for an equitable society, and we urge other non-governmental organizations to key into programs that help improve the welfare of PWDs and the aged among us.

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4) Unemployment: With an unemployment rate of 31.6%(NBS, 2018), Abia was ranked
4th among the states with the highest unemployment rate in Nigeria. This means that 1 out of every 3 Abians is unemployed. Taking this further to inculcate the worrying reality of an underemployment rate of over 40% in Abia, it is regrettable that 2 out of every three Abians are either unemployed or underemployed (over 500,000 Abia youths are either unemployed or underemployed). Abia youths, who account for more than 55% of the population and 70% of those of working age, are the hardest hit by issues of unemployment and underemployment, leading to unexplainable cases of sycophancy, crime, depression, and substance abuse among the youths. It is disheartening that the state cannot boast of a single, largely successful opportunity it has created to sustainably help the youths out of this execrable and helpless situation. At 31, Abia is well mature enough to produce opportunities for the youth to be productive. We plead with the government to harness the myriads of opportunities across the state so as to provide sustainable job opportunities for the teeming youth and citizens. To tackle these issues, the government must provide an enabling environment for local and foreign direct investments (FDIs) and the Abia State ministry of labor and employment must adopt the outputs of the policy paper on “Demand-Led-Model-to-Unemployment-in-Abia-State for better results.

5) Infrastructure: We are saddened by the poor state of infrastructure in Abia State.
From Ukwa East and West to Isi-ala Ngwa South, Aba North to Umuahia South, Arochukwu to Ohafia, Isuikwuato to Umunneochi, Abia State has the worst internal road network in the South East. Roads built by previous administrations have deteriorated, and new ones are collapsing; Ariara International Market roads are a prime example. The infrastructural intervention programs undertaken by this administration, which has seen to the construction of an overhead bridge and some internal roads, are appreciated, but they are sufficiently insufficient. Our state’s public health facilities are death traps, with inadequate equipment and staffing. A hardworking, godly 31-year old should be able to clothe and feed themselves, but at 31, Abia lacks the necessary apparel that bequeaths a 31-year old. To this end, we call on the incumbent Governor to ensure that all awarded road contracts are executed before May 29, 2023.

6) Security: We appreciate the efforts of the government and the Commissioner of Police in curbing the menace that has bedeviled our state. We commiserate with the families that have lost their loved ones, those that have been forced to pay ransoms for their kidnapped relatives, and those that have been rendered helpless by the unfortunate incidence in Lokpanta. Umunneochi, Isuikwuato and Ohafia have been under siege and the government has done little to salvage the situation; other LGAs suffer similar fates. We condemn in strong terms the kidnapping of the Methodist Prelate, students, medical doctors, and the recent killing of more than eight youths in Ohafia. On the premise of verified data and evidence, we discovered that the major reason why these issues persist is because our security system is insufficient. Abia State is being policed. How do you explain the fact that some LGAs in Abia, with over 90,000 people, have fewer than five well-equipped police stations? We call on Abia State legislators at the National Assembly to support the State Police bill sponsored by Hon. Onofiok Luke and ensure that state police is moved from the exclusive to the concurrent list. After all, security is local. Let the State Governors be given the power to police their State so that the people can hold them accountable.

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7) Environment: Environmental issues have continued to increase in the last 31 years. From flooding in Aba to oil pollution in Ukwa and erosion in Isuikwuato and other areas of the state, our people have been unintentional victims of environmental hazards. Pollution caused by poor waste management in the urban centers of Aba and Umuahia leaves more to be desired. To safeguard our environment, we demand that the government hold the companies and private individuals exploring our mineral resources to account. We propose that a monthly tax of 10% of their profits be collected for environmental maintenance and necessary laws put in place to ensure responsible exploration. Monies generated from this exercise should be used mainly for environmental protection initiatives.

8) Local and External Debt: We condemn, in strong terms, continued irresponsible borrowing by the Abia State Government. In 2015, Abia’s debt profile was #33.53bn. Today it has risen to #70.57Bn, representing a 110% increase (Governor Okezie
Ikpeazu’s administration has borrowed #37.04bn). Ironically, economic, security, social and infrastructural indicators do not project an injection of #37.04bn, not minding the large volume of allocation accrued to the State in the last 8 years. We call on Governor Okezie Ikpeazu to ensure that he gives a comprehensive account of how these funds were spent by May 29, 2023.

9) 2023 Elections: We appreciate the 9th National Assembly and President Muhamadu Buhari for signing the 2022 electoral bill into law. This great move has restored confidence in our electoral process and we are positive that we will witness free, fair, and credible elections across the federation in 2023. We call on Abia youths to take responsibility in electing leaders that will bring good governance to Abia. Do not sell your votes; don’t allow yourselves to be used as thugs; ensure that results from your polling units are correctly transmitted to the INEC portal. Vote not Fight! We call on the political candidates contesting the governorship position in Abia State to focus on solving the many issues confronting the state. The days of bad governance and stealing public funds in Abia State are over. We have risen to take our destiny into our own hands to protect our democracy and ensure result-based leadership for our generation and the next.

10) At 31, the current political dispensation led by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu as Governor of Abia State and President Muhamadu Buhari as Commander in Chief has 275 days to the expiration of their tenure. We urge our President, Governor, 3 Senators, 8 House of Rep members and 24 House of Assembly members to ensure that the remaining part of their administration leaves an indelible mark in the history of our state and nation.

11) With sound mind and sincerity of purpose, a progressive Abia with progressive Abia youths remains our ultimate goal. Happy 31st, Abia. May we never see a worse tomorrow.

Ekejiuba Daberechi Kingsley, President General, Progressive Abia Youths

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