By Okechukwu Keshi Ukegbu
Abia State Executive Council in its recent meeting took some critical resolutions that will ensure some interventions in key areas of the state.
Some of the resolutions adopted are approval of the bifurcation of Abia State Ministry of Education into Ministry of Basic Education and Ministry of Post Basic Education; approval of the conversion of Abia State Polytechnic to become Abia State University of Science and Technology, Aba, Abia State College of Education Arochukwu to become Abia State University of Education, Arochukwu,Abia state College of Health Sciences and Management Studies to become Abia State University of Science and Management Studies, Aba, subject to approval by the State House of Assembly, to Universities; Abia State Polytechnic to become Abia State University of Science and Technology, Aba, Abia State College of Education Arochukwu to become Abia State University of Education, Arochukwu, Abia state College of Health Sciences and Management Studies to become Abia State University of Science and Management Studies, Aba.
Others included expedition of procurement processes for the establishment of Abia State Automated Garment factory, Aba, with more than 500 new jobs expected at take off in December 2021; special funding for Abia State Scholarship Board to enable them deliver more foreign scholarships to desiring Abia Students as well as award local scholarships; review and approval of further release of funds for the new Government House project in Umuahia to ensure realization as scheduled; expeditious completion of work at the new JAAC building in Umuahia; approval of valuation of outstanding work at Ohobo Afara Housing estate and private public partnership arrangement to complete and allocate the buildings to Abians; approval of the rationalization and development of the land behind NTA Aba through public private partnership; approval of the renaming of two Technical Schools in the state as follows: Boys Technical College, Aba, now to be known as Government Technical College, Aba,Secondary Technical College, Afara, now to be known as Government Technical College, Afara.
Among the notable resolutions adopted by the council is the expedition of work at Ntigha Dry Port and partnership with existing port concessionaire. This resolution has increased hope for Abians for the Abia Inland Container Dry Port located at Avor Ntigha, Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area of the state. It will be recalled that previously the Federal Government’s concessionaire to the project, Eastgate Dry Port Projects Limited, formally introduced the company that would handle the actual construction of the project, Messers China Tianchen Engineering Corporation, to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu.
In return, Governor Ikpeazu, speaking at the Abia State Governor’s Lodge, Abuja, where the event took place, assured the chief executive officer of Eastgate, Bill Nkemdirim, of his administration’s commitment to providing enabling economic environment that would turn Abia State into a choice investment destination in Nigeria, adding that his government would provide every necessary support to ensure that their work is seamless. According to the governor, “the dry port project will be a powerful catalyst to the economic development of the state and indeed, the entire South East region.”
Due to the sharp and continuous fall of oil prices globally has forced governments to deploy the resources and potentials that abound within their territories to achieve economic growth.
Abia State is keying into this trend to actualise the dry port project sited at Avor Ntigha in Isiala Ngwa North Local Government Area of the state. There have been consistent efforts towards the inauguration of the Inland Dry Port Project Implementation Committee a few years back.
The action, according to Governor Okezie Ikpeazu, is aimed at opening access to trade and commerce in the state. It was also informed by the state’s desire to develop avenues that would support the inflow of businesses.
It is indeed cheering news for the people of Abia State and their South East neighbours because of the depot’s economic implication.
In 2007, the then Minister of Transportation, Mr. Cornelius Adebayo, during the groundbreaking ceremony of the project, said that the depot when completed would create 100,000 jobs. The groundbreaking ceremony of the Abia Inland Cargo Depot followed that of Kano and Jos ICDs.
The project, a 50,000 TEU (containers) port facility, would serve Aba, Onitsha, Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Delta and Benue states.
One of the features of the port was that it would receive containerised cargo by rail from Port Harcourt and the federal government had by that time commenced the modernisation of the railway into standard gauge from Lagos to Kano line, while that of Port Harcourt to Jos and to Maiduguri line was expected to take- off.
Unarguably, Aba is the commercial hub of the South East and the idea behind the establishment of the dry port was to save importers the trouble of travelling to the coast for their business transactions, thereby bring goods closer to the owners.
The Abia Inland Cargo Depot, among other ICDs, was a product of the Build Operate and Transfer (BOT) agreement the federal government signed with concessionaires in 2006.
The agreement, which identifies the federal government as the guarantor and concessionaires as operators, stipulates that private investors would be licensed to build Dry ports at designated sites, operate them for a stipulated time and transfer ownership to the federal government.
The system enables private investors to partner with the government in providing port facilities.
Other ICDs were sited at Zawachiki village, Kano State; Eronnu in Egbeda LGA of Oyo State; Heipang, Barkin Ladi, Plateau; and Galanbi, Bauchi State.
Fortunately, however, Eastgate Inland Terminal Limited, the concessionaires of Abia ICD, were the first among other ICDs to be issued Certificate of Occupancy by Nigeria Shippers Council in 2008, and in 2009, the agreement for the commencement of the physical development was signed.
Despite assurances by Mr. Adebayo during the groundbreaking ceremony of the project in 2007 that the government expected the Abia ICD to be ready for business within 30 months; the facility is yet to come on stream.
It will amount to waste of energy and mental resources here arguing what led to the delay of the facility to take- off, but the most important thing is the pledge by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu that the state would deploy maximum support for Nigeria Shippers Council and the concessionaires, Eastgate Inland Container Limited towards the realization of the project.
Our confidence is enforced by Gov. Ikpeazu’s disposition to deploy available infrastructure and facilities for the economic advancement of the state. The governor has on several occasions emphasized the need for the state to explore other options that could “open up access, ease trade, and probably help the Abia people, who are predominantly importers.”
These reasons summed up justify why serious attention should be accorded the facility as the government had explained that it has carefully made sure that those who are going to drive the facility are the people that possess the required capacity to attract the needed attention and support that would facilitate the take-off of the project.
There is a passionate appeal from the governor to well-meaning individuals who have positive ideas to contribute directly to the government or the committee.
“We expect every person that is patriotic, every person that has Abia State at heart, to make suggestions to them directly or to the state government and we want to encourage all arms of government to dissolve all differences and make sure that we give support to this committee, because their success amounts to our collective success and it is Abia people that would be the beneficiaries at the end of the day,” Ikpeazu said.
Inland Container Depot was first introduced in the country in 1979 when the then Elder Dempster Lines led other members of the United Kingdom West Africa Liner Conference (UKWAL), to team up with the National Insurance Corporation (NICON) to establish an ICD in Kano, under the management of Inland Container Nigeria Ltd (ICNL).