EDITORIAL: Why Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia is the Cynosure of all Eyes
Governor Okezie Ikpeazu of Abia State looks to be the most topical personality in Nigeria today. Like a good looking ripe mango still hanging on a tree unplucked, he’s not escaping the sight of both bystanders and passersby. He has attracted a lot of attention to himself and his State, Abia, lately, from critics, supporters and neutrals alike, for different reasons, no less because of what many consider to be his performance as Governor which has certainly caught many by surprise, leading to many reactions, from the expected, to the strange and then to even the bizarre. But Ikpeazu just keeps raising the bar and keeps endearing himself to lovers of good governance and adherents of people oriented democracy.
He has taken governance some notches higher. For example, to build long lasting roads, he has gone beyond the usual asphalting to adopting the modern rigid pavement (cement) technology in building most of the 105 roads he has built so far, and still counting.
On human capacity development, Governor Okezie Ikpeazu has also done a lot. He sent thirty of Abia leather entrepreneurs (shoe makers) to China to improve their shoemaking skills. He didn’t stop there. He has opened a mega shoe factory for them and equipped same with modern shoe making machinery. The factory will be officially commissioned soon. This has caused the police, the military and other security agencies in the country including paramilitary organisations like the NYSC to order for their kits from Abia entrepreneurs, at one time or the other.
During the height of the Covid-19 pandemic last year, while other states were waiting for PPEs to arrive from abroad, Ikpeazu challenged Abia fashion entrepreneurs to produce PPEs in commercial quantities not only for local use in Abia and Nigeria as a whole but also for export.
To motivate them, the Governor gave them grants and also promised that government would buy off whatever they could not sell from their products. This partly accounted for why Abia has one of the lowest number of casualties from the pandemic despite running one of the highest number of tests in the country.
On security, it is not for nothing that Abia is today rated one of the most secured and safest states in the country. It is a result of hard work and the governor’s deliberate policies and investments in security. Abia is about the only State in the country that has a Ministry of Homeland Security created by Ikpeazu with about 500 personnel formally engaged to help in securing the State and complement the efforts of the regular security agencies.
Communities and their traditional rulers and leaders are also involved by government in keeping their immediate domains free from crime.
Apart from procuring well equipped vehicles for security agencies operating in the State, Ikpeazu also helped build a modern office block for the zonal headquarters of the Nigeria Police Force in Umuahia. Bounties have been placed on criminals for information leading to their arrests, and these have helped a lot in not only rounding off culprits but also in curbing crimes generally.
Investors will always go where they feel their investments will be safe. And their analysts do not analyse with emotions but base their decisions on verifiable facts. It is therefore not surprising that even in a pandemic era, Abia attracted the third highest capital inflow from investors only after Lagos and Abuja, for obvious reasons. And that was a time 26 other states attracted zero investment to their states.
Apart from security as it affects investments in the country in 2020, the pandemic year, Ikpeazu gave a lot of tax rebates to both potential and already existing investors in the State. This was a time some other State governors were living in denial of the reality of Covid-19 because they had no idea of how to tackle it or even help their citizens see opportunities in it by enlightening and providing health assistance to them.
To prove that the attraction of investors to Abia is not a fluke but the result of policies and efforts of Governor Okezie Ikpeazu and his team, below are some of the economic, financial and investment policies rolled out by the Governor to attract investors, and to which investors rightly responded to.
- Tax Palliatives to Investors during the Pandemic
At the height of the pandemic in 2020, the Governor rolled out mouthwatering tax waivers to both existing and potential investors. These were mainly in the form of tax reliefs to mitigate the economic impact of Covid-19 pandemic on firms. In particular, the State gave soft landing to all firms that were in arrears of any form of tax obligation to clear them at very reduced rates. Some of such reliefs included:
a. Small Scale Industrialists and Artisans
Governor Ikpeazu gave waivers and discounts to Small Scale Industries and Artisans in filing for their PAYE and all forms of personal income and other direct taxes. For 3 years arrears, it allowed for waivers/discounts of:
25% for payments from April to end of July 2020;
20% for payments in August 2020; and
15% for payments in September 2020.
b. First Time Tax Clearance Certificate
It also gave waivers/discounts for first-time Tax Clearance Certificate issuance (TCC) by reducing the minimum from flat rate of N60,000 to:
N30,000 for payments made in July 2020;
N35,000 for payments made in August 2020;
N40,000 for payments made in September 2020;
N50,000 for payments made in October 2020 and;
N55,000 for payments made in November 2020
c. Capital Gains Tax
It graduated the reduction of minimum payment for Capital Gains Tax from a flat rate of 10% of value to as little as 5% for payments made in July 2020. For each month of delay, only 1% was added till it got to 9% for payments made in November 2020.
d. Land and Property Tax
For those in arrears of Abia Property and Land Use Charge (AbiaPLUC), the Government waived 2 of the 3 years for all arrears paid before end of July 2020 and 1 of 3 years for payments made after August 2020.
For payments associated with Change of Purpose Clause for property use, the Government provided for reduction of the registration cost from a flat fee of N30,000 to N20,000 for payments made in July 2020 and N25,000 for payments made in August 2020.
For issuance of Certificate of Occupancy (CofO), the Government collected only 50% of assessed fee for payments made in July and reduced the proportion of waiver by 10% for each month up till October, i.e. collecting 20% of assessed fee by October 2020.
In the same vein, a World Bank report had it that Abia alongside Kaduna, Enugu, Lagos and Anambra had the best ratings among other States of the federation in the Ease-of-Doing-Business index for which the federal government also gave Abia an award under the auspices of its Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) during its 2019 Awards at the Old Banquet Hall of the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
Abia Investment House built by Governor Okezie Ikpeazu at Ogurube Layout in Umuahia is a one-stop-shop for processing investments right from conception to registration, in as little as 24 hours.
In addition, in a 2019 release of Foreign Direct Investments into the country by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), The Federal Capital Territory (Abuja) got the most capital (for the second quarter ending June 2018). Abuja received 45.4% or $2.5 billion of the $5.5 billion – in capital – that was imported into the country in the quarter in question.
Lagos State was next with $1.6 billion, and Abia third place with $1.2 billion received in the third quarter of 2018.
So, even as at that time, Abia was No. 3 and has not given up on that front till date. That’s not a mean feat.
The general shortfall in investments into the country in 2020 was largely due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Yet, Ikpeazu’s Abia still managed to hold its head above waters.
In education, the deliberate policies of the Okezie Ikpeazu-led administration has not only seen Abia flying highest in WASSCE among other states for several years since 2015.
Also under Ikpeazu, school enrolment has increased in Abia from 150,000 to over 600,000 as of today. Abia teachers are being regularly trained and retrained by Australian and Indian educational consultants to keep them abreast with modern teaching techniques. Schools are being renovated with four new model schools already constructed.
Ever before the FG implemented the idea of school feeding programme for pupils, Abia was already feeding her school children with a meal per day during school hours, and when the FG commenced its own school feeding programme for pupils of Pry 1 to Pry 3 nationwide, Abia continued the programme for pupils of Pry 4 – 6 making her about the only State where all her primary school pupils are fed daily by government.
So, beyond the issue of 105 verifiable road projects Ikpeazu has completed across the state with several others ongoing, the political harmony in the State largely because of Ikpeazu’s gentle mien, peaceful conduct of Local Government elections thereby bringing governance nearer the people through a free, fair and credible democratic process, an exercise many other governors are afraid to embark upon, etc, Ikpeazu has proved to be a top Governor rated highly among his peers. He thinks deeply on how to constantly improve the quality of governance in Abia and her people, and the results show, incontrovertibly!
By News Medal Editorial Team