The Abia State Governor, Dr. Alex Otti, OFR, has spoken on how his administration is mitigating the effect of the economic difficulties arising from the removal of petrol subsidy by the Federal Government with the Abia People.
The Governor stated this, while delivering the 63rd Founder’s Day Lecture of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Enugu State, on Thursday, he maintains that the Abia State Government, under his administration has empowered businesses and economically vulnerable persons to cushioning the harsh effects of subsidy removal from petrol.
Speaking further on the topic, Gov Otti said, “Petrol Subsidy Removal: Dealing with the Challenges, Harnessing the Opportunities,” the Governor disclosed that his administration met a very difficult situation on ground upon assuming office.
“The day I was sworn in as governor was also the day the removal of subsidy on petrol was announced by President Bola Tinubu. So, we met a very difficult situation that needed to be carefully managed,” the Governor said.
He continued: “We began by offering a message of hope to the people, assuring the civil servants that the era of owing salaries was gone and that by the 28th of every month, every legitimate staff of the state civil service would receive their full entitlements. We soon followed up by paying part of the accumulated arrears from the previous government.
“We are progressively supporting our civil servants by keeping to our commitment to prompt and regular payment of salaries and also clearing up arrears in order to increase the amount of disposable cash available to those in our employ.
“We have also put in mechanisms that will make for smooth and seamless payment of pensions to all retirees as soon as they sign out from the state civil service. So far, appreciable progress has been made and I can tell you that while a few teething problems remain, our pensioners are beginning to see clear signals that in the New Abia we are building, owing senior citizens their entitlements would be an anathema.
“Beyond just paying them, we have also directed the State Ministry of Health to enrol a certain category of pensioners in the state into a health insurance scheme that guarantees steady access to quality healthcare for our retirees. So far, 4,700 pensioners have been enrolled and we shall add to this number in the months ahead.”
Governor Otti also told the gathering, comprising mostly of academics (students and lecturers), who were in attendance at the Princess Alexandria Auditorium and Unity Hall, venue of the lecture, that his government had stopped the collection of all forms of levies and taxes from micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) and given them tax holiday as a way of supporting their businesses.
“We are continuing to streamline the revenue collection process to enable efficiency, cut out double taxation and make the system independent in ways that limit the activities of middle men. Through the appropriate agencies and boards, we have also harmonised the revenue collection process, working with LGAs to adopt a single collection framework for ease of tax administration and convenience for all parties,” he said.
According to the Governor, the present government in Abia is very business-friendly and plans to make the state the leading MSME hub in all of Africa. He urged students who intend to go into entrepreneurship on graduation to look no farther than Abia State, saying, “It is our conviction that when MSMEs are well funded and supported, the problems of unemployment and poverty, critical metrics for measuring economic development, would be curtailed and people can live in dignity.”
Speaking about the palliatives sent to the states by the Federal Government, Governor Otti announced that about 19,000 bags (50kg) of rice were received from the FG and have been distributed to the “poorest of the poor” in various communities across the state.
Similarly, the Governor said that the State Palliatives Management Committee had been directed to study how the state government can invest the N2 billion palliative fund it got from the Federal Government into mass transit schemes with a view to reducing the cost of transportation for commuters plying intra and intercity routes.
Gov Otti spoke about his plans to pay transport-support allowance to civil servants and to raise salaries by a certain percentage, depending on grade levels. “The aim is to cushion the harsh impact of the rising inflationary trend on their earnings and support them to provide the basic things for their families,” he said.
Other critical areas where the Governor said that his administration had been working hard to mitigate the negative effect of petrol subsidy removal and general economic downturn in the country are health, road and manufacturing.
He said the state government had launched free medical service programmes in all public hospitals “so that in this period of economic difficulties, lack of cash would not stop people from attending to their health needs”.
According to the Governor, so far, thousands of individuals including pregnant women, nursing mothers, and others with various ailments have been attended to. The on-going free medical services, the governor said, cover surgeries, including eye operations, drugs, laboratory, scans and related diagnostic services.
On road infrastructure, Governor Otti said that the ongoing renovation and reconstruction works are aimed at increasing investments in the state which ultimately would lead to higher employment opportunities for “our young people” and expansion of businesses.
“The ultimate agenda is to systematically improve the investment climate in Abia so that the environment does not sabotage the efforts of our entrepreneurs, who pass through severe difficulties to remain in business.
“While we do these for the small business, we are not closing our eyes to the big ones. It is in this light that a few days ago, we flagged off what promises to be one of the largest industrial parks in West Africa, the Abia Industrial and Innovation Park, in Owaza, Ukwa West.
“When completed, the park would boast of a modular refinery, a petrochemical and fertiliser plant, a technology hub, a gas processing facility, agricultural processing zone, a sea port, amongst other facilities. Major International Oil and Gas companies have indicated interest to locate at the prospective Export Processing Zone as it would have a 24-hour uninterruptible gas powered electricity,” the Governor affirmed.