Mr Uchenna Orji, a lawyer, is the Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Ebonyi State. In this chat, he spoke about the unprecedented transformation of the state under Governor Dave Umahi.
How did the last APC congress go in Ebonyi State?
The last All Progressives Congress (APC) congress in Ebonyi State was smooth, hitch-free and very successful. The stakeholders of APC had their ward congress in a very peaceful atmosphere, had their local government congress in a wonderful atmosphere and that was because the governor of Ebonyi State, Engr Dave Umahi, believes in inclusive politics. We had to unite the ‘old APC’ and the ‘old PDP’ and everybody was at home with the way and manner the zoning was done in the first place and also the consensus that were had in each of the congresses. Of course, where there was no consensus, there was freedom, environment and atmosphere that made for the choice of the people to emerge. And in all of these things, the ward, local government and state congresses, election was done in a very transparent manner and those that emerged were celebrated by the entire family of APC.
I am not surprised about the outcome because Ebonyi is one of the places you can be sure there was no crises of selection or election in the three congresses that have been held. The reason I am not surprised is because our governor is a man of principle who had garnered experience, who has passion in ensuring that he delivers in anything he sets his mind to do. As chairman of the defunct party, he built the biggest party of which no other party has been till today at the state or national level. He is a man that believes in inclusive politics. This is the secret of the success of the congresses.
Ebonyi was recently rated as one of the states doing well in economy. What is the secret?
You are very correct. Recently, the budget office in the Federal Ministry of Finance made an assessment on categories of indices. One of them is the best state in prudent management of resources and Ebonyi came first among the 36 states of the federation. Another category is the best state in capital project execution or implementation and Ebonyi State among other states of the federation. In area of transparency in budget/budgeting, Ebonyi State came fourth among the states of the federation. Actually, this is one the numerous performance assessments done by different organizations for which Ebonyi State has always performed very well. The reason is not far-fetched. The governor is a man of passion, a man of tenacity of purpose, a man who believes in quality assurance, believes in monitoring and evaluation, a man whose power of supervision is second to none. He doesn’t sleep day and night, he works round the clock, always thinking of what to do to better the lives of his people. Anywhere he goes makes a difference. As part chairman, he was the best party chairman in the whole federation. Though he was so rich because he became a millionaire at 25, yet he was the most humble deputy governor, who was cracking the hardest kernel of his boss at that time. His principle, which some of us are adopting in stopping low to conquer. That is one of the secrets of his performance. Of course, he believes in working with lieutenants, that know their onions, that can always come out, day and night to work for his people. In Ebonyi State, even the civil servants have adopted the psyche of working selflessly for the people. That is why in Ebonyi State there is no issue of weekend in the administration of Governor Umahi. Any time you are called upon to carry out one activity or another that will be in the interest of the state, Saturday or Sunday, you will do just that.
As chairman of South East Governors’ Forum, what is Umahi doing to contain insecurity in the zone?
It is actually a matter of concern to all us, especially violent agitations. Of course, the IPOB agitation is germane but agitation being hijacked by hoodlums and bandits is where the problem lies. So, it has been a source of concern to the governors of South East region. And the solution which they have started to proffer is engagement processes – engaging the actors, engaging traditional rulers, engaging religious leaders, engaging all stakeholders to see how we can talk to our brothers and sisters to see how we can lay down our arms and engage government constructively, seek round table talk on all the issues we have raised. Admittedly, South East has suffered marginalisation as a people but some of our stakeholders were the people that marginalized us even before this administration came onboard. We had a party, the PDP, that ruled for 16 years we had nothing to show for it in the South East whereas virtually all the states were PDP. We had no opportunity of even having a shot at the presidency. So, we are thinking all the regions, not just the South East, should all come together to address the issue of unemployment, marginalization and imbalance in national appointments. I think that through this our youths have a reason to calm down in the agitation but there is no justification for killing whatsoever. There is no justification for taking lives of people and causing destruction of property. We will be undoing ourselves if we continue like this because the economy of the zone will be in serious problem and the social situation in the zone will also be in a serious problem. The efforts taken by the governors are actually yielding fruits now that there is direct consultation with stakeholders and actors to see how they can lay down arms.
What is Ebonyi’s strategy to enhance its IGR?
In the first place, we are looking at developing economic facilitating ventures. We are also thinking about enhancing or strengthening the legislations. We are also thinking of ensuring that we automate the revenue collection process to avoid leakage. So far, Ebonyi State government has done a lot in opening up all the rural communities so that agricultural programmes can be going on. And agribusiness is being enhanced and through all of these things, revenue will be generated. Of course, the numerous critical facilities that have been put in place such as the international market, the shopping mall, the international airport that is ongoing, the university of medical sciences, the recycling plant, fertilizer blending plant that is 80 metric tons capacity per hour, the rice milling plant that has about 32 metric tons capacity per hour and the parboiling plant that has about 38 metric tons per hour and other numerous investment opportunities, including the pharmaceutical company that is being attracted to Ebonyi State, the Ibeto Cement Industry that is being attracted to Ebonyi State. By the time all these facilities are working, it will trigger a lot of revenue generation and that will enhance the revenue base of Ebonyi State. I can tell you that through the laws that are being made have strengthened the course of revenue generation in Ebonyi State such that it makes revenue collection easy. Of course, through e-governance processes and easy of doing business processes that we have created, I can assure you that Ebonyi State is really moving forward in revenue generation. Let me mention that even the Budget Office analysis about revenue generation propensity of states shows that Ebonyi State is one of the best among the states of the federation. If this pace continues, we will be marching towards independence. We must appreciate and understand that before now, Ebonyi State was like a civil service state, without revenue base. I think that with all these things in place, the situation will be better in future. That is why we support and stand by our governor when he said that let the Federal Government agency continue for now to be collecting VAT until such a time that we will be fully independent. When we are talking restructuring, we are talking about gradual restructuring in such a way and manner that South East states would have been sustainable before we have outright restructuring. That is the position of Ebonyi State government. If you restructure, the revenue from oil will be collected by the states that have oil. Even in the issue of VAT, Lagos will have much more advantage than other states in the South East; Lagos alone will have more revenue base than the South East put together. The wisdom of the governor is that we have advantage in agriculture, we can use this opportunity to see how the Federal Government can intervene and develop our agricultural potentials. We have the land, we have the farmers but we don’t have the mechanization, we don’t have the irrigation and we don’t have flat land for mechanization of agriculture. We need Federal Government’s investment in this. We have solid mineral in the state. It is in the Exclusive List. We want to see how the Federal Government can develop our solid mineral and see how individuals can exploit the opportunities, to create jobs, to create wealth. Of course, this will increase revenue. That way, we can be said to be self sufficient, self reliant as a state.
We learnt that President Buhari will come to Ebonyi in November. If it is true, what is he coming to do?
The coming of Mr. President for the inauguration of projects is a very welcome development. Recall that the President has been in Ebonyi State under this administration. Ebony was the first state in the South East that the President visited and when he came, he laid the foundation of some projects, including the light tunnel that has been completed. So, his coming will be to be part of the celebration of the giant strides of our dear governor. And through that opportunity, the whole world will see what our governor has done in the area of infrastructural development. His coming will give us the opportunity to commission a number of projects that have been completed even as some will be flagged off. Today, we are set to commission Africa’s biggest light tunnel, a four-way light tunnel that is linking to different facilities. We are also going to celebrate the commissioning of Africa’s biggest shopping mall. We are also celebrating Africa’s biggest Christian ecumenical centre, we are celebrating the most beautiful Government House, we call it the Three Arms zone. We are celebrating the biggest single market in the South East. We are celebrating the ongoing international airport, that when completed, will be like the Lagos and Abuja international airports. We are celebrating the University of Medical Sciences that has been adjudged by NUC to be the most beautiful and it is going to be a centre of excellence for the treatment of terminal diseases that normally take people outside the country. And that university will be producing dylizers and no place in Africa houses a centre for the production of dylizers. There are also several roads that the governor built, including federal roads. If you are coming into Ebonyi from anywhere, you can be sure that you will be welcomed by a flyover. We have the highest number of flyovers after Abuja and Lagos. We have a lot to show the world when the President comes.