‘Umahi’s Decision to Mainstream Ebonyi Politics Has Paid Off’

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The decision by Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State to decamp from the Peoples Democtratic Party to the ruling All Progressives Congress kicked up a huge storm with some stakeholders accusing the governor of nursing inordinate ambition. However, almost a year on, the State Commissioner for Information, Uchenna Orji told Ugo Aliogo in this encounter that Umahi’s gamble has paid off

A recent report released by BudgetIT where it scored your governor in three key sectors; transparency and two other sectors where he has done very well. So how did he it make it happen?

It is as result of his passion, ingenuity, and sincerity of purpose in serving the people and delivering on the mandate given to him by the people of Ebonyi State. A look at the performance index by the Budget Office, Office of the Federal Ministry of Finance, shows that our dear governor and the government of Ebonyi State took the first position in the implementation of capital projects among the 36 states of the federation. In the area of prudent use of scarce resources, the governor took the first position among the States of the federation. In the area of transparency and accountability in budgeting, the governor took the first position. In the area of general performance among the States of the federation, the governor took the first position.

For us, it represents the fact that the governor has really shown that in this part of the world, we can have a world-class leader. Before 2015, Ebonyi State was known as the ‘Dust of the Nation’ where nothing good was coming from; it was not recognised in the map of the developing States of the federation, apparently because it was a new State and because of the revenue base that was nothing remarkable. But today, I can tell you that we have done a lot. In the areas of road construction, Ebonyi State has the highest number of road networks apart from Abuja and Lagos. This is the truth that speaks for itself. In the history of governance in Nigeria, the Governor is the first to introduce road construction deploying concrete pavement, and this is done with a thickness of eight inches with a guarantee of 50 years. And I can tell you that he has used this road construction to construct even federal roads, whether coming from Cross River to Ebonyi State, Benue to Ebonyi state, or Enugu to Ebonyi state, or even Abia or Imo to Ebonyi State. He has done not less than 1,500 Kilometers of state roads and not less than 500 kilometers of federal roads. So we have no issues with good road network. Besides, each Local Government Area has at least 25 kilometers of road connecting to the Metropolis and Satellite Towns.

We have an ongoing project which is the Ring Road connecting eight Local Government Areas at a stretch. This will do a lot in enhancing agricultural and solid minerals development and all forms of development including commercial activities in the state. Again, it is under his administration that we have the biggest shopping mall and it was done under his administration. The idea of the shopping mall was conceptualised by him and today it has been completed. We have also Africa’s biggest University of Medical Sciences; it is the most beautiful university in Nigeria. The university has the capacity to generate not less than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs. It is almost 90 percent completed. We are working with the private sector to see how it can own and manage that university. The reason is that through that university, we can generate revenue, through a lot of ancillary businesses. Through that University, we can be sure that Ebonyi State would become the destination for the treatment of cancer, heart diseases, kidney diseases, and the production of dialyzers. In Africa, we don’t have a center for the production of dialyzers. So this is going to be a money-spinner for Ebonyi State, and it is also going to address the medical needs of Nigerians who would have ordinarily been going to India and other parts of the world for medical treatment.

Permit me to say that Ebonyi state has the most beautiful Government House in Nigeria. The governor conceptualised the idea of the government house in his second term and today, he has completed what is known as a three arm government house, which is housing the governor’s lodge, office and presidential wing. It is also housing Africa’s biggest State Executive Council Chambers. It is so beautiful and it has other ancillary buildings inside it. Under the administration of the governor, the fertiliser blending company that we had that was 40 metric tonnes capacity per hour has been enhanced. In the entire South-east and South-south, we have the biggest fertiliser blending plant with 80 metric tonnes per hour. It is also providing the fertiliser needs of South-east, South-south and South-central, and it is part of the presidential agriculture programme. The fertiliser blending plant is providing employment for not less than 3,000 people at the moment.

The governor renovated the existing rice milling plant that we have and enhanced it and installed rice parboiling plant which feeds the rice milling plant with the parboiled rice. It has 38 metric tonnes capacity per hour which is the largest in Nigeria and the milling plant is about 32 tonnes capacity which is the largest in Nigeria that is government-owned. This is in addition to the rice milling cluster that gave us a name in the Guinness Book of records as the State with the highest number of milling clusters.

That has made our state to be pronounced by the Federal Ministry of Trade and Investment as the largest producer of rice in Nigeria. All of these are counting for the governor. The governor went ahead to secure the approval for the establishment of an international Airport from the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. Today, the construction of the airport is going on and I can assure you that by the time it is completed, it will be one of the three biggest airports in Nigeria. It is designed in line with the standards of Lagos and Abuja international airports respectively with 3.5 kilometer runway, and you can see that it is an airport sitting on huge expanse of land. Our idea again is that through this airport, a lot of jobs will be created for the teeming population, the land within the place will appreciate and there would be a traffic and mass movement to Ebonyi state, and that will also create jobs and employment for our people.

We are looking at tapping into the Ethiopia Airline business. Of course, a lot of people have questioned the rationale for building airport in Ebonyi state, considering the fact that there are airports in Owerri, Calabar and Enugu, but our idea is that situating an airport in the state is to create a competitive value when it is compared to Abuja and Lagos. Our idea is that the facilities that will be there will be very attractive coupled with the security that the governor has really put in place.

Let me state here that apart from Abuja and Lagos, Ebonyi State has the highest number of flyovers, I don’t know how the governor made it, but his secret for success is the passion that he has. I must state here that we are not using foreign experts to carry out this construction projects. The local content which consists of the skilled, semi-skilled and unskilled in Ebonyi is being used and this has made for zero capital flight in the state.

Today, we have flyovers that are very beautiful and adorned with a lot of aesthetic facilities. These flyovers are more beautiful than some other flyovers in the country. All of these facilities will attract investments and make the state a destination. We are thinking that as a State, with all of these infrastructures in place as critical as they are, we can be sure that investors will come and invest in Ebonyi State and that will drive industrialisation. It is noteworthy to state that the Ebonyi state has the largest Christian Ecumenical center. It is very beautiful. We have a very beautiful shopping mall that is the microcosm of the Dubai mall. It is designed after the Dubai mall. So these are things that are in place.

In the area of education, I can tell that the governor has done well. Before 2015, we were labelled as educationally disadvantaged state. Under Governor Umahi, two years in his first term, he had to de-list our name from the map of educationally disadvantaged States, and today, we are one of the 10 best States according to West African Examination Council (WAEC) index and it is still counting. I was a member of WAEC international Board up to 2014. The Nigeria University Commission (NUC) education assessment of 2017 were looking for the best Local Government in the federation. Out of the 774 LGAs in the country, Ebonyi state has a LGA that took the first position. The NUC in that assessment was looking at the LGA with the highest number of persons that gained admission into the University in 2017, and it was an LGA in Ebonyi state under Governor Umahi that achieved that feat.

When the NUC also looked at the best student in Medicine and Surgery that wrote the Unified Tertiary Matriculation Examination (UTME), a student that schooled in Ebonyi hinterlands took first position among the entire students that wrote the UTME exams for Medicine and Surgery in the federation. Those milestones are indications that the governor is doing well. I have to mention that in the area of healthcare, he has done very well, both from the Primary, Secondary and Tertiary Healthcare Delivery System. The governor in his first term, built the single largest hospital complex (that is the pronouncement of the Federal Ministry of Health) which he donated to the federal government. It is known as the accident and emergency complex. Again, in the area of healthcare, the governor also built the School of Nursing and Midwifery which would provide the human capital to drive the healthcare service delivery system. We also have the School of Health in Mgboh that will raise the human capital to drive healthcare facilities. So these are things that the governor has done that would give him all of these accolades.

If you check, you’d find out that Ebonyi is one of the States that collects the least allocation from FAAC. Another report also says that Ebonyi is the least indebted State. How does the governor achieve this?

The State Governor understands prudence, and due process. The governor is a man of great accountability and probity. The Budget Office said that Umahi’s administration has no debt record and that is why we have opportunities of accessing grants from donor agencies and development partners whether nationally and internationally. Of course, if there are relevant financial grants from the federal government, we access such grants because we have no debt record because it is part of the laurels that he got. This has also helped us. When the World Bank assessment programme, Safe Tax, assessed States on budget performance, we were among the four best States in budget performance, and we got N2 billion as a grant from the World Bank. It is all about ingenuity.

The man has zero tolerance for waste, embezzlements, and corruption. But above all, it is embedded in his passion to supervise his work from beginning to end. To carry out any construction work in Ebonyi state, you must commit to doing a good work, and anytime the work collapses or fails you must come back. Of course, there is commitment where you sign a post-dated cheque covering a particular period of time (retention sum), where you state that if you don’t do the work very well it will count against you, so that has helped our governor. Again, the issue of monitoring and evaluation is very perfect.

Members of the opposition have accused him of doing majority of his projects through Direct Labour that he is the person awarding the jobs to himself while executing through direct labour policy. What is your take on this?

People are just saying what they don’t know. The governor uses direct labour and contract system. One of the advantages of using direct labour is that the civil servants are directly involved, but everything must follow due process. We have the laws on physical responsibility and public procurement. These two laws guide the way contracts are awarded, and direct labour jobs are done in Ebonyi state. But let me state here that one of the secrets of these performance is direct labour. We are happy about that because it confers the indigenes the opportunity and leverage to participate in the development process. Again, it makes the job cheaper and easier, and makes the people to be much more accountable because we know the people doing the work.

It also raises more human capital through experiences that people will gather from the state. Today, we have a lot of engineers that can be exported anywhere to construct flyover. Of course in Ebonyi, we don’t involve Julius Berger or foreign construction company, we involve local content. So we are laughing at those that are saying Direct Labour policy is not supposed to be used in the state. The law provides for it and we do what we are doing in line with the provisions of the law. So we do direct labour and also contract job.

The issue of heightened insecurity in Ebonyi State came to the fore a week ago. There was a reported clash between the rejuvenated Ebube Agu and some youths where about five to 10 persons were reportedly killed recently. What really happened?

I have said that fake news has been a problem, but we are containing that already. A law has been passed on fake news, Law No: 012 known as Cyber-crime Prohibition Law of 2021. I can say that story that was trending was fake news. What happened was that Ebube Agu is working in partnership with security agencies from time to time; it moves into the communities to crack down on the activities of hoodlums and this is a case of hoodlums who were terrorizing the community and Ebube Agu had to move in to crack them in line with the rules of tackling insecurity and in line with preventing hoodlums from operating, anybody can become a casualty in the process. It is within the operations and confines of the law. I must say that since Ebube Agu came onboard working with the security agencies, especially in the area of providing intelligence, collaboration, and ensuring community policing, it has never been the same in the area of insecurity.

Before now, we used to hear about communal clashes, but today, it has come to a total halt. Ebube Agu is the main secret behind it. So what was reported in the media was a case of clamping down on hoodlums who were terrorizing the community, and if there were people that got gunshots or were casualties, whose faulty was it? What is important here is that Ebube Agu has given the security architecture a new phase and dimension. Do you know that our governor does not joke with the security of the state. I will like to state here that Ebonyi state is the calmest place among the States of the South-east, even in the face of violent agitations, Ebonyi remains the calmest among five States of the zone. But the governor had to fortify the security architecture.

Today, we have a viewing centre where you view the major junctions in the metropolis, and satellite towns. The governor developed three Satellite Towns and headquarters of each LGA. You can stay in one and monitor what is going on? This has put the criminals on their toes, you cannot hear about arm robbery and kidnapping in Ebonyi State as it was before. If you check the Inspector-General of Police (IGP) criminal record, you will discover that cases of banditry, and kidnapping, Ebonyi state have low if none existent records, so I can assure that Ebonyi has a low record in that. We believe and appreciate what they are doing. They are delivering on the job.

How do you hold this Ebube Agu accountable because we have had cases of extra-judicial killings, remember at the height of Bakassi Boys reign in Onitsha, suspected criminals were arrested and killed without any form of judicial process. So how do you safeguard against this?

The difference between Ebube Agu and Bakassi Boys is that there is strong collaboration between Ebube Agu and relevant security agencies. The security agencies provide training for Ebube Agu on how to tackle crime in the state, thereby ensuring that all they are doing rests within the confines of the law. They don’t bear arms that are not permitted by law. Those arms that are not permitted by law for civilians to bear, they don’t bear them. They do more on intelligence, and community policing and provide useful information to clamp down on criminals. That is the difference between them and Bakassi boys. Ebube Agu is recognised by the law of Ebonyi State with functions, powers and limits, unlike Bakassi Boys that had no law.

The South-east governors came together under the leadership of the governor of Ebonyi State, who is the chairman of South-east Governors’ forum. But you know we operate a federating state, there cannot be a central law that commands operations, you must go back to your state and then domesticate their central template in your state. That is what Ebonyi state has done and I will like to say that the law has similarity of effect. The law on Ebube Agu in Ebonyi state is relatively the same with the law of Ebube Agu in Abia State. But what is important is that there is difference in the implementation process, political will and funding in all of these collaboration.

When the Governor moved to APC, one of the reasons given was that he wanted to mainstream Ebonyi State into national politics. What are the benefits and what have we seen so far?

In the first place it has been part of the political culture of the South-east, at all times to mainstream with the party at the center. Before 1960, the party that was at South-east was National Council for Nigeria and Cameroun (NCNC), while Nigerian National Democratic Party (NNDP) which was the first political party that was formed by Herbert Macaulay, (the father of Nigeria’s democracy) was dominated by Igbos. NCNC then later became National Council for Nigeria Citizens, it was dominated by the South-east and it was headed by Dr. Nnamdi Azikwe and I can tell you that in 1963, when we had the first parliamentary arrangement, it was that very alliance between South-east and the North that made us, to produce Nnamdi Azikwe as the head of State. Then in 1979 under the Presidential system of government, National Party of Nigeria (NPN) was the party through which the South-east had a link that made it to produce the Vice-President, it was the party at the center. In 1999, the same thing was applicable, virtually all the States in the north were members of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). While all the States in the South-east were PDP.

Unfortunately, PDP that was given all the support and solidarity neglected the region because of the activities of appointees that represented the South-east in the federal government. We had nothing, no road, airport, no second Niger-Bridge. But the current administration of President Muhammadu Buhari, from 2015 till date, we have had the rehabilitation of Akanu Ibiam International Airport, second Niger-Bridge, and some critical roads in the South-east are being attended to. I can say that it is the justification for us to really go back to our political culture and continue.

Again, if you are talking about the Presidency giving fair share to all the zones, you cannot negotiate that if you are minority. We are already in the minority, we cannot play the fool twice because it is going to be double jeopardy, so that is what actually informed the decision to mainstream. Some of the advantages we are getting now are that we can have unfiltered access to employment and appointment opportunities at the federal level, we can ask for our own share of what rightly belongs to us, and we are sure that it cannot be denied us.

There are also accusations that your principal is lapping up to the President so that he can anoint him to succeed him, which is why he said God should help to produce another person like Mr. President in 2023. Is this true that the governor will be genuflecting before executive tables to be favoured in 2023?

Let me start by the last sentence of the issue you raised, the governor is very clear about what he said concerning Mr. President. I will support his position that Mr. President has a level of matured temperament, candour, and patience in handling insecurity situation in Nigeria, and that is what the governor actually meant. They could be a president that has been there, and he could have been declaring war and state of emergency everywhere. It happened in Umueri and Aguleri in Anambra State, when there were provocations. In the course of the current crises facing Nigeria, the President has handled the situation in a every matured and fatherly manner. I must say that despite all the attacks, one can say that he is having the highest verbal attacks. He has not reacted and has not done anything to show that all those accusations and allegations are true.

When he was deputy, he was one of the richest deputy governors, he stooped low and became the most humble deputy governor to the extent his boss assured him that he was going to take over from him until enemies of progress had to throw a wedge between the two of them at the eleventh hour. God stood up for him and said touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm. He became the first deputy governor in Nigeria to become governor even when the boss changed his mind to support him at the last minute. You can check the history book; no deputy governor has done such. He is a man of inspiration, so his consideration and thoughts are on how to bequeath to the people of Ebonyi state a prosperous state, which will be the economic hub of the South-east, and he is in the verge of accomplishing it. He has always said that people should not distract him with what he will be tomorrow for God know what he will be tomorrow.

But come to think of it, time has come for us to begin to look at track records, and not to make a mistake of the past, but to look at who can deliver Nigeria. Personally, I feel if the governor of Ebonyi state has an opportunity and if God endorses him to be the President of this country, we will have everything to rejoice. Leaders of the Western world will marvel at his exploits. It will be like the case of the three wise men who heard about Jesus’ birth and decided to go and pay Him homage. World leaders will come to Nigeria to bless the man coming from the rising sun in the South-east, who if God says he will be the President will make us proud and bequeath for posterity the best economy, social environment, infrastructure, and egalitarian society where there is love, peace and no discrimination on the grounds of ethnicity and tribalism or religion.

That is the personality of David Umahi. He is a God-fearing man. I remember when he gave his inaugural speech, he said it was his intentions and mission to prosper Ebonyi state with the word of God and lead them with the fear of God. Today, everyday we are beginning to see Ebonyi state as the center of excellence for governance. The state is a reference point in terms of transformation and I can assure you that with Umahi everything will be good.

When is Ebonyi state signing the anti-grazing law?

It needs to be mentioned that we were the first to promulgate a law on anti-grazing. But it was partial at that time, this was before the Governors of South-east moved to Owerri to go and make the necessary commitment on security in the South-east. What we did at that time was that we made a law saying that no cattle should come to Ebonyi by foot, and they should not be allowed to move around farms, they should be confined to one particular farm and maybe next year, if the farmers move from one farm to another under shifting cultivation, the cattle can go to the place to graze.

Again, the governor also constituted a committee known as farmers’ headers’ committee with a law to back it up. This was like a semi-anti-open grazing law. When the governor convened a meeting of South-east Governors, some of these issues were raised and it was agreed that anti-open grazing law should be promulgated across the South-east. It was that decision that took them further to Delta State in the South-south for Southern Governors’ forum meeting. At those meetings some of these issues were strengthened. Currently, we have made a law on anti-open grazing, so what we did was to tighten what we did earlier making it to be a full blown anti-grazing law especially for the purpose of anti-open grazing.

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