Chief Fred Udeogu is the Caretaker Chairman of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Ebonyi State. He served as Commissioner for Grants and Donor Agencies during the administration of Chief Martin Elechi and played strategic roles in the victory of the party during the 2015 general elections.
As the state turned 25 on October 1, he spoke on his appointment as caretaker chairman of the PDP in the state, grouse with Governor David Umahi’s administration as well as the chances of PDP in the state ahead of 2023, among other topical issues.
How do you see the government of Governor David Umahi?
We are not happy with the situation of things in the state now. Look at the way the market and the building materials people are being treated. You treat people as if they have no value or worth. People that voted for you during the elections, you treat them as if you will never meet them again. Look at what is happening in Effium. The government is not handling the matter well. I am using this opportunity to commiserate with the families that lost their loved ones and those whose property were destroyed. And look at the Fulani attack in Ishielu. When the governor went there, he said the people he was protecting were now killing his people. Which means he knew they were there, and he was actually protecting them.
What do you consider as the major achievements of your team as caretaker leadership of Ebonyi PDP?
way the market and the building materials people are being treated. You treat people as if they have no value or worth. People that voted for you during the elections, you treat them as if you will never meet them again. Look at what is happening in Effium. The government is not handling the matter well. I am using this opportunity to commiserate with the families that lost their loved ones and those whose property were destroyed. And look at the Fulani attack in Ishielu. When the governor went there, he said the people he was protecting were now killing his people. Which means he knew they were there, and he was actually protecting them.
What do you consider as the major achievements of your team as caretaker leadership of Ebonyi PDP?
Our major achievement was removing Onyekachi Nwebonyi who was claiming to be the PDP State Chairman; pushing him out of the PDP to the APC where he rightly belongs. We have also held the APC government accountable; forcing them at many occasions to drop or rescind some anti-people policies and programmes. We have been able to let Ebonyi people know that they can speak out over the level of suppression in the state. The level of suppression and intimidation in this state prior to our coming was too unbearable, but now Ebonyians can speak out.
What is the position of PDP on its members that reportedly joined the governor to the APC?
The truth is that no member of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly has defected to APC. I say it again, no member of the House has APC membership card. If any of them has registered in APC let that person show his or her membership card. I challenge any of them, including the Speaker, to call the press and show his APC membership card.
What is your grouse with the Umahi’s administration or is it just because of his defection to the APC?
Let me start by saying that during our struggle for the creation of Ebonyi State, there was a blueprint collectively arrived at on how the state will be governed upon creation. After the creation of the state, all those who have governed the state, including the military governors, followed that blueprint. Only David Umahi came and abandoned that blueprint and started a different progarmme. Our problem is not construction of flyovers; our problem is not streetlights, even though streetlights are not bad, but they are not our problems now. These were not the reasons Ebonyi State was created. Those things he has been doing shouldn’t have come so early. Our major problem which is the item number one in the Ebonyi development blueprint is human capital development. We said in that blueprint that there should not be anything like payment of school fees in Ebonyi State from primary to secondary school until after 20 to 30 years. We said that Ebonyi State University should pay the least school fees in the whole country. We said that our pregnant women should be going to hospitals free without paying the kind of fees they pay today. We believe that every Ebonyian should have a sound means of livelihood. The blueprint is still around, but I don’t think he has set his eyes on it because he was never interested. There is no contractor from Ebonyi State who is handling any major project today. But before he became governor; his company, Brass Construction Company, was handling many major projects. The company handled major road projects in Edda, Onicha and other projects in the Centenary City. But today, under him, no contractor from Ebonyi is worthy of giving any major projects to do apart from direct labour.
You were one of Governor Umahi’s most trusted supporters from 2015 even up to 2019. What went wrong?
I didn’t start supporting David Umahi from 2015. In fact, I was the one who introduced him to the former governor who made him Caretaker Chairman of PDP in the state. That was in 2007. But you know that some people can be over humble if they want to get something from you. He used to be so humble at the time. His brothers were warning me that I was going to be the first victim of that man that I was packaging, but I ignored them, and packaged him. God is my witness. He is aware and his immediate family members are aware of this. I was also the one who nominated him for the position of deputy governor. I was the one who broke the news to him that he had been made the deputy governor, because we were in a meeting; we were five in that meeting. Others made their nominations, but I insisted on him. I singlehandedly convinced the then Governor Martin Elechi, that he should be made the deputy governor. And he became a deputy governor. When at the tail end of the administration, he started having issues; that was the time it dawned on him that the then governor will not support him, but I stood by him. There were about three occasions he nearly resigned. Frankly speaking, I told him not to resign. There are witnesses, but I don’t want to mention them today. I will mention them in my memoir. I always walked to his office to see him and cheer him up. There was a day I had to extract a promise from him. I asked him to promise me that he must contest the governorship election. And he stood up in his office and said ‘Elder, I promise you I will contest the election’. I told him to leave everything for me and God. The day Clement Nweke, who later became his Principal Secretary, was dismissed from the Elechi government over some level of blackmail; I went to Umahi’s office and told him to engage Nweke to work for him, that he should place him on N200,000 monthly stipend. He told me ‘Elder consider it done.’ That was to show you his level of loyalty to me that time. Right there, he asked me to call Clement Nweke to meet us in his office. And that was how he engaged Clement up till the election time. It was his election to become governor that made me for the first time to disagree with my own father, the man that made me whatever I am today, His Excellency Chief Martin Elechi. Dave is aware of this. I left Elechi’s government on January 16th 2015 to support Umahi to become governor. I was made the Chairman of the Security Committee, and the day I joined his campaign, the difference was clear everywhere in the state. After everything, he was able to win landslide in Ikwo, my place, where the then incumbent governor then hails from, and in all places in the state. And he was sworn in as governor.
But you served as the Chairman of Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board in his first tenure, if not up to his second tenure. What happened; when did you leave the government?
What happened was that immediately he was sworn in, he started edging me out. Someone very close to him told me that he said he would not like to keep me too close, but he would not also like to keep me too far. I kept on watching him. At times, I tried to see him without success. But as someone who had been in government, I can tell when someone in government does not want to see you. He was inaugurated on May 29th, 2015, but it was until November that year that he gave me appointment as Chairman of Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Board. After the appointment, they gave me a hall that had no doors and no windows as office. I rejected it. I am not a small boy; I cannot go and stay under a tree because I needed government appointment. The then Commissioner for Women Affairs and then Principal Secretary, Clement Nweke, were busy sending me threat letters. I still have copies of the letters. Not even that he was directed, but he was directing me. It was so embarrassing, but I kept on ignoring them until it became unbearable. I inherited N3 million in the office, but by the time I was leaving the office, we had in our records over N200 million.
Did you resign or your tenure expired?
I did not resign. They said our tenure expired. They are still owing me three months. They have not paid me till today. Later, I discovered that they were setting up panels around me; but the people they were using were people who knew me too well in the government of Ebonyi State. I worked in an office where all the money coming were being paid into government’s account. How did I touch money that I did not see? People were paying directly to government and bringing receipts to us, but as they kept on embarrassing themselves, I said I was not going to have anything to do with the government again; because I knew they were already planning to set me up. Along the line, they were sharing vehicles to some elders of the state; they called me and gave me one. Not as an appointee of the government, but as one of the elders of the state. But just because I was appointed PDP Caretaker Committee Chairman, they came and collected the car from me.
Do you regret your actions or roles in helping to form the government?
I don’t regret helping him because I don’t regret my actions. And again, I believe that it was the will of God for him to become governor. God has reasons for everything He does. But it was strange that Umahi has fallen out, not only with me, but almost all the people who played leading roles in his emergence as governor, including his financiers.
What’s your reaction to allegations that the opposition was sponsoring attacks and crises in the state just to discredit the APC government?
How; can they point to one PDP member that has been arrested in connection to the attacks or the crisis in Effium? The chairman of the council where the crisis is raging is a member of the APC. The lawmaker representing the area in Ebonyi State House of Assembly is member of the APC, and these were the two persons the governor alleged that they instigated the crisis. The governor himself told the press that these two persons caused the crisis; and the two APC members have been repeatedly arrested over the crisis. So, what is the role of the opposition PDP in the crisis? However, as a party, we condemn the crisis in Effium and we are using this opportunity to call on warring sides to ceasefire and embrace peace, because, we are one people. We should not allow the mistakes of few selfish leaders to consume all of us. But as a party, we are also calling on the government to get serious with measures to stop the crisis and return peace in the community because you don’t rub something on the face of the people because you are solving a problem. There is no justification to give for allowing that crisis to linger. Other governments had in the past met that Effium crisis, but they immediately brought it to an end. This one is taking too long. Instead of getting serious with peace efforts, the governor was asking the Federal Government to give him N5 billion.
But the governor said the money was for the rehabilitation of Effium community and for the attack and destructions in Egedegede community by the Fulani herdsmen?
At what point did he assess the level of destructions in the two communities to arrive at such money? Did he assess the damage as they were still killing people? Attention should shift to the suffering people of Effium and not on money. Last time, he said he was giving N1 million each to Ebonyi youths. But after the summit, the youths were given N10,000 each. If Federal Government gives them that money, no member of the communities will see one naira from the money.