“The governor is an ordinary person in terms of behaviour but he is an extra -ordinary person in terms of capacity.
The man is heavily loaded with brain in all fores. Don’t forget that all these things you are seeing in Ebonyi today are his brain child; including expatriates who are flooding into Ebonyi State for investment on daily basis. Former President of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo was not a good fan of the governor, but he had a reason to come to Ebonyi State and he proclaimed that Dave Umahi has high sense of frugality, and that his sagacity is something else; that what the governor can do with one naira that any other state governor will do it with six times that amount. From having the lowest allocation, to having the highest developmental indices, that means something is driving it”
“Ebonyi is now the center of excellence, and a safe place for investment”
In continuation of an interview with Journalists, Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation Hon (Barr) Orji Uchenna Orji, harps on those pegs that have transformed Ebonyi into investors’ destination even as he insists that Governor of the state, Dr Dave Umahi has put in place policies and programmes which guarantee security while reducing costs of doing business.
Hon Commissioner please there is this allegation that Governor Umahi’s defection from PDP which brought him to power to APC was informed by his political ambition in 2023. Has he told you of his plans to run as President come 2023?
The allegation that his defection plan was informed by his ambition for 2023 Presidential Election is unbelievably ridiculous. I tell you this because if you look at the reason, the objective he wanted to achieve, it is very clear, he did not hide it. Don’t forget that in 2015, he contested to become governor under the existing party that was at the centre then, that is the PDP but as he was winning the election, the bridge of that party collapsed and he did not get deterred, he felt he needed to deliver the dividends of democracy and despite the disadvantages, disconnecting from the party at the centre is not a good wish for any leader but he really had to manage it.
A time for re-election came, he didn’t join because he needed to demonstrate that with or without political party, that he could win even as an independent candidate, and he won massively in 2019 to have his second tenure. But why he decided to dump the PDP for the ruling party is singularly because he wanted to live by example by launching back South East into the mainstream of politics and that is launching them to the party at the centre.
I will tell you, the man who is the founding father of South East politics and government, Sir, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, never in his time joined any party that was opposition. All his time was political mainstreaming with the party at the centre, which he did very well with the party at the centre. The NCNC, Nigeria Council for Nigeria and Cameroon, which later became Nigeria Council for Nigerian Citizens was his idea, his concept. He used it to launch a merger with Northern People’s Congress; that was what gave him an edge that made him to become the first Governor -General pre-independence Government and the first ceremonial Head of State post-independence, in the First Republic.
Looking at the Governor’s body language, is he not nursing any presidential ambition?
I am giving you the reason why he went to APC. It is to lunch us back to the party at the centre and l have given history of first Republic. Second republic was under Shagari; how did we South East, launch at the centre? Merger. That was why we had to support NPN, to get the Vice President slot. In 1999, we had to form merger with the people of the North, the majority people to have PDP, that was how PDP in South East, PDP in South South and PDP in the entire North became one to elect President Obasanjo. But throughout the Period, we had Secretary to the Government of the Federation(SGF), we had Senate President even though there was a banana peel. What is the economic implication? Not even a kilometer road from somebody who was SGF and Senate President. What did PDP do to develop South East? The airport was in shambles; there was no second Niger Bridge. It was all about promises. Nothing was done about Enugu -Port Harcourt road, before the current administration came; the APC administration. So, the governor launching the South East into mainstream politics is to enable us take the gains of democracy.
Look at the allocation principles and that is what you will lose because you want to do opposition and the governor is saying; my people be wise. To cut it short, there is no ambition before him. His own is that when we get to the bridge, we shall cross. He is committed to delivering the mandate, totally and entirely and comprehensively given to him by the people of Ebonyi State. And like l said; he has come, he has seen and he has conquered and God has taken the glory. Today, Ebonyi State that came from no-where, is now a reference point, a centre of excellence and the flagship of excellence.
Between the time the governor left PDP to Join APC and now may be short, but are there indications that the government at the centre will reciprocate his new romance with the party?
You are getting it wrong; when he was in PDP, the very dividend of democracy we generated didn’t come from anywhere. I told you that the moment he emerged in May 29, 2015, the bridge of PDP collapsed. The fundings we received from government was not PDP, the Anchor Borrowers funding, Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme, other grants from federal government and donor agencies, came from APC. So what are you saying? The N10 billion Akanu Ibiam International Airport funding which was received under him (Dave Umahi) as the chairman of the South East Governors’ Forum was not given by PDP. Then, the second Niger bridge that is going on massively and progressively was not by PDP. The Enugu – Port Harcourt road that you can now go to Port Harcourt within few hours is not PDP. So you can now see that it is not because he wants to attract more funds to Ebonyi that made him to change; no, it is not because of that, he wants the entire South East to grow.
What is the governor doing to improve the education system in the state?
Fantastic. The governor believes that you cannot talk about human capital development without talking about education. To him, education is very fundamental, we call it catch them young. What did he do? He introduced a lot of policies. One is what we call free and compulsory education for out of school children. So he has a policy of arresting anybody seen in the streets, giving that person counseling and giving the person free and compulsory education up to secondary school, that he has done, that has increased school enrolment in Ebonyi State. That has reduced drastically the scourge or menace of street hawking and idleness, that has reduced insecurity and criminality in the state.
The governor also looks at quality education and quantity of facilities. Today we pride with the best class room blocks located in each of the 171 wards. He injected N7 billion for the funding of BESDA. BESDA is this issue of out of school children. He ensured the creation of vocational colleges to catch the technicians, the artisans in the street and bring them to school, a non-formal school and give them trainings in two years and four years and give them certificate so that they can receive empowerment from government, from donor agencies, federal government and financial institutions. Again the governor has to establish what is called King David Gifted School. It is a special school. It means, school for the gifted children. Now every local government will have to get the best five children and that is, of course, a very thorough and intensive examination and these children will be given scholarship from secondary school to university and they are not going to be part of the normal school curriculum and normal school calendar. Their teachers will not be NLC teachers, they will be contract teachers, so that there would be no distraction. That school is going on now and we are harvesting the best brain, future governors, future ministers and future presidents from this school. The school is open to everybody even non indigenes.
Under governor Umahi, Ebonyi that was educationally less privileged, we now had to delist Ebonyi State in that list. Under Governor Umahi, somebody from Ebonyi State, according to NUC education index, came first as the best JAMB student in Medicine and surgery in the whole of Nigeria. Under Governor Umahi, a local government in Ebonyi came first among the 774 Local government areas in terms of number of students that gained admission in 2017. These are indications that something is happening in the education sector. The governor also introduced a lot of programmes including inter house sports, debate competition, there is one he told me to develop of recent, take a trip, a kind of academic competition and l am developing it. This is aimed at occupying the brains and minds of our people in academics and that has really helped and then the issue of ICT and all of that, the governor has done fantastically well.
Governor Umahi was the first governor in the history of this current administration to reduce the school fees of students in any state university in Nigeria by 30%. Today, Ebonyi State University students pay the lowest among the state universities in the federation. He is giving subvention to universities and other tertiary institutions in the state.
The issue of insecurity is a nationwide problem. To what extent do you agree with those who are saying that the communal crises in Ebonyi are politically motivated?
A very wonderful question. The security issues we have in Nigeria is a national phenomenon; it is even a global phenomenal. Nigeria is not an exception; Ebonyi is not an exception. But comparatively speaking, Ebonyi is a safe haven in the area of security. Go to IGP’s crime record, apart from communal clashes, we have the lowest case of insecurity in Ebonyi State. The reason is that we did fortify the security architecture. Do you know that in Ebonyi State, we have what is called Smart City System. It is a situation whereby we have CCTV camera located in major junctions of the state including each of the Local Government headquarters and they are functional. I once visited the central point and saw virtually everything happening. So that has really helped to reduce crime in Ebonyi State. Again, do you know we have motivated security officials enough; that has also triggered their performance. The governor had to do empowerment programme for wives of security officials, and six security agencies benefitted. The governor gave the wives of these security officials N200, 000 each after training to go into farming to complement the incomes of their husbands and to encourage their husbands.
Apart from fortifying various barracks, The governor raised a civilian security outfit known as Neighborhood watch; 4,000 in number deployed to community policing and of course they are also participating in the community policing programme of the federal government. Again, we have also what is called the forest guards to police our forests, to free our forest from activities of bandits, including killer herdsmen. And of course, l need to also tell you that we have a deliberate formation that really tackles the incessant conflicts between farmers and herders in Ebonyi and that has made a more harmonious co-existence between the herders and the farmers and we believe that these herders are Nigerians, our farmers are Nigerians and we are all citizens under one nation. And so, all it requires is cooperation, rule of law and order for everybody to exist together or to live together.
People are bringing politics into issues of security. For instance, they go to the social media to say herdsmen killed or we are killing herdsmen or that Biafra has taken over Ebonyi. These are social media attacks just to discredit Ebonyi State government. But we are far from being discredited.
What is the governor doing to attract more investments in the state?
The governor is of the view that there are two pillars of investments. Infrastructure and human capital development and he addresses these two pillars squarely, comprehensively and equally. And he thinks that, for there to be investment, you must have solid road that is connecting to the rural communities from one pillar to another pillar, that is opening up the nooks and crannies of the communities. That he has done.
Two, is to have an ideal Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement of building facilities and deploying private sector participation because private sector may not provide all the environment. For instance, Africa’s biggest mall is been occupied by private investors including Silverbird. Lagos Computer Village is planning an extension to Ebonyi state. This is what the governor is doing. The governor has to partition the state into different business environment; we have environment for academics, environment for health, environment for agriculture clusters and industrial clusters. We have industrial clusters built by government with warehouses everywhere waiting for investors to come and occupy. I told you we have the biggest ecumenical center in Ebonyi State. It is not for church only but it is for corporate conferences, corporate businesses and meetings to be held there and if you go there you will have a level of satisfaction that you can tell somebody; do you know where I am? I am in Dubai, am in London without them knowing that you are in Ebonyi State. Today we have environment for the creative industry, any moment, our creative industry will have a base in Ebonyi State. Just last two weeks, Kanu Nwankwo was in Ebonyi State to address the youths on tapping and exporting potentials. Last week Mr Zack Orji was in Ebonyi too to talk to the people about investment in the entertainment industry and potentials in the entertainment industry. Also, Mr Peter Rufai was in Ebonyi to do the same. Even last week Rev (Dr) Chuks Ogbeli, a motivational speaker, a man of God, a servant of God came to talk to us on the morals that will lead to those economies and this is what government is doing to attract investors.
The college of medicine that is going to house 10,000 number jobs, it is about to be tapped, completion is around the corner. The government of Ebonyi state attracted Nigeria’s biggest army referral hospital that will serve South-South and South East and it is under construction.
This international airport government is doing is fashioned after Abuja and Lagos, but we have a master plan that looks not like that of Lagos or Abuja but that of Ethiopian Airline. Someone was asking, we have airport in Enugu, why are you going to Ebonyi, and I said, this is a myopic reasoning when we are saying we want to beat Lagos and Abuja so that if you are flying from any part of the world, you will like to land in Ebonyi, that is the thinking of the Governor and you are talking about Enugu. We want it to be the best in the south east. Anybody flying to south east will land not in Enugu, not in Akwa Ibom, not in Owerri, but in Ebonyi State.
How much of political followership is governor Umahi enjoying in the state?
The governor is a model in leadership. He is an institution in leadership such that the entire people of Ebonyi State have found a leader in him; mentorship in him, whether market women, town union, political appointees, former office holders and current office holders, including APC old members and including former PDP members. If you do election in Ebonyi State, under APC, he will get it 100%. You will not have any doubt that every good person in Ebonyi loves him. PDP in Ebonyi has no leadership. Who is the leader? Everybody has gone to somewhere to get power of automatic ticket in PDP but the governor, the people of Ebonyi State are waiting for them for the election. When they return from Abuja, they will see they have no person; they are flying without having a base to land and that is the story.
There is the allegation that those who refused to follow the governor to APC are being victimized. How will you reconcile this?
We are saying the same thing that in politics, minority have their say, majority have their way. The governor is in total control and command of the entire political structure of Ebonyi State. The apparatus of the state is with the governor 100%. How do you know that this is true? If you call a meeting and you see everybody coming except those few. Even these few, their families have even abandoned them, you are talking about those that are resigning. Unfortunately it is a political calculation to blackmail Ebonyi government. We have a mentorship scheme whereby we raise 1,000 plus of what we call technical assistants, senior technical assistants and executive assistants. They are not appointees under any law so to speak, but the governor appointed them. It is a creation of governor Umahi. Not anywhere you can see what is called Technical Assistants (TA) as an appointment, the idea of the governor is to raise mentorship for them to understudy the institution of the governor because that man is an institution. But then the major issue is that Ebonyi State remunerates people base on productivity and delivery of result. We do monthly assessment, if you don’t perform, your salary will be hanging until when you perform, and so few of them are using the opportunity to say they are running back to their masters, the person that brought them. For what governor Umahi has done for Ebonyi State, lifting our inferiority complex, if anybody speaks against the governor, I will quote the word of God that says ‘the wicked persons are bringing ostracism to their own organism, and that is what is happening to them, they are ostracizing themselves because they are wicked; how will you quarrel with a man sent by God?
What is Governor Umahi’s opinion on the issue of zoning of the presidency?
He didn’t hide his opinion; he is of the opinion that the party at the centre should please consider zoning the presidency to south east. His opinion is also that if it will warrant him being a sacrificial lamb, let even PDP consider his agitation, his complaint and even zone presidency to South East. So; we are feeling that if possible let the Nigerian nation find it equitable, find it justifiable to allow somebody from the South East to become President, that way this agitation will go down, that way the allegation that we are being marginalized will reduce, that way that sense of confidence brotherliness, love for one another will enhance in Nigerian governance and he didn’t hide that and anywhere he goes, he says it. But he is saying even if it warrants him being a sacrificial lamb there is no issue and that goes to show that this man is another Zik, he is an apostle of Zik. We call it Zikism and Umahism. If you look at it, it is the same principle not to offend those in authority, not to offend establishment. Zik did not do it even for once. If you watch the first inaugural speech of President Zik, you will cry, and he (Umahi) said we need to have more of this people; this bickering is not necessary. If we have another Zik, he will take us to the promise land.
Based on Governor Umahi’s achievements so far, is he searching for somebody that will replace him when he finishes his tenure?
As a matter of fact, he has a general principle on the issue of succession and that general principle is that succession is not all about a governor succeeding him. He is looking at an institution that will succeed this institution; that is to say that from the councillor to the local government chairman, even commissioners, he will develop capacity. What is this capacity? Somebody that can work with passion, that can work selflessly, that can work with capacity and competence, that can work with intelligence, somebody that will be responsible to the people, somebody that will pick calls of everybody, somebody that can be ordinary in the midst of extra ordinary life. So it is a comprehensive thing and that is why l said he has a mentorship scheme where he call people, even though they are not office holders, he now gave them offices as TAs, technical persons to study government technically to see how they can improve in their capacity. For office holders provided under the law, commissioners, board members, he is giving them capacity but above all he is mentoring them in his agility, ability and sagacity. Do you know, day and night this man works, you may not understand. I am a Commissioner , since morning l have been working; l don’t know how to wait for him to come here before l do what l should do and give him a good report.
In Ebonyi State, civil servants no longer talk about over time. If you are a commissioner, you work late they will stay with you, especially those key persons that are working with you in the office and they will not complain, they have the habit of selflessness. When we started, the governor said, if you want to be my commissioner, come let me discuss with you; please we have to cut down your salary, I will cut, you cut, and we said, governor go ahead.
The governor is an ordinary person in terms of behaviour but he is an extra ordinary person in terms of capacity. The man is heavily loaded with brain in all forces. Don’t forget that all these things you are seeing in Ebonyi are his brain child. Expatriates are now flooding in. President of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Nnia Nwodo was not a good fan of the governor, but he had a reason to come to Ebonyi State and he proclaimed that Dave Umahi has high sense of frugality and his sagacity is something else; that what the governor can do with one naira, that any other state governor will do it with six times that amount. From having the lowest allocation, to having the highest developmental indices, that means something is driving it.
There has been allegation of misappropriation of funds against the governor. What can you say about this?
That allegation is libelous, frivolous, fictitious, irresponsible and most mendacious. Deliberate and malicious in law; very mischievously concocted to paint us black. Let it be known that very soon, they will see themselves in court of law where they will surrender to justice and they will know that it is not good to lie against somebody especially in print. We call it libel. It is also an act of sedition that is actually actionable and you will hear more of it. The other group is a group of politically frustrated persons who were former coordinators, who were induced by the expiring eggs in PDP to petition frivolously and EFCC has told them to come out and substantiate their claim. Just recently, the new chairman of EFCC said that it is now an offence for one to tell lies, to give false information, so they are candidates of the handcuff of the chairman of EFCC because they told lies just to paint us black. Come to think of it, are you talking about diversion when actually the projects that the governor is doing is too much. So where is the diversion when the state government that has the least allocation is about one of the best in the whole federation? So it is totally non tenable, it is totally irresponsible for anybody to raise his dirty tongue against an action governor, a performing governor, a governor of extra ordinary ability, a governor that God gave to us as God sent, who came to Ebonyi State as governor when we have economic recession. Ebonyi was created in 1996 and was named, Salt of the Nation, but we had issues, we were called dust of the nation, guinea worm state and all that. Do you know one thing that is symbolic and spiritual, where the founding fathers derived the name salt was from governor Umahi’s community. Governor Umahi’s community is the most populous salt community in Nigeria, if you look at our old history, the most populous salt community in Nigeria is Uburu, the governor’s village. Then 20 years after creation of a salt of the nation that was never salt, that was more of an eyesore of the nation, this man came on board under a turbulent situation and became the first deputy governor to become governor when the master said no, and became a third civilian deputy governor and third civilian governor. It means something is very spiritually symbolic about this man and today, Ebonyi State is now the salt of the nation, the light of the nation, the reference point in good governance, the flagship of excellence in good governance, a centre of excellence in good governance. So why will someone reasonable talk about diversion, diversion to where? Yes, diverting to projects for the purpose of the good people of the state.
We have no apologies but we shall meet them.
Credit: Champion Newspaper