In this interview with Benjamin Nworie, Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe spoke on what he described as the modest achievements of Governor David Umahi in the last 18 months. Excerpts:
How far would you say the government has fared?
The administration of Governor David Umahi, which started on May 29, 2015, has been very eventful. In his inaugural speech, he set out the broadest way possible in the areas he wanted to make a difference, ranging from security, education, healthcare and most importantly, infrastructure.
He emphasised the necessity for an infrastructure base upon which Ebonyi would lay its claim to be a state that is viable and with a potential to prosper and provide for its citizens. And that is why over the last few months, you found the energy that he has brought to bear in infrastructure development. Within Abakaliki metropolis, I can count 37 roads that are re-laid, reconstructed, rehabilitated or constructed newly. Some have bridges, coverts and dual carriage ways, etc.
In order to continue to create a proper metropolitan city, he has gone on to ensure that where a road goes, street light, water must follow and so on. The provision of water has been challenging. One of the problems of water is that the infrastructure (pipes) that was in 1940s by the colonials has gone bad and having them replaced has proved both technically challenging and very expensive financially. But it is being tackled and by the first and second quarters of next year, 2017. The problem of water in Abakaliki, capital city, will be a thing of history.
The super structures are also coming up. Along the African
Trans-Sahara highway, you find right now, three flyover bridges one of which has tactically been completed. The semi-commissioning that took place is just an indication to Ebonyi people and to Nigerians that yes, we can do this. Personally, it took my breath away being on top of that
bridge seeing Abakaliki in a different vista. It was a wonderful achievement that was accomplished within 14 months. There is another flyover bridge at Presco junction with 80 per cent completion and there is another one at International Market, which is more than 60 per cent
done. In addition to that, we have a pedestrian bridge at the permanent site of the University.
The governor is putting the last pieces of the jigsaw in the infrastructure in place because without that, nothing else moves – nothing else happens – no matter what anybody says. For instance, if you move along the Federal University, Ikwo, (FUNAI) the road is fantastic and the quality is what is actually outstanding because it used to be debatable whether laying concrete or not is the best way to construct modern road. When the governor was mounting the argument last year, people thought it was a joke.
The road that leads to the state House of Assembly was laid with concrete and at the conclusion of that, the argument was won comprehensively and Ebonyi people began to know truly this is something that is unique and durable. The entire length of the FUNAI road which is about 16 kilometer is being laid with concrete. And I can tell you it is one of the legacies the governor is going to leave and you know it is a rural road. It is going to last not less than 50 years and don’t forget that this is the road that the first civilian administration built and it failed and the second one built it and it failed and all failed within a year or two.
The government has a policy of building 15 kilometer of rural roads in each of the 13 local governments of Ebonyi State. Work has commenced in about seven of them and by next year, work will commence on others. Apart from that, some of the major roads the government is promising to construct for the federal government include the Abakaliki/Onueke/Abaomege/Afikpo road which is nearing completion; the Amasiri/Uburu road that is ongoing; the Ezzama/Oshiri/Uburu road is also ongoing; the Isu/Agba too is ongoing; Hiltop/Abgaja/Nwofe road is ongoing and Nkalagu/Ehamufu road also ongoing.
In fact, it is breathtaking and we are not talking about wishy-washy or haphazard job. We are talking about energetic and dedicated works that are ongoing on these roads. So the next step is to put street light all through the roads from Ezzamgbo through 135 through Nkalagu to the border between Ebonyi and Enugu and the same way, the dualisation will be extended. You heard the governor saying recently that the next challenge is building flyover bridge at Nkalagu Junction.
In the area of health, one of the greatest challenges that confronted this government at the outset was an outbreak of cholera. But the speed and dedication with which that was tackled with pressure from the governor to commissioner for health and all the functionaries of the ministry of health gave me the encouragement that we were going to be an exceptional administration because in previous years, cholera outbreak usually lasted months and the death toll severe. But here, within 9 days, it was contained.
I know this because I was constantly sending reporters out to cover what was going on and recently the Virology Centre has been built and equipped with ambulances and specialist equipment and that is the only centre to tackle Lassa fever that exists in the eastern Nigeria and I think there is one that exists in Edo State. That is in recognition that we are rural community and rural communities usually have water problems more than other areas.
On the area of Education, the two last WAEC and NECO examinations that were taken, Ebonyi has been in the top ten. Pupils from Ebonyi State have been to national debate competitions at Primary, Secondary and Tertiary levels. There is a revolution, a very silent and quiet revolution going on in the state.
Take the area of Agriculture for example, that revolution is not silent at all. Somebody made a comment, a non-indigen, he said if you go to Ebonyi State even in people’s front and backyard, you see rice farms. That may be just a way of saying that Agriculture in Ebonyi is on the rise especially on the cultivation of rice but is being expanded to include the cultivation of cassava and maize because in these areas, the first thing is feed your people and second thing is, produce for export. And once you conquered these elements, that’s the end.
History tells that every civilisation has always been able to survive
and sustain itself and make progress by the ability to feed your citizens and food security which is one of the outstanding achievements of this administration is still ongoing. We now want to conquer the area of dry season farming which commences as we speak and before we turn into March next year, we will begin to make assessment of how far we had gone but right now, the movement is quite intensive in that direction.
What is the rationale behind the appointment of about 215 Technical Assistants by the governor in the midst of deep recession?
My understanding of economics is very simple. When you have recession, one of the best ways to tackle it is to give people the opportunity to spend their way out of recession. In every developed and mature economy, you spend your way out of recession by giving people the opportunity to have the purchasing power that would make possible for the economy to find the attraction to expand on an incremental basis.
That is one simple economic explanation. It also has political and social undertone. Somebody made a charge – in fact, it is the former governor that made a charge that these were thugs that were being employed for the purposes of rigging the next election. That, with due respect, is so outrageous to have come out of the mouth of a so-called statesman.
One, to disqualify and call the sons and daughters of other men and women thugs and secondly being prepared to rig elections that is how many days, weeks, months and years away and thirdly, the readiness to abuse and cast aspersion within the polity is disappointing and frankly, I found him to have so demeaned himself. If there is an argument to be heard, in a situation everybody knows that in a recession give people jobs and it means for them to become productive because if they are not productive, the economy becomes more stagnant. So, I am one of the people who praised the governor for selecting a number of young people and empowered them for political, economic and social reasons.
Some of this characters appointed are characters that ordinarily would have been threat to the society because of joblessness. So when the former governor said these are thugs that were empowered, the failure of Elechi to understand that if indeed, these people were thugs now
being given positions of responsibilities, it is a means of social rehabilitation.
Why can’t somebody understand that, if I’m to accept for one moment, though not true, that these people are thugs, by giving them these responsibilities, you have made sure that you changed their direction in life. Again, the judgment that the governor makes, he makes it with the whole range of issues which we don’t immediately see. For instance, we don’t have all the conversations and meetings that he used to have with citizens of the state.
Speculations and tensions have been rife concerning the governorship election of Umahi in the court. Is there any cause for alarm?
No. there is nothing like that. No cause for alarm. As you know, I have made a public announcement to that effect. The rumors, fabrications and speculations were amusing and it was when I realised that ordinary citizens in rural communities and capital city here were taking those rumours and speculations seriously that I realised it was
important to make a public statement and disabuse people’s mind.
As I said in the public statement that is does not exist in any of the judicial processes of this land: Tribunal, Federal High Court, Sharia System, customary system and it does not exist anywhere, anytime, any case against the governorship of Ebonyi State. All the Tribunal challenges in respect to the election of 2015 have all gone through their course and terminated at the Supreme Court and all the way Governor Umahi had victory.
The Pre-election matter that was instituted by Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu has also been disposed of at the Supreme Court and there is no comeback or cut corner about it. In fact, the truth is that if there is any case, everybody would have known about it and we would have
been going to court. Take it as what it is; there are politicians in a situation like Ebonyi, where the success of the governor is so resounding that you cannot see where legitimate criticism could be made, then people will have to create their own alternative universe.
In that alternative universe, the truth and the reality exist and the achievements of the governor exists and ordinary people that understand the truth exist in that universe and the other universe where speculations and wishful thinking exist, people wish the governor failure, so whatever wishful thinking they have about the governor, is politics. It is good luck to them but the reality is that the governor is confidently piloting the affairs of the state without challenges and we will continue to do so till 2023.
What is your experience working with Governor Umahi?
One of the best gifts the Governor has given me which is what actually sustains me on this job is that I have had no reason to use propaganda to promote him or his government. I have had no reason to lie, to be hypocritical or create fiction. Everything I have said to you here is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which is verifiable, tangible and touchable.
If it has been otherwise, I would have found it impossible given my background to operate in an environment of propaganda, fabrications and fictions. I couldn’t have been able to do it. So, that is the greatest gift he has given to me. He has made me maintain my integrity and I respect that. I respect it because it is a character that is generally complex the way progressive characters are complex.
He sees different things in different layers. He does not see things in black and white. He sees things that it takes a leader to take and takes decision quickly and usually a right decision but above all, the courage of the man. He has courage of a lion to withstand threats, dangers and meet with challenges head on. And to work with such a man, I see myself as a soldier and as a soldier, when you find a courageous and confident General, you can move the world.
One of the best gifts the Governor has given me which is what actually sustains me on this job is that I have had no reason to use propaganda to promote him or his government. I have had no reason to lie, to be hypocritical or create fiction. Everything I have said to you here is the whole truth and nothing but the truth, which is verifiable, tangible and touchable