By Emmanuel Onwe
Against the backdrop of the alleged docile attitude of the governors within the South-East against the incarceration, trial and eventual release of Nnamdi Kanu, leader of Indigenous Peoples of Biafra, IPOB, Senator Emmanuel Onwe , the Commissioner for Information, Ebonyi State said on the contrary, the South-East Governors Forum for which his principal is the chairman, at various times and levels, contributed to the release of Kanu even as he said the Governor Umahi -led Ebonyi State government had redefined the history of the state through physical, psychological, developmental and social transformation. Onwe spoke to select journalist in Lagos. Olaoluwakitan Babatunde was there
Except on few occasions, your principal, the governor hardly talks to the press. Is it that he is shy, nothing to talk about, disdain for the press or all of the above reasons?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Just a few weeks ago, he gave an extensive interview which touched on all aspects of our politics and economy; and I do not mean just about Ebonyi State but a panoramic take on the political, economic, security, religious and moral challenges of the entire federation. It was a tour de force. I challenge you to give me an example of one single governor amongst the 36 that has spoken directly to the press or granted more press interviews than the Governor of Ebonyi State. Such epithets as “shy”, “disdain”, “nothing to talk about” are completely alien to Governor Umahi. On the contrary, I find him to be bold, confident and assertive; he is also welcoming, accommodating, friendly and respectful; and he most definitely has plenty to talk about. He has redefined the history of Ebonyi State through physical, psychological, developmental and social transformation. There are elements of these adjectives that only Ebonyians can truly understand and appreciate. But the rest are open for the world to see. For the very first time in the history of the state, Ebonyi has become assertive as a national player anchored on stupendous progress on the home front. I invite you to visit Ebonyi and see for yourself that the man has so much to talk about that pages of newspapers are infinitesimally small to contain.
The South-East governors have been accused of not doing enough for of IPOB and MASSOB. It alleged that none of the governors is in support of the Biafran struggle?
I can speak for Ebonyi State to the extent that it is my official duty to do so. If such an accusation exists, it is not only ridiculous but addle-minded, and can only be peddled by those who are perhaps ignorant of the facts in play and the varied nature of the solutions that were and are being evolved and pursued. The Governor of Ebonyi State is the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum and I am a direct witness to some of the open and discreet efforts he and his brother governors in the region have made and continue to make in respect of the IPOB/MASSOB agitations and the intense pressure to secure the release of Nnamdi Kanu. Look, on a strictly personal level, let me speak as an Igboman and a Nigerian citizen who has a pedigree in the intellectual discourse of the Igbo condition within the Federal Republic of Nigeria; research me on this subject. There are many shades of opinions and in the political field there are various and varying tactical styles to the game. The debate over the restructuring of the republic or devolution of powers or outright disintegration, so that each component part would fold inwards and project distinct identities as little republics is undoubtedly intensive and emotive. And once political and tribal emotions run riot, wild statements, accusations and vituperations gain ascendency. I can assure you that the governors of the South East of Nigeria are alert to the demands and aspirations of their people. Anyone who thinks that the rascality, wild opportunism and crude excesses of some Chief Executives are the most civilised approach to meet the exigencies often thrown up by the boneheaded politics at the centre is as much a fool. We deal with sublunary events as they are, and others may seek their Utopia whichever way they choose. But no one should pretend that public administration is anything but a complex business that demands the discipline of serious-minded people. Stunts, swagger and self-promotion are entirely antithetical to the solutions of our national challenges. Self-determination is a universally-recognised fundamental right of peoples across the world. But the motivations for pursuing self-determination are not uniform. Ebonyi State, for instance, has its own unique self-determination aspirations and is resolutely pursuing them after more than 5 decades of criminal neglect. But for the nobility of Chief Jim Nwobodo (Governor of Anambra State 1979 – 1983), the task of evolving from a backwater to a city on the hill would have been even more arduous for us than it is today. And the imperatives of those unique self-determination aspirations have absolutely nothing to do with the ideology IPOB/MASSOB. They are two parallel lines that will never meet! And yet, regardless of the divergence in our philosophical, ideological and political worldviews, we stand united in the face of oppression, discrimination, prejudice and abuse of civil liberties.
Talking about not talking to the press of your principal, why is it that things are happening in terms of infrastructural development in the state, and yet, little or nothing is being said about it. Or is Ebonyi a closed state?
First of all, I totally agree that a huge amount of developmental initiatives are going on in Ebonyi State. The capital city, Abakaliki, is gaining extraordinary transformation, major road networks are not only being constructed but are being constructed in such a manner as to endure for half a century. Health, educational and human empowerment sectors are top priority. The revival of Nigercem is gaining ascendency through administration impetus. The global opinion has not been divided in appreciation of Umahi’s focused determination in these respects. To suggest, as you do, that “little or nothing is being said about it”, is a false and ignorant indictment, and you know it. Apart from the “money-bag” states such as Lagos and Rivers, point out any other state that gains more national coverage in terms of government initiatives and actions than Ebonyi State. All these positive things you said you heard going in the state, how did you get to hear them? That Ebonyi rice is on the lips of every Nigerian right now, how did that get to happen? That Ebonyi State has set the agenda in the construction of roads using concrete instead of asphalt, how did the country get to know that? That Ebonyi State is the first and only state in the South East to build and equip a Virology Centre, how did the nation get to hear about that? That Ebonyi State is not owing workers a single month salary from the inception of the Umahi administration and has in fact paid the 13th month to workers in two successive years, how did everyone get to know about that? That Ebonyi State has not exited the top 10 in the performance ranking of WAEC/NEO in the last 2 years, how did the nation come to be talking about that? If what you mean is that the administration should spend a fortune producing documentaries for television stations; or creating glossy magazines to be circulated as inserts in national papers; or so-called in-depth report analysis by people like yourself focusing on so and so, then you are talking to the wrong customer. If traditional and self-serving perception of publicity in the twenty-first century is still mired in these strategies, then I would rather do nothing and let the achievements speak for themselves. Whatever you mean by a “closed state”, I cannot provide an answer to such a feeble and irrational statement. Look, I invite not just you but all Nigerians to cleanse their minds of the old perceptions and prejudices against Ebonyi State. There are new kids on the block now and a new vista has opened. I dare any independent researcher to come here and conduct a comparative examination of the socio-economic capacities of Ebonyi relative to other states and let us see what that result would tell Nigerians.
Rice production known as Ebonyi Rice is more pronounced among this government’s achievements. What is the unique selling point of this brand?
The biggest source of confidence for what the Umahi administration is doing in the area of rice production is the unwavering encouragement from the Federal Government and from Mr President directly. He takes the success of the Ebonyi Rice programme personally… President Buhari, I mean. The unique selling point of Ebonyi Rice is that we have a much longer period of rainfall which feeds our extremely fertile swampy fields and thus sustains the production of prime quality rice. In other words, this allows us to produce rice that tastes better and far more nutritious. The Ebonyi Rice is also healthier because the quantum of synthetic fertilizer deployed by our farmers are so negligible that you get as close to organic rice as you are ever likely to get in Nigeria with the Ebonyi produce. The benefits of consuming non-chemically produced foods speak for themselves, especially in an age of cancer epidemic. We have also modernised our rice processing techniques and mechanisms so that the Abakaliki Rice which used to be called “stone-fest” is now celebrated. Our ambition is to produce just 10 per cent of the total annual rice consumption of 5-6 million metric tons by Nigerians; a bulk of which is, disgracefully, imported. That translates to between 500,000 to 600,000 metric tons annually. Last year, we achieved 200,000 metric tons in circumstances where we were confined to wet season production only. Going forward, we are laying the foundations for irrigation infrastructure that will allow us cultivate in multiple cycles within any given year. Once this is achieved, we will be in a position by 2019 to double or even triple our self-assigned quota.
For an agrarian state like yours, how is the government doing it in the area of prompt payment of civil servants salaries, and yet, still have enough to do infrastructure?
Prudent management of scare resources, cutting down on frivolities or outright elimination of waste, corruption and grandiose agenda have been absolutely fundamental to his strategy. Commercially-sound mind, which means running government as business, insisting on squeezing out the utmost returns from every kobo spent. These are just some of the efficiency strategies that have placed Ebonyi on a surprisingly high pedestal on the scale of achivements. The monthly federal allocation accruing to Ebonyi State averages N2 billion.