‘If You Want Fat Profit, Don’t Come to Ebonyi State’

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David Umahi

Nseobong Okon-Ekong and Benjamin Nworie were part of a team of journalists who held a conversation with Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State on how he has been able to transform the state from the backwater to a promising land

With the meager allocation and poor internally generated revenue, your administration has executed numerous projects, how were you able to raise the funds for these projects?



In terms of money, there is what is called the mustard seed. It doesn’t matter how much you have. What is going on here in Ebonyi state is the passion, the fear of God, the appreciation of the people and the
sacrifice of the people.  One time, through all the interventions, any fund that comes in we fix (deposit) it. We went to the state House of Assembly and said we have made N3billion by gathering all the funds we have fixed.  Some members asked the Speaker, ‘this N3billion is it a reality? The Speaker responded and said how will the Governor bring N3billion to be appropriated if it wasn’t made? We manage our funds very well. As a contractor, if you want to make fat profit, don’t come to Ebonyi State because our profit level is within 10%. I have been in private construction, as an engineer. I know what the contractors know. I have been a contractor and you must do the job very well. I know that 10% is enough. It is a decent profit margin.

This is the motivation and I think that leadership  is about passion. There is no amount of EFCC or ICPC that you can deploy to a leader who doesn’t have the passion for the people to make him succeed. It is about the fear of God, if you believe that God brought you to leadership, whatever you do is between you and
God. These are the ways we have been able to save funds for projects. We don’t believe in having all the money before we start a project. That’s another thing. We believe in starting and God will take over.

The idea of concrete road is a novelty in Nigeria, what motivated you to use concrete to construct all roads in the state?

By training, I am a Civil Engineer and I was in construction. I was making money through construction before God brought me to leadership. I have practical knowledge of what a road stress analysis should be. Our soil here is made up of predominantly, clay soil. Clay soil by its nature has molecular particles. As such. it doesn’t allow vertical circulation of water. It is also very unstable; when it rain  it swells. When it is sunny, it shrinks. The best thing is to give it that property that doesn’t move so that when it is laughing, the property does not care, when it is crying the property does not care. That  is what is called rigid pavement.

In this process of concrete roads, you must also put expansion because concrete does expand and does not contract. The coefficient of expansion or contraction is quite negligible compared to that of clay. That is the motivation. That is the idea behind building our roads in concrete. Dangote is using it in all the roads that it has offered intervention. You may say it is easier for Dangote because it has cement manufacturing companies, but the truth is, that is the way to go if we want to build durable roads in this environment.

When I went to India,   I discovered that a lot of the roads were made of concrete. In China, it is the same thing. In fact, in the Middle East where there is high temperature, they do not use asphalt to build their airport. This is the motivation.

From your assessment, would you consider 70% of your projects priority projects or prestige projects?

They neglected Ebonyi in the past because of poor infrastructure and lack of development, in general. That was the picture before we came. All that has changed. They now remember us for our complex flyovers, longest flyovers, best capital city, industrialisation. We are the only state that has a very gigantic mushroom. It is a combination of both priority projects and prestige projects. One complements the other.

There is this assertion may be because you are the Chairman of South-East Governors Forum that  most of the things you do as the Governor of Ebonyi state is to pander to your presidential ambition. How true is that?

The worst thing for a man is to stay where God has not called him. Concerning my perceived presidential ambition, all I can say is that the calling of God to me as at 2019 to 2023 is to be the Governor of Ebonyi State. The same God that called me as governor, may accomplish the presidential wish. But for now, my immediate priority is to finish all the projects we have started and to initiate new ones in Ebonyi, because we are in a hurry to catch up with the leading states of the federation.

You are planning to build key projects in your second term; an Olympic-size stadium and international airport. Many people have wonder why you want to build an airport in the state when we have one in Enugu and another in Imo?

Olympic-size stadium is good, there is no need to over flog it. The airport is one the most important projects for this state. Yes, we have the Enugu Airport, but we are closer to Abia. A lot of us are closer to Abia state.

This Airport is not for prestige. It is for business. We believe that if we build the airport, we will have more customers than Enugu Airport and this is very important. The location of the airport is about 70 minutes from Enugu Airport. Moreover, we are building for tomorrow. What I consider is that there is need to prepare for tomorrow. A time will come when if you don’t build an airport now in Ebonyi state, you must build it tomorrow. I was in China and we saw a lot of high rise buildings and we asked what are these for? They said it is for the next children that will be born in the next 30 years. I came back and said, ‘okay I have to prepare for
those who will be born, at least, in the next 10 years. This is why we are building the airport.

What are you doing to reduce urban migration?

Gradually, we not having rural development. From the centre of the state, there is no part of the state you can not reach within 45 minutes. Where you have street light like you have in all the local governments in the state, you have water running, you have good roads, what we are doing is that we are pursuing urbanization in all our rural areas. Some people come to work from Afikpo, from Edda, from Izzi, from Ikwo. We are making all local government headquarters as comfortable and habitable as possible. You do not need to be in Abakaliki, the state capital to feel the impact of good governance. You can be comfortable, where ever you are.

You have agreed to pay N30,000 minimum wage during the last May Day celebration. How do you intend to go about that because we know that federal allocation has not increased?

Before this minimum wage, the federal government was borrowing money to pay the workers. Many states have not been able to pay workers. However, the minimum wage regime is here with us. I have said it loudly that I will pay. But I will not be the first state to pay nor the last state to pay. Whatever way the federal government is  going  to pay, we will do. As governors, we  have requested for the review of the revenue sharing formula from the federation account. Presently, I think the federal government takes 52% and local government and states take 40%. It is very difficult for states to pay the minimum wage. May be about four
states can pay comfortably. We are looking at the federal government to see how we kick start it whether they are going to give special allocation to states to assist us pay. Definitely, we have to review our taxes in the state and this is very important. We have set up a joint negotiation committee with labour to discuss the
minimum wage.

I watched the Minister of Labour on television the other day, he said, ‘minimum wage is not wage review’. This is the difference. Wage review is different from minimum wage. The idea behind this is that the economy is such that every worker should be able to go home with nothing less than N30,000. The moment you hit the lowest paid worker with N30,000, you have fulfilled the law. This is very important.

The federal government takes the lion share of the allocation and the states are pushing for the review of the sharing formula. At the Governors forum level, will there some legal steps to compel the federal government to do something about it  or are you making it a family affair while the labour and the workers wait?

There will be no legal battle with the federal government for the review of the sharing formula. In fairness to Mr.  President, at the first meeting we had with him, he agreed that he will review the revenue formula. You know that one man is not government. It is possible that Mr. President was advised otherwise. We will still use dialogue and presentation of the state of our states to plead with Mr. President to review it.

What is the debt profile of Ebonyi State?

In terms of debt, somebody that left my government and wanted to take my seat not knowing that I am seated very well said that we are owing contractors N58billion. As at today, no contractor is owed one kobo in the entire Ebonyi state.

Number two, when we came on board, we borrowed N2billion through agriculture programme, we have since paid that debt. We borrowed N3billion from Zenith Bank for the same agriculture programme, we have since paid it back even though our people refuse to pay back the loan. The important thing is that it is in their pockets and it grows the GDP of the state but anybody that borrows from the money must pay it back.

We also borrowed N5billion from UBA for the same agriculture, I think we have paid part of it. I can say that apart from this N5billion that we are still paying every month for agriculture, we have not borrowed money for any programmes in Ebonyi state.

When we came on board, it took us two years to pay up the debt of the past administration, the bond they obtained for their own programme. We have not borrowed money beyond what I have explained here.

What is employment situation in the state?

Those that want to be employed have been employed.  People may be expecting me to give wavier for employment in civil service, I don’t believe in that. Not that we do not employ people, of late we employed some people in the civil service but that is not the way to go. The way to go is for everybody in the state to have something to do. What we have done for civil servants is that we created N4billion and we gave them at 5% interest rate so that they will also engage in agriculture and this is a way of creating wealth. I create wealth and the wealth creates employment. Ebonyi state has been turned to a huge construction industry. If you go to every corner of the state you will see a lot of construction activities. It is only lazy people that say I need money to pay school fees. I always say to them,  ‘go to any of the construction sites and you will definitely go home with some money. Labourers go home with at least N2,500 per day. Of course, skilled workers get as much as N5,000 per day.

Our system of employment here is to create opportunities for you to employ yourself and also employ others. This is very key and this is the way to go. This is the way of Chinese. This is what we have copied, This is what we are doing.

By the end of 2021, some of your loyalists even from the National Assembly will not be loyal to you anymore. Many of them will be preparing for the governorship race, are you still comfortable with the Speaker of the state Assembly, Hon. Francis Nwifuru?

Don’t worry about 2021, about people not being loyal or being loyal. I have no business with loyalty. All I know is that my eyes are on the ball. One thing I will do is that I will not want anybody that is not part of this system to come from anywhere and say he wants to run for one thing or the other. You have to be part of this system. I have always fought them in the past and I will continue to fight them. Let me assure you that God will select those that will win all the elections in 2023. It doesn’t worry me. If you are in my government and start putting eyes in the governorship, I will sack you, because we only have only six months to play politics, the rest is work. I will not worry neither will I be distracted at all. Before you come into my government, I will know whether you have interest to run for governorship or not. If you have something to run for, we agree on your exit date.

The important thing to note is that every man has come with his own destiny and God watches the heart of men. I believe that God will bring another set of people who will continue with this work when we are done in 2023. It is not something to struggle for. It is not something to lobby for.

This Speaker is God-sent. I am not a member of the House of Assembly but my wife and myself are praying for Nwifuru to emerge again as the Speaker of the House of Assembly when they are inaugurated in June. This Speaker works so hard and it is in the interest of the members that he emerges because he gets  more for the House more than any other person will get from the Executive. It is in the interest of the House that he emerges. He is very good with the law making. Sometimes we argue for more than 30 minutes over a point in law. He has the constitution in his phone, he will bring it out.

QUOTE FOR PAGE 1

I will not want anybody that is not part of this system to come from anywhere and say he wants to run for one thing or the other. You have to be part of this system. I have always fought them in the past and I will continue to fight them. Let me assure you that God will select those that will win all the elections in 2023. It doesn’t worry me. If you are in my government and start putting eyes in the governorship, I will sack you, because we only have only six months to play politics, the rest is work. I will not worry neither will I be distracted at all. Before you come into my government, I will know whether you have interest to run for governorship or not. If you have something to run for, we agree on your exit date

QUOTE FOR PAGE 2

They neglected Ebonyi in the past because of poor infrastructure and lack of development, in general. That was the picture before we came. All that has changed. They now remember us for our complex flyovers, longest flyovers, best capital city, industrialisation. We are the only state that has a very gigantic mushroom. It is a combination of both priority projects and prestige projects. One complements the other.