Lifting Ebonyi Out of the Backwater

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Nseobong Okon-Ekong writes that through his sterling performance, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State has inspired a people once derided as the most backward among the Igbo states to rise to a place of honour

Ebonyi State was notoriously buried in the backwater of the Igbo nation. Only a few of her notable indigenes could stand head and shoulder above the surging tide of poverty. If Nigeria is the poverty capital of the world, Ebonyi shared an unpleasant place at the bottom of the pyramid with other less fortunate states of the federation. That was before an unassuming man, who was stoutly resisted by his principal, former Governor Martin Elechi, assumed leadership of Ebonyi in 2015.

True, David Umahi was deputy governor to Elechi since 2011. But Nigerian governors have the ill-reputation of despising their deputies. As many of them only chose a deputy to fulfill the criteria to run for office and often in deference to ethnic and geographical delineation of the state, which sometimes throws up a candidate they can barely accommodate. On these and other accounts, the relationship between many Nigerian governors and their deputies is less than cordial.

Not surprisingly, Elechi clearly showed a preference for another candidate, among those who jostled to succeed him. But Umahi showed greater promise and was able to rally opinion moulders in the state behind him. His infectious enthusiasm was all he could showcase, at the time. After all, he had not been governor before and nobody knew what he could do. Happily, those who were willing to give him a chance were in the majority and easily carried the day, winning the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Ebonyi governorship ticket for Umahi. Subsequently, he won the 2015 Ebonyi governorship election.

In victory, Umahi has shown surprising magnanimity. Whereas many political god sons have been known to make life uncomfortable to their political godfathers immediately the baton of power is transferred to them, Umahi has been very accommodating. He openly showers encomiums on his predecessor. “I want to thank all of you and I reserve all thanks first to God almighty, my family and that of the Deputy Governor and of course, Chief Martin Elechi, the former Governor. I will never forget him because he is the destiny helper that God brought to put me where I am. Without him, I wouldn’t have been here. So, for your information, we are talking now and we are happy with ourselves.”

Because, he deliberately refused to follow the path of vengeance, which heats up the polity, deciding instead to pursue the Biblical injunction to live in peace with all men, he has, therefore, created a conducive environment to set lofty goals and chase them relentlessly to completion.

Four years after, a people who were once derided as the most backward among the Igbo states have been inspired by the sterling performance of Umahi to rise to a place of honour. Who would have thought that the streets of Abakaliki, the state capital could spot such dazzling beauty in the day, as well as, at night. If Eboyans dreamt of flyovers, it was probably in the distant future. Not at all achievable in a span of four years. Umahi has brought so much rapid positive transformation to Ebonyi that even his detractors have little or nothing to say against him. Arguably, he is the only governor in the Southeast who is accepted across partisan lines. In the period leading to the 2019 national elections, almost all the opposition party candidates surrendered to him. The few who went ahead to contest against him lost woefully, and thereafter preceded to the elections petition tribunal, but soon beat a quick retreat.

Like most human beings who command considerable influence, Umahi is sometimes given to grandstanding and ostentatious speech. Perhaps goaded by sycophants who are encouraging him to think he is superhuman, the Ebonyi governor sometimes takes sweeping and arbitrary decisions. Consider this statement from the Deputy Governor, Kelechi Igwe. According to him, Governor Umahi has assumed the position of a political teacher, a mentor and a father to him in particular and the entire council members. He said, “Your Excellency, a book will not contain your marks, that of this Exco and this administration. No man can fully understand or comprehend you. I say to you: you are an enigma and you are maverick. This State that you have rewritten its history will never forget you. I have no regrets serving and working with you and to say to you that no governor in Nigeria will have the privilege of working with great minds and brains like this exco.”
They even try to encumber him with bogus appendages. For instance, Umahi has been addressed with the larger than life title, ‘Akubaroaha’ (meaning ‘wealth that benefits the people’). He was also made the Grand Commander — Empowerment Hall of Fame. Feeling giddy from this kind of enticement, it is understandable that Umahi can take a whimsical action like appointing 1000 Special Assistants, whose duties clash with other appointees playing similar role

Sometimes, his vision sounds grandiose and boastful. From the way he sees himself, Umahi thinks he has the capacity to deliver so much to Ebonyi that those who will come after him will have nothing to do. At a recent event, he stated, “Our target is to completely solve the problem of infrastructure by 2023 when we shall be handing over to a new administration. We will create jobs for our citizens, most especially in the private sector, thereby addressing the current huge dependence on civil service employment and its clearly adverse implications for overhead costs.” Considering his track record, it may not be out of place to give Umahi a benefit of doubt. In the days ahead, he has committed himself to construct additional eight flyovers at vulnerable locations across the state, complete the new Government House, International Market, industrial clusters, build an airport and numerous other projects ongoing in the state.

Indeed, Ebonyi has become a sprawling construction site. Often he points youths who claim they do not have jobs to these different projects going on in the state as a sure place for employment to those who are willing to work. While it may be argued that Umahi has found a thriving space to exercise his prowess as a Civil Engineer who was making loads of money as a contractor, his ingenuity in converting slim chances to a gold mine cannot be denied. Though the state is home to a functional cement factory at Nkalagu, it took the resourcefulness of Umahi to deploy cement to road construction in the state.

One thing Umahi deserves commendation for is the manner he manages the scarce resources of the state. For the current year, he presented a budget of N188.4 billion budget to the state House of Assembly. He christened the 2019 budget ‘Divine Fulfillment’. The average monthly inflow from the federation account to Ebonyi is N1.843,573,739.61. So how does he do these things without leaving a debt burden?

As Chairman of the Southeast Governors Forum, Umahi has been put on the spot concerning topical issues on a number of occasions. Agitators for a sovereign state of Biafra have in unending war of words with Umahi because the Ebonyi Governor openly disagrees with their methods of operation. However, he is very vocal for the realisation of the Igbo presidency project. Not a few believe if there is an Igboman who has the temperament and the capacity to lead Nigeria in 2023, Umahi is the one.

OFF THE CUFF:

*Our resolve to construct and complete the 198km Abakaliki ring road is one promise that must be kept through the ultimate grace of God. This road, which connects eight of the 13 local government areas in Ebonyi state, is both strategic and we intend also to design and build a new ring road for the remaining five local government areas in Ebonyi state. Our target is to completely solve the problem of infrastructure by 2023 when we shall be handing over to a new administration

Umahi pledging to pursue an integrated policy of economic development and transformation towards improving the quality of life in the state

*We are good people. The leaders of the South-East will meet and never again shall we be marginalized and we must speak with one vvzone

Umahi emphasizing the need for unity in the Southeast geopolitical zone

*On whether I have presidential ambition in 2023, the calling of God is to be Governor of Ebonyi State from 2019 to 2023. The God that called me is for governor and I can’t talk of that for now

Umahi stating that it was too early for him to start commenting whether he would contest for president in 2023

*I want to thank all of you and I reserve all thanks first to God almighty, my family and that of the Deputy Governor and of course, Chief Martin Elechi, the former Governor. I will never forget him because he is the destiny helper that God brought to put me where I am. Without him, I wouldn’t have been here. So, for your information, we are talking now and we are happy with ourselves

Umahi chiding those fanning the embers of purported political enmity between him and his predecessor, Chief Martin Elechi

*Any Izzi woman, whether the man is from Izzi or outside Izzi and he have sex with the Izzi woman in this place, the land is desecrated and the woman as well is desecrated and cannot return to the husband’s house again and that is our culture. The man that did it, is not allowed to stay in that land. It is the same thing in the entire Ebonyi state. So, where there is raping of women in their farms, is very dangerous. That land is cursed and cannot produce any crop again. If that woman gives anything to the husband to eat, that man must die

Umahi charging the chairman of Miyeti Allah herders group to solve the problem where a woman was raped in her husband’s house

*Actually, we don’t have plans for people to perpetuate in their offices, but if we return you as a commissioner, we will return you to the same office. I want you to know that the making of the next administration is not in my hand it is in the hands of God but whosoever God appoints, we must definitely continue to move until we anchor this ship in 2023. I have no enemy. I have no fritenure
y friendship is the work because I love hard work. Even if you are my enemy, we can work together if you are hardworking

Umahi promising to retain some commissioners in his second tenure

*The fact is that the president remains the boss of all governors and any reasonable governor must respect the president, party differences apart. You gain nothing by castigating him and such castigation does not stop him from being the president. You should rather make him your friend and see how you can get something for your people. The Bible tells us that when the ways of a man is pleasing unto God, it keeps his enemies to be at peace with him

Umahi debunking claims that Southeast governors help President Muhammadu Buhari to score 25 percent in the 2019 presidential election

*Okorocha is our leader, a great son of Igbo land and we are in very good terms

Umahi denying that there is a rift between him and former Governor Rochas Okorocha of Imo State who is now a senator

*I am in a hurry to change the narratives of Ebonyi people so whatever vehicle of peace that I need to join to achieve this, I will join

Umahi restating his commitment to develop Ebonyi

*As a leader in the zone, I must say that some of their complaints are genuine; but the approach is very bad. That is why the leaders of South-east are not in support of their approach. We are not against them, but their approach. As the Chief Security of the state, I do not welcome them; Ebonyi state is not part of Biafra, we are a sovereign state, and we don’t want to be colonised again, as we are a state demanding better treatment in the affairs of our nation

Umahi stating categorically that Ebonyi is not part of ‘Sovereign States of Biafra’ declared by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra