Many outstanding developmental thrusts which have earned Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State huge applause from home and abroad stand him in good stead to take a shot at the 2023 presidency, according to the state Commissioner for Information, Uchenna Orji, who spoke with journalists in Lagos including Ugo Aliogo
I’m quite conversant with Ebonyi State and there have been some remarkable transformations in the years that Governor Dave Umahi has been at the helm of affairs. How is he managing to transform the state given the meagre resources from the federation account?
Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State is governed by inspiration from God. He is a man of character and content, whose moral and mental character is something that we must emulate. When he came on board, he decided to identify five critical sectors; road infrastructure, health, education, human capital development, agriculture and security. He didn’t waste time, he deployed his ingenuity, passion and the fear of God, which is very critical in transforming the state. Therefore, the issues of prudence, accountability and probity are his watchwords. As part of his desire to transform the state, he began with examining the challenges of access roads in all the 13 Local Government Areas. In each of these LGAs, he allocated 25 kilometres of road construction which have been completed in the concrete pavement of eight inches with 50 years guarantee, thereby making him the first governor in Nigeria to do road construction by concrete pavement. All the urban roads leading to the satellite towns and metropolis were also constructed. So far, about 1,500 kilometres of roads have been done as state roads within a period of five years. He didn’t only stop at constructing state roads, he also did federal roads. So if you are coming from Enugu to Ebonyi or Abia to Ebonyi, Cross-River to Ebonyi or even from Benue to Ebonyi, you will be sure that you will meet a road done in concrete pavement.
In some cases, the roads are either concrete roads or asphalt. Coupled with this effort, is also the dualization of these major roads to drive traffic, reduce accidents and attract investors. In addition to this, he is doing 13 flyovers, making Ebonyi, the state with the highest number of flyovers after Abuja and Lagos. Now, these are some of the few things he has done that I can mention. Let me say that the secrets of his performance are his passion and prudence.
Today, we pride ourselves as the state with the biggest shopping mall in Africa having not less than 5,000 to 6,000 modern shops. Senator Ben Murray Bruce said he has never seen any mall as big as this in Africa. Also, we have the biggest ecumenical centre in Nigeria. An ecumenical centre is a place for social and Christian events. We have the biggest light tunnel in Africa. The light tunnel is like the face of Ebonyi State and it is deliberately built by the governor to tell the world that something good can come out of Nazareth.
Within the four-way light tunnel, we have a shopping mall and ecumenical centre, and under it is Africa’s biggest water fountain. This is in addition to the principle of urban renewal which makes it possible to have streetlights in all the streets. This street is 12hours non-stop. The street lighting was done in every Local Government Area. He did a minimum of 25 kilometre streets light that is non-stop. In addition to this, he embarked on his vision of urban renewal with the construction of several roundabouts, and water fountains to beautify the metropolis and satellite towns.
In the area of health, the governor has done very well. Today, we have the biggest College of Medicine in Africa. The edifice is going to be a medical tourism for the country, which will provide for the treatment of heart diseases, liver and kidney diseases, surgery of various kinds, and kidney transplants. The college of medicine has a dialysis centre which is going to be the only centre for dialysis in Africa. The governor ensured that the secondary healthcare facilities, such as the general hospitals are fully equipped with modern facilities.
A major issue that is on the front burner today is the protest by Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) on the National Minimum Wage. What is the position of Ebonyi on this very important subject?
As a matter of fact, the national minimum wage is on the exclusive list. Recently, the organised labour went to protest demanding the removal of the national minimum wage from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. That is the doing of the National Assembly and it is tampering with the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. I think that our state government has not taken a position on that until appropriate legislations are made.
Essentially, I must say that we have a policy direction in this regard. The policy direction we have is that in addition to white-collar jobs, which cannot be enough to satisfy the civil servants, we feel that there should be an inclusion of green or blue collar jobs for civil servants. What this means is making a second address policy for them, whereby, apart from the civil service and the earning thereof, they can have something to fall back on, and from time to time, funding will be made available to civil servants for them to go into agriculture.
You know that it is only agriculture that is permitted for civil servants to engage in, they cannot go into businesses, engage in other employment or do other things. Agriculture either from primary, secondary or tertiary levels is allowed. We also call these stages of agriculture primary, secondary or tertiary productions, so they have the latitude to go into any value chain in agriculture they choose to engage in. Now, what the governor did was to release N4 billion to civil servants and the programme started off in 2017. He created an opportunity for civil servants from the lowest level to earn between N200,000 and N1,000,000 depending on your salary grade and when you are going to retire.
The repayment process is such that you’re going to be paying five percent single digit interest and it will be spread to the time you are leaving so it is not going to have any inconvenience on you. But what is important is that the civil servant will continue to receive training and re-training over a period of time, and you will be given time every Friday to go to your farm and do whatever you want to do. You can do your farming by proxy. These are opportunities and leverages given to civil servants. Now, civil servants are not exempted from any empowerment programme of Ebonyi State, for instance, we have what is known as the EndSARS empowerment programmes that are ongoing. It is a N3 billion programme. It is not only for people and Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs) that protested during the EndSARS but even for civil servants, businessmen, even farmers. If you are able to have a robust business plan that can convince the financial institution that is working with us, that you have all its takes to be productive in the business you can be chosen, it is not just buying and selling because civil servants cannot do buying and selling.
We are looking at entrepreneurship and vocational programmes, such as artisanship. Even craftsmen can take advantage of this empowerment programme. Civil servants can take advantage of this to engage in farming. Now, apart from this, there are other empowerment programmes, I remember when the governor released N750 million grants for youths and women, civil servants were part of it and they went with N250,000 each, not every civil servant, but selected persons based on certain criteria. We have what is known as widow empowerment programme, this initiative is meant for civil servants who are widows, they also participated in the grant in an initiative that had 4,300 persons at a cost of N100,000 per person. Even the clergy in various denominations, they had the opportunity of accessing N500, 000 and N800, 000 each. They were part of the people that accessed the money. What I’m simply saying is that every empowerment programme we made available to Ebonyi people, the civil servants had opportunity to participate and access it. We went further to engage the Bank of Industry (BOI) so that if anybody wants to engage in commercial farming, we will give the person a grant, we think that through this, they can be self-reliant and self-sufficient. Actually, the impact is being felt in Ebonyi, there is high school enrolment.
There is a reduction in insecurity. The maternity morality ratio has increased which includes that of the civil servants. The education index of Ebonyi state has also increased under Governor Umahi. In 2017, an Ebonyi local government area emerged out of the 774 LGAs in Nigeria adjudged by the Nigeria University Commission (NUC) to have the highest number of people that gained admission into the university in Nigeria. When they did index assessment on the best medical students that gained admission in 2017, a Jambite from Ebonyi state had the highest score, this is NUC index. Recently, they carried out an analysis of states in the South-east in terms of employment and empowerment ratio, Ebonyi state took second position, this data came from Nigeria Bureau of Statistics (NBS). These go to show the impact of what we are doing. It is time for the government to help civil servants by providing alternatives to their salaries. N100, 000 cannot be enough for the salary of civil servants but they need something as a back up or something else that will be self-sustaining.
In terms of all that you have done one of the things that threatens the peace of Ebonyi State is insecurity. We have had pockets of insecurity and complaints, sometimes it is about the herders’ confrontation/clash with the farmers, armed robbery, and kidnapping. What is the structure of the security architecture to ensure that the governor’s work is not in vain?
First, the real issue that happens in Ebonyi state is violence arising from communal clashes due to land ownership based on the development they (communities) are seeing and the emphasis we are laying on agriculture, so everybody is conscious and there is clash. Apart from the communal clashes, in the Inspector-general of Police crime record, we are at the bottom. There is a very low case of kidnapping because we have fortified our security architecture.
We are a smart city-state. We have a programme that is known as a smart city programme where Closed Circuit Camera Television (CCTV) is deployed in the major junctions of the state. Therefore, anywhere you commit a crime you can be detected. In addition to this, we have a civilian security outfit, it is known as the neighbourhood watch and it has 4,000 officers recruited by the state government. These officers are trained by the conventional security officers and they are helping to police our community in collaboration with the conventional security officers.
Another thing that the state government did was to go to every barrack and carry out a comprehensive rehabilitation of the various barracks. Today, we have Ebonyi Police command that is the most beautiful police command in Nigeria. It is a monumental edifice. The State Governor went to the various barracks and gave them concrete roads and street lights and motivated them to work. We also have forest guards in our state who watch over the forest and prevent cases of arm banditry either from herdsmen or native Ebonyi people. I can tell you that in all the states of the federation, Ebonyi State has limited cases of farmers/herders clash. The secret was that Ebonyi State government constituted a strong committee, at the community, local government and state levels. At the state level, it is headed by the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General, with members drawn from the security agencies to meet regularly and interface with the herdsmen and farmers to ensure that there is peace and no communal conflict, and where there are conflicts, the committee will resolve and where there is need to punish when a crime is committed, they will ensure that criminals are punished. When there is need to treat somebody as a first offender, the person will be treated as a first offender. What I’m implying here is that we are aware of the age-long relationship with traditional herdsmen who have lived over the years in our place. We are not saying that they must go, but instead, insist they must live in line with the laws of the land, and I can tell you that we are having a very wonderful relationship with them. What you see in social media about farmers’/herders’ clash is not true, but it is a deliberate attempt to destabilize the government and fault the good work of the governor. We are not apologizing for that. We expect those in the North to love us as we love them that is the only way to guarantee the future of our people in the North. We have over 11 million Igbos in the north and if we began to trigger a crisis here that will affect our people and that is what we are always mindful of.
Late last year, the State Governor alleged that there were plots by some former government officials and some persons to destabilize the state. The political situation in the state has changed since the governor defected from his former party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) to the All Progressive Congress (APC), with this in mind, what is the current political situation in the state?
Everywhere is calm as it were. What happened when the governor was defecting, I would say is not unexpected. The reason is that he is a good product, and he is about leaving you for a better platform, you have to cry foul. But unfortunately for them, when they were consulted they said wherever the governor goes they will go. They also said that his people shall be their people.
All the stakeholders in Ebonyi state including those in the rural communities, the town union leaders, the local government chairmen and all are saying that whenever the governor stands is where they will stand. It is just a few people who are in the National Assembly and those who felt that they have been leaders before and never did anything for Ebonyi state. They now feel that this is an opportunity to be the king of the manor and lord of PDP. But unfortunately for them, there is nobody in that PDP except a few, whose interest and motive is to ensure their automatic ticket back to the National Assembly in 2023. But it is not going to end in primary election. You have to come back, but we advise them to come and join the moving train. If they don’t join, by 2023, it will be too late.
Our governor is a very compassionate individual, if they go back to him, he will accept them. However, we are not distracted we are moving, except a few that will publish dirty things just to distract the governor. But we are equal to the task.
One of the things that the predecessors of Governor Umahi always pointed out is the issue of patronage that he prefers to gather everything to himself and his is not patronizing them. Is there any iota of truth that the governor has cornered all the contracts?
This is really a demonstration of the fact they are not aware that it is no longer business as usual. These are people who were in offices and they turned themselves into contractors, and they feel that being part of the making of this current government they should also be contractors. The state governor has been trying to assist to ensure that their pride of place is maintained in the state. The governor has a secret of performance which you earlier asked me.
The secret of his performance is that he works with Direct Labour Agency (DLA). He deploys the personnel of the civil service maximally and he also patronises the indigenous contractors to execute the work you are seeing, let say again that the 13 flyovers are done by indigenous contractors. So we have about 80 per cent of jobs done by civil servants working in DLA. They feel that the governor should have given them the work, but he insisted that he must work for the people. So these individuals started insinuating that he is doing it alone because he is not giving the contracts to any of them. Ebonyi state has 4 million people and you want a few people to be the cabal. He said he cannot be loyal to the cabal, that his loyalty is to Ebonyi state and Nigeria, that is the fault he has and there is no apology about that. Let say that Umahi is very creative and anybody who brings out his tongue to speak against him in Ebonyi state, it means the person is really destined for doom. I said this because over the years before he came on board, I could not speak in public about the developmental strides in the state. But suddenly this man came and removed our inferiority complex. I would say Ebonyi state is the finest region with a change of narrative. The man is highly transparent. He recently implemented a scheme known as safe tax. The scheme is a World Bank initiative that assesses performance especially in budgeting and implementation. Ebonyi state is among the states that got a grant of about N2 billion as a reward for being transparent, acting in line with the best practices and international standards. We won the award in 2020 and we are still going to win in 2021 and access the money that accrues from it. Do you know government officials came from the Ministry of Health and they were amazed at the Federal Teaching Hospital complex that the governor built and donated to the Federal Government? This is what the governor is doing. We have one to zero percent capital flight. Any expatriate that comes to Ebonyi will have to work with those on the ground. This is has made Ebonyi a construction site and it has also made it possible for the money to circulate within the shores of the state and it is making tangible impacts that we cannot see. But you will certainly feel it. We have good road infrastructure and the streets are well-lit. Some of these people have had the opportunity of holding in trust the position meant for the South-east for nine years. They could not bring any social infrastructure to their communities and they want the governor to be servicing them? it is not possible!
In the areas of entrepreneurship and youth empowerment, how have you fared?
Let me start from job creation, the concept of the governor under the present administration is that it is not all it is for the people to be employed in civil service when you cannot do anything. The idea of the governor is to raise the capacity of those available and ready. He is concerned about talent discovery and training. He also does reward system and motivation for civil servants. It is more of raising their capacity and giving them empowerment funds, apart from this, the governor believes that human capital development entails mental, financial and psychological empowerment through sensitisation, while ensuring that you have something doing.
To ensure that people have a second address which is another source of livelihood, the governor created the Ministry of Human Capital Development making him the first governor in the history of Nigeria to have such ministry.
The ministry was created in 2017 when they had a meeting with the World Bank and International Monetary Fund (IMF). When they were discussing the bane of development in Nigeria, despite having the infrastructure, the money, and economic growth. Why is that we are not classified as a developing country, let alone as a developed country? At best, we are still called Third World countries, including South Africa. It was discovered that human capital development was the missing gap. The governor created the ministry and made me drive it. The governor gave me three mandates; mental empowerment, financial empowerment and nutrition.
In the area of nutrition, there is catch them young for the pupils and also to find out what nutrition we need to give them. We were concerned about giving them healthy nutrition so that they can develop their brains for effective learning and understanding of what they are being taught.
In agriculture, the governor introduced the school agric programme, so that we will not be relying on food that we don’t know when it was produced. Every school was given a mandate to produce its own food. They produced fresh vegetables, beans, rice and others under the federal government school feeding programme. I will like to state here that there is a meeting point which is that as the school produces the food, the federal government that is now the off-takers buy off the agric-produce and re-deploys it back to the school through their feeding programme. The children will have the opportunity of eating freshly produced food which will help in brain development, enhancing their skills and promoting agriculture.
Another thing he did is to ensure that there is actual financial empowerment. Under this initiative, he introduced Street-to-Skill Empowerment Programme. He targeted Ebonyi indigenes in diaspora, especially in Lagos, Abuja, Onitsha, Port-Harcourt and others.
When the governor came to Lagos, he shortlisted 520 youths and women, who were given trainings on entrepreneurship, and vocational skills, and they were empowered with N130 million. These youths and women are very grateful to the governor, their lives have been transformed and they are no longer in the street hawking business. The governor raised another N750 million for the empowerment of youths and women in the state based on LGA. The governor also considered the wheelbarrow pushers, commercial motorcyclists popularly known as Okada and some repentant members of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), and gave them 400 tricycles. He also entrusted goods worth N650, 000 to them. This is a facility grant that will be repaid in a period of two years. But beyond these, we also raised an agency that has something to do with raising the capacity which I call the Stimulus Development Programme (SDP) to stimulate our economy through the empowerment of our people and we are looking at Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and professionals in accountancy, journalism and even in Medicine to select the best through a seamless selection process. There is an online selection process and these people will be empowered, not only being that they will be linked to other agencies such as the Bank of Industry (BOI), donor agencies, development partners and the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to see how they can enhance their livelihood. In addition to this, we had to attach ourselves closely to the federal government SIP programme, so we didn’t miss the N-power, GEEP programme, the school feeding programme and the Anchor Borrowers’ programme.
We also accessed the commercial agriculture credit scheme, and deployed the money to enhance the the capacity of the farmers. We trained the farmers and urged them to go into modern farming both at the primary, secondary and tertiary levels of agriculture. That has brought about food security in the state. Today, we don’t eat foreign rice, it is outlawed by our policy in Ebonyi state because we believe that there are a lot of issues with the foreign rice such as high storage, not knowing the source and possibility of mischief by foreigners.
What is the political future of the governor?
The future of the governor belongs to God. But we are lucky to have him at this point of our political history especially the South-east. It must be said that in the history of political development in Nigeria, the South-east has always mainstreamed with the party at the centre. Even from pre-independence of NCNC, NNDP. During independence, NPC and NCNC of the South-east have always mainstreamed and that is what gave rise to Nnamdi Azikwe becoming the first Governor-General. It was the formation of an alliance with the party at the centre. You recall what Obafemi Awolowo told Zik and he said No.
In 1979, we mainstreamed and got Vice-President. In 1999, the North was PDP, the South-east and South-south were PDP. That is mainstreaming. But in 2015, this bridge collapsed and you expect Igbos to be in a collapsed party that will be double jeopardy for South-east’s wellbeing? The governor has expressed his determination to fight for Ebonyi state by launching with the party at the centre. His desire is that going to APC will make him a sacrificial lamb. I can say that the Governor is always inspired. Before he became a party chairman, he was already an accomplished captain of industry, who was millionaire at the age of 25. He didn’t know he will be party chairman, he got the invitation and he accepted.
In 2011, he didn’t know and God gave him the inspiration to deputize the governor in his second term, so he can make things right, nobody was aware that God was preparing him for the main thing. While deputizing, he had the opportunity to move around the nooks and crannies of the state to know their pains. In 2015, God told him to go and contest. Do you know that no deputy governor ever became governor while the incumbent governor was in power? To worsen the situation there was a gang up, names were given to him and his popularity dwindled to nothing.
From zero, God raised him rapidly to 100 per cent. He has made history as the first deputy governor to be elected governor, when his boss said No. It must be mentioned that his emergence is symbolic. Ebonyi state created in 1996 was called by the founding father, the Salt of the Nation that means Light of the Nation, and was not growing for over 20 years before he came onboard. Ebonyi state was the worse in everything, infrastructure, human capital development, environment and others.
During the global meltdown, Umahi emerged as the first Deputy Governor to become governor. During that period, there was no PDP at the centre, and I remember we said that he made a lot of promises in the manifesto, so we were wondering how he will achieve this because the bridge of the centre had been broken. For the first four years, he did not bother going to the centre, lest they will say he is after his selfish interest. He conquered and really did a lot that was able to make us a reference point. God also told him to go to a minority party and win election to show the world that it is not because of your interest or election but because of something I’m sending you to do through massive vote under transparent election in a minority party. The governor said now that God has made me the Chairman of the Governors of South-east, I will like to reconnect you to the party at the centre. The party at the centre is an opportunity of getting board membership, employment at the federal level, boards and commissions, ministerial positions, and economic development. That was how the federal government gave the South-east N10 billion for the rehabilitation of Enugu International Airport. These are the secrets behind what he did. More good things will come and the most important of them is that the party at the centre will consider it expedient to zone presidency to South-east.
In 1979, we mainstreamed and got Vice-President. In 1999, the North was PDP, the South-east and South-south were PDP. That is mainstreaming. But in 2015, this bridge collapsed and you expect Igbos to be in a collapsed party that will be double jeopardy for South-east’s wellbeing? The governor has expressed his determination to fight for Ebonyi state by launching with the party at the centre. His desire is that going to APC will make him a sacrificial lamb. I can say that the Governor is always inspired. Before he became a party chairman, he was already an accomplished captain of industry, who was millionaire at the age of 25. He didn’t know he will be party chairman, he got the invitation and he accepted