Peter Mbah: We Were Intentional with Our Promises,Their Timelines and We Set Forth at Dawn

Enugu State Governor, Dr. Peter Mbah’s vision and mission are both unmistakable and irrefutable. He exemplifies the essence of governance without politicking. Imbued with corporate and entrepreneurial experience, coupled with expertise, Mbah’s exploits in the Coal City show that the sky could be the starting point of any state reaching for greater heights in Nigeria. A poster boy for technocrats in politics, more so with a second address, Mbah, within 180 days of assuming office, has delivered on several election promises, including the economy, security and infrastructure. He shares this and more in an interview with THISDAY. Excerpts:

What has the journey been like from a private sector individual to an elected governor?

For me, it was always going to be a journey of greatness, development and growth. When we were out there, talking to our people to give us their mandate to serve them, we also enjoined them to join us in this journey of greatness. So, we were quite deliberate in the journey that we embarked on. We knew with a high degree of specificity the programmes we wanted to execute. We had taken time to look through the challenges and pressure points.

When we developed our manifesto, which promised great things across all the sectors, it sounded like we were trying not just to overpromise. It felt like we weren’t even appreciative of the things we were seeing. It felt like these guys were coming from a strange location and into a new terrain without appreciating what the terrain entails. We understood the naysayers.

We also understood the critics and the doubters because otherwise, how would you explain a vision to grow the economy from a level of $4.4 billion to $30 billion in four to eight years? If you do the mathematics, let’s even take a horizon of eight years, that translates to a 27 per cent compounded annual growth rate; it doesn’t happen. I haven’t seen an economy where it has happened.

On top of that, we said we would not just grow this economy. We recognise that poverty is endemic. We have a 58 per cent poverty rate, and I said give me eight years, and I will achieve a zero per cent rate in our poverty headcount index. So, I think that got them paranoid. They could not understand where these guys were coming from. But the other thing we did, which is quite interesting, is that we didn’t just make a big statement or express those humongous promises.
We were also deliberate in terms of our timelines because it is one thing saying you will do this, you will do that, and you leave it open-ended. But because we wanted to be held to account, we said, ‘Look, these are timelines for these things. Give us this period, and you will see this.’ So, we provided measurable indicators so that we could be measured by the people we were serving. They could look at our scorecard and say yes, this social contract we have executed with you, you are keeping your part of the bargain. So, the journey for us has been quite breathtaking.

We hit the ground running, conscious of those specific promises.  Even before swearing-in, we recognised that, for example, in the water sector, we promised our people that within 180 days of assuming office, we would ensure that water runs in all the homes in our city. We are thinking about water running in our cities. We are also thinking about the rural areas. And so, at the time we made this promise, we knew that we had pressures on the three streams of water delivery – the upstream, midstream and downstream.

At the upstream, our production capacity before we came in was barely occasional two million litres. So, we have now moved that volume from 2 million to 120 million litres. Our daily consumption in Enugu city is about 80m litres daily. But what we can produce today is not just enough to service our people. We also have a 50 per cent buffer so that if we have some pumps or machines that are down, we would not still have supply issues.
On our production side, we provided a buffer for electricity generation.  We put in place a 4.4 megawatts in our water scheme location at 9th Mile so that even when the grid fails you, you still would not have shutdowns because you step in your turbines, and the megawatts are gas-powered. We addressed squarely the issues concerning  upstream.

Then the midstream, which concerns the pipelines that you move from the production point to the storage where you now deliver, to the reservoir. We also had to work on that. We are currently expanding that line to build buffers. Again, we are going to have a second midstream line that will be able to take another 80m litres because the city is expanding (and we are now doing the new Enugu City). We expect that our supply will be coming from the scheme that we currently have today.

There have been some challenges. There are three lines in the midstream, and of course, they extend downstream. You have the primary line, which is the mainstream line, that transport water from the production to the reservoir. But you have the secondary line. So, what we have achieved essentially is to make sure that we have taken water to all the secondary lines. The challenge we are dealing with constantly and treating as an emergency is making sure that the tertiary lines are all functional.

The tertiary line is where you now take from the secondary to the various households you have in the city. What we have realised is that people have built on those lines over the years. We notice that when you try to give water to a particular household, the pipe that transports water has already been built on and destroyed by lots of construction work.  We have zoned the state into Abakpa, Coal Camp, GRA, Trans Ekulu, Nza Street, and UNEC, etc. We are dealing with the tertiary lines, and that is what we are doing day and night because the objective is to go into your house, regardless of where you live, turn on your tap, and take water.

We were very deliberate before we took office that a lot of the growth we are going to achieve will come from private sector investment. What that meant to us was if we must attract the private sector investment that we desire so badly, we must address the issues of insecurity. So, we set forth at dawn. Forty eight hours after the swearing-in, I convened a security council meeting where I made consequential pronouncements.
The first was to ban the so-called illegal Monday sit-at-home. We did not just believe that we could possibly ask anybody to come into the state to invest if we still had non-state actors dictating to us the days of the week that we go to work and the days that we sit at home. We just felt that it was unacceptable and inexcusable. First, our primary purpose of being in government is to provide security and ensure that the well-being of our people is taken care of. It would put into question our commitment if our primary reason for existence is not addressed. It was almost like we were obsessed. We gave it everything.

First, to we made our people realise that the people we are dealing with are criminals, who profit from the so-called sit-at-home and that we cannot accept it. We had a series of town hall meetings, exposing the consequences, both for our work ethics and also for our children, who sit at home on a very important day of the week. We also recognised its challenges, even for our children whose learning hours were compromised. They were affected when the days for external examination fall on a Monday, they are excluded. It was unacceptable.

For decades, there was no water. When you promised that you would deliver in 180 days, people had reasons to doubt. But it happened. It was a signature achievement. How difficult was it to bring that to fruition?

First of all, nobody took us seriously. On one occasion, when I was interviewed on the radio before the elections, and I was still going on about the 180 days, asking the people to give me their mandate and in 180 days, I would provide them with water, I had a couple of people, who phoned in and dismissed everything I said, even when I was able to drill down, in terms of my execution strategy. It was still not conceivable.

Many people, especially teenagers, have never experienced tap water running in their homes, so it sounded strange to them that somebody was coming with a promise that if they turned their taps after 180 days, they would get water. There are a couple of things we did to achieve that. Even before making the promise, we recognised that there were several procurements that had lead items, and those lead items, if we did not plan, may impact our delivery timeline.
So, what we did was to pre-order. Given my background and exposure, I had to begin to talk to the Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) way ahead of our swearing-in and get them to begin the production of some of the long lead items that we need because most of the procurement items are not off the shelf.
They are things that will be designed and built based on order. They have a minimum lead time, some extending to six months. How could we have possibly delivered in six months if some of the procurement items were not on the ground?  We did quite a number of pre-orders, and from the day we were sworn in, I made efforts to deliver on our promise.

How did you stabilise the security of the state?

It was quite interesting because it was almost like an anathema even to pronounce that. How dare you even come out to say you are banning sit-at- home? But for me, it was a realisation that we had the mandate of the people to serve them; and under our constitution that we swore to uphold, the provisions under the Directive Principles and Objectives of state policies, you see that the key objective of governance is for you to provide security and the well-being of the people.
So, security was a major thing, and there were two things we had to contend with: our oath of office, which imposes on us obligations, including the provision of security. Also, we realised that if we must achieve the growth level that we have proposed we must address insecurity. This is because there is just no way on earth the public sector alone will shoot up our GDP exponentially as we have proposed. A lot of this growth had been planned to come from the private sector and of course, we know that the private sector doesn’t know how to de-risk insecurity. They can derisk finance and commerciality. But when it comes to insecurity, that is your responsibility.

Those two reasons were quite fundamental and compelling for us. We said that if we fail in this, we might as well resign. So, it meant so much to us that we provide security, and our work is not done yet because as you are hitting these guys, they are also coming up with their strategies. But we have also taken some radical measures. Right here where we are seated is our Command and Control Centre where we will monitor activities in the state.
We are able to sit here and monitor what is going on in the entire state, starting from the Enugu metropolis in the first phase and it will be inaugurated soon. There are five key local governments that we consider dark spots, which we have also included in the first phase. The surveillance systems all have artificial intelligence embedded in them. You can have facial recognition of the people you capture on the camera and the number plate recognition. It is quite robust and a major leap in our fight against insecurity.

Most of your development projects are ward-based, like your 260 smart schools and healthcare projects. Why did you choose this as your model of development?

Our intervention in the education sector is unprecedented. I have not found anywhere where on the continent or elsewhere where the steps we are taking have been taken by one government within the timeline we set for ourselves. When we came in and saw the state of things, we could have decided to work on these things marginally or incrementally, like renovating schools and providing tables and chairs in areas where they were lacking.
But no, we felt that it was beyond infrastructure and that we had to announce a new dawn for the school children in Enugu. Firstly, we said that we needed to make sure that every child in this state had access to quality learning. If we achieve that, we want to have smart schools and make sure that these schools are in locations where every child can have access to them. It is not an elitist thing.

Could that be the reason you devoted a whooping 33 per cent of the 2024 budget to education?

Yes.  This is far higher than even the UNICEF standard of 15 and 20 percent recommendation.
For us, we believe that education is one of the strongest, if not the strongest weapon to fight against poverty. We know that the opportunity we give to the kids today will help us live in a sane society tomorrow, one that is safe and secure. What we essentially did was to have smart schools across the wards in Enugu state.
In each school, we introduced early child learning because basic education in Nigeria and globally demands that you have at least nine years of free education. But what we have done in Enugu state is going beyond that and providing 12 years of free and mandatory education.
From age three, we pick the index child and put that child through a pipeline of learning. So, they go through nursery, pre-primary 1 and 2 before they start their journey through primary school. From age three, the child is still very impressionable, and you can pour all the civic habits you want the child to grow with, teaching them personal development.

We have redesigned the curriculum. We also have experiential learning, migrating from the old method of teaching to what we refer to as experiential learning. We are setting up a Centre for Experiential Learning and Innovation where we have to get smart teachers. There are soft things you must put in place to be successful in the delivery of smart schools because it is not just about doing the infrastructure.
With the schools, these kids go through three years of early child learning, and what that also helps us to do is that the child will have the opportunity to be profiled. We do the health profile of the child because each school has a clinic and a resident nurse. After all, we are dealing with our rural poor. And this is the interesting thing that excites me about the smart school because it is a leveller; you are providing quality learning to those who have nothing.

We believe that taking the kids through this high level of quality learning can allow them to become the best versions of themselves. We hope to produce our own Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg from the children because the skills we teach them are what they need to compete across the globe: robotics, artificial intelligence, and mechatronics.

They are 260 and and in each smart school, the classroom has an interactive smart board with camera. The board is quite instructive because it has all sorts of learning instruction materials embedded. The teaching and learning aids that the teacher needs are all contained in the smart board. From primary 1, the kids have access to their tablets provided by the government.
They also have access to one balanced diet meal every day, over 300,000 of them. That is huge, but that is our future; if we don’t do it today, we will pay heavily in future. So, we have to decide to spend the money today and pay less for security tomorrow or pretend to be saving money and pay 100 times more to deal with security tomorrow. No child is left behind.

We are collapsing all the mushroom school blocks we had. Each smart school can take as many as 1,000 students. We are also providing two school buses for each smart school. Every child comes through the smart school.
We have done some analysis and discovered that in some wards, we may have to do more than one smart school just to accommodate the students because we know the number each school can take. Our goal is to make sure that no child of school age is left behind and not just that. We are making sure that no child of school age is denied access to quality learning. It is a world of difference.

You seem to be setting ambitious and far-reaching targets for your administration and challenging the people to hold you to account?

Let me say this, I understand when we have these doubts and when we have people express them and also criticise the way that we have expressed ourselves. But I am not so much worried because some of our followers may be going through some trauma, and the doubts may also be a function of that trauma, where they have come over the years to expect the barest minimum from their leaders. Now, hearing a leader say to them, ‘I am not just interested in taking you to where you want to go, I am interested in taking you to where you ought to be.’
And in my opinion, you are no less a person than a child in the UK or the US. It is the same thing with those who give instructions to the kids. If you are not qualified to teach my child, it will be unconscionable for me to still have you teach other children because the day I took this job, I became a father to millions of children.

So, for me, education is a life-long thing, and I also know the power of education. And most of the things we are dealing with today are because we have young people, who have no reason for hope and do not also have skills, and that is why they take to criminality as a venture. So, if our children go through the system, we will not have an 18-year-old, who does not have a skill.  
You cannot go through the quality of training we want to give to you from age three and at 18 you start looking for what to do. You can compete with your peers across the globe. So, even if you don’t have a job, you have reason for hope because you are equipped with the right skills to face the future.  

We are doing it in critical mass because we know that we have to churn out a minimum of 6,000 to 8,000 teachers in the next one year that are smart school teachers.

So, are you recruiting them?  

We are not just recruiting. We are training them aggressively. In fact, over six months ago, we developed a curriculum. By the way, we are getting a lot of support from overseas as well, in some of these future skills like mechatronics, robotics and all that. In fact, I have an SPA on education, who is an American. You can see that this support is enormous; she’s actually heading our drive on experiential learning, and that’s her expertise, she took a sabbatical to be able to help us with the work we’re doing here, and so we are quite deliberate.
This is not a kneejerk thing:’Oh, it is fanciful to do smart school, so go and start putting up the infrastructure without looking at the other details’. No, we have thought through it to the minutest details: the kids, and even the various activities to complement the curriculum we developed. We’ve also built all that, so if you go to the smart school that is functional and you see the kids, you will be amazed at how they have transformed within a period of six weeks, you will just be amazed.

So, when you see this transformation, whatever it takes you to find money to do this, you know that this is the future, investing in these kids. If these are the only thing we’ve done in the eight years of governance, we will be leaving with our heads very high.
Some people fear you are overpromising. You promised 10,000km of road in eight years, 1,000 per year. Is this possible, given the struggle of several states, and even the federal to keep up with road infrastructure needs? If they are able to do 1,000 in eight years, they will roll out the drums.
It is a challenge. The challenge may not even necessarily be with the funding, it will be with the number of factors, and we are pushing it. Look, in less than two months after our swearing-in, we awarded the contract for 71 city or urban roads and 10 rural roads and all those projects are going on. About 90 per cent of the city roads are almost done.

The rural roads are in different stages of completion, some of them still 65, 45 per centbecause they are quite a long stretch. We have one that is about 80km, we have another one 41km, we have 23km, 22km. These are quite some stretch. It takes some time to do these roads. As I said, the challenge with the execution, however, also has to do with the type of weather we have.

You know, I am now struggling to push the contractors to their limits to see how they think outside the box, how they are able to still do some minimal work even during the severe weather seasons like the rainy season. Unfortunately, we have to live with that six months in a year, which leaves us barely six months to deliver some of these things, but the strategy for us to accomplish as much as possible is to spread.
So, we’ve awarded the contract with quite spread, but the risk with that again, is that you are now faced with the construction risk. So, you need to increase your monitoring and quality assurance cost. You have to get in a lot of your team, who are meant to be doing other stuffs to now do the monitoring. So, they all come with their challenges, but are we determined.

You talked about strategy. We are working with the contractors. We are sitting down with them to talk about strategies on how we can help, so in some cases, you notice that we tend to pay the contractors more than the normal thing you will pay contractors as mobilization because there are two things we are trying to achieve: we want to avoid variation.

Secondly, we want them to procure all funds so that the cost is frozen. So, you don’t come tomorrow and tell me, ‘I have a cost overrun.’ We frontload some of this payment and say, ‘Look, mobilise as much as you can, get this thing done. If you are meant to do it in 18 months, do it in 12 months instead. How can we help you?’ In some cases, they say, ‘Pay us 70 per cent or so’, and we will give you a performance bond. We will give you a bank guarantee so that you have comfort that we will deliver, and if we don’t deliver, you call upon us.’
We are devising a different strategy to ensure that we accomplish a lot within a short space of time, and given all the challenges we have with the weather.

Tell us how much of the 1,000 kilometres’ target per year you have achieved in your nearly one year in office

Right now, we’ve done over 500km of road. Some of the challenges we had included the length of time it took to design these roads.  Again, it is not off the shelf. You don’t just pay the contractors and they move in. First of all, your team will design the road. You would go through the the process of detailed engineering design process, and then, of course, you would get a quantity surveyor to quantify those designs before you now invite bids. So, for all those processes, and given the time we had left, we would still push to achieve our target in that area.

You recently awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of  Hotel Presidential. Why are you reviving it? Why not just sell it to private business people? Is it the place of government to be running businesses?

On a lighter note, when we were campaigning, we didn’t tell the people to elect us that we would sell all their assets. We told them to elect us, that we would revive more moribund assets. That was a commitment we made to them. Therefore, if we have to change that, then we need to be able to explain to them. Why did we then promise?  It would mean that we didn’t even do our basic research. So, we were quite deliberate.  
A lot of these assets we are talking about are quite historical assets and they are of great economic and historic importance.  We felt that even if we wanted to sell them that they would have absolutely no value because whoever is coming to buy them would be thinking about just buying them, stripping them off and just selling them as scraps. Consequently, for us, it was not a strategy at all.  

I agree with you totally that government has no business running businesses; but we do have a responsibility to enable the private sector to come in, hence our strategy has always been a government-enabled but private sector-driven economy. But because of the state of some of these assets, if you bring in the private sector, they see all sorts of risks, and you are also faced with the risk that if you concession them at the stage that they are now or if you privatise them at the state that they are right now, they would all be just stripped off. They will not have the economic benefit that we will want them to have.

What do we then do? We then took the decision consistent with the promises we made to our people. We basically started investing in those assets to revive them. So, we’ve done the Hotel Presidential contract; that construction is ongoing; we hope that in the next 10 months, it will be fully operational.  We can then begin to talk about perhaps finding investors and whatever we have spent most likely, we are going to double it, because it now has value.
You are not just assessing it as a building, you are assessing it as a business because it is now a going concern, unlike what you would have done initially if we had gone into privatisation or concession straight away. They will just be looking at the asset valuation. But once we have it up and running, you will assess it not just based on the valuation, but also on the business value.  

We’ve done the same thing for the International Conference Centre. In less than six months, that too will be operational. They all tie into this whole module of enabling the environment and having the private sector to drive them. So, if you look at our airport, we are also interested in reviving the international wing of the airport. We are aggressively working with the Federal Government and it will soon be operational as well.

The cargo side of things too, we are trying to build a brand-new cargo terminal where we can take cargos. Therefore, you have warehouses and all that. Now if you are going to have your international wing of the airport working, you are going to have the ICC (International Conference Centre).  
So assuming you have 5,000 people coming into Enugu for a conference, do you have standard 5,000 keys that these people can use? So, if you followed up our activities today in our Executive Council, we have also just awarded a contract to build a five-star hotel by the Conference Centre, outside the Hotel Presidential, 380 rooms.  That one is also ongoing because ultimately if you are going to bring in all these other airliners to fly to Enugu, you need to be able to show that you have hotels where their crews can stay.  So, everything ties together.

You signed a N100 billion deal with Pragmatic Palms Limited to resuscitate the moribund United Palm Products Limited in Enugu. How does it tie into your economic plans for the state?

It is in line with the revamping of these moribund assets. Incidentally, the United Palm Products Limited has an asset of oil palm plantations that span across 6,700 hectares, and this was built by Michael Okpara. They were structured because we also had what used to be known as the Anambra Vegetable Oil Production Company today known as Enugu Vegetable Oil Production Company. All of those are not functional, and we do not think it is acceptable to have these humongous assets built by our forebears lying in waste.

Today, our deficit in terms of our consumption needs for palm oil is over 500,000 metric tons, which we have to import, and we are the fifth largest producer of palm oil in the world. Yet we still have a deficit. We are not producing enough to service our market. We are talking about an industry of over $70 billion.
Some countries like Indonesia make over $26 billion from the export of palm oil alone. This is more than half of what we generate from crude oil exports as a country. It is a big market out there. When we saw the opportunity to partner with the company and their business and investment plan, we felt that this was an opportunity worth exploring, and we went straight into it.

The discussion started in 2023, and I am glad that we have finally put pen to paper. We got a deal that was a win-win for both the state government and the   company. The state provided their plantation and land assets and got 40 per cent equity for an investment size of N100 billion, and the company will provide both equity and debt financing for the other balance of the money, and will have 60 per cent.
The governance structure also took care of the state’s interest because we are to nominate the chairman of the board whereas the company produces the CEO. It is going to be a seven-man board where the state has three members, and the company has four. It is a well-structured deal, and I am glad we could get that for the state.

But there were reactions that the company was only registered a few days before the signing of the deal and that the deal didn’t smell right.

That is a pathetic misconception, and that is because people express themselves without having a basic understanding of how transactions of this nature are designed. For businesses like this, the best strategy for getting into them is to have a Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) where all the investors subscribe and then have their interest recorded. Sometimes, you could have signed the contract before the SPV was even set up, and it does not invalidate the contract that you have signed or the fact that the SPV was just set up.

Even the Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) made provision for pre-incorporation contracts, and it is perfectly in order. It absorbs the contract for the company as though it existed before the incorporation. It is the best and most structured way of getting into transactions like this. The company in question is not a portfolio company. It has played and invested hugely, even in the space they are coming into now. They have about the biggest silo complexes in the country. They are the sole investors in the Onitsha River Port. They have invested in the hydropower project. We looked at their background and did advanced due diligence before we got into the agreement stage.

Where are you getting the funds for all these projects, or do you now print money?

No, we don’t print money. Ours is disruptive innovation. We said that we are going to disrupt the status quo. So the key disruption when we talked about disruptive innovation and all that was in two areas that were quite key. We knew that if we must achieve anything, we must disrupt our revenue module. So, we kept saying that we are going to disrupt our revenue module, we are going to be creative with our financing model, and we are going to think outside the box.  
Therefore, what we have done is to truly disrupt that revenue module.  Before we came in, the revenue of the state focused largely on revenue from the federation so the budget and a lot that happened were largely based on the flow of funds from the federation. They simply worked out how much they were expecting from the federation in any given year and everything then revolved around that. Therefore, we took a different view, we took a bold view of what we could achieve in terms of our revenue, so what we did was to look at how to enhance our internally generated revenue, what are those things we need to do.
So, first of all, we looked at how to block the leakages. We realised that quite a lot of leakages existed with the payment structure where people accept cash and all that. So, we made sure that payments are only made through the government payment platform and to the TSA.  Then we started looking at how to enhance our revenue, how do we expand the revenue net. Therefore, we also began to introduce electronic payment across different sectors. So if you take for example before we came in, some sectors where we generated about N100 million, today we are talking about billions.

For example, in the transport sector, before we came in, the revenue from that sector was barely N140 million annually. Today ,our budget for transport is over N13 billion, so imagine from generating a paltry N140 million to N13 billion. It is not magic. Also from land, before we came in, our revenue was anywhere around N801.2 million annually and was like that over the years. Our budget, our projection for land this year is over N100 billion. So, it is not that we are printing money, we are just making sure that we capture these revenues from wherever they are coming from and making sure that they are spent in the interest of the people.
Consequently, we are just spending the people’s money in their interest, first of all, capturing, making sure we amalgamate the funds wherever they are, making sure they get into the system so they are all captured and then we spend them prudently in the interest of the people.

How much was the internally generated revenue before now and how much are you generating today?

Before we came in, we were doing anywhere between N25 billion and N30 billion annually. So, the highest the state did before we came was N30 billion. But our projection this year is N287 billion, and we hope to hit that target.

Are you on the path to achieving that?

Yes. We have put a lot of things in place. So, we’ve moved from doing N1.5 billion monthly IGR to doing well over N5 billion now. The impact of the real things we’ve put in place, the impact will start being felt from May/June because they require planning, and we are doing all these NG now. We have the Enugu Geographic Information System. You know we just set up the agency. We are now setting up all the platforms.
The Land Use charge demand notices that were issued before we came in, was about 5,000 household units, but today, we have lined up to issue well over 800,000 demand notices. But you needed technology to drive these things. So, if we didn’t set up this Geographic Information System and property information system, you wouldn’t be able to know this thing. Those things will automatically generate this demand notice because you programmed them to do so, they are not human-driven. They are driven by technology.

You immediately took advantage of electricity deregulation. You were one of the first to set up your electricity commission and get NERC’s approval to devolve electricity supply. There are concerns that states should be cautious in rushing into that. What exactly was the motivation?

It is not rocket science. First of all, we welcomed the idea when the Electricity Act was signed into law in June last year. We knew that decentralising electricity production would be in the country’s best interest because the top-bottom approach we have used over the years have not really worked. What the act essentially did was to say we can actually build electricity from the peripheral, from the states, and that is essentially what we have taken advantage of.
To do that, there were some legal frameworks that we needed to put in place. For us, we enacted our electricity market Law and then, under the Law, in line with the Act, we needed to set up the Enugu Electricity Regulatory Commission. Under the Act, NERC is meant to devolve power to the commission. But the question is, what is the objective of this decentralisation of power generation and the entire value chain of power generation, transmission and distribution?

The whole essence is for us to say that it is unacceptable that a country of 230 million people has a generation capacity of 12,000 megawatts, and we are not even able to evacuate more than 6,000. You cannot service the London underground with just 6,000 megawatts. The New York Subway needs 11,000 megawatts to function, and we cannot boast of that as a country. That is why this Act is very good because I cannot complain as a governor.
It is now within my power to think through how I want to make sure that my people have a 24-hour power supply because I now have the right power to play in the generation, transmission and distribution. I can do an audit of the power needs of Enugu and say the state needs 1,000 megawatts of power supply to have reliable and sustainable power supply across the state. Then, we begin to think about the investment, and a number of these investments are bankable. We think about the generation, transmission,and distribution to the last man to ensure that all the gaps in the federal structure do not exist.
It is a welcome development, and I don’t think we are rushing it because the timelines were specified when you set up your regulatory commission; you have between 30 days for NERC to devolve power to them. From when that power is devolved to them, you need six months of transition. All that is built in. So, we expect that by October, we will have been fully transitioned into a full state regulatory commission. So, there are safety measures that are built into the Act to be able to stop you if you try to run too fast.

You promised a zero-poverty headcount in Enugu, some people are like i that possible? Now, tell us how do you plan to achieve that?

There are two measures we have taken. One is in the immediate and short term, while the second is in the medium to long term. In the immediate and short term, we are increasing our productivity in the agriculture space. We have built a land bank of over 300,000 hectares, and we are enhancing the productivity of our farmers. We are encouraging them to produce more, and we are not just producing, but also getting into partnerships with several processing companies.
We are in discussions with a private investor who is coming to set up an Integrated Produce City. We are also talking to one, who is coming to set up a Modular Processing Plant, and then again, we are one of the states that have been picked for the special agro-processing zone. We have gone far with that. We want to be able to guarantee food security. For us, agriculture is beyond food. We also see it as business and that is why there is  huge investment in the agro-industrialisation schemes that we have. We are doing quite a lot.

We are also procuring a lot of tractors and implements to support our farmers. 300,000 hectares is massive, and that is what we have been able to put together to enhance productivity and with the sort of activity going on in every ward where you have an investment of about N1 billion in the smart school and primary healthcare centres. What we are doing with the schools, we are also doing with primary healthcare through the construction of 260 type II primary healthcare centres, including the staff quarters. There will be water, hygiene and sanitation.
But let me finish with how we intend to achieve the poverty eradication. In the immediate to short term, we are enhancing our productivity, increasing our production level and supporting our farmers. In the medium to long term, we are using education and skills.
For us, it is education, education and education, and that will put the final nail in the coffin of poverty. By the time we have these young minds all skillfully equipped, they will not come to beg you for money. Even the problems we have today will be fixed because we would have invested hugely in them.

What is the need for the New Enugu City?

Enugu is choking. This is the Enugu we have had since the colonial masters designed it. Enugu has been the administrative hub of a lot of governments, beginning from the Eastern Region to the East-Central region, the old Anambra, and when we were with Ebonyi. Enugu hasalways played the role of an administrative headquarters. So, there are quite a lot of people outside the indigenes who have Enugu as their home.
We have always said that outside Lagos, Enugu is the most cosmopolitan city in the country, housing people from all ethnic groups. Some of them are fourth and fifth generation, who do not see themselves as coming from any other place outside Enugu. They all see home here. Now, Enugu needs to breathe. So, we are trying to extend the city. The difference is that we are going to have a new city, a modern and smart city. If it is worth doing at all, let us do it well.
I don’t see anywhere in the country that will compare to what we are doing there. It is going to be a serviced city; you don’t need to come in with your generator. Twenty-four hours of power will be provided; water, internet, and gas pipeline will be provided. Your sewage and everything will be taken care of. You just plug and play.

This interview can’t be rounded off without talking about the election. 3,000 votes made the difference during the Enugu governorship election. How did it go down so close, and what was going on in your mind?

We had always believed that our people would make the right decision. When we came out, we were very open to them. We told them in clear terms and challenged them to look at our backgrounds and not take our word for it; go and interrogate what we did for a living, and look at the intentions. The only way you can assess the veracity of what I am saying is by things that you can validate.
So, we asked the people not to take my word for it. I asked them to go and probe into my past and look at how I was able to grow a business from zero point to a market leader. Look at my source of wealth, all I have done, and the disruption I have made in the oil sector. We came in through a mature sector and a marketplace where you already had the incumbents and market leaders. Even getting some market share was a difficult thing.

For me to displace the incumbents and become the market leader would not have just taken a routine or incremental thinking model, but a disruptive innovation. We told our people that we would replicate the same thing we did in the private sector in the state and disrupt the status quo.
When it was time for the elections, we believed that we had given it our best and told them the truth as we knew it, and we just left everything to God and asked for the will of the one who ultimately makes a leader, to be done. It was a hard fought one, but we are glad that our people gave us their mandate to serve them

Reforms always elicit resistance from those who benefit from the status quo. Tell us what fightbacks you have experienced and how you are dealing with them?

I think our people are coming to terms with what we are doing because this disruptive innovation is not just something they hear but also touch and feel. Of course, you will have some pushback from people, who do not think this is in their best or personal interest. They naturally will push back. But I think that the more we move, they will see that we are committed; that we are not about to be distracted; the fact that every day is a new thing that is touching lives, and not about Peter Mbah.

But it will be uncomplimentary to conclude this interview without underscoring the fact that a lot of these things that we have been able to accomplish would not have been possible without my team. I feel eternally grateful to the kind of team that we have assembled to work with. As laudable as my vision and dreams can be, if we do not have the right people to execute with, we would still not be able to make the progress we have made. I give credit, a lot of it, to the team I am working with. They also get the pushback. But again because what keeps us awake at night and gives us our kick is the people, we will continue with it.

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