Barrister Uchenna Orji, Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, in this interview with NNAMDI AKPA, declares that Governor Dave Umahi’s achievements in the state have positively impacted socio-political developments of the state.
Some say the movement of Governor David Umahi to APC is fuelling political instability in the state. Because he cannot take everybody in his former party along, they say Umahi is using subtle coercion and intimidation. Could that be correct?
We have long left PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) for a progressive party of national unity and the governor of Ebonyi State; Engineer David Nweze Umahi has proved that he is a man of vision. He sees the future even though he came on board 2015 on the platform of PDP.
Coincidentally, at a time PDP had a colossal collapse at the center, he was able to weather the storm, recorded unprecedented performance in the history of our state.
When the governor was to move to APC, he held wide consultations and some really appreciated his position in the circumstance, but out of sheer greed and desire to be king in PDP, some stayed back. We are really satisfied with the defection and with the level of support and solidarity for the governor.
I can tell you, when the governor was state chairman of PDP, there was no party office here; he built the biggest party secretariat in Africa. Those remnants in PDP are people looking for automatic tickets, having been rejected by their people due to nonperformance as National Assembly members.
When the time comes, the masses of our people would demand for what they have done. Our governor prefers to be loyal to the people rather than to a cabal, who thinks the money should be shared among them. So, I can tell you, there is no instability whatsoever in Ebonyi State. Is it instability in terms of development, in terms of good governance, or in terms of how the programmes are going on? What you call instability exist in the mouths of people who are frustrated and politicians lacking in vision.
Let them show us what they did when they had opportunity at the national level or even at the state level. We are waiting for them. The truth of the matter is that PDP has died a natural death in Ebonyi State, symbol of the state; the outstanding performer of our time has abandoned PDP. So, it has died naturally.
Can you draw a parallel between what is happening in Ebonyi State with what happened in Edo State, when the governor defected from APC to PDP?
Yes. Where a governor performs, you can’t rule out the influence of the Chief Executive in the political development of their state. The case of Edo with Governor Obaseki is an eye-opener. Ebonyi State is not going to be an exception, we have long abandoned PDP and now the entire apparatus of the party at the Local Government, state and the federal level belongs to APC. So, where will they get to campaign, where will they say they have done this before? We have had people at the National Assembly, who had opportunities for nine years, but couldn’t attract one-kilometer road. The people are taking note. There are also those, who during their time unleashed terror in the state. There were political killings and we saw it.
We we are going to deliver APC 100 percent in Ebonyi State. Do you know that today, APC in the Southeast is in the majority. We have APC in Ebonyi, Imo and of course, Anambra is going to be taken over by APC.
Already, we have a lot of bigwigs in APC in Abia and Enugu States. So, who is remaining? You can see, PDP is already in the minority. So, it is important that the governor did what he did so that all our people can be seen to have launched into the mainstream of national Politics.
In any given nation or state or society, we have leaders that give inspiration. Chief David Nweze Umahi is a man of inspiration. If you know the history of Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, he was also a man full of inspiration. He never for any reason allowed Southeast to be in the opposition.
The general perception is that Abakaliki has transformed from a rural setting to a modern urban centre. How did that change come about and at what cost?
The transformation in Ebonyi State is unprecedented. And this did not go without some level of leadership thought, high level of creative ability and ingenuity by the governor. Chief Umahi was a party chairman, a deputy governor and as such, he knows the state well, especially where the shoe pinches. In virtually every locality, he knows their problems and what critical infrastructure that must be fixed.
What is the essence, to attract investment, trade and increase economic activities. He resolved to build critical structures, including the shopping mall comprising over 5000 number modern shops, the biggest in Africa. Also, there is the international market with over 3000 number shops, the biggest in Southeast.
The Ecumenical Centre he put up is not only for spiritual enrichment, but also for social activities. That Ecumenical Centre has a sitting capacity of about 20,000 and attracts conferences, thereby triggering social-economic development of Ebonyi State.
Of course, it might interest you to know that in each local government, the governor ensured the construction of not less than five kilometer of roads. In addition, the governor ensured that every federal road connecting Ebonyi State was rehabilitated, some of which are concrete pavement. So, we now have about 1500 number state roads, including the satellite town, metropolis and across the rural communities.
In the area of Agriculture, we have the One hectare programme, mechanization and commercialization programme and the issue of empowerment of people through agriculture, whether at the primary, secondary or tertiary level of agriculture. The governor believes that through Agriculture, we can create jobs, be self-sufficient and self-reliant, thereby positively engaging the teaming youths and graduates, who are roaming the streets.
What did he do apart from the commercialization and mechanization of agriculture? He procured 13 number bulldozers, one each per Local Government Council. He procured tractors not less than 30 and gave to Co-operatives and procured Seeders, Trans planters, Harvesters. In addition to these, he had to revamp the rice milling plants. We have the Youth Empowerment programme, where the governor deployed 750 million naira for the empowerment of youths and women. The grant is free of charge and 250,000 per 3000 beneficiaries.
The governor also went to the Clergy (the Religious) and said there could be temptation if they don’t have a second address. So, he introduced this second address system for religious bodies and gave them half a billion naira (500,000.000); 5008 of them got hundred thousand and they were trained only in agriculture.
The governor also looked at the lot of the widows, those in businesses and those in agriculture and gave them #100,000 each (a total of 4,300 widows). They deployed this money into agriculture. This has really increased their living standards.
Ebonyi rice used to be rated as one of the best locally produced species in the country. What is the state’s vision for the entire rice value chain?
Our state has the highest number of private rice milling clusters. About 1500 number clusters of privately-owned rice milling plants, but when the governor came, he felt we should take advantage of this comparative advantage in processing, not only in cultivation or in planting. So he increased the capacity of the rice milling plants.
As at today, we have 32 metric tonnes capacity-per-hour rice mill and parboiling, that is a plant that cooks the rice and now fits the rice mill for it to be processed into head rice and other value chain rice, including the by-products, like the rice pram used in doing indomie.
So, the governor thinks that with this new initiative of rice milling process, a lot of value chain businesses could be attracted around the milling plant. Ebonyi State is one of the three largest producers of rice.
In the rice processing value chain, we are the leading state, with the highest number of rice milling plants. Today, we are supplying the rice need of Southeast, South-South and even North-Central. Of course, we have a lot of partnerships in the sense that we can procure rice-paddy from the North, from Nasarawa, Jigawa and we come here to mill it. When we mill, we sell to every part of the country and it is paying off. It is also adding impetus to the economic development initiative of our government.
Ebonyi used to be a peaceful, agrarian setting, but now urban crimes are being reported frequently, including some that look like politically induced crimes. What went wrong?
Today, criminality has reduced, apart from the communal crisis, which is understandable. We know why and that’s because of herder-farmer or because of ownership disputation of land arising from the need to deploy it for economic development, everybody is now guiding his land jealously, because the governor has really opened up everywhere.
Ebonyi State still remains one of the most peaceful states in the federation. Go to the IGP’s crime record, there is no record that has that, it’s a perception, which is instigated and insinuated by enemies of the current administration. They have seen, they cannot say the governor is not working and so they will rely on ‘Ebonyi is Biafra’, they will rely on false news from social media, but let them go to the actual record, Ebonyi is one of the most crime-free states up till now.
Based on the lime, salt and other mineral deposits in Ebonyi, what is your investment drive for exploration and production?
I can tell you, apart from agriculture, we have comparative advantage in solid mineral. But, solid mineral is under the exclusive list of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and under the policy direction of our governor, we feel that solid mineral is better exploited through the private sector investment process. That is why the governor feels that it is more critical to make the environment conductive through opening up of rural roads.
Our 20kilometer street lights in every Local Government gives security and synergy, coupled with creating enabling legislature that will trigger investment. So, what we did was to ensure we attracted investors through mining.
Today, we are known to be a state with the best rock, best chippings in Africa. So, all of these things, even our salt deposit, we feel that Federal Government and Donor Agencies should help us, because we are not going to be good managers if we go into the solid mineral development process.
Being among states with very low Federation Account earnings, what is the state’s asset holding stature and monthly IGR value?
When the governor came on board, he inherited a state with the lowest IGR, lowest federal allocation profile, where the whole of the workforce is more of Civil Servants. Everybody just believed that it’s only through white-collar job that we can make ends meet or earn our living.
So, the governor started creating some long lasting facilities. One of them is the International Airport; this international airport is sitting on a 4kilometer by 4kilometer land, including a 3.5kilometer runway. It is fashioned after the Abuja International Airport and the business idea is modeled after Ethiopia Airlines, that is, we are looking at the value chain in the Ethiopian Airline.