Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Orji Uchenna Orji in this interview with CHIJIOKE AGWU, speaks on topical issues on governance and politics in the state.
Last year, at the end of the ENDSARS protests across the country, Governor Umahi earmarked 3 billion Naira for immediate empowerment of Ebonyi youths. What is the current state of the empowerment?
By God’s grace, the Ebonyi State government under the able leadership of Governor David Umahi, believes in the empowerment of the youths. It is in fact one of the cardinal programmes of this administration. And so, apart from the infrastructural development which is massive and unprecedented, in the area of human capital development, our governor believes in giving the people the mental and financial empowerment. So, the ENDSARS empowerment programme is real. The sum of 3 billion Naira was actually mapped out to empower the youth and women, those in entrepreneurship, the artisans, the craftsmen and many others. The ENDSARS empowerment programme is not limited to protesters alone. It is well out of it. Even those who did not protest at all. Even the civil servants, the journalists, Keke drivers as far as you can present a very robust business plan, you are a prospective beneficiary.
It has three stages; the first stage is for you to apply, be shortlisted, trained and after that you will be given between one million Naira or two million Naira as the case may be. So, we are looking at a minimum of 3000 persons benefiting from this empowerment. We are at the stage of looking at the business plans submitted by the applicants; after this stage the next is selection of a minimum of 200 persons per local government for a start. That is where we are. The just concluded ENDSARS Youth Summit was organized to prepare the minds of the youths on how to utilise the funds and other opportunities that are available for them in the state and the society at large.
The governor last year during a Business Summit held at the Ecumenical Centre said that by November 15, 2020, the Ebonyi shopping mall would have commenced operation. We are in April 2021 and that shopping mall is yet to be fully completed. What happened?
Yes, we had what we called Ebonyi Business Summit last year. It was an intensive summit aimed at brainstorming on the potentials of Ebonyi State in the areas of commerce, agriculture, health, and taking advantage of the various infrastructural facilities already provided by the governor. The government did plan as you said that the shopping mall should have been ready by November last year. But if you go to that mall, you will see that it is 99 per cent complete. It is being cleaned up now. Part of the process of allocation and occupation of the mall has started. People have been showing interest in the over 5000 modern shops there. So, it actually started in November, I mean the process of allocation and occupation. Now, what we are doing there is finishing touches and it will be ready for occupation soon. There is no delay at all.
The shopping mall is the biggest in Africa according to Murray Bruce and other well-travelled Nigerians who have visited the mall; so it requires thorough work. Apart from the mall, I must mention that we have other interesting business facilities like the International market, the Timber shade, the Building material markets and so many others. The idea of government is that we can through these avenues create the economy of the state. And the governor is working seriously to raise millionaires who will be importers and exporters and that will be what the Airport will help us to achieve. When the airport begins operation, people can fly in and out of the state from any part of the world and that will help the economy of the state.
The Effium intra –communal crisis has lingered for three months now with lives and property being lost daily. We are aware of the efforts of the government and security agencies towards returning peace in the community. Yet the crisis appears to be defying all measures. What is the government’s line of action?
While we are making every effort to ensure return of peace in that community, we believe that military action is not the best. So we are looking at having a roundtable with stakeholders from both sides. Severally, the government has invited these stakeholders and their various lineages in Ezza nation and Effium nation to see how they can talk to their people. And we are believing that the efforts are beginning to yield fruits even though lately we heard that there were pockets of attacks and counter attacks arising from false alarms and reactions to false alarms. We have evolved another measure; that is committing the stakeholders through writing to the peace of the land. Heavy security has been deployed to the community with a charge to play by the rules of engagement; we don’t want to lose lives in the course of seeking peace. We believe in using peaceful negotiations to end the crisis rather than resorting to clear drastic measures.
The governor is currently handling many gigantic projects that cost billions each, like the Ebonyi International Airport, the Ebonyi Olympic Stadium, the College of Medicine, Uburu, flyovers and many others. What is the possibility of delivering these projects before the politics of 2023 sets in?
Governor Umahi is a man of vision, a man of immense intellectual capacity, a man with mission. He is an accomplished leader who performed wonderfully well as a party chairman, Deputy Governor and now Governor. When he was a Deputy Governor, he was the richest in the country. He stooped low to conquer. Today he is the governor. He lined up his programmes from 2015. Initially he said he was going to do four flyovers but he ended erecting about 13 flyovers scattered across the state.When he came on board, few roads were motorable in the state, but today we have no fewer than 25 kilometers of concrete roads in each of the 13 local government areas of the state in addition to bridges and culverts. Our metropolis has been well tarred with concrete pavement.We have over 1500 state roads built by the state government, over 800 federal roads built by the state government. Why I am mentioning all these is to tell you that he actually promised to do them but ended up doing more than he promised. He promised to give us a befitting place of worship, best in Africa and that was exactly what he did. So for the remaining projects, what I can assure you is that he will complete them in record time. He is a man who believes that after election comes governance. Yes we have two years before politics will start again but that is enough time for him to achieve all he has set out to achieve. He is not distracted. He is focused. He has said that by the end of 2021, we should expect the first plane to land in Ebonyi. That is beautiful. He has also said that before he bows out, he is going to make the College of Medicine the Centre of excellence in cancer and liver diseases. And we are seeing it happening as the project is geometrically progressing. So, I believe that he is going to deliver all the projects he promised to deliver before his time is due.
Governor Umahi’s political son, Onyekachi Nwebonyi, who was leading a faction of the PDP resigned his membership of the party and joined APC. What is the political implication of this move for the APC government and the opposition PDP in the state?
Thank you for the question. Let it be noted that before his defection to the APC today, Nwebonyi remained the only authentic and substantive PDP chairman for Ebonyi State as elected by his party members and recognized by court of competent jurisdiction. However, his defection to APC is in line with the yearnings of Ndigbo that we should leave opposition to join national politics for the over all interest of the zone. That is why today, everywhere in the South East, you are hearing rumours of defection from PDP to APC. So Nwebonyi’s defection to the APC is not unexpected because it is the decision of the South East to mainstream at the national level.Very soon, you will hear PDP leaders and Governors joining APC.
He just responded to the yearnings of the people that PDP in Ebonyi should totally and comprehensively be collapsed. By the virtue of his defection to APC, there is no more PDP in Ebonyi as there was no faction of the party before now, unless the PDP at the national level takes steps to regularise that. So that is the import of his defection to APC. I must commend him for toeing the path of our founding fathers like Late Dr. Nnnamdi Azikiwe and our dear governor in ensuring that Ndigbo mainstream with the party at the centre. In the history of the South East, we never belonged to the opposition party. In pre-1960 NCNC and NDP, there was an alliance between South East and the North; the post Independence era where we had the first Governor-General. He had an alliance. He mainstreamed under NCNC with the Northern Peoples Congress(NPC). He mainstreamed. Unapologetically he did. In 1979,we had NPN at the centre and Ndigbo joined NPN; that was how our own late Dr. Alex Ekwueme became the Vice President. In 1999, the South East followed the party at the centre. But in 2015, that party collapsed like a badly built bridge. So, what do we do? Should we continue to wallow in darkness and confusion? The answer is no. So APC is where every South Easteners should go.