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…if we must get this country right, we should look for people like Governor David Nweze Umahi
Interviews

…if we must get this country right, we should look for people like Governor David Nweze Umahi 

I say this with tears of joy, that if we must get this country right, we should look for people like Governor David Nweze Umahi—-Hon. Barr. Uchenna Orji

Hon. Barr. Orji Uchenna Orji is the Honorable Commissioner for Information in Ebonyi State. He had previously served the state in different capacities. In this chat with The Pacesetter Frontier Magazine Team at his office in Abakaliki, Ebonyi state, he bares his mind on issues relating to the state, with emphasis on what is believed to be the developmental strides of the Governor, Chief Engr. Dave Nweze Umahi (Akubaraoha).

PFM: Tell us about yourself

Commissioner: My name is Orji Uchenna Orji. I’m from Ivo Local Government Area of Ebonyi State. I’m a graduate of Law. From 2007-2011, I was the Member representing my constituency in the Ebonyi State House of Assembly. I was, at the time, the Chief Whip of the House as well as the Chairman, House Committee on Justice and Judiciary. I also served as the Chairman, House Committee on Finance and Appropriation. As God would have it, I have served in some other capacities. Between 2014-2015, I served as a Board Member, West African Examination Council, Member, Administrative and Finance Committee, West African Examination Council and Council Member, West African Examination Council. Between 2015-2017, I served as the Honorable Commissioner for Agriculture & Natural Resources, Ebonyi State. From 2017-2019, I also served as the Honorable Commissioner for Empowerment & Job Creation in Ebonyi State. The Ministry is now known as the Ministry of Human Capital Development & Monitoring. Presently I am the Honorable Commissioner for Information & State Orientation.

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PFM: Let’s look at Ebonyi State as one of the youngest states in the country. Ebonyi seems to be the new kid in the block, with the news of rapid developments sweeping across the state. Give us an insight into what is actually happening in the State.

Commissioner: Prior to 2015 when Governor Umahi declared his intention to run for Governor, he was deserted by people. He was called all sorts of names for the reason that he had that ambition, but God came in his fulness and said touch not my anointed and do my prophet no harm. What we saw was a neglected person becoming popular and he emerged the Governor of Ebonyi state. He became governor at a time when we had the worst of economic recession so he began doing things differently. When you take a look at his first inaugural speech and match it with what is happening in the state, you will know that he’s a special creature God gave to us. He’s from Uburu, the community with the highest salt deposit in Nigeria, from where Ebonyi garnered the Salt of the Nation motto, which at a time was corrupted to Dust of the Nation. Today, under his watch, we having Ebonyi as truly the Salt of the Nation. For me, his coming is very symbolic. Do you know that today, with the exception of Lagos and Abuja, Ebonyi has the highest number of flyovers in the country? The type you have in Enugu are not flyovers but pedestrian bridges. Some of these flyovers built by Umahi are 23-25 span, dualized flyovers, that all kinds of trucks and heavy-duty vehicles can ply. The one in Anambra can’t be plied by these heavy vehicles. He’s building thirteen dualized flyovers, of an average of 23 span at all the major junctions of the state. He built a beauty spot in the state- the biggest light tunnel in the whole of Africa and he named it after President Muhammadu Buhari. Cited close to the light tunnel is the biggest ecumenical centre in Africa, built by him. Again, cited close to this ecumenical centre is a mall built by him.

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When Senator Ben Bruce came, he confirmed it to be the biggest in Africa. Still close to this light tunnel, there are three flyovers, apart from each other at a driving time of 3 minutes. One of the flyovers connects the biggest international market in the South East, bigger than what we have in Onitsha, being built by this administration. It was started by the previous administration but he considered what was there to be inferior so he began afresh. Apart from Abuja & Lagos, I can tell you that in the whole federation, Ebonyi has the highest number of good network of roads. He builds these roads using what is called concrete pavements, with a guaranty of 50 years. With this concept, he has built 25km roads in all the LGs in the state, with a plan that all roads in both the rural and urban areas will be pliable. It doesn’t matter to him that a particular road is designated a federal road, so these roads built have improved the economic advantages of the state. As much as Human capital development is important, he believes that the environment should be such that man can thrive in, just like God first created the garden before creating man to dwell in it.

PFM: But beyond all these infrastructural developments, Ebonyians complain that they have been starved while roads are built. Don’t you think that Human capital development can work simultaneously with infrastructural developments?

Commissioner: Recall I said I was Commissioner for Human Capital Development for a time so I can tell you authoritatively what this administration has done in that regards. The governor identifies human capital development as a process of mentoring the people mentally, financially, morally, etc. so that you have the capacity and audacity of purpose to be self reliant. He is the first governor in the present crop of governors to create a full Ministry to oversee human capital development. The governor began with a training for women and youths, at the end of which they were asked to come up with a business plan and 3000 persons with interesting plans were given a grant of N250,000 each totaling seven hundred & fifty million naira. He went to Lagos and noticed that most of the hawkers were Ebonyians so he profiled 520 hawkers and trained them. At the end of the training, he gave them a grant of N250,000 each, totaling one hundred & thirty million naira, in a program he called Street to Skill Empowerment Program. Today, the hawkers of Ebonyi origin in Lagos have drastically reduced. Before IPOB had issues with the leadership of South East, the government of Anambra accused Ebonyians of being the bulk of IPOB members and championing their activities. To abate that, the governor procured 450 tricycles and gave out to the youths that were previously barrow pushers. At a time 4,300 widows in Ebonyi were trained and given one hundred thousand naira each; this is in addition to the N5000 he has been paying each of these widows every month for the past 5years. For civil servants, the governor mapped out four billion naira for what he called Second Agro Scheme for civil servants to assess between N300,000-N1,500,000 for use in Agric related activities. For the clergy, irrespective of religion, he mapped out N508,000,000 to be used to for Agric related business. The governor also introduced what was called Wives of Security Officials Empowerment Program, not minding that most of the security officials are from the North and some from the West, and gave 403 wives of security officials a grant of N200,000 each to go into Agric related programs. The list is quite long; even the market women, he gave them about N150,000,000. All of these monies were given as grants, apart from that of the civil servants. We keyed into the CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Program and every other FG intervention program because we enjoy a good relationship with the FG. Our governor respects the President as his Boss. Ebonyi doesn’t engage foreigners in most of the construction jobs done-we use our people- and of course, the governor’s definition of an Ebonyian is anyone who lives or does business in Ebonyi,

irrespective of your state of origin. As part of the human capital development, the governor also introduced Mentorship programs. Ebonyi has the highest number of State Exco members, about 106 excos, in comparison to other SE states. International Best Practices may tell you this isn’t the best but there’s a reason the governor encouraged that. The idea is for these young men and women to understudy good governance as it is in the state today, through mentorship and participation. There are about 1000 Technical Assistants seriously working for the state by supervising different sectors and learning what service is really about; they are paid over N100,000 monthly as salary. As part of the human capital development, in Education, before this government came onboard, we were classified as being educationally less privileged. Since 2017 till date, an LG in Ebonyi has always had the highest number of matriculants in the 774 LGAs of the country according to a ranking by NUC. In maternal mortality ratio, World Bank has ranked Ebonyi state above average. Those who are saying the governor has abandoned human capital development just want to whip up sentiments. Human capital development can’t be seen but the impact is always felt so they think that because it is abstract, they can convince people against the governor. The impact of this sector has made Ebonyi the state with the lowest insecurity profile in the South East. The development in Ebonyi has boosted the confidence of the average Ebonyian whom hitherto felt inferior because he or she hails from Ebonyi and I think that this is the best achievement in the human capital sector. Governor Umahi creates wealth, he has a midas touch. As a deputy governor, the then governor always entrusted him with hard nuts to crack. As a PDP state chairman, he was the best party chairman in Nigeria and the chairman of the forum of party chairmen in Nigeria and he built the biggest party office in the whole of Africa for PDP. In addition to being the Chairman of the SE Governors Forum, he’s also the Co-Chairman of the Southern Governors Forum.

PFM: Let’s look at Agriculture. Does Ebonyi state government have plans to engage in all year farming through providing facilities for irrigation?

Commissioner: When we came onboard, we looked at areas of comparative advantage for Ebonyi and we selected Rice and Cassava as the primary commodities. We wanted to engage in the dry & wet season rice production but we had challenges arising from the issues of irrigation, river basins and all of that. We are working with the Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Federal Ministry of Water Resources to see how to develop our irrigation facilities. We now had to invest heavily in processing facilities. To boost our rice production, we procured 13 bulldozers and 40 tractors to mechanize the process. We now have the highest numbers of rice processing mills in Africa. The state-owned rice mill produces 24 metric tonnes of rice per hour and this is responsible for the over 500,000 metric tonnes of rice we produce, ranking among the 3 highest rice producers in the country. We also have parboiling plants that turn out 32 metric tonnes of rice per hour.

PFM: Considering the education sector, you previously said that anyone who leaves in Ebonyi is classifies as a citizen but we have reports that the state university has a fee for indigenes, different from that of non-indigenes. How does one reconcile this with your earlier stance?

Commissioner: I want you to get the facts straight. You must be comprehensive in your assessment. In primary and post primary schools, we have full control but in tertiary institutions we don’t have full control. What we give is intervention so we reduce school fees for indigenes by intervention- they pay a part and we pay the other part. So, when we say indigenes, we mean those resident in Ebonyi and you know that residency is established over a period of time. If you gain admission into Ebonyi State University, and you just come to Ebonyi to school, you are not a resident. Staying for a certain umber of years qualifies you as a resident of Ebonyi. See in Ebonyi, our governor does not discriminate. A native of Anambra is the Commissioner for Youths and Sports in Ebonyi state. We have much persons from other states holding one appointment or the other.

PFM: There has been this much touted rumor of Governor Umahi wanting to run for President. Now that he has decamped to the All Progressives Congress, what do we expect, especially since he gave his reasons for decamping as being in the interest of the Igbo people?

Commissioner: When we get to that bridge, we shall cross it but let me tell you one thing. I say this with tears of joy, that if we must get this country right, we should look for people like Governor David Nweze Umahi. This country is very wealthy and if you want the fortunes of this country to be turned around, look for his likes. The President General of Ohaneze Ndi Igbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo said that the kind of character Governor Umahi has is such that what any other state will do with five naira, he will do with one naira. Is it not time we let such persons lead this country? If the governor touches the kind of resources in Nigeria, if he has such resources at his disposal, the situation will change that even U.S will marvel. So, when we get to the bridge, we will cross it but the truth must be said that this man is nationalistic. He is not doing these things in the state because of what he may want at the national level. He’s educationally sound, he has strong negotiation skills and he is so passionate. I remember traveling with him to China and while we were in the train, he was looking at the level of developments there. The next thing I saw was that my governor bowed his head and I heard him speak in tongues. In between the tongues, he said God help me transform Ebonyi state to be like this. In Ebonyi today, we have the highest number of water fountains in any state in the country. The kind of street lights we have in this state works for 12 hours non-stop, yet they are powered with diesel, even Abuja & Lagos doesn’t have them. He supervises projects round the clock and makes such that all projects are delivered professionally and up to standard. People who come to work in Ebonyi don’t come to amass wealth, they come to work and make modest gains. He was the first to procure electronic tricycles under the zero-oil economy. He had delivered a lecture on this at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka. In Ebonyi, we already have a college where we learn how to fabricate tricycles and we have empowered about 50 women with electronic tricycles.

PFM: Honorable Commissioner, we were informed that since this year, the governor has paid salaries just once. Is the state government using the salaries of civil servants to do all these?

Commissioner: I’m going to answer your question by calling a civil servant in this Ministry to provide the answer [presses his office bell. A civil servant steps in shortly to answer the bell with the following questions from the Commissioner following suit while the Team watches and listens;
Commissioner: Accountant, have you received your salary for the month?
Accountant: Yes
Commissioner: Ah Ah! How come you didn’t inform me?
Accountant: Everybody has received theirs too.
Commissioner: Okay, you can go.
At the end of this, the conversation continues with the Team.]
I want to let you know that we used to pay our salaries by the 15th of every month but civil servants complained that receiving the salaries at the middle of the month left them empty by the month’s end. When it got to the governor’s attention, the date was changed to 24th of every month. He also pays the 13th month bonus. The governor is building an airport that is being fashioned after the Abuja and Lagos airports and he plans to complete this before the expiration of his tenure. He is achieving all these quietly without much noise. We are building an executive council that will be the highest in the South East. The governor is building a medical college in Uburu and all these things are done with the little resources the state has, but which are properly allocated.

PFM: We appreciate the time.

Commissioner: Thank you for finding time to report the activities of our state.

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