The All Progressives Congress (APC) just conducted ward congresses across the states and the elections were beset with crises and parallel executives. But the APC in Ebonyi state appeared to have done things differently. How was your governor able to do that?
Our governor is a man with great experience, whose passion as leader is second to none in the history of leadership in Ebonyi state. I tell you this because when he was party chairman under the PDP in the state, he reorganized the party and gave it the best face and eventually he built the biggest party office that has never been beaten till today in the whole of Africa.
So, being a governor from day one he believes in inclusive politics, he has a moral character of stooping low to conquer. He has a carriage that really absorbs the pressures of stakeholders at different levels. So, in this present case of APC congress, we did not expect anything less. He successfully held the ward congresses and even before the congresses were held, he had to do everything to ensure there was consensus. Everybody was carried along to ensure that anything that would bring about bitterness was eschewed. Most importantly, he allowed for transparency, zoning system and equitable distribution of the positions.
Before the governor joined the APC, the party was nowhere to be found in the state even up till now some people in the south east still believe that the party is a northern party. What are you doing to disabuse the minds of the people?
Let me start by saying that the South east is known for political mainstreaming, for belonging to the party at the center. We are not known for belonging to the opposition party at all. Look at the pre-1960 political developments and between 1960 and 1966, during the days of the National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC) and Action Group (AG). South east had always belonged to the party at the centre post 1960 the same even during the Republican government of 1963 and the presidential system of 1979. We always belong to the party at the centre.
So, if some people say that the APC is the party of the north, so be it. We had always at all time in the history of political governance, formed alliance with the north and we have always done that proudly. So, what is very important is that APC is having the majority of the states of the federation.
What in concrete terms has Ebonyi state benefited from the APC since the governor joined the party?
The history of the change of narrative in Ebonyi state, which started in 2015 and is continuing till today cannot be complete, cannot even be discussed or mentioned without the APC federal government. I tell you this because we had the PDP government for 16 good years (1999-2015) we had no infrastructure with the PDP, we had no human capital development, we were having inferiority complex because of the underdevelopment that we suffered under the PDP for 16 years. In 2015, being very patriotic, the governor had to contest under a party that was supposed to be at the center, that was PDP but the PDP collapsed from the Olympian heights woefully.
Even though the governor endured and stayed in the PDP, for the first tenure and part of second tenure, all the benefits that we got from the federal government that helped us were from the APC not the PDP. Today, we now have Ebonyi as the state with the best network of roads outside Abuja and Lagos because of the Federal allocation and other grants that we get from the APC federal government.
You have mentioned so many lofty programmes and policies that you benefited from the Federal Government. One would also like you explain how this infrastructure has benefited the people directly.
I cannot speak competently for the federal government and Nigeria as a whole. I can only speak authoritatively and competently for the new narrative we now enjoy in Ebony state. Before the governor came on board we suffered from an inferiority complex, Ebonyi was like a never do well state, where nothing good comes from. But today, Ebonyi state is a reference point in good governance.
Your Principal was said to have defected to the APC to actualize his ambition of becoming the President of Nigeria. But in what way will the APC provide that opportunity for him knowing that his region (south east) is not predominantly APC?
The governor is a man of inspiration whom God directs on what to do. He never was anything in politics before he became party chairman. But before then, he has accomplished a lot in the private sector. He was like an adviser even to leaders and people saw his innate abilities and called upon him to become party chairman.
When he was to contest as Deputy Governor to his governor it was the people that called upon him. When he became deputy governor even though he was one of the richest deputy governors, he stooped low. He was humble, he was a man of tenacity, he was very resilient, and he was cracking the hardest kernel for his boss. He eventually became the first deputy governor to become governor even when his boss said no.
Concerning his presidential ambition, for us in Ebonyi state, when we get to the bridge we shall cross it. The governor actually has a burden and that burden is how to launch the south east into where they are known. The governor wants to get us back to the mainstream. You saw what happened in 1999 when we were to produce the president; it eventually went to another zone. It is only fair at this point in time that the north having produced the president for eight years, the south west has produced and even the south- south has produced, it is the turn of the South east. If God says it will be, let me assure you that Governor Umahi will transform Nigeria in such a way and manner that the advanced countries of the world will marvel.
Governor Umahi is the chairman of the South East Governors Forum and the issues of the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) secessionist agitation, sit -at -home has troubled the region in recent times. As somebody aspiring to lead the country, what is he doing about the IPOB situation in the South East?
If you are saying that he is aspiring to lead the country, for us in Ebonyi that is our wish but when he speaks we shall hear and we will pray for him. But for now, he has not spoken. His attention is on how to deliver on his eight-year- mandate. Concerning the IPOB, what is the engagement process in the south east, what value has he brought to the engagement process being the chairman of the south east governors’ forum? In the first place you must know that the south east governors’ forum under him is the strongest zonal forum in the country in terms of the number of meetings, decisions and synergy and collaboration. This is because of the governor’s ability.
Umahi has been engaging his brother governors on how to peacefully talk to the IPOB agitators to lay down their arms. We have to appreciate that violence in any part of Nigeria will rather aggravate the situation of marginalization. Violence is the worst enemy of any nation. That has been the message of the south east governors to the people of IPOB and they (governors) don’t believe in militarization. They are disposed to peaceful engagement of the agitators, engagement with the traditional rulers to talk to their children, engagement with the religious leaders to talk to their congregation to see how we can understand that it is better to jaw-jaw than to war-war because war is nobody’s friend. JP Clark said ,”All are casualties of war.”
But unfortunately some of our brothers and sisters living abroad are in the habit of fanning these embers of violence by the way they fund some of these violent agitations. I want to assure them that war is no body’s friend, so we must lay down our arms.
It appears as if some of the decisions being taken by the Southern Governors, your governor has not found those decisions good enough to support them. For instance, the issue of open grazing, which the southern governors decided to outlaw within a stipulated time in the south and the issue of VAT, your governor seems to be standing alone but can he survive alone?
Ebonyi state is the first to enact a law against open grazing. Initially the governors had an Owerri Accord where the issue of open grazing was discussed. In Ebonyi state it has taken root. Our law was not a full blown anti-open grazing; we will not allow the cattle herders to come to Ebonyi by foot. The second thing is that cattle must be confined in an area, in a shifting kind of rearing where the community will give them a confined place. They were not meant to go by the roads. These were the issues about anti- open grazing and there was a state committee, which was replicated at the local government level to interface at all times to ensure that traditional herders resolved their issues with farmers. That was the situation before the issues of social media on hate speeches escalated tension that made the herders to pull out of Ebonyi.
Shortly after this, the governors of the south east had a meeting in Owerri that was the first place they discussed the issue of anti- open grazing, which then took them to the entire South. So, in the area of anti open grazing we have a clear and robust law on anti- open grazing than any other law on anti-open grazing in the south.
On the issue of VAT, the governor apart from VAT has an idea about restructuring and we stand by him as a people. It takes wisdom; it takes mental ability to have discernment like the governor has.
In the area of restructuring do you know that if we restructure the way they are talking, none of the states in the south east will be viable? The governor’s idea of restructuring is to identify areas where we have comparative advantage, and develop it. Let them delist solid mineral from the Exclusive List and develop it for us, let them develop agriculture. If we restructure now, oil will go to the states that have it.