Ebonyi state was created alongside five others in 1996 by the late General Sanni Abacha.As the state clocks 25 years on October 1,2021, commissioner for Information and State Orientation in the state, Barr. Orji Uchenna Orji in an exclusive interview with LEADERSHIP Weekend, says the state has witnessed uncommon transformation, especially in the past 6 years administration of governor David Umahi. Excerpts:
Ebonyi state will be 25 years next month, October 1 to be precise, would you say the state is where it should be?
Looking at where Ebonyi was after its creation before the governor came on board in 2015 and the situation now, one would say that Ebonyi has got a blessing and a gift from God in the person and leadership of His Excellency, governor David Umahi who incidentally is the third civilian deputy governor and third civilian governor of the state. I can say that before he came on board, we had dearth of infrastructure and human capital which was why we had somewhat inferiority complex that time as a people having been neglected by years of government’s developmental programmes and of course the deliberate underdevelopment by other states where we were created from(Enugu and Abia). But today we are singing a song of freedom from the shackles of poverty and neglect. Today, we are celebrating leadership that has accomplished quite a lot of which I won’t bore you with the details but the accomplishments are there for all to see.
There are many ongoing projects the governor has embarked on in the state.With just two years to go, how does his excellency hope to complete them without leaving a burden for the incoming administration?
By his track record and his hallmark of achievements which is there for everybody to see, the governor does not promise and fail. During his campaign, he did promise to construct about 4-5 flyovers but today we have not less than 13 flyovers. He promised to build ecumenical centre and today he has completed the ecumenical centre that is much bigger than that of Abuja. So the other remaining projects he hasn’t completed by the power of God he will accomplish them because he does not believe in abandoning projects.
The activities of the proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra(IPOB) has impacted negatively on the economy of the South East region with the imposition of a sit-at-home order. As the chairman of the south east governors’ forum, what is the governor doing to contain the activities of this group?
There is nothing like sit-at- home order. IPOB actually is going against things that are allowed by government and it is not good for our people. Let me say that people are afraid to come out not because of compliance but because of the fear of the impact of the barrel of guns. Somebody can just jump out of the bush and begin to shoot at members of the public, innocent people and vulnerable persons. This is bad and it is condemnable and unacceptable by the people of Ebonyi state. Of course, Governor Umahi who is the chairman of South East governors’ forum has been in the forefront of the crusade against this needless mayhem against the people. It must be noted that this sit-at-home order is impacting very negatively on the economy of the people of the South East, we are doing ourselves harm and we have to say it. Everybody has his headache – there is banditry and Bokoharam in the north and if you expect Mr President to come and solve all the problems of insecurity we are not being fair to him and to ourselves. So we need to do something aggressively by sensitization and advocacy by letting the people know that it is better to embrace peace than to go to war because war is nobody’s friend.
Jobless youths are being used to perpetrate the heinous crimes of IPOB, what is the governor doing in terms of youth empowerment?
This is one of the cardinal programmes of the governor that he holds in very high esteem, that is empowering our youths and women. In 2015 when he came on board, he rolled out empowerment programmes .As we speak he is taking the lead in the area of enhancing the capacities of civil servants, workforce and even those in vocational trade and entrepreneurship. The governor started by giving out N750 million youth empowerment programme grants for 3000 people at N250,000 per person. He also gave out N130 million grants to Eboyians who were hawking in Lagos under what is called “Street-to-skill” empowerment programme. Through that the number of people hawking in Lagos who would have been vulnerable to all of these agitations issues have been taken away and today they are cruising in prosperity.
The governor also recently gave about 20 former office holders N5 million to go into businesses since they are not continuing with active appointments. The governor has turned Ebonyi into a construction site – every point in the state you see work going on and our local contractors are being patronised.
Ebonyi seems to have been able to manage the issue of insecurity among the states in the region. What is the secret?
The secret is the engagement processes of our dear governor. He believes in people – oriented governance. So when the #ENDSARS protest came and also the IPOB issue, the governor decided to reach out to the people by extending an olive branch. The original concept of IPOB has got nothing to do with brutal killings and burning of public properties. The people who have nothing doing are the ones taking advantage of the IPOB agitations to unleash mayhem on the people. Most importantly, we have a CCTV camera where we have a central view and I don’t think there is anywhere you can see that in Nigeria. You can see all the major junctions in the state and the metropolis of satellite towns under this CCTV camera. So whenever a crime is committed, the next day you see the person is arrested and that has given us a lot of advantage in tracking and cracking criminals and sorting out issues of criminalities.
With the clamour for rotational presidency to the South East region and the governor’s defection from PDP to APC, is the governor interested in the presidency?
I wonder why people are talking about the issue of the governor defecting to APC because he has an interest. I can say that people have their rights to profess any opinion but that does not in any way amount to the actual issue and so the truth of the matter is that governor Umahi believes in the philosophy of Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe, that is political mainstreaming. By his upbringing he believes that the president is the father of the country and of course must give him total 100 per cent loyalty. In 2015, the governor contested as the first deputy governor in history to become governor. He came under a very turbulent process when there was economic recession and the party at the centre lost but he still worked with the party at the centre by making sure that he was loyal.
In 1999, the PDP came on board and all the Igbos joined PDP but now that PDP is not at the centre would you continue to wallow in opposition? The answer is NO. So that is just the philosophy behind the governor going to the party at the centre because that has been the culture.
With two years to the end of his tenure, what legacies would the governor be leaving behind?
He is leaving behind the legacy of prudence, inclusive governance, being a bridge builder and a governor that came and transformed Ebonyi state to the economic hub of the South East.