BY ADAMU TORO
For those who knew Ebonyi State and its capital city of Abakaliki before 2015 will be amazed when they go back there now.
The transformation that has taken place in “The Salt of the Nation’’ has turned the erstwhile rural state to the envy of anyone that values modernity.
What used to be a layback setting has been transformed into modern glistering state with state-of-the-art infrastructure within six years. The growing business and leisure will in no distant future completely take the shine off the older states in the South East and South-South.
The state is now replete with concrete highways, more than 13 new fly overs, Mega malls with more than 5,000 shops, and 8 international markets coupled with the aesthetic layouts, amusement centers, new industrial complex.
Turning Ebonyi to Dubai of a sort is a testimony that Governor David Umahi is definitely setting the pace of what visionary governance can achieve in a very short time.
Governor Umahi is an astute and successful business man who became a billionaire at the age of 25, having successfully operated mega civil engineering projects, a few years after graduating from the university. He has what could be termed “a Midas touch.”
Umahi’s rise to fame started in 2017 when he was made the acting chairman of the People Democratic Party (PDP); later served as the substantive chairman of the party and was Deputy Governor to Martin Elechi in 2011. His stints in both private and public sectors earned him sufficient experience the propelled him the moment he became a governor in 2015.
Aside being the smallest states in terms of landmass, Ebonyi also used to be the poorest and with one of the highest poverty rates. In fact, Ebonyi is listed as the fourth poorest in the federation because agriculture, being the backbone of the economy, was still at subsistence level.
Mindful of this, the Governor unveiled five key priority areas for his administration not only to lift majority of the people out of poverty but to make the state another hub in manufacturing and widen the commercial hub for agricultural production, ICT and renewable energy.
The five key areas are infrastructure development, quality education for citizens and non-citizens alike, robust health care system, vocational training for young people and modernization of agricultural system.
One of the major features of the agricultural revolution in the state is the complete mechanization and processing of produce. It acquired 13 bulldozers for land preparation, 40 tractors for planting and harvesting. It also introduced a programme known as “one farmer, one hectare’’ and presently has 53,000 registered farmers.
The government also made it compulsory for all civil servants and political appointees to be involved in agriculture, the minimum being the cultivation of at least one hectare. Under this programme N4 billion was set aside to enable the civil servants and political appointees have a “second address”.
To further make agriculture attractive, the government procured rice milling machines with 32 tonnes capacity per hour and six parboiling plants of 24 metric tonnes capacity per hour and to date, Ebonyi has the highest rice milling cluster in the world with 1,500 clusters, a Guinness book of record. Investment in rice production has turned the state to be one of the food baskets of the country. One other feature is that Ebonyi achieved a production capacity of 5 metric tonnes per hectare as against the 3 tonnes per hectare.
The state has also taken advantage of the Central Bank of Nigeria’s Anchor Borrowers Programme to further expand rice value chain that has enabled the profiling of 53,000 small holder farmers into the programme.This is in addition to investment in the establishment of fertilizer blending plant, the biggest in the South East, to ensure sufficient delivery of fertilizers to farmers is made on time.
There is a holistic approach to development in the state that ensures that the infrastructural development, agricultural revolution, human capital development in various vocational trainings as well as the expansion of educational opportunities for the youth and the elderly, in the form of access to education for both the young and the old, is all aimed at making Ebonyi a new hub of investment opportunities.
The infrastructural development and the environment is seen as sine qua non to the future of the state – there is now concrete roads to all parts of the state.
Each local government area gets a stretch of 25 kilometers of concrete road and street lights. In the capital, Abakiliki, and other major cities 800 kilometers of urban roads were constructed while 580 kilometers of federal roads were fully done.
The construction of the 3-kilometre light tunnel, called President Muhammadu Buhari light tunnel links to the biggest Ecumenical Centre in Africa, biggest shopping mall in Africa. The tunnel bears the new face of Ebonyi State and is a route to Nigeria’s most beautiful Government House, housing the Governor’s Lodge, Governor’s Office with modern Executive Council complex and Presidential Lodge. It also links to the new State Secretariat at the Centenary City.
The construction of Nigeria’s 3rd largest cargo and commercial airport in Abakaliki is to further open investment opportunity and exports of agricultural products to other neighbouring countries.
The brand new ultra-modern stadium and the construction of the three arms zone to house the executive, legislature and the judiciary is intended to ensure smooth and smart governance.
In empowerment, the governor made N750m available for youth and women empowerment. He introduced the Street to Skill programme for Ebonyians hawking in the street of Lagos and released N130million grant to empower them.
The state’s empowerment programme, “Ebonyi Stimulus Plan’’ entails identifying experts in ICT, medicine and teaching to train them and empower them to be self-reliant.
The government is expanding the ICT for e-commerce, e-governance and in the ease of doing business. Other empowerment programmes, include distribution of 400 tricycles worth N260 million to wheelbarrow pushers, repentant IPOB members and Okada riders free of charge.
It also rolled out widows’ empowerment with each widow given N100,000. Religious bodies were given N580 million for their members to go into farming as their second address.
Spouses of military and paramilitary personnel also benefitted from the go-back to land scheme with each beneficiary receiving N200,000 to farm.
In its education drive, the government established King David Special School for the exceptionally talented five students from each of the local government areas. The students, selected through several tests, are admitted and enjoy free education up to university level. Teachers in the school are on contract to ensure they do not go on strike as such the children receive the best education without disruption.
So far, Ebonyi has the one of the best results in the West African Examination Council (WAEC ).
Ebonyi has excelled is security. The state security architecture is built on social and security fortification. The social security is built around using state indigenes in all major constructions. Expatriates are not used in all the major construction projects in the state and the policy has enabled indigenous engineers, technicians, artisans to fully benefit ensuring no capital plight.
The appointment of one thousand technical assistants, executive assistants, all under the age of 45, is meant to monitor all government projects and mentor them for future progression.
The state also engages more than 4,000 youths and women under the neighborhood watch simply referred to as community policing.
Mindful of the state indigenes in other state, the governmentensure that those on legitimate business are well taken care of through extension of patronage and appointment and other related activities.
This big heart of Governor Umahi endears him not only to his own people but to all others in the South East by making him the chairman of the South East Governors forum.
His investment in new security architecture has earned the state lowest security profile in the country. The exemplary leadership qualities of Governor Umahi are what Nigeria requires to douse primordial acrimonies and the unnecessary agitation for restructuring.
Toro writes from Abuja.