In this interview, the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation *Hon (Barr) Orji Uchenna Orji* speaks on the developmental strides the State Governor Engineer David Nweze Umahi, ranching and the proposed Presidential visit to Ebonyi. He also reveals that the remaining two years of Umahi’s administration will be fruitful in fulfilling the vision of transforming Ebonyi to a global state.Here is excerpts:
*Hon Commissioner, you mentioned the Fertilizer blending plant and Rice Mill projects while you were explaining something earlier. Kindly give us further insights into how Ebonyi State has been benefiting from the FG’s intervention funds. There some accusations that South East Governors are not accessing the intervention funds. How through is it?*
Before I go into that, I need to also say that this is one of the major reasons we commend Mr. President. We have never had this kind of intervention funds under any other party before he came on board. And so now under President Muhammadu Buhari GCFR, CBN is giving a lot of interventions in Agriculture.
I can assure you Ebonyi State Government has been taking advantage of those interventions. I can’t speak of any other state but it has helped us. Today we profile not less than 53,000 farmers on a yearly basis to participate in a lot of Presidential agricultural and empowerment programmes and state Programmes. The CBN offers Anchor-Borrowers Programme and that has helped Ebonyi State to profile our farmers. CBN also offers Commercial Agricultural Credit Scheme as a programme and it has also helped Ebonyi State to queue into mechanization programmes of the State government. That is mechanization and commercialization programme of Ebonyi State government.
As we speak, we have a lot of social intervention programmes; the N-power Programme, the GEEP Programme and many others; including other humanitarian programmes of the Federal Government. Ebonyi State government does queue into it and takes advantage of it and it has helped us a lot. Apart from this, many agencies have also given Ebonyi State a clean bill of health in many fronts and that has helped Ebonyi State to have the latitude to access a lot of funding, grants and other facilities that will help to develop Ebonyi State.
*What is your state’s position on the issue of state governments collecting VAT as opposed to FG?*
For us we will allow the court to decide on the matter. We as a state are obedient to the rule of law, also we comply with the principles of checks and balances, separation of powers as contained in the Nigeria’s constitution. We are known for obedience to the principles of constitutionalism. And constitutionalism entails that judicial decisions must be obeyed. So, when the final court in the land speaks, we will take it as a rule of law. And again we believe in exclusive and concurrent legislative powers and so by the time the final court decides on the matter, we will abide. For now we cannot speak on a matter that is before a court of competent jurisdiction more so when we are not parties to it.
*There are calls for Governor Umahi to run for Presidency 2023. How ready is he? Is he thinking in that direction?*
Our Governor, His Engr David Nweze Umahi has severally mentioned that individual opinions can go ahead but he should be left alone in the discussion of who becomes President in 2023. This is to ensure he is not distracted in any way in his delivery of good governance for the good people of Ebonyi State; likewise other people in his administration. I think also we should help them by not inflaming the whole polity with all of these questions. But one thing that is clear to all of us is that God is still in charge of this country. As we are all crying in one way or the other, God will continue to see that our cries are heard. I think that we should encourage the present administration to do its best both at the Federal and State levels so that when we get to the bridge we will cross it. But honestly we have had so many people who are looking out for performance index of the various jurisdictions at the state levels and many of them are actually saying that Governor Umahi has done tremendously well and can change the nation’s narrative the way he did in Ebonyi State if he becomes President And I give it to them. Honestly there is no way you will see a good thing without commending it. Before 2015, Ebonyi State was one state that was not appealing to anyone to visit but today, anyone that visits Ebonyi will definitely love to come back again. It has become a reference point in the area of good governance. It is a flagship of excellence in terms of ingenuity in administration. So, I think that we should continue to put Nigeria in prayers and also seek the face of God in everything especially in helping us to anchor the future very well.
Also we need to pray that God raises for Himself a man that will come after the current administration. Actually we are looking at a man that will come and make all the desired difference. Honestly it is possible and that is why we abhor all forms of destructions both to public facilities and private facilities in the name of agitations. I think that with God on the side of Nigeria, tomorrow will be better. Also, when the time comes, God will speak to him and he will speak to the relevant persons. God is still in charge of the affairs of men. He did it in Ebonyi State and He can do much more for Nigeria. Today in Ebonyi we are happy; clapping hands for giving us a good man to lead us.
*How feasible is the quest for presidency by the Southeast in 2023?*
The Presidency of this country is the doing of Nigerians. That is the dream of the South East. A very clear message is that equity is brotherliness; is confidence, is all about living together. So, it is the wish of the Southeast that at this point in our history, southeast should produce the President of the Federal Republic. That is going to be giving a sense of belonging to all the parts of the country. While we know that Southeast has given a fair share of their support to every part of this country, this time around, every part of the country should give southeast that kind of support to produce the next President. This is because the PDP has been at the centre for 16 years. South Easterners dominated that party. They gave their support to the first President in this dispensation, His Excellency, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo. I also know that they have continued to support Mr. President and much more South Easterners have continued to defect to APC; the party at the centre. So, we support Mr. President in all that he is doing. We know that he is also equitable in terms of distribution of social amenities and empowerment programmes. So, we have a duty to support him. That support will also give confidence to Mr. President to give an opportunity to the Southeast in 2023.
*Does Ebonyi State believe that the sit-at-home order has been instigated by some people is hurting the economy of the region? How is your government managing the whole situation?*
We strongly share the opinion that the order is hurting the economy of the entire south east region. Sincerely, I cannot quantify the economic loss but if this continues, that means we are gradually making the south east a laughing stock in the country. I must say this; other geo-political zones are watching us and we are unwittingly digging our graves because when we have to cause untold hardship to south east, hunger everywhere and investors running away from the region that means we will be shooting ourselves on the leg without knowing. I am beginning to feel ashamed that those who are not in the corridors of power are clapping their hands that our schools are being destroyed and school children being chased away and not allowed to take their examinations . We are beginning to feel ashamed that when those who are not holding political positions are fanning the embers of hatred, calling people names and we don’t know that we are hurting ourselves. For goodness sake, this Presidency has once rotated to the south and now it is in the north. We should encourage the current administration to end in peace. Give him constructive criticism because what is good for the goose is also good for the gander. I think that the earlier we understand that if we treat ourselves like scapegoat we are truly going to suffer it.
I am joining millions of well-meaning Ndi Igbo all over the world to talk to our people especially those who are staying abroad and are supporting violence and sit at home. They should know that their families are still here. Gun has no friend. The -sit -at-home compliance is borne out of fear of people losing their lives. It is for the fear of gun that is why a number of people are sitting at home. Our people are now beginning to realise that there is no need attacking one another. We commend our brothers and sisters who are beginning to understand this. We are calling on others to go about doing their normal businesses. We cannot kill ourselves in the name of agitation.
Also, since the IPOB agitations heightened, the government of Ebonyi State under His Excellency, David Umahi, has been working hard interfacing with necessary stakeholders including actors in this agitation to see how everybody can talk to those agitating and causing violent attacks to lay down their arms and embrace peace and engage government most constructively on whatever issues they are agitating for. Government has also moved beyond the state level and gone to the rural communities to interface with traditional rulers and religious leaders to see how we can identify these brothers and sisters who have been brainwashed into believing that violence is what it takes to achieve the agitation.
So far, Ebonyi is relatively peaceful and calm. The sit-at-home, to an average Ebonyian, is not from the relevant authority and the order cannot be obeyed. To an average Ebonyian, it is only government that has the power to order for sit-at-home or impose restrictions in the interest of the safety of the people, the interest of the health of the people, the interest of the security of the people. No organisation has that kind of mandate.
However, it is still a bit hard to get everybody to see the need to go about their businesses. This is because the barrel of gun is nobody’s friend. Nobody knows where it would come from and when it would come. But with advocacy and sensitisation programme we think that everybody will get to know that the so called sit-at-home order is not in the interest of the economy of the South East. It is not in the interest of the social existence of our people. So, we will continue to work hard to ensure that people have this understanding. We believe that constructive engagement will work. We believe that security agencies should be on their feet to work day and night to secure the lives and properties of the people. This is very important.
Above all, education is critical. They should know that this situation will not augur well for the future of our state and our region. We the leaders and the led, those inside and outside government have a collective duty to secure the lives and properties of our people, to secure the future of our people. The only way to do that is by being obedient to government of the day and not to adhere to those organisations or those that are threat to the peace, security and economic development of our zone.
*To what extent is the Governor partnering with Ohanaeze Ndigbo towards ensuring a common front and purpose in achieving igbo interest?*
We are working together with Ohanaeze Ndigbo in many fronts. The Chairman of South East Forum is up and doing. He is known for having a strong synergy,stooping low to conquer and a team player. Also, he is very creative in whatever he does. The Ohanaeze Ndigbo under the leadership of Ambassador George Obiozor is doing well and trying to galvanize the support of the leaderships of various jurisdictions within the south east to see how we can tackle the issues of marginalization in a very peaceful manner. Ohanaeze Ndigbo has also been interfacing with the forum of South East governors, religious leaders, traditional leaders and all stakeholders on the way forward in the problems that we have found ourselves. The greatest problem we have now is not marginalization but a deliberate attempt to destroy South East, its economies and social existence. While other regions are battling with banditry and Boko haram, we ourselves that should be very knowledgeable are now battling with the issues of violent attacks on our people in broad daylight. This is not good. We need to know that South East is not the only part in Nigeria that is saying they are being marginalized. So we need to show wisdom in all of these things. We need to also engage peacefully. We need to live to fight again. We should not destroy ourselves.
*Why , in your opinion did the security outfit of the South East; Ebubeagu fail to take off thus necessitating the governors of the region to want to retool the structure yet again?*
Ebubeagu has taken off in earnest. I am going to speak for Ebonyi State because I am not Commissioner for South East. In Ebonyi State, we have over 4,000 Ebubeagu officials who are duly trained. Their area of concentration is on intelligence gathering, information gathering, effective operational collaboration with security agencies and that has reduced crime. Today, we have a very low crime rate in Ebonyi State. This is brought about by the way and manner Ebubeagu is working. Ebubeagu is in each of the communities. It has units in each of the communities; 140 communities in Ebonyi State. At the local government levels, they have their units. They have worked effectively with the police and recorded successes in nipping security issues in the bud. Ebubeagu has come to stay and it is working effectively in the state where I come from.
*What about anti-open grazing……*
It is the decision of the Southern Governors’ Forum at ensuring the protection of farmers from the activities of unguarded and wild herdsmen. Before now, we have been living together with the herdsmen. We believe that in as much as you have your legitimate business, you have the right to be anywhere unhindered. But the recent attacks and counter-attacks where herdsmen were fingered, especially the foreign herdsmen who invaded the country made the anti-open grazing law to come up to checkmate the activities of criminal herdsmen. It is only correct that herdsmen should be made to stay in a confined place. In Ebonyi State, before the resolution of the Southern Governors’ Forum, we had had our laws and our Executive Orders that no cattle should enter Ebonyi State by foot and that herdsmen should be confined to a particular place and that they should not move in the night. We believe we should let businesses conform to the law of the state. That way there will be no victor, no vanquished.