Bar. Uchenna Orji, the commissioner for Information, Ebonyi State, in this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, talks tough with boldness as he debunks critics and reels out Gov Umahi’s unmatched achievements in office. Here is an excerpts:
One of the fiercest critics of the Governor, Abia Onyike, alleged that the Governor is running a one man show, that he didn’t make use of permanent secretaries between 2015 and 2019. Is this true, and what was the reason for that?
Hon Orji says: Abia Onyike is a political outcast, who has lost grips of the people of Edda because of issues of morality. Each time, he has the habit of transferring aggression to the state government. We have no time to dissipate our energy on a man, who is drowning. On the issue of permanent secretaries, he is being unnecessarily mischievous and his claims are irresponsible and without foundation. Ebonyi State parades wonderful permanent secretaries who have been working with the governor till date. I don’t know whether he wants to be a permanent secretary. He was once a general manager after being a commissioner in the previous administration. He became a general manager of a government printing press, where he committed a lot of financial impropriety before he ran away. We are very unmindful of everything he has been saying since he left office as general manager, but his sins shall fish him out.
*If that is the case, why has the state government not put him on trial since?*
When the time comes, he will face the wrath of the law. We are not in the habit of witch-hunting, but his records are so dirty that if he continues this way, he may be forced to go and face the consequences of mismanagement of funds as the general manager of the government printing press by his own people, not the government.
*What is your reaction to the allegation that government contracts are awarded to the governor’s companies?*
This allegation comes often from Onyike. It is aimed at soiling the reputation of Ebonyi State government, but we have told him severally that all allegations and accusations are amount to total fabrications and absolute irresponsibility. They are without foundation. Ebonyi State is known for transparency, probity and accountability. We do direct labour and we also do contract jobs with due process that have nothing to do with the family of Gov. Umahi. But it is sheer hopelessness that makes Onyike to go from one media house to the other looking for attention. We know his problems and we leave him with his problems.
*Why has the state not enacted an anti-open grazing law?*
Onyike’s claim is fallacious!
I will appreciate it if you address the issues and leave Onyike’s personality out of it.
I am saying that his claims are fallacious. He is a man that I am not sure that he is completely balanced. Won’t I mention that? Every week, he goes about saying the same thing he said the last two years. Is that normal?
*You have said enough about his character and person. Let us address issues. The question is; what is the government doing to enact open grazing prohibition law?*
Ebonyi State has long enacted anti-open grazing law, even before the governors of Southeast had their resolution in Owerri and Southern Governors had theirs in Delta State. Ebonyi had enacted a law to prohibit open grazing in all parts of the state. What we did after the resolution of the Southern Governors’ Forum was to strengthen our laws to reflect strictly the resolutions of the Forum on anti-open grazing. And I invite Onyike to come to my office and I will give him the relevant laws. He has continued to raise allegations that are unfounded against the state government and we don’t want to join issues with him.
*In what ways is the state governor undermining the take-off of the regional security outfit, Ebube Agu?*
Ebube Agu has come to stay in the Southeast. As the commissioner for Information, I have the competence to speak about Ebonyi. We have Ebube Agu in the Southeast as part of the resolutions of the Southeast governors. And Ebonyi, being a federating unit has the outfit up and running. The government did consult with stakeholders – traditional rulers, religious leaders, town union leaders, and office holders in various communities. We have 140 communities. Government did recruit hundreds of youths and women who were trained by the conventional security outfits across the 140 autonomous communities, including the metropolis and satellite towns. They are working now. Their concentration is on intelligence and information gathering, collaboration and partnership with conventional security. Of course, the conventional security and the committee of the state government are supervising the activities and operations of Ebube Agu. As I speak with you, a lot of successes have been recorded because of the combined operations and intelligence gatherings between Ebube Agu and the conventional security outfits. On a daily basis, they make a lot of success.
The governor fortified the security architecture by providing CCTV cameras in major junctions in the metropolis and satellite towns. We have a viewing centre, but I will not tell you the location. The viewing centre is one of the best in Nigeria. If you are there, you will be seeing all the major junctions in the metropolis and satellite towns. That has helped the intelligence arm of the combined security outfit of both Ebube Agu and the conventional security organisations to police the state. Apart from the issue of pockets of violence arising because of political issues, Ebonyi has the lowest crime record. Apart from communal clashes that were disturbing our state before now, which the government has nipped in the bud, we have the lowest record of crime in the Southeast.
*Do you have a legal framework for the existence of Ebube Agu in Ebonyi state?*
We have our legal framework. Recall that before the resolution of the state governors to have Ebube Agu, each of the states had been mandated through the Houses of Assembly to make legislations that would have communality of effects; that is similarity of provisions of the laws of various states. Ebonyi State House of Assembly enacted a law on Ebube Agu. And that is what is guiding its operations. We have a framework and the framework has similar operations across the other states of the Southeast.
*What is the disposition of the state government on open grazing?*
Our law has said that there can’t be open grazing in Ebonyi. Even now, Ebonyi State has made similar legislation. So, what we did was to strengthen it to comply with the resolutions of the Southern Governors Forum. We are very clear about that. Open grazing is prohibited in Ebonyi State. It is not allowed.
*The governor is also accused of defecting to the APC to evade the EFCC probe?*
Whoever is saying that is doing so in bad faith. Such a critic doesn’t like progress. We belong to one progressive family of the APC because of the need to mainstream with the party at the centre, which you and I know has been the political culture of the southeast. If we are talking of leadership in Africa, Ebonyi State is a reference point. It is the centre of excellence. Our governor is known for accountability, transparency and probity. I’m just pretty sure that the critics, who are envious of what the governor is doing, chose to rely on abstractions. We want to tell them that the people of Ebonyi State are in total support and appreciation of the governor for what he has done. Before 2015, Ebonyi was the least developed state, but today, we are the shining light, not to the Southeast alone, but the entire federation. And anybody who likes good things will curse the man who speaks against the governor. The man has sleepless nights to make Ebonyi an emerging city. Today, we are proud that the governor has removed our inferiority complex and made us have a sense of self-worth and actualisation. We are all happy everywhere we go. We have a blessing in the person of our governor.
Whoever is talking about EFCC should kindly look elsewhere. For our governor, and us, we are happy and grateful to God for giving us a world-class leader – a man who came, saw and conquered. We have the best network of roads, just within six years, beating every other state in the Southeast. We have about 13 to 14 flyovers, coming first after Abuja and Lagos. Come to Ebonyi state, you will see Africa’s biggest shopping mall, housing about 5,000 shops, which are being redistributed to our people and investors who come to the state.
*Critics describe those projects as white elephants in the sense that the governor is not addressing public utilities such as pipe-borne water, health and education?*
It is like Onyike does not know the meaning of white elephant project. In the area of education, Ebonyi before 2015 was educationally less privileged. Today, the governor has launched us into the comity of the best 10 states in the federation in education. In 2017, NUC made an education analysis about the local governments in the whole federation with the highest number of people getting admission into university. A local government in Ebonyi State came first. In the same year, NUC made an assessment of medical students that took JAMB and somebody that came from Ebonyi came first in the whole federation. In the area of education, we have done quite a lot. An Ebonyi student can compete fantastically well with any other person from other states.
You talked about the issue of white elephant projects. I want to tell you that the person who raised the issue of white elephant project does not know the meaning. The idea of the governor is to create fascinating economic facilities that will create jobs to give our people the opportunity for self-reliance and sufficiency. The shopping mall is going to give not less than 10, 000 direct and indirect jobs to our people. And it is the best shopping mall in Africa. The airport is under construction and by the power of God, it will be completed next year. It is going to give a lot of jobs to our people. It is not just going to be an ordinary airport. It is fashioned after Abuja and Lagos international airports and our concept is Ethiopian air business. It will be generating a lot of revenues, employment and wealth.
The university of medical sciences is going to be a centre of excellence for the treatment of liver problems, cancer and heart diseases. It is going to be a centre of excellence for the management of dialysis, which we don’t have anywhere in Africa. Incidentally, it has been handed over to the Catholic Bishops conference for ownership and management. We believe in the discipline of these organised private sectors. We believe in the best standard that they can give.
The ecumenical centre is like heaven on earth. It is a multifunctional centre. Apart from providing for the spiritual enrichment of our people, it is going to be a money-spinner because it is going to be hosting international conferences and corporate meetings. The interesting thing about this is that our people who have spiritual issues, when they go to the ecumenical centre to seek the face of God, God will hear their prayers. So, it is one of our best legacies.
The governor made us have an 80 metric tonne capacity fertilizer blending plant, the biggest in the Southeast. It has engaged not less than 2,000 workers – direct and indirect jobs. And it is participating in the presidential rice initiative. Ebonyi is one of the three largest producers of rice, all of these empowered by our dear governor’s programmes on agriculture.
*What are the chances of APC retaining power in 2023?*
APC chances are very juicy. I will say that it is 100 per cent. Hundred percent in the sense that our people have said that wherever the governor goes, they shall go. This is because of the wonderful transformational leadership that the governor has led in Ebonyi. The real crème de la crème of the people in Ebonyi are with the governor. Again, what the PDP could not do for 16 years in the state, APC leadership at the centre did it between 2015 and 2018. So, we are at the right place. We are also at the progressive party. It is just a few people who are expired politicians like Abia Onyike that are crying foul and putting studs in the wheel of the state’s progress.