UMAHI: IT’S NOT MY DUTY TO CASTIGATE BUHARI
Ebonyi State governor, Chief Dave Umahi, speaks in this interview on his three years in office, fight against corruption in the country and other salient issues.
Your administration is three years old. Can you tell us your achievements in these three years?
We have covenants with God, one of which is to look after the widows. So we took out our time to see to the welfare of the widows in the remote areas. We have placed about 250 widows on a monthly salary, we have also assembled up to 4,000 of them and gave them the sum of N100, 000 each for them to startup businesses of their choice and today, a greater number of them are doing very well. We now look out for our brothers and sisters, who are hawking on Lagos streets, we offered each of them about N250, 000 to resuscitate their welfare and to eliminate the caricatures on our state and today, the success story in our land is that a greater number of them are now employers of labor and have left the streets of Lagos.
We also looked at the poverty level in our state and we said we must empower our people. What we did was first, when other states were increasing school fees by 600 per cent was to reduce our own by 20 per cent.
We also increased the salaries of civil servants by five per cent. Within our first year in office, we paid the civil servants 13th month salary and every civil servant in Ebonyi State got 100 per cent of their salaries as bonus and so we look at it and observed that there is no amount of money you will pay civil servants that will be enough and so we try to find a way to initiate an empowerment programme for the civil servants, which we are the first in the nation to embark on, we raised the sum of N2 bilion and we approached the Bank of Industry and asked them to give us another N2 billion; that is N4 billion and we made it open for our civil servants to access this money as a loan which will be gradually deducted from their accounts within the space of five years at a meager interest rate of five per cent at a time were bank rate is 35 percent with so much processes and procedures and by next week, we will start disbursing this money.
We also decided to change the narratives of our people and so we did the same thing we did for the civil servants to generate the sum of N4 billion, which is accessible to all to get any amount of their choice within the limit of N20 million and use it to establish industries, factories and businesses in Ebonyi State whether you are from Ebonyi State or not as long as you will establish the business in Ebonyi State. We did not stop there, we began again to build roads but we learnt from our past experience where you build road before the end of your first tenure, they are all gone so, we began to build concrete roads.
Today, we have over 700kilometres of concrete roads successfully completed in Ebonyi State at a very meager amount. If you go to other states for verification, you will find out that 1kilometre of concrete road is constructed at about N300 million, but in Ebonyi State, a kilometer cost bout N150 million. As at today, our brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers can easily evacuate their agricultural produce because we have very durable concrete roads.We also moved to revive the night activities of our people, we have lighted up the capital city with street lights for up to 30 per cent and there is no LGA in Ebonyi State that does not have up to 6km road with street lights. We moved further in industrializing the state, we are building three industrial clusters in three industrial zones in the state targeting about 3000 industries and factories. The structures are already laid down, some industries are beginning to germinate there because we know that very soon the oil will not be able to generate enough for the whole federation.
How did you become the governor of the state?
Well, my being governor was not by choice but by divine calling. It came as a revelation from God to the Church of Christ, which I concurred positively. I started having the inspiration to lead when I was still very small. It was while I was still an engineer that I came in contact with the former governor, Dr. Sam Egwu, who found me fulfilling to his tasks. He invited me to be the chairman of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in the state. I was tempted to reject the invitation but later accepted it. I do remember that the 2007 election was horrific because I kept my duties plain and open. This led to the supporters of Ogbonnaya Onu to burn down my filling station, hotels and residence.
Upon all through these political hurdles, I was still supporting Chief Martin Elechi who was the then governor which led to my becoming the PDP Chairman. Consequently, I was still the chairman of PDP when Elechi invited me to his office and said something striking to me. He said: “Let’s not forget that you will be running the election with me as my deputy in 2011, and after that, I will hand over to you as the governor.” But for me then, my eyes were set on fostering pragmatic leadership and not on the promises, so I did not respond to that. Within an interval of one month, he called and reminded me that I have not given him an answer to his proposal. I had a rethink over it and I replied to him that it is an honour for him to have given me such opportunity and yet follow it up, so I accepted his offer.
You were Deputy Governor of the state before becoming the governor, what did you discover in the past administration in the state?
There are couples of things I learnt when I was the deputy to Governor Elechi. Firstly, I must say in all sincerity that in the first few years of his administration, he had the future of this state at heart and set developmental targets towards its welfare, he meant well for the state and I was very excited to work with him. Whatever that happened, I don’t know, but he started to be a judge at all times, nobody could advise him, nobody could tell him anything and he will listen to it but I was so humbled and obedient to his demands and instructions because, I was brought up from a family where respect, honesty and obedience must be ascribed to your elders and Chief Elechi is old enough to be my grandfather, so I made up my mind not to disobey him, not to quarrel him or betray him or discuss him in a bad light across anywhere.
They was so much capital flight in Ebonyi State, I am not sure that Chief Elechi had seen white people in his entire life, so he is always carried away whenever they bring these people. There was massive looting, so many funny contract jobs, the quality of the jobs was heartbreaking, road jobs that were done in the first tenure and will get damaged in the second tenure and today all the roads projects have all gone with his administration. By God’s Grace, I was able to interfere in some of these mismanagements to see to their improvements. Like the Oferekpe Water Scheme Project, there were fictitious variations, I saw the cankerworm and I went into the supervision which led to the present quality we have today. If Elechi had continued with the foundations laid by Dr. Sam Egwu, we wouldn’t have been where we are today.
You have been emphasizing agriculture as the only solution to the dwindling oil revenue, what have you done to make it attractive?
I must thank Mr. President for the agricultural revolution in the nation. When you look at the population of Nigeria, you will observe that it is growing very fast, it can be an advantage, it can also be a disadvantage and Ebonyi State is also growing. You know, it is not only that the population is growing but the needs are also growing but I said to myself, if China is able to carter for more than two billion of its population, then we can also do same, but the problem is the margin and so we embarked on massive agricultural development.
What is your view on the fight against corruption in the country?
There are certain aspects of our fight against corruption that I frown at. Oppression and victimization should not be allowed in our country. For example, if some people were called in a bank during the last general election and they were told you have N100 million from the party chairman, come and collect it and the person went innocently and collected that N100 million and used it the way the party leadership directed him to use it and was later told that that money was for arms. Nobody has been able to come out and tell us what happened to the launching that PDP did.
We must be able to separate fight against corruption from politics. Without tackling corruption, it is very difficult for our country to develop. Mr. President is a man of integrity, but we must also ensure that we have the fear of God in the fight against corruption. Let our fight against corruption not have any political colouration. I support that those who took our money should bring it back, but somebody should not wear a cloth today in the name of a political, very corrupt and now wear another cloth in another political party and become a saint. We adopted a proactive measure in the fight against corruption in our dear state and this is a method I will recommend for the fight against corruption in the country. We will resist every political intimidation using any agency of government at any level.
Ebonyi people are at home with this government and for those that are pretending that they are supporting the President, they just want to come and loot this state again. The lootings for eight years are nothing for them, we can’t be distracted and our books are ready and open. We are very committed, we are much focused. For those that believe that the only way they will know that I am in PDP is to castigate Mr. President, I will not because he is the only boss that I have. I will not do that not because Mr. President is not doing 100 per cent right, he is not God but because it is not my duty to castigate my boss. I face my business and it is not my duty to petition against the fraud of the past administration. I am focused; I am a child of God. I have a calling and I am committed.