From Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki
Ebonyi State governor Chief David Umahi has given clarifications on why he does not speak ill or criticise President Muhammadu Buhari and his government.
Speaking during a live media chat with senior editors in Abakaliki, the state capital, as part of activities to mark the nation’s 58 years independence anniversary and 22 years of the state’s creation, he said criticising President Buhari was not part of his duty as governor.
According to Umahi, although his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP), has every right to engage the president and his party on issues of governance, his personal relationship with Buhari would not let him throw darts at him.
He also spoke on other issues of national issues.
We have seen the beautification of Abakaliki, the roundabouts, the fountains and all that. They are beautiful. And personally, I like the touch of bricks in all that. But we know that in Nigeria, the problem is always maintenance. There’s no maintenance culture. What have you put in place to ensure that during your tenure and after these structures will maintain the same standard?
In engineering, when you are designing hydraulic structure, there is what is called self-pleasing velocity. What it means is that we build structures that will require minimum maintenance. That’s number one. Number two is that if we have maintained the infrastructure for the past three years, we are going to maintain them for another five years. The person that will succeed me will be ordained by God and will continue from where we stop. If he doesn’t, Ebonyi people will rise up against him.
I love what Ambassador Nwuruku said. He said that by the time I leave, if one street light goes off they would come and chase the person away. We have got to an irreversible point that the infrastructure we are putting in place, will be to maintain. So, Ebonyi people will not agree if this is not done.
Nigeria at 58 is largely divided along ethnic and religious lines and these are always manifesting during elections. What would you suggest for Nigeria to overcome these challenges?
It is very simple what we leaders should do. My Bible tells me that he that rules over people must rule with the fear of God. If we believe, as leaders, that it’s God that crowns a man and you lead all will be week. This is because by the fear of God men depart from evil. Some of these things are man-made. The common man is not interested in them. He wants two or three-square meals but when you want to vie for positions you can whip up sentiments, either religious or ethnic or clannish kind of sentiments.
My advice is that let us begin to see ourselves as one people. In this state, I send Christians on pilgrimage. I send Muslims on hajj. Muslims are in my administration. Christians are in my administration. Let’s begin to see ourselves as one people. I don’t believe that Christians will believe that their religion
is superior to that of the Muslims or Muslims believe that theirs is superior to that of the Christians. It is the Lord that judges. So, if we are all serving the same God then the judgment should be left to God. If we begin to see ourselves with love; if we begin to be equitable in share of resources, positions, and others in this country, we will begin to address this. This is because if we go through this for a few more years, it will be very difficult for our children not to toe the same line.
When we go outside this country, we see ourselves as one. Why are we not going to see ourselves as one in this country? There is something I used to tell our people. I said the person that has helped you the most may probably not be your father, brother or somebody from your place. It’s God that arranges destiny helpers. I will suggest strongly that we begin to see ourselves with the eyes of love. We should begin to feel God in our dealings with one another. We should begin to be equitable in sharing of resources and positions. We should begin to know that there is no one who is inferior or superior. We are all Nigerians.
Ebonyi is 22 years and you have been in power for more than three years. There were promises you made to the people of Ebonyi. You have fulfilled some of the promises. There are still some challenges. What are some of the outstanding issues that you have not been able to address?
To the glory of God, I will say that we have attained fulfilment of our promises to our people to the level of over 95 per cent and Ebonyi people are here to testify. But the whole success creates other challenges. So, the promises are now endless because as you solve one problem you get to others. And these promises will remain until we get to the Promised Land, until we get to the visions and missions of our founding fathers. This is very important.
Some of governors work very well during their first tenure and tend to go to bed as soon as they win second term. Some people are afraid that you might toe the same line if you’re re-elected. Would that be the case? What would be your priorities?
Actually, we are in a hurry to catch up with other states and surpass them because the vision is to make Ebonyi State to be one of the first best three economies in the country and to make our capital city the most beautiful.
I don’t think I have achieved that. I have just laid the foundation; I have to build on them. And so, to ensure that over 90 percent of our people are lifted out of poverty line; we create many millionaires and billionaires in the state. These are the visions; to have the most beautiful hospital that people from other nations can come to EbonyI State; to have the most beautiful and best equipped schools that other people from other nations would want to send their children to. So, these are the visions. We have not just started. We are just building our foundation. So, take it that this is like the massive foundation. The super structure is coming up.
Our second tenure is not going to be a sleeping second tenure. We are going to build on this foundation we have made. And anybody that tries to come on board after me, not these jobbers that are moving up and down, will have work to do. Some of those aspiring to be governors are not serious. Some are setting campaign begging funds in the social media. Many of them know what they are looking for. But if it is this job that they are looking for, when they go round Ebonyi, they have to ask themselves if they are really qualified to take up this job. So, it is going to be a very dutiful second tenure.
Earlier in your speech, you talked about revenue generation of Ebonyi State. The state’s allocation from the Federal Government is low according to you. From your speech, you are considerate in not taxing your people. And you spoke about the numerous projects your administration has done. How did you fund those projects?
I have said that in Nigeria, the cost of projects is the highest in the world. That is where our problem is. But fortunately, I was trained in civil engineering. I major in project management and cost benefit analysis of projects. I have been a contract. And so, I deploy all these. And with the calling and fear of God, a project that could cost any other state N500 million per kilometre, we do it between N100 and N150 million per kilometre. It will shock you to know that we do eight inches concrete road grade 40; engineers will understand what I mean by grade 40; our bridges are of grade 55 concrete mixture. And we follow the contractors with our daily cast concrete that we cast.
We also do destructive test on site after you cast this thing. So, some of the expatriates, the Chinese, they tell me that my price is small but I pay on time. The magic is that our price is low, our quality is high but we also pay on time. One of my detractors, my former SSG, said that we owe contractors in the state the sum of N53 billion. I want any contractor that is being owed N10 in the state to publish it in the newspaper and let the world see it. As we speak now, there is no certificate on my table that is not paid. So, this is what we are doing.
We have read so much about the conflicts between Ebonyi and Cross River State. We are also aware that your state has the Ministry of Conflict Resolutions and Border Peace. How has the government tried to tackle that problem?
In our conflict border peace, it’s actually for settling internal crisis of the state. They have the office of the Deputy Governor statutorily empowered to do this. I was a deputy governor and I walked very hard. The current deputy governor is working very hard in this regard. Just few months back, about two months, we had what I call the icing on the cake with the governor of Cross River State and I as well as our deputy governors agreeing on how to settle this case finally. And the agreement is that we should institute what we can look at as tribunal or arbitration panel. And so, Ebonyi people will prepare all their claims with supporting documents: colonial masters’ maps, judgments of Supreme Court, High Courts and everything and then package it and give to Cross River people. They will do the same thing. We will now study it and then appoint arbitrator, each of us.
The National Boundary Commission will be part of the arbitration. These arbitrators will go into meeting. The communities that are involved have also signed that whatever is the outcome of this arbitration will be acceptable to them. So, I think this is the way to go and I will recommend it to other states that are having similar problems so that you have power of attorney from the community leaders that whatever that comes out of this arbitration will be binding because lives were lost. And this crisis dates back to over 100 years. We are building about one kilometer bridge across Oferekpe in Ikwo Local Government and the Cross River governor is going to build the road to link to the existing there. Through that we also intermingle and show solidarity and love. The same thing we are doing in Afikpo axis. We are building 500m bridge to link ourselves to the Cross River people and they will build road. So, we have addressed the crisis in this regard. But the border peace and Fr. Nwali’s welfare department, statutorily, are to settle internal crisis and quarrels involving brothers, communities and local governments and so on and so forth. Let me give that honour to the former governor, Chief Martin Elechi. He is the one that created that ministry and we are maintaining it even though he is not with us. He is in the opposition.
You talked about opposition. You are of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) and at the federal level we have the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led government. But you have not been seen as attacking the Federal Government on its failures, but in the state you go after APC. Why is this?
I don’t believe as a governor I should be castigating the president. I have said this severally. Is Mr. President doing everything right? The answer is no. It is only God who can do everything right. It is not my duty to be castigating him. It is not my duty to rubbish him. He is the only boss that I have; but my first boss is my wife (laughs) before the president who is our overall boss. So, I will not castigate Mr. President. And there is nothing at the federal level that is not at the state level. State is a federating unit. Powers of the states are also enormous. The states have their own laws. And so, there are things that the Federal Government cannot do in any state. It is not because of fear but because I should not attack Mr. President. The president is the symbol of the country. The party can say anything against the president and other political parties. But if a governor should raise his voice and castigate the president, the international community will take it more seriously because the governor of a state is a mini president. This is very important.
Again, I am not ashamed to say that he is my friend. So, I maintain that, but it does not mean that I will not support my party and our ideologies.
This is very important. Again, you said back home, we are attacking APC. Well, here in Ebonyi State, we have pretenders who don’t mean well for our state. We have pretenders who have had the opportunity of lightening the burden of our people but they did not. They are not supporting Mr. President here. What they want is my job. And I won’t allow them to take the job because they don’t mean well. Those who have had the opportunity of being governors should tell us their legacies. When they go to Abuja they claim that they are on ground.
Let them do rally to show that they are on ground. Let them parade the leaders in the state that are backing them. So, they are looking for my job to still set the state backward. They are not supporting Mr. President. If they are supporting Mr. President I will know; but I will not fold my hands and allow them to take my job.