Ebonyi State Information Commissioner, Senator Samuel Onwe, has said that it was ridiculous to accuse South-East governors of compromise on the predicament of IPOB leader. He also spoke on other issues of interest.
The ruling party in your state, the PDP, is in the eye of the storm. There are two factions presently. What faction does your principal, Governor Umahi belong- Makarfi or Sheriff?
Ebonyi State is a PDP state by a margin that is far too huge to bother about factions. Faction exists in Abuja. If other people are struggling to belong to this or that faction, Ebonyi should, in fact, be wooed by the so-called Sheriff or Makarfi faction. I know that this is a bold statement but I make it with total confidence because I know it to be the entire truth. At the end of the ongoing voter registration exercise, the quantum of our figures will stun observers. Ebonyi has a population that can comfortably produce over 2.5 million eligible voters. That is the joker that matters. PDP leaders in their various domains and constituencies should see this as the priority rather than the bickering over factions. If the eleven PDP states can show the discipline and application of mind to register, mobilize and sufficiently motivate 30 million voters across the nation, which is more than possible as far as I am concerned, then factional rancour will wither in the shadow of superior franchise. He who commands the votes commands the levels of power. Partisanship is only important to the extent that you have the voting population to cross the finishing line and advance your agenda. Those who place raw partisan brinkmanship over and above the voting population are numbskulls. They don’t get it. The sterile sentimentality and shortsightedness of those slitting throats and bleeding out over a party office or working committee or such nonsense are nauseating, and, quite frankly, offensive to the sensibilities of many thinking but silent men and women in the PDP. Let the serious minded ones use this singular opportunity to mobilize and register 30 million voters and indoctrinate them and set carefully marshalled strategies in place to turn them out on any given election day, then you can very well lead them to Zebedee Party and still attain your electoral objectives. But of course no one will pay heed to this line of thinking until 2019 delivers another knockout punch to the party – and still these portfolio powerbrokers will remain heedless. It’s utterly mindboggling how people make deliberate and wilful choices against their own best interests.
Governor Umahi hardly talks to the press, is it that he is shy, nothing to talk about, disdain for the press or all of the above reasons?
Nothing could be farther from the truth. Just a few weeks ago, he gave an extensive interview to a national newspaper in which he touched on all aspects of our political economy – and I do not mean just about Ebonyi State but a panoramic take on the political, economic, security, religious and moral challenges of the entire federation. It was a tour de force. I challenge you to give me an example of one single governor amongst the 36 that has spoken directly to the press or granted more press interviews than the Governor of Ebonyi State. Such epithets as “shy”, “disdain”, “nothing to talk about” are completely alien to Governor Umahi. On the contrary, I find him to be bold, confident and assertive; he is also welcoming, accommodating, friendly and respectful; and he most definitely has plenty to talk about – and he talks down a roof! He has redefined the history of Ebonyi State through physical, psychological, developmental and social transformation. There are elements of these adjectives that only Ebonyians can truly understand and appreciate. But the rest are open for the world to see. For the very first time in the history of the state, Ebonyi has become assertive as a national player anchored on stupendous progress on the home front. I invite you to visit Ebonyi and see for yourself that the man has so much to talk about that pages of newspapers are infinitesimally small to contain.
The governor, including the other four governors in the South-East region, was accused of compromise as regards the predicament of the leader of IPOB and MASSOB. What is your take on that?
I can speak for Ebonyi State to the extent that it is my official duty to do so. If such an accusation exists, it is not only ridiculous but idle-minded, and can only be peddled by those who are perhaps ignorant of the facts in play and the varied nature of the solutions that were and are being evolved and pursued.
The Governor of Ebonyi State is the Chairman of the South East Governors Forum and I am a direct witness to some of the open and discreet efforts he and his brother governors in the region have made and continue to make in respect of the IPOB/MASSOB agitations and the intense pressure to secure the release of Mr Nnamdi Kanu. Does anyone with even a single brain cell think for one moment that the streets of Anambra would flow with the blood of innocent young men and women, mowed down by the bullets of overzealous federal operatives deranged by anti-Igbo impulses and the Governor of the state would simply turn and walk away as if nothing had happened? To draw such a conclusion is to believe that there is such a thing as a fried snowball! Look, on a strictly personal level, let me speak as an Igboman and a Nigerian citizen who has a pedigree in the intellectual discourse of the Igbo condition within the Federal Republic of Nigeria – research me on this subject. There are many shades of opinions and in the political field there are various and varying tactical styles to the game. The debate over the restructuring of the republic or devolution of powers or outright disintegration, so that each component part would fold inwards and project distinct identities as little republics is undoubtedly intensive and emotive. And once political and tribal emotions run riot, wild statements, accusations and vituperations gain ascendency. I can assure you that the governors of the South East of Nigeria are alert to the demands and aspirations of their people.
Rice production known as Ebonyi Rice is more pronounced among this government’s achievements, what is the unique selling point of this brand?
The biggest source of confidence for what the Umahi administration is doing in the area of rice production is the unwavering encouragement from the Federal Government, and from Mr President directly. He takes the success of the Ebonyi Rice programme personally- President Buhari, I mean. The unique selling point of Ebonyi Rice is that although our landmass is relatively small, only about 5.5 thousand square kilometres compared to, say, Kebbi which is nearly 37 thousand square kilometres or Nasarawa which is over 27 thousand square kilometres – I mention these states because if rice production in Nigeria is a competitive business, then they are our direct competitors – we have a much longer period of rainfall which feeds our extremely fertile swampy fields and thus sustains the production of prime quality rice. In other words, this allows us to produce rice that tastes better and far more nutritious. The Ebonyi Rice is also healthier because the quantum of synthetic fertilizer deployed by our farmers are so negligible that you get as close to organic rice as you are ever likely to get in Nigeria with the Ebonyi produce. The benefits of consuming non-chemically produced foods speak for themselves, especially in an age of cancer epidemic. We have also modernised our rice processing techniques and mechanisms so that the Abakaliki Rice which used to be called “stone-fest” is now celebrated. Our ambition is to produce just 10 percent of the total annual rice consumption of 5-6 million metric tons by Nigerians; a bulk of which is, disgracefully, imported. That translates to between 500,000 to 600,000 metric tons annually. Last year, we achieved 200,000 metric tons in circumstances where we were confined to wet season production only. Going forward, we are laying the foundations for irrigation infrastructure that will allow us cultivate in multiple cycles within any given year. Once this is achieved, we will be in a position by 2019 to double or even triple our self-assigned quota.