By Aidoghie Paulinus
Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe, has opened up on the strategies being adopted by the Ebonyi State Government towards uplifting the state.
Onwe said prudent management of the state’s resources and zero tolerance for corruption, have been responsible for the successes recorded by the administration of Governor Dave Umahi.
Among other issues, Onwe declared that there is no basis for comparison between the immediate past governor of the state, Chief Martins Elechi and Umahi.
Ebonyi State government targets 54,000 hectares for the 2016/2017 dry season farming. How is the state going about this?
Steadily and successfully! Every local government is expected to identify at least, 15,000 hectares of land to be put on the rice production. This is the only way in which the government would attain its target of producing at least, 10 percent of the total rice requirement in Nigeria.
The current consumption is six million metric tonnes of rice and Nigeria spent about $5 billion importing it. Ebonyi saw this as an opportunity. Producing 600,000 which represent 10 percent of the figures we are looking at would require at least 195,000 square hectares of land. So, the target is attainable. The step-by-step approach is probably what the Commissioner for Agriculture is talking about because this year, Ebonyi has successfully put about, 30,000 hectares of land under rice production and that is bound to step up next year and until we meet our target. And the current effort is to saturate Ebonyi so that we have domestic self sufficiency in rice production and then, expand outwards to identify other markets within the country.
During your media tour, you spoke about silos for grain storage which you said the Federal Government should allow the state to use. Have you made any move in that direction?
The governor has made direct request to the Minister of Agriculture and I am quite certain that the governor is highly respected within those quarters and I also know that the Minister of Agriculture is truly an honourable man. So, I think that would be sorted because it doesn’t serve anybody any purpose to have such fantastic, strategic facilities that lie in waste.
Ebonyi is also known for salt production. What is the government doing about that?
There is the Uburu Salt Lake, there is the Enyigba Salt Mine; there are strategies in place to make sure that every natural resource that exists in Ebonyi, is properly exploited. That is going to be a strategic step-by-step process. You can’t put all your fingers in your mouth at the same time.
Primary and secondary schools in Ebonyi are free and the country is in an economic recession. How are you able to fund it?
That is the prudence I have talked about. The governor is a very prudent manager of resources. You see, probably between Ekiti and Ebonyi, they vie for the last position on a monthly basis as to who comes last in federal allocations. The average allocation that goes to Ebonyi is about N2.1 billion, and that is in a good month. There were months it was not quite up to that. I remember that either in April or March, we received about N1,450,000,000 in allocation. But the elimination of waste and of course, the total and absolute zero tolerance for corruption has meant that every kobo that goes to Ebonyi is well utilized. That is why Ebonyi is still able to maintain school feeding, free education at primary and secondary levels, subvention to the university which is the highest in the whole of the South East, subvention to a college of education, subvention to all the 13 General hospitals and has consistently paid the 13th month to all the workers in Ebonyi State. And a couple of months ago, the workers’ salaries in Ebonyi state were increased by five percent. You can’t beat that.
How about the Internally Generated Revenue?
Very low! Less than N100 million a month! But with our efforts in the Agricultural sector, the prospects of hitting our target of at least N1 billion a month are very high.
What about tourism? Are you also looking toward that direction?
I think the efforts are there to expand it to first, natural or eco tourism, and the groundwork is ongoing. The Commissioner for Culture and Tourism is working hard in that regard. And as the months go by, all those efforts will be unfolding. But like I said, these are step-by-step strategic plans to lift Ebonyi.
Ebonyi under Elechi and Ebonyi under Umahi: what is the difference?
There is no comparison.
No basis for comparison?
No basis whatsoever for comparison. The government of Umahi is a government that is collegiate in nature. By that I mean it is consultative, all-embracing and focussed really in ensuring that the benefits of administration touch everyone, and the essence of open democratic participation is fully realised.
It is also a government that has a very deep sense of history. For the first time, Ebonyi State is going to have a state capital worthy of the name. The governor has constructed about 250 kilometres of roads in the capital, and along the trans-Saharan Africa highway that leads all the way from North Africa, through Nigeria, into Cameroun, passes through Abakaliki. There are about three flyovers being erected along that road and all three will be completed and deployed to full use within 2017.
In every single local government in Ebonyi, 13 of them, there are 15 kilometres of roads being constructed. And youth empowerment has never reached the impressive level it is at the moment. Women empowerment is exactly the same. So, you take all of these things, very challenging balancing act, and there is no cronyism, there is no family dynasty, and there is no outrageous disbursement of Ebonyi funds in the name of security votes. With all of these, I don’t see where I can even begin to make any comparison at all.
Prior to the 2015 elections in the state, there were different factions. Are you together at the moment?
Everybody is together. As I said, the governor is running a collegiate system of administration in Ebonyi. Of course, you will always find fringe elements in any established system of public administration, but by and large, they have pretty little impact except in isolated instances of notoriety or outright nuisance. The governor desires leadership by consent not by coercion. He has devoted enormous amount of energy and invested considerable political capital in creating a consensual political atmosphere in Ebonyi.
Security of lives and property: what measures have the government put in place?
The results would reflect whatever the measures are, which is to say, it has been a while since people heard of tragic tales of bloody events from Ebonyi. Apart from pockets of incidents which are to be expected in normal circumstances, however, what used to obtain is no more. The areas of notorious conflicts, the tragedy that happened in a place called Ezza/Ezillo in 2009, such matters have been effectively and finally resolved. The displaced communities are being settled by the Government of Ebonyi State because land has been carved out for them and it is being constructed like a modern settlement right now. By and large, the atmosphere of peace and security in the state is relatively superior.
What necessitated your media tour of Lagos?
It was long overdue. We needed to make an acquaintance with those who set the news agenda and to introduce the flagship economic programme of Ebonyi State, which is agriculture and in a reductive sense, rice production.
Apart from agriculture, how has Governor Umahi utilized the N8.4 billion loan he got?
Whether the figure you just quoted to me is correct or not, I am absolutely, 100 percent certain that every kobo he has borrowed, has been prudently, directly, effectively and relevantly spent. I have never met a man that is more prudent in financial management. And this is not propaganda because I made a point that the greatest gift that he has given to me as his Commissioner for Information, is not to convert me into a propagandist. I do not tell fiction, I tell it the way it is. Every single statement I make about the governor and government of Ebonyi State, are verifiable and touchable. Not just me making the claims that the whole country is astonished quite frankly by the rapid changes taking place in Ebonyi.