Commissioner for Information and State Orientation in Ebonyi State, Orji Uchenna Orji, has attributed the phenomenal development and transformation taking place in Ebonyi State to the uncommon leadership disposition of Governor Dave Umahi. In this interview, he said the state governor has executed so many projects which have brought enormous developments and transformation to Ebonyi State.
What have been your experiences and challenges as the chief spokesman of Ebonyi State?
At the ministry of Information and State Orientation in Ebonyi State, our core mandate entails proper information dissemination management. Essentially, we ensure our people are adequately informed about the progress of projects and developments being undertaken by the Ebonyi State government, which are aimed at transforming the state and bettering the lives of our people. Also, it is our responsibility to bring about an efficient and effective information management, especially in this age of social media. Simply put, it is the responsibility of the ministry to positively promote and create the necessary awareness about all these developments and transformations going on in the state, to our citizens and other people, within and beyond the shores of the nation. This also requires us to galvanise all the support of the entire populace from all nooks and crannies of the state. Therefore, to enable us achieve the desired results, we ensure that we reach out and articulate all the commitments and support of all the information officers in government ministries and departments, on the best ways to articulate and inform the citizens about the uncommon developments and transformations being championed by our dear governor, Dave Umahi. So far, and by the grace of God, we are delivering on our mandate. Also, as the acting commissioner for human capital development in Ebonyi State, we have continued to ensure that we deliver on the mental empowerment, the psychological empowerment, the moral empowerment, the financial empowerment and other forms of empowerment targeted at bettering the lives of the people of Ebonyi State. Though every government has the challenges of funds, but essentially Governor Dave Umahi has done tremendously well. Honestly, he has been very supportive and inspirational in ensuring that the mandate given to us in this ministry is well delivered to the benefit of the people. As a matter of fact, the Umahi administration has executed so many projects in the state, which have brought enormous developments and transformations in Ebonyi State. Today, anywhere you go to in the state, you can easily see smiles on the faces of the citizens, which no doubt is a clear expression of joy and happiness about the giant strides taking place in Ebonyi under the Gov. Dave Umahi administration.
In view of the remarkable transformation in Ebonyi State by the present administration, what would you say is responsible for the developmental drive of Umahi?
Simply put, I would like to summarise it with the three Es of leadership attributes of our dear governor; one is education, the second is experience and the third is exposure. These three Es are the guiding principles behind this phenomenal transformation that Ebonyi State is witnessing today under the leadership of Umahi. Above all, the propelling force is the passion, and that is what basically differentiates him from other leaders. Before 2015, Ebonyi was referred to as the dust of the nation. Also during this period, the state was known to have people with inferiority complex. Again, before 2015, Ebonyi was known to have people without mission, vision and ambition in life, and her youths were seen hawking along the streets and roads of major cities in the country. Before 2015, infrastructure in the state was in deficit, human capital was very low and security was very fragile.
But when Umahi was elected as the governor of Ebonyi State, he came on board with rich experience as a former state chairman of PDP, and as a former deputy governor of the state, who has toured all nooks and crannies of the state to acquaint himself with the problems and challenges facing the people in various parts of the state. And given the many battles he fought on his way to becoming the state governor, especially the strong opposition mounted by the then governor, Chief Elechi, who unsuccessfully tried to stop him, Umahi was fully determined and passionate to change the narratives of the state, and transform Ebonyi into a modern state and even the best in the country. Thus, he came out with a multifaceted developmental blueprint targeting every area of need in the state. He embarked on aggressive roads construction, urban renewal, ensuring quality healthcare delivery system, ensuring efficient electricity supply, ensuring rural development, ensuring proper security system for the protection of lives and property of the citizens, amongst others. He also ensured that human capital development and job creation, and agricultural and infrastructural development are given top priorities by his administration. Among other firsts, Umahi pioneered the construction of 8-inch concrete roads in the country, and ensured that every local government benefits from this new technology in roads construction. It is instructive to know that if you google the map of Africa today, you will see a small light pinpointing on the exact spot where Ebonyi State is located, while such cannot be said of other states or cities in Africa. Today, Ebonyi has the best road networks in the country, and whether you are coming from Cross-River State, Abia State, Enugu State or Benue, you will see how smooth and solid these roads are. Though these are federal roads, but the governor did not wait for the Federal Government to rehabilitate or reconstruct them. He embarked on doing these roads in order to ensure free flow of traffic along these roads. All the roads built by the government are standard roads and guaranteed for 50 years. Though Ebonyi is one of the new states in Nigeria, but due to the able leadership of Umahi, we now have three modern fly-overs in Abakaliki, the state capital. These fly-overs are the most modern and the very best in the country today. It is pertinent to note that our hard working governor will be constructing additional 8 fly-overs across the three senatorial zones in the state, in order to take development nearer to the people, and to ensure easy flow of traffic across the state. In order to beautify the state capital and make it aesthetic, in line with government’s policy on urban renewal, Abakaliki today has not less than 12 water-fountains and related designs. These water-fountains are so beautiful, and great sight to behold while driving around the state capital, with the potentials of attracting the creative industry and other investors to the state. The governor also built the biggest water-fountain in Africa, which is under the magnificent Mohammadu Buhari Light Tunnel, and which also is the longest tunnel in Africa today. Within the same area, Umahi’s government also built the magnificent Ecumenical Centre, which has over 10,000 sitting capacity main bowl, and therefore the biggest in Africa. This is the biggest Ecumenical Centre ever to be built by any government in Africa. Perhaps, you need to see it with your eyes in order to truly understand what I am saying. It is just “heaven on earth”. It is well built, with all the modern facilities for various events such as weddings, conferences, meetings, trainings and other social engagements. Also within the area, you will see another huge structure constructed by the present administration in Ebonyi State, the biggest shopping mall ever built by any government in Africa. It has provisions for not less than 3000 shops, and will no doubt serve as a major business hub in the country, attracting lots of business people within the country and beyond, and therefore have a multiplier effect on the economy of the state. The governor has also constructed the state of the art modern market, Margret Umahi International market, with world class facilities, which will be opening for business very soon. Not getting tired of embarking on people-oriented project, the governor thought it wise and expedient to site an international airport in the state. The whole idea is to facilitate direct and easy access to Ebonyi by people from other parts of the country, as well as people from other countries, so that they can fly directly into the state for their business transactions and other engagements. Already, work has started on the project, which will have all the necessary facilities and standards, and is designed to be among the very best airports in the country. Again, apart from reconstructing the stadium in state metropolis, the governor is also embarking on the construction of a very big modern stadium, with all facilities in the sporting complex. Another area that one has to appreciate the state government include improved electricity supply system and proper lighting up of roads. In fact, our street lights in the metropolis and satellite towns run from 6 to 6 daily, while every local government council has not less than 20 km of its roads covered with street lights. Apart from that, the governor is also creating more urban areas, including the one at Afikpo, Ohaozara, Ishiagu, Onueke, and others.
What impact is the government making on human capital development?
It is pertinent to note that the creation of the ministry of human capital development by the present administration in Ebonyi was driven by Umahi’s strong commitments and beliefs on human capital development as a panacea for the economic development and transformation of the state.
Before he became a governor, Ebonyi was not positively ranked in the educational index of the country. But since he became the governor, the story has changed for better. In WAEC for example, Ebonyi was ranking last before 2015 when he came on board as the state governor. But from 2017 till today, the state has consistently maintained between first and tenth positions in WAEC results. Also in the education index of 2017, Ikwo LGA in Ebonyi State was ranked number one out of the 774 LGAs, with highest number of JAMB admissions in the country. Within the same year, Ebonyi State was ranked the number one state with the highest admission of students for medical studies in Nigeria. Like I said earlier, all these positive developments and more, were achieved under the able leadership of Umahi. Indeed, all these and many others, in no small measures showcase the premium commitments placed by our hardworking state governor towards the human capital development of Ebonyi citizens.
Also, on health care delivery, he introduced the health insurance scheme in the state and built general hospitals in all the LGAs, as a modern virology centre in the state, which is presently the biggest in the country, and the only virological centre in the entire South East.
Also, the governor is building an ultra modern college of medicine in the state, which when fully completed will be the biggest in the country. To boost food production and promote social security in the state, Umahi introduced mechanised farming and one man, one hectare policy which encouraged every civil servant in the state to at least own a small farm. He also encouraged students to participate in the scheme by supporting them to obtain free trainings in agriculture from the Federal College of Agriculture, as well as from FUNAI. Given the sound policies of the state government on agricultural production, especially in rice production, Ebonyi in 2016/ 2017 became a leading producer of rice in the country.
What is the relationship between the government and its workers?
Very cordial. Since the coming of the present administration, there has been excellent relationship between the government and the civil servants. Apart from ensuring the timely payments of their salaries and allowances, the government has introduced various schemes covering farming and skills acquisitions aimed at empowering them. So far, the state government has spent N4 billion in such schemes, where civil servants in the state can easily access funding for their farming or any business venture of their choice. Another significant part of this scheme is that the spouses of civil servants in the state can also easily access funding for any business venture of their choice. Like I said, the state government has always been at the forefront in initiating policies that promote wthe well-being of its workers.
What are your views on partnership with the private sector?
The state government welcomes partnerships with the private sector, hence it has formulated policies to promote that sector. Government has created opportunities where the private sector can easily invest in the state. There are opportunities where the private sector can enter into agreement with the government to form special purpose vehicles (SPVs) under which the government provides land, security, infrastructure, enabling environment and other incentives, while the private sector provides funding, technologies/technical expertise, job opportunities, etc. Also, another arrangement is the build, operate and transfer, BOT, under which the government provides the land, security and enabling environment, while the private sector provides the funding, technologies and managerial expertise, and runs the venture for agreed number of years to recoup their investments and make profit, and transfer the venture to the government. These SPVs cover agricultures and other areas.