Ebonyi At 21: Governor Umahi And Ebonyi Founders' Dream
Between 1957 and 1996, Ebonyi founders followed their dream of self-actualization. The journey which had appearances of both the journey of the biblical Maggi and the exodus was different in many ways: One, there was no star to guide the agitators. Two, even though the journey to Ebonyi statehood lasted for about four decades, there were neither manna and quails for nourishment, nor pillars of cloud in the days and pillars of light in the nights to guide the steps of our founding fathers. All that the founders of Ebonyi state had during their days of struggle for the creation of the state were godly courage, dogged determination and a spartan will to succeed. In that journey, their lives, limbs, freedom, comfort, careers and so on did not matter. What mattered to them was how to break away from the shackles of criminal marginalization and deliberate neglect by having a state [Ebonyi state] which, the Willink's Commission report of 1958 admitted, would assuage the people's "feeling of neglect and wish for a greater share in roads, schools, hospitals and water supplies". The foregoing was enough proof that the dream of the founders of Ebonyi state was to have a state where there will be equity, development and equal opportunities for all irrespective of tribes, tongues and political or ideological affiliations.
On creation on 1st October 1996, Ebonyi state was merely a geographical expression carved out from the most criminally neglected parts of Enugu and Abia states. By then, Ebonyi state lacked content in the form of indices of development as was obtainable in other states.There were no roads, no public utilities and even the basic facilities like hospitals, schools, portable water etc. So far, Ebonyi state has been governed by two military administrators and three civilian governors: Naturally, Commander Walter Aye Feghabor who was the pioneer military administrator of Ebonyi state set up the take-off administrative structures of the young state while Police Commissioner Simeon Oduoye who was the second and last military administrator of Ebonyi state midwifed the democratization process of Ebonyi state in 1999. The military administrators did not go beyond these expedient programmes and projects. However, credit must be given to them for being fair and balanced in their dealings with Ebonyi people.
The journey of development began in Ebonyi state with the advent of democracy in 1999 when the first democratically elected administration under the leadership of Dr. Sam Ominyi Egwu, which lasted between 1999 and 2007, came on board. The immediate need of the state then was how to create a man-power base to enable the young state take its place in the committee of states in Nigeria and beyond. Dr. Egwu ran a program of man-power development and human empowerment. Soon, school enrolment increased, Ebonyi State established a university and Ebonyi men and women could boast of oversea trainings and scholarships, the number of Ph.D-holders and professors of Ebonyi origin increased and Ebonyi people could afford decent private cars and houses. Egwu's efforts in the Housing sector where he built housing estates for both low and high income-earners at Udensi, democracy and liberation estates in Abakaliki; and in Onueke and Afikpo are worthy of note.
On 29th May, 2007, the baton of power was transferred to Chief Martin Elechi in a period which can safely be described as the era of financial boom when the revenue profile of Ebonyi state was at its best. The Ocho-Udo administration linked up other parts of Ebonyi state hitherto cut off by Ebonyi river with the rest of Ebonyi landscape through the unity bridges. Elechi introduced loans in the administrative lexicon of Ebonyi state by borrowing funds from the capital market with which he embarked on other ambitious projects like the international market, the centenary secretariat, the Ebonyi power plant, the Ukawu and Oferekpe mega water schemes all of which were either uncompleted or abandoned. Ebonyi power plant has particularly been certified by dispassionate professionals as an unviable project on account of the fact that the cost of fueling the power plant would be thrice more than the value of the plant's total power output. Elechi's administration was markedly exclusive as only four persons took all major policy decisions and dispensed government patronages. In contrast to its moniker of Ocho-Udo or Platform of Peace, the Ocho-Udo administration accentuated the dichotomy between the kindreds of Izzi Nnodo people, fenced off Ezza Ezekuna people in the siting of government projects and mobilized all government apparatuses against Ezza Ezekuna people even as an avoidable war fermented between Ezza-Ezillo and Ezillo communities by agents of the government raged on.
From the foregoing, it is clear that as at 29th May, 2015 when His Excellency, Chief David Nweze Umahi was inaugurated as the third democratically elected governor of Ebonyi state, Ebonyi state was not anywhere near the level of development envisaged by the founders of Ebonyi state. The coincidence of the most inclement economic recession in the history of our young state with Governor Umahi's inauguration further compounded issues and made pundits believe that if all Umahi could do would be to pay workers' salaries, Umahi would still be celebrated by posterity! This was a realistic assessment of the economic crisis which made the hope of payment of workers' salaries a mirage and reduced the promise of even a single capital project to mere wishful thinking.
However, Governor David Nweze Umahi who was undoubtedly a man of positive iron will and a master of sights and circumstances seemed to be fully-prepared to interprete in concrete and practical terms the vision and dreams of the founders of Ebonyi state; and no challenges whether economic or otherwise could stop him. Putting pessimists on notice over his determination to build a new and better Ebonyi state, Governor Umahi told the world in a maiden media interaction that "it is during tough times that great leaders demonstrate the qualities they have".
The Divine Mandate administration of Governor Umahi hit the ground running, investing every joule of its energy, the comfort of its top functionaries and every resource at its disposal in Governor Umahi's avowed bid to develop Ebonyi, a rural state where every sector competed for priority attention. The result of the unsparing focus and commitment of Engr. David Nweze Umahi's administration to the delivery of good governance to Ebonyi people was that during his first 100 days in office, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, accompanied by leaders of the All Progressive Congress at both the national and Ebonyi state levels after a project inspection tour of Ebonyi state, invited other governors to emulate Gov. Umahi's style of delivering good governance which has been described as "Umahism" by a public affairs analyst.
Since then, Governor Umahi in pursuit of his covenant with God to prosper Ebonyi state through the Word of God has been unrelenting. The direct consequence of this divine anchorage is that while other state administrations drift under the whims and caprices of the economic recession, Umahi's administration has been stable; hence it has executed high profile projects which include three standard overhead bridges at Presco and Akanu Ibiam roundabouts as well as at the Margaret Umahi International market junction and a pedestrian crossover bridge at Ebonyi State University gate all along the Trans-saharan highway; completed concrete - based rehabilitation of 44 urban roads in Abakaliki town as well as installation of streetlights along all the roads, streets and avenues in the state capital and within the headquarters of the 13 council areas; embarked on many other on-going road projects which include the Hilltop - Nwofe Agbaja road, Ezzamgbo - Effium, Onueke and Afikpo urban road networks and many others which dot the entire landscape of Ebonyi state as well as intervention in the reconstruction of 3 federal roads with a total distance of 54.5 kilometers; construction of a waste processing plant at Umuoghara, a lassa-fever Centre at Federal Teaching Hospital Abakaliki as well as the reconstruction of other medical centres. In response to people like me who had accused Governor Umahi of turning Ebonyi state into a huge construction site, Umahi rolled out an impressive "stomach infrastructure" program which highlights included the empowerment of 2400 youths/hawkers with #250,000.00 each to enable them to either trade or farm; #250,000.00 to each of 8000 persons comprising civil servants, women and men; #10,000.00 monthly stipend to widows and salaries for 85 physically challenged persons. Umahi's involvement of over 250 youths in governance as Senior Technical Assistants and Technical Assistants is legendary because it has equally become a leadership resource centre. The recent launch of Ebonyi Neighbourhood Watch has buried security tension in our ugly past and turned Ebonyi into both an investment and tourist destination. In the education sector, Umahi instilled proper supervision of primary schools through the transfer of local education secretaries to places other than their places of origin; handed over the technical colleges to the Catholic mission; reduced tuition fees of Ebonyi State University students by ten thousand naira at a time when every other state-owned university was increasing its fees and commenced turn-around renovation of primary and post-primary schools. All these culminated in Ebonyi state coming 10th in WAEC/NECO ranking in 2016.
Gov. Umahi added another pep to his overcrowded score - card when he hosted Ebonyi old people and senior citizens on 17th October, 2016 and 30th September, 2017 in an unprecedented old people's annual party wherein Ebonyians from 70 years and above from all the communities in the state were hosted, appreciated, empowered and cared for by a sitting Governor in Ebonyi state. Under Governor Umahi, pensions of retired civil servants are promptly paid while the backlogs of gratuities owed our senior citizens by previous administrations are being cleared by the Divine Mandate administration. Through the department of Religious and Welfare matters, healthcare is delivered free like never before to a greater number of less-privileged people through the churches by Umahi without the usual but unnecessary media hype.
Ebonyi is the only state in Nigeria where workers are paid mega bonuses known as 13th month salaries in addition to the prompt payment of monthly salaries under this recession! Through his agricultural revolution, Umahi has upgraded farming into a profitable venture and thereby opened a vista of additional income to Ebonyi workers.
Umahi's capacity to reconcile warring communities in Ebonyi state is legendary. The high point of this was the restoration of peace between Ezzilo and Ezza-Ezillo communities whose clash over a minor misunderstanding had led to loss of lives and destruction of properties of humongous value. As I write this piece, Governor Umahi's tree of peace is growing in Ezillo and resettlement plans of the displaced war victims are in top gear. This Ambassador of Peace has been taking his peace moves to other communities where it has blossomed, making Ebonyi a peaceful state.
The contributions of Her Excellency, Chief (Mrs) Rachael Ogonna Umahi, in lifting the women and orphans of Ebonyi state through her Family Succour and Upliftment Program, FASUP, will forever remain indelible in the memories of Ebonyi people. The construction of bungalows for over one hundred indigent widows drawn from across the 13 council areas is worthy of commendation. A proper study of the qualities of the buildings and the status of their owners as seen at Eli-Nwogvu and Echi-Aba in Abakaliki and Ebonyi Local Government Areas respectively leaves no one in doubt that Mrs. Umahi is an altruistic leader and a woman with the heart of gold.
Governor Umahi's insatiable crave to build a modern and technologically - advanced Ebonyi state made him to collaborate with UNIDO to establish a 32KW Demonstration Biomass Gasification Power Plant at UNIDO Industrial Cluster Ngbo, Ohaukwu LGA. In pursuit of his great vision for Ebonyi state, Umahi has motivated Ebonyi trained engineers into the fabrication of 100KW biomass gasification power plant at the Technical and Vocational Education Workshop of Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki. A plan for the replication of biomass gasification power plants in rice clusters in different parts of the state has been concluded by the Divine Mandate administration of Governor Umahi. In a bid to create an industrial base for Ebonyi state, Umahi entered into a first-of-its-kind partnership with the Bank of Industries through which a whopping sum of four billion naira was made available to be accessed by Ebonyi people with realistic business plans to kick-start their cottage industries which must be domiciled in Ebonyi state.
At recent project tours of Umahi's Ebonyi state, other chieftains of APC at the federal level like the minister of Agriculture, Chief Audu Ogbe, the minister of Health, Prof Isaac Adewole; and apolitical professionals like the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. Dr. Godwin Emefiele, the Assistant Inspector - General of Police in charge of zone six Calabar, et cetera, have continued to pour encomia on Gov. Umahi for the exceptional transformations witnessed in the road, agricultural, health, general infrastructure, economic, power, boarder peace, security and other sectors which have turned Ebonyi state into a reference point for excellence.
The ordinary Ebonyi people are happy with the way Governor David Nweze Umahi is developing Ebonyi state. The leadership of the APC at both the federal and Ebonyi state levels as well as apolitical professionals and professional bodies like NUJ see Governor Umahi as "an icon of good governance whose style of delivery deserves to be emulated by other governors in Nigeria"; to Ebonyi State Council of Traditional Rulers and Ebonyi state Forum of Town Unions, Umahi is "Ugo Chinyeru 1" [a divine donation from God to Ebonyi people]; to majority of Ebonyi citizenry spread across political, religious and tribal divides, Umahi is by all standards a true "Ebonyi Statesman"; to former President Olusegun Obasanjo, "this Governor (Umahi) is a doer, an achiever"; to the APC - led Presidency of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Umahi is "Nigeria's Agricultural revolution Ambassador"; while according to the British High Commissioner to Nigeria, Mr. Awkbright, "Ebonyi roads [built by Umahi under the most inclement economic recession] are the best"! Governor David Umahi has equally won the prestigious 2016 Zik Prize for Good Governance among other laurels.
As Ebonyi people celebrate the 21st anniversary of Ebonyi state, one can say without mincing words that Engr. David Nweze Umahi has successfully interpreted in concrete terms the dreams and visions of the founders of Ebonyi state for Ebonyi people and Ebonyi land. This is the reason behind the fervent prayers of the ordinary masses of Ebonyi state to God who rules in the affairs of men to grant them their crave for Umahi's services till 2023. The impressive achievements of unassuming Umahi compel all men of goodwil to join in this sincere supplication.
It is well with Ebonyi state!