By NBF News
Click for Full Image Size

Abia Onyike was a former Deputy National President of the Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) and also a former Commissioner for Information in Ebonyi State. Currently, he is the Special Adviser on Media to Ebonyi State governor, Martins Elechi. He has been around and remains one politician who does not sit on the fence on any issue of national importance. In this interview, he bares his mind on a wide range of issues including the tension ahead of the 2011 general election. Excerpts…

How do you feel about the state of the nation ahead of the 2011 general election?

Well, the most important thing now is that Nigerians should focus on the quality of leadership that is emerging on the national scene because we have been traumatized since independence. You will agree with me that 50 years after independence, the nation has not faired very well in terms of quality of leadership.

That has been a major concern to many Nigerians and patriots alike. Therefore, all hands should be on deck to re-engage itself in a proactive manner to come up with a solid leadership profile that would move us up to our pride of place in the comity of nations. Having said that, I think a lot of opportunities appear to be presenting themselves within the matrix of our national politics. The issue of zoning has been quite contentious. It has been a vexed issue for that matter because it has to do with the fundamentals of the nation.

In the past, there had been a lot of outcry from many groups and regions that were dominated. And over time, you discover that because we have had several years of military rule, these issues became more complicated. The issues include the quest for true federalism and what should be the role of the federating units within the national equation in terms of giving them autonomy to be able to maximize self determination and at the same time exploit their fullest potentials in the developmental arena.

For now, in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), which is our own party, the issue of zoning cropped up because of the unfortunate death of President Umaru Yar'Adua and the ascendancy of President Goodluck Jonathan. The question of what would happen in 2011 became an issue and many people have given their opinions but my personal opinion is that because of the complex nature of the Nigerian federation, zoning or rotational principle or whatever name it is called should not be completely jettisoned.

The South East governors recently came up with a position that none of them would contest for either the position of the president or vice president. Do you think they spoke for the people considering that the geo-political zone has suffered so much marginalization politically?

Well, I should think so because we have to be careful how we join the political bandwagon all the time especially in the South East. That decision they took is appropriate because in the light of the zoning of political offices, I do not think that it would have been appropriate for the South East to come all out for the seat of the presidency considering the reality of an incumbent President who comes from the South South geo-political zone and also other possibilities. We need more time to be able to organize ourselves and be able to re-launch politically in the years ahead. I think that was a pragmatic decision on the part of the governors and they should be commended for being decisive and also forthcoming at this point in time.

As a Special Adviser to the governor of Ebonyi State, do you think he genuinely deserves a second term in office?

Certainly, because Governor Martins Elechi has done a lot for the people of Ebonyi State. First and foremost, he was the one who led the struggle for the creation of Ebonyi beginning from the 60s. He led the struggle in alliance with some other compatriots and by the grace of God, he had the opportunity to lead the struggle to a logical successful end when the state was created on October 1, 1996. He has been an active politician and since he became the governor in 2007, he has accomplished many things in the interest of the people of the state.

He has been working quietly. First and foremost, he articulated a developmental blueprint that is suitable to an agrarian and rural environment such as Ebonyi. At the last count, within the past three years and few months, he has constructed and completed 23 modern long span bridges across various parts of the state. You have to note that Ebonyi is one state with very unique ecological features and because of that there were challenges by the Ebonyi River and its numerous tributaries to the extent that many of the villages had remained landlocked over the years. Since the beginning of the modern Nigerian nation, no effort was made to tackle the problem of Ebonyi in a fundamental manner.

So, the governor believe in the construction of access roads and bridges and at the last count, he had done about 400 kilometres that were asphalted and these roads are joined with the 23 completed long span bridges. But we still have 10 more long span modern bridges remaining to be constructed.

In the educational sector, he also introduced reforms because he felt there was need to return to boarding secondary school system of education. It was re-introduced with 27 pilot secondary schools and the schools were constructed and renovated across the three senatorial zones.

The experimentation started in 2008 and had been working well till now. In the agricultural sector, he has also revolutionized it. You may need to know that the state government has established its own large commercial farms where agriculture has been fully activated. When the governor came into office, he procured nearly 100 tractors and set up a tractor-hiring scheme to enable farmers in the state engage in commercial agriculture and mechanized farming.

He has also developed a blueprint which is now being worked out in the state whereby young graduates from the state have been going to Songhai farm in Benin Republic to undertake training in various aspects of agriculture. At the last count, about 90 youths have successfully completed their training and it is being done in batches. When they came back, the first batch was given N70 million and the second batch N30 million and that was to make them set up their independent commercial farms.

Then there is the rice processing industries. The industries are also being established in the three senatorial zones of the state under a special programme that was developed as an indigenous concept of an agrarian revolution. The farmers have also benefited from a lot of inputs from the state government especially in the areas of loan facilities and of course improved seedlings. These things were made available to them. The first batch was given N150 million.

They borrow money from the state government to engage in active commercial farming because Ebonyi State is the food basket of Nigeria. That responsibility is one that we are very proud of. And that is why the governor finds it expedient to ensure that transportation development is given a priority and the extent of embarking on aggressive construction of bridges and roads is to make sure that the rural areas of the state are opened to economic activities and that the farmers would be in a position to evacuate their products.

Also in the area of water development, the governor is constructing two major water projects. One at Oferekpe in Ikwo local government area and another at Ukawu in Onitsha local government. It is anticipated that when these projects are completed, each of the mega-water projects would produce about 100 million cubic meters of water on a daily basis and the water would be reticulated to all the local governments within each senatorial zone. The third water project is the Ezillo water scheme which is also undergoing rapid renovation and reconstruction and that one would serve the Ebonyi North Senatorial zone.

The one at Oferekpe and Ukawu would serve the Ebonyi Central and South Senatorial zone respectively. So, the next step towards the end of the year when these projects would be completed would be to engage a new programme of reticulation of water because he believes that water is important to health and that even the scourge of Guinea worm which used to be a problem in that part of the country even though it has been combated and has subsided can only be fundamentally eradicated if you have a progressive and effective water deliver policy.

The achievements of Governor Elechi are quite enormous. Also in the civil service sector, he has introduced a number of radical changes. He built a staff training centre for civil servants because under this administration, there is the policy of attitudinal change and the governor has been emphasizing the need to separate the civil service from politics. So, with such an institute, you would be able to create a core of seasoned administrators who would be professional civil servants different from the political class.

So, the era of political jobbery, all kinds of infantilism and political anarchy can no longer be tolerated. There is specialization and division of labour in social lives, politics and everything. Attitudinal change also means that Ebonyi people should rediscover themselves to become more productive, self-reliant, engaging and proactive in their constructive efforts in order to emerge as more responsible citizens in the development arena. That is the only way they can assert themselves and catch up with the rest of humanity.

Then in the area of media development, it is also interesting to note that the state had not had strong media facilities for long. Right from inception when the state was created, we got it all wrong. So, when the governor came in, he gave a contract for the installation of a modern digital television and radio facilities and of course, that project is costing the state more than N2.5billion.

The edifice housing the project has been completed and about half of the equipment has already been delivered. And we believe that around October, November, all the installations would be completed so that the state can enjoy a modern media apparatus that would serve the people of Ebonyi State to guarantee that there is simultaneous development in the creation of awareness and also to provide a platform for the articulation of all the messages required in fostering the attitudinal change policy of the administration.

How prepared is the governor to face the opposition in the build up to the 2011 general election?

Well, there is no opposition in Ebonyi State. Actually, the politics of the state is unique to a large extent. This is because the other political parties are quite weak and that is also because our people have realized that they needed to build a common front to confront their developmental challenges.

So, nobody wastes any time in dissipating energy to oppose the administration. But within the PDP, there is as usual some internal subterfuge from certain political elements who feel that the new developmental strategies and priorities do not suit their selfish calculations. Despite their effort to distract, I want to assure you that the masses are with the governor and they are satisfied about the developmental blueprint and are also quite capable of intervening in the political arena to defend these developments that represent their genuine aspirations. The governor has no problem whatsoever of being re-elected in 2011.

But do you think the governor has been able to effectively manage communal crisis that has recently become the lot of Ebonyi people.

Yes, the communal crisis especially the one in Ezillo is also part of the political subterfuge I talked about. Some dissident forces within the political class having lost out in the corporate political game wanted to resort to armed guerrilla tactics but from the back door. And it was alleged that those elements were the people behind the Ezillo crisis and using it as a subterfuge to undermine the administration and possibly hoping to achieve a state of emergency but by the grace of God, the government and the federal security agencies swiftly intervened and tackled the problem and uprooted it from its very foundations and since then, peace and normalcy have returned to the area.

Do you think the charter of equity would pose a problem to the state in 2011?

No, because the charter of equity is a basic principle in political engineering as it relates to power sharing arrangement between and among the power blocs as represented by the three senatorial zones in the state.