IS EBONYI WORKING UNDER MARTIN ELECHI?
By May 29, Nigeria would have witnessed 13 years of uninterrupted democratic rule. Naturally, there would be celebrations across the length and breadth of the country. While the Federal Government rolls out the drums, many of the state governments would not be left out. So the party will be all over.
But in the build up to this year's Democracy Day Anniversary, there have been divergent views on the performances of the governments at the centre; the 36 states and federal capital territory.
In Ebonyi, the administration of Chief Martin Elechi has come under scratchy criticisms especially from the opposition. This group of people believe that the governor has nothing to show for his past five years as chief executive of the youngest south east state. They vilify the governor and his team, lamenting that Ebonyi is on a gridlock; that the state is in comatose. They bandy the argument that no single project has been completed and commissioned since the life of this administration in 2007.
This argument might seem plausible given that Governor Elechi has not been indulging in the rituals of cutting ribbons in the name of project inauguration.
However, that argument may not endure when viewed from the fact that a good number of development projects executed by the Elechi administration are already in use without much ado of commissioning. What this says is that what actually matters is that projects are completed and serving the purpose they are built and not necessarily the vain glory of official commissioning rituals.
Elechi's supporters flaunt the artery of roads running across the various towns and communities as well as the complementing bridges in this category. They argue that Ebonyians and other commuters who use the roads and bridges that have broken geographical barriers know that they were built by the Elechi government.
In the area of rural electrification, they believe that the communities that have been connected to the national grid would not care whether the governor's convoy stops over at their village square or not. For them what is important is that they enjoy electricity any time the Power Holding Company of Nigeria, PHCN, is magnanimous enough to switch on light in their areas.
Beyond the humdrum and flimsy issue of commissioning of projects or not; where does the Elechi administration stand in terms of performance rating? Is Ebonyi really working or in doldrums?
On assumption of office in 2007, Chief Elechi had confronted frontally the myriad of developmental problems facing the state. The governor had indeed taken off like an angry leader, one wanting to fix all the problems and aspirations of the state in one bid. In one fell swoop, the government commenced construction of road networks in all parts of the state, 19 bridges of unity (and later increased them to 33), a new secretariat christened Ocho Udo City and an International market in Abakaliki, the state capital.
Driven by the desire to bridge the yawning development gap in the state, Chief Elechi who led his people to actualize the Ebonyi State agitation was determined to wipe the decades of marginalization and criminal neglect suffered by his people. Still in the early life of his administration, the governor took on the upgrade of two secondary schools in each Local Government Area into model boarding schools, built a staff development centre in Abakaliki and began completion of a 5-star hotel initiated by his predecessor. To tackle the intractable water challenge facing the state, the government embarked on gigantic water schemes at Oferekpe in Ebonyi Central and Ukawu in the southern flank of the state.
Also, it commenced work on the state owned-rice processing factories in the three senatorial zones; the idea is to build rice clusters at Iboko in Izzi, Ekpeomaka in Ikwo and Oso Edda in Afikpo South. Already, operators of the popular Abakaliki Rice Mills have been given deadline to relocate to the new rice clusters where land is made available for them.
A recent visit to the rice factory at Ikwo showed that serious economic activities have since taken off there. Apart from the state government-owned mill that was recently installed, a privately-owned mill has commenced full operation. The mill owned by former Commerce and Industry Minister, Chief Charles Ugwu, has an installed capacity of processing 120 tons daily and their products; Ebony Gold and Ebony Super brands of rice are already on sale across the country.
The rice factories will in addition to creating jobs, create wealth for the people.
With so much on its hands, it was not surprising that the state government in 2010 joined the fray of states that approached the capital market for funds. Justifying why the state Government turned to the capital market for N16.5 billion, Governor Elechi said the bond became an imperative because of the crippling impact of the current global economic meltdown on the state's economy, which makes it inevitable that alternative funding be sourced for new and ongoing development projects.
Specifically, he explained that the proceeds from the offer were being deployed by the state towards the execution of several projects, repayment of outstanding bank facilities, part finance of the development of the international market at Abakiliki, part finance of the state regional water scheme, construction of roads and bridges, as well as development of the state's rice processing factory project.
The governor said the global meltdown had adversely affected his administration's overall revenue receipts, which cost the state government a loss of about N14 billion in one year, compared to its earnings in the previous fiscal year.
“The implication of this is that this threatened our capacity to realise the ambitious infrastructural projects we embarked upon early in the life of my administration,” the governor lamented.
Chief Elechi noted that the challenge his administration faced was felt particularly in the agricultural sector, where thousands of farmers in the state made enormous sacrifice to produce food crops, only to watch their produce perish as a result of poor road infrastructure within the state.
Many of the arable lands in the rural areas of the state, he said, remained either uncultivated or not amenable for mechanised farming, owing to lack of access roads.
He said that his administration was motivated into undertaking the construction of bridges and access roads across the state to provide effective linkage between the hinterlands, the state capital, and the markets.
Work is also progressing on the biggest capital project in the state; the Oferekpe and Ukawu Water Schemes estimated to cost about N36billion.
The governor who sees lack of adequate potable water as the greatest challenge facing the state said the projects when completed would provide 200,000 litres of water daily to residents of the state. He explained that laying pipes across the length and breadth of the state will cover 590 kilometers, while each of the water schemes has a daily capacity of producing 100,000 litres of water. He noted that the project design was done in a way that even if any of the water schemes undergoes repairs, water would still be reticulated to all parts of the state.
The governor stressed that effort is being made to complete the first phase of the project which would supply water to Abakaliki, the state capital. This, he explained will entail pipe laying coverage of 56 kilometers.
Unfortunately, the laudable projects of the Elechi administration are wont to suffer delay in completion due to paucity of funds. Watchers of development in Ebonyi are of the view that the current administration may not be able to complete most of the projects under construction given the weak revenue base of the state, always ranking among the least three in federal allocation. In fact, Governor Elechi has really surprised many people on how he has been able to fund the various on-going projects in the state.
Interestingly, the governor has maintained that his administration would not relent in completing all the on-projects, pointing out that the Government was contemplating using revenues accruable from the removal of fuel subsidy to fund the water project.
Governor Elechi deserves commendation for his efforts towards changing the infrastructural outlay of the rusty state and at the same time boosting its economic base. What the government needs now is support and understanding and not vilification.
• Eze is Co- convener of Ebonyi Professionals and writes from 15 Badagry Street, Area 2, Garki Abuja, [email protected]