Orji speaks on Umahi's passion about good governance



Hon. Uchenna Orji is the Commissioner for Information and Orientation in Ebonyi State. In this interview, he speaks on the developmental strides of Governor David Umahi in the state. He also spoke on the security situation in the state, especially the farmers and herdsmen’s crisis.

How has Governor Umahi been able to achieve so much in Ebonyi despite the scarce resources in the country and the adverse effect of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Let me say that His Excellency, Governor David Umahi is governed by inspiration from God. He is a man of character and content. He is a man of sound mind, whose moral and mental character is something that should be emulated. When he came on board, he decided to identify five critical sectors which include building infrastructure, health, education, human capital development and of course, agriculture and security. He deployed his ingenuity, passion and fear of God in making these five key areas a reality.

So, the issue of prudence, accountability and probity are his watchwords. He looked at the road infrastructure in all the 13 local government areas and he gave each local government area not less than 25-kilometre road construction, which has been completed in the concrete pavement of eight inches of 50 years guarantee.

This has made him the first governor in the history of governance in Nigeria to do road construction by concrete pavement. All the urban roads leading to the satellite towns and metropolis he also did, making it about 1,500-kilometre road done as state roads within the period of five years. He did not only stop at doing state roads, but he also did federal roads.

So, if you are coming from Enugu to Ebonyi or from Abia to Ebonyi or from Cross River to Ebonyi or even from Benue to Ebonyi, you will be sure that you will meet with a smooth road done in some cases concrete or asphalt. Added to this, he is dualizing the major roads to reduce accidents, lessen traffic and attract investors.

He is also doing 13 flyovers, making Ebonyi State the next on the state with the highest number of flyovers, after Abuja and Lagos. This is one of the things that he has done, I can mention several others. But let me say that the secret of his performance is that of prudence and passion for good governance.

Today, we take pride as the state with the biggest shopping mall in Africa, having not less than 6,000 modern shops. The Managing Director of SilverBird Guy Bruce came to visit Ebonyi State and said he has never seen any mall as big as this in the whole of Africa.

Today, we also take pride as the state with the biggest Ecumenical Centre, which is like a centre for social and Christian events. We also take pride as the state with the biggest light tunnel, which is like the face of Ebonyi State. People who came to Ebonyi upon seeing it were wondering if they are outside the country.

That is a deliberate concept by the governor to tell the whole world that something good can come out of Nazareth, in this case, Ebonyi State Within this four-way light tunnel that is the biggest in Africa, we also have under it Africa’s biggest water fountain. This is in addition to his principle of urban renewal which makes it possible for us to have street lights in virtually all the streets. These streets lights are working 12 hours non-stop from 6 pm to 6 am in every local government in the state, a minimum of 25 kilometres.

That is infrastructure, what are his achievements in the health sector?

That is another area in which the governor has performed well. Today, we are proud to be a state with the biggest College of Medicine in Africa. This edifice is going to be like medical tourism for the entire Nigeria where people can get excellent treatment for heart diseases, cancer and kidney transplant. With this, the era of patients going to India and other foreign countries will be a thing of the past.
This college has a dialysis centre and it will be the only centre for dialysis in Africa. Of course, the secondary health care facilities including the general hospitals are also functioning in the optimal capacity as the governor made sure they are well furnished. I can mention a lot of what the governor has done and the reason for all these achievements is because of his accountability and the fact that he has the fear of God.

One major issue in the country today is the controversy over minimum wage for civil servants. What is the position of the state government on this and other programmes for the welfare of workers?

As a matter of fact, the national minimum wage is on the exclusive list. Of recent, the organised labour went on protest, demanding its removal from the exclusive list to the concurrent list. That is the responsibility of the National Assembly which includes tinkering with the constitution of the federal republic. I think that my state government hasn’t taken a position on that until appropriate legislation is made.

However, we have a policy direction in this regard, which is, in addition to white-collar jobs, which salary cannot be enough to satisfy civil servants, we believe there should be an inclusion of blue-collar jobs for civil servants. This is making a second address policy for them whereby apart from the salary they are earning as civil servants, they can have a second address whereby from time to time, funding will be made available to them to go into agriculture because that is the only thing that is permitted for civil servants to do; they can’t hold another employment outside this.

What the governor has done to set the pace was to release N4 billion to civil servants. He started it in 2017 and it provided opportunities for civil servants from the lowest level to earn between N200,000 and N1 million, depending on their salary scale and year of retirement.

The payment process is that the beneficiaries will be paying about five per cent single digit interest, which will be staggered till the period you are leaving the civil service. With this scheme, the beneficiaries will also receive training and re-training for a period of time. Also, every Friday, civil servants who own farms are allowed to go into their farms to do what they want to do.

The state government also gave privileges to civil servants to do their farming by proxy. Also, civil servants are not exempted from any empowerment programmes of the state. For instance, we have what we call #EndSARS empowerment programmes that are ongoing for the sum of N3 billion.

This money is not only for those who protested or NGOs who participated in the protest. Businessmen, civil servants and traders who have a robust business plan that can convince the financial institutions that are working with us can benefit from this too. We are looking at vocational works such as artisanship and craftsmen. Also, there was a time the governor released N750 million grants for youths and women; civil servants also benefited from this.
Those selected received N250,000 each. We also have what we called Widow Empowerment Programme. Civil servants whose husbands are dead were given over N403 million for 4,300 people at the cost of N100,000 per person. Now, even civil  servants who are clergies in their various religious bodies have the opportunity of accessing N.5 billion (N500m800 thousand).

In every empowerment programme we do for Ebonyi people, the civil servants were not excluded. We went further to engage the Bank of Industry so that if anyone wants to go into commercial farming, such a person can be given a grant. It is time for governments to help civil servants by giving them alternatives to their salaries. Even if you give them N100,000 as minimum wage today, it won’t be enough. We believe that through this our civil servants can be self-reliant and the impact of these programmes is being felt in Ebonyi today.

What are some of these impacts?

There is high school enrolment; there is a reduction in insecurity; the school index of Ebonyi has also increased. Under Governor Umahi, out of the 774 local government areas in Nigeria, the NUC said a local government in Ebonyi was among the highest that gained admission in 2017. When they did an index assessment on the best medical students that gained admission in the same year under review, a JAMB candidate from Ebonyi was the best in Nigeria in terms of score. Of recent, the Nigerian Bureau of Statistics (NBS) did an analysis of states in the South-East in terms of empowerment and employment ratio, Ebonyi state came second. That goes to show the impact of what we are doing in the state.

Insecurity is one of the major challenges in the country today, how is the governor tackling crimes such as kidnapping and other crimes especially the relationship between herdsmen and farmers?

The real issue that happens in Ebonyi is communal clashes, arising from the consciousness of the rural dwellers on the issue of land ownership. This in turn is based on the development they are seeing and the emphasis we are laying on agriculture. However, the clashes are being resolved by the state government. In the IGP’s crime record, Ebonyi State is at the bottom.

There is a very low case of kidnapping in the state and the reason for this is that the state has fortified its security architecture. We are a smart city state. We have a programme that is called Smart City Programme where CCTV is deployed in the major junctions of the state. Anywhere you commit a crime; you will be seen and apprehended.

In addition to this, we have a civilian security outfit, which we called Neighbourhood Watch with over 4,000 members recruited by the state government. They were given training by conventional security. Today, they are greatly helping in policing our security in liaison with conventional security. The governor really motivated the security officers.

We have about six security agencies in Ebonyi State. Each of these agencies, except one, participated in the empowerment programmes of Ebonyi State where we shortlisted wives of security officials and gave them N200,000 each. One interesting thing is that 80 per cent of these beneficiaries are non–indigenes. This will enable them to go into agricultural programmes in order to complement the efforts of their husbands who are always in the field. The government also went to every barracks in the state and did a comprehensive rehabilitation so that our security men can live in a conducive atmosphere and motivate them.

There are also forest guards who go to the forest to see that there are no bandits there. On the issue of herdsmen, I can tell you that in the country today, Ebonyi is one of the states that have a minimal case of the herders-farmers clash as it were. The state government did constitute a very strong committee at the local government and state government levels. The committee is headed by the Commissioner for Justice and Attorney-General with members drawn from the security agencies. They regularly meet and interface with the herdsmen and farmers in order to ensure that there is no conflict. -New Telegraph.

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