BY IFEANYI IGWE
Anyone armed with even the shallowest sense of judgement and has been following events in Ebonyi state would not but consent to the fact that Engr. David Nweze Umahi has shown real leadership with his rapid developmental streaks – though with some weaknesses – since he took the reins of power in the state.
However, the statement attributed to the governor who is also Chairman South East Governor’s forum, last year; precisely 9th November, where it was reported that he ‘endorsed’ the possible re-election bid of President Mohammed Buhari (APC), caused a stir and some political posturing in Ebonyi political atmosphere which led some to question his loyalty to his party as well as a possible swap of party as 2019 drums nearer.
The pervasive interpretation of that move was that Umahi is an ‘opportunist’ who wants to leverage on any chance available before 2019 to curry political favours from the ruling party or even switch over. However, that possibility is out of place, what with the fact that the PDP is a strong party in the state punctuated by the fact that chances in the ruling party are sparse as a result of the calibre of people who reigns supreme in the party and are from Ebonyi state.
Ogbonnaya Onu who is a pillar of APC in the state has very immense distaste for Umahi because of the latter having worked assiduously to thwart his governorship ambition in 2007 in favour of ex-governor Martins Nwancho Elechi, this was despite been the source through which Umahi garnered his political experience in the old Abia state; where Onu served effectively as governor.
Predictably, if he crosses to the other side, he might meet a brick wall in convincing the APC in the state to field him as a consensus candidate; a possibility that stares him in the face with the PDP membership card. Meanwhile his many self acclaimed enemies might cease the gap to unleash deluge of retributions and ‘adhoc’ judgement on him as a payback for 2015. The most likely gladiator for this sort of contest would be Elechi, the ex-governor.
Power of incumbency
Like Onu, Elechi is often unsettled by Umahi’s ambitions even as his deputy. It was believed that that was why he craftily wrestled the unofficial role of overseeing all the projects in the state – in his own time, from him and even moved against his 2015 governorship foray. Elechi tapped Prof. Onyebuchi Chukwu from the same zone (Ebonyi South), whose turn it was, according to the zoning arrangement in place, to be governor.
As it turned out, that moved passed for a pipe dream because enough consultation was not initiated then to convince other big weights in the state of that decision; politicians like the former governor; Sen. Sam Egwu possibly did not consent to such arrangement; helpless, Elechi went solo spurred by the overestimated ‘power of incumbency’ on his shoulders.
Umahi having been embroiled in the system of things in the state as a onetime PDP chairman – that helped ensured the election of Elechi, and deputy governor, was well vested to oppose the Incumbent governor and introduced his own style of electioneering which experts describe as one of the most undemocratic in the nation but typical of PDP’s democracy since 1999.
Ass before the cart
Now much like 2015, the rift that characterised the electoral terrain in the state is growing. The ex-governor who has now switched to the APC with a good number of former PDP members is showing signs that the crack on the wall is all but not fixed. He has been vociferous in condemning the ‘elephant’ projects he claims Umahi is clutched on as well as his decision to probe him and his sons.
The crack became more evident when Elechi publicly turned down a token of appreciations poured on his by Umahi’s ₦29 million Toyota SUV Jeep. He even went further to highlights the continued rift with the governor and decried his vilification by Umahi since 2015.
“I have no doubt that I made an impressive impact in Ebonyi State in manpower development with institutional reforms, attitudinal change philosophy, and infrastructural development. Your Excellency will also recall that when I brought you on board in 2011 as my Deputy, we made you the Chairman of the Executive Council Committee on Inspection. You never criticized or condemned the need, quality, or pricing of any project.
“But with your assumption of office on 29th May, 2015, every one of my projects had become a subject of public ridicule, outrage and outright condemnation. The only exception is probably the ultra-modern digital radio and television complex which I conceived of and completed from scratch to finish”.
Umahi responded then with a robust petition to the EFCC with the charge of ‘reckless’ use of the state resources in his eight year rule as governor which only time told us that Elechi was not culpable. Political analysts opine that it seems the acrimony and bad blood is not ending anytime soon especially as many in the crowded Ebonyi political sphere are pitching their tents and closing ranks in preparation for 2019. This preparation goes the both ways, PDP and APC. While the former trumpets its achievements in the state courtesy of Umahi, the latter loath the PDP for corruption, incompetence and vilification employing every invective arsenal to draw the blood out of the states ruling party. A look into some of these successes and failings will be rewarding because as I write, despite the general goodwill, there are widespread condemnation of Umahi’s tactics of candidate imposition as he did in 2015 with many state and national assembly candidates.
One achievement the Umahi dynasty will use as bargaining chip in 2019 for wooing votes will be the obvious investment on road in the states. In 2016 alone, Umahi constructed over 20 different roads within the state capital. Concrete was used in some of these roads. It is believed that such roads will endure over half a century before manifesting signs of weariness. In addition, 15km of roads were constructed in all the thirteen local government areas in the state from Ohakwu to Afikpo – concretes were also employed. He has rebuilt some federal roads, especially the Afikpo-Abakaliki Road and the Nkalagu Road and has laid an effective blueprint for the construction of the Effium – Otukpo (Benue) road that would open route from Abakaliki to Abuja and boost commerce in the northeastern town of Effium.
The agricultural sector can also be used as defense against any dart of incompetence delivered by the opposition. Positively, this sector benefited a lot in the past years. Billions of dollars was procured and injected into the sector in the form of farmer’s empowerment; where in they were provided with soft loans to further their efforts in output increment. It yielded great result to the tone of millions and millions of agricultural produce such as rice, millet and garri. Rice milling was revolutionized through the procurement of parboiling machines for the three rice mills in the state. The Anchors Borrowers programme by the central bank courtesy of the federal government has also been courted by the administration to make Ebonyi the one stop shopping mall for rice production in the country.
As the only state in the South East with the burden of Lassa fever disease. Umahi initiated variegated health policies and even constructed a virology center with all the modern equipment needed to diagnose and isolate cases of Lassa fever – the first in the south east. Many hospitals in the state received face lift with new buildings and reconstructions of dilapidated ones. Ambulances were provided in the three senatorial zones for emergency health related issues.
Workers are also smiling somehow. Ebonyi workers receive their salaries on or before 25th of every month. Pensioners in the state who were hitherto neglected and owned big arrears today smile home every month with some pay checks. The goodwill among workers was evident when the Labour Congress in the state decided on December 18th 2017, to reward Umahi for his achievements with a solidarity rally in the Abakaliki township stadium. The leader of the congress in the state, Comrade Leonard Nkah, praised the governor for his visionary strides since he took the reins of power in the state. It was unprecedented for a season like that when workers are made scapegoats by hoarding their alerts for months.
“Umahi has for the past two and half years been improving the lives of Ebonyi people, in general, and Ebonyi workers in particular through the prompt payment of workers’ salaries and allowances as well as annual mega bonuses which are known as 13th month salaries at a time when the economic downturn in the country has forced many states with better economic profiles to owe workers’ salaries for months.
“Ebonyi State Government partnership with the Bank of Industry (BOI) to provide single digit business loans to spouses of Ebonyi workers; the provision of highly subsidized transit buses for Ebonyi workers; the agricultural revolution programme which has provided alternative income and food security for Ebonyi people and the involvement of Ebonyi workers during formation of government policies through periodic consultations are some of the laudable programmes of the governor” He said.
Umahi has not fared without his share of criticism especially by the opposition. They allege that he is engaged in spending a lot of money on projects that has little or no impact on the general welfare of the citizens. According to them, Umahi throws away the some of N60 million of tax payers money on the maintenance of street lights and other ‘bogus’ projects. In the view of a chieftain of Ohaneze Ndigbo, Mazi Alex Okemiri, the foregoing have created a need for the state to shop for Umahi’s replacement since the government house will be vacant.
For him “Poverty indices in Ebonyi is over 80 percent and this has pushed our people into become laughing stock across the country. A visit to any state across the country will show that our people have nothing doing except to work as okada riders, maids, and other menial jobs to eke out a living. To this end, we are saying that enough is enough; this government should get ready to vacate in 2019. There will be vacancy in Ebonyi government House in 2019. We call on various stakeholders, religious leaders, political and traditional leaders to commence a meticulous search for Umahi’s replacement in 2019. Effort should be made to get a candidate who will carry everybody along and not one who will turn the State into family business. There is no better way to describe a government without direction than the case of present government in Ebonyi.”
Apart from Okemiri’s criticisms, the aggressive taxation of Ebonyi residents has raised the specter of small businesses pulling out of the state while investments dry up. Umahi has also been criticized on account of his running the government as if it is a family business. Most of his siblings have curried juicy offices courtesy of Umahi. Austin Umahi is the PDP chair in the south East, his elder brother was made traditional ruler in an appointment opposed by all in Uburu clan.
Illegal fees in schools across the state raised eyebrows while unnecessary expenditures have also created a sense of doubt in the capacity of the governor to effectively manage the finances of the state. It was learnt that month after spending ₦250 million on remodeling and renovating the government house. Umahi laid another plan for the construction of a new government house with governor’s quarters. That was an obvious waste of resources.
Workers also groaned under Umahi’s policy of salary reduction despite promising during the campaign to increase workers salaries to 100% if elected. The salary structure put in place by his predecessor was brushed aside in favour of the 45% structure which brought workers finances crashing down like pacts of cards.
Finally, it is yet to be seen whether those permutations would work against Umahi in the polls because as far as analyst know the political clouds pose in favour of Umahi who have emerged stronger following strings of high profile endorsements.
Ifeanyi IGWE is a political analyst, award wining journalist , a broadcaster and founder mpero media and associates, a communication consultancy firm. You can reach me on @mperomediaandassociates5026 or 09060063066