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How Umahi’s numerous appointments unsettle Ebonyi

By Lawrence Njoku, Southeast Bureau Chief
22 December 2019   |   4:17 am
One thing that is not in short supply since Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi assumed office in 2015 is his generosity in creating political offices and appointing people into them.

Dave Umahi

One thing that is not in short supply since Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi assumed office in 2015 is his generosity in creating political offices and appointing people into them. Sources said the Umahi administration, which is in its fifth year, has rolled out more political appointees than the two previous administrations since 1999. These appointees go by various nomenclatures that include Special Advisers, Senior Special Assistants, Special Assistants, Executive Assistants, Senior Technical Assistants and Technical Assistants. They are different from Commissioners and other government statutory appointees.

Umahi is said to have appointed over 1, 000 assistants during the first tenure of his administration. Most of these appointees were sent to schools, government establishments, farms, security and communities, among others. But while many, especially those outside the corridors of power have continued to query the need for the numerous appointments, Umahi believes otherwise. In fact, to him, such appointment was needed for effective governance and state development.

Last month, Umahi appointed 513 Technical Advisers drawn from the state’s 171 political wards. Before now, the six-month-old administration had appointed 4, 000 aides.

At a meeting in September this year, which was attended by members of the State Executive Council, State House of Assembly, Local Government and Area Chairmen, among other stakeholders, the governor announced his intention to appoint additional 800 aides.

He said: “We would be getting about 800 EAs, STAs and TAs by the end of this meeting, and from this moment, the task of making similar appointments is taken from me and given to the people from the ward level.
“This means we will appoint three more TAs from each ward of the state, and the stakeholders will sit and nominate two, while the party – the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)– will nominate one. The criterion used was that not all the past appointees returned, but 80 per cent of the appointments included former appointees, especially those who did well.”

He further announced that the state executive council had met and approved remuneration for appointees, based on the powers granted it.

“The EAs will receive N150, 000 (N100, 000 salary and N50, 000 overhead), while STAs will receive N120, 000 (N80, 000 salaries and N40, 000 overhead). The TAs will receive N100 (N70, 000 salaries and N30, 000 overhead). We would approach the House of Assembly on the issue of liaison officers, to bring their salaries to N60, 000 in order to create additional ones, especially for women (widows).

“We intend to have two liaison officers in the wards – one for men and one for women, and if you add party executives at the ward level, we will have about 4,000 appointees.”

Umahi had attempted to give reasons for his numerous appointments, when he said: “the essence of the appointments is to encourage the people to contribute to development of the state. Anyone appointed would have something doing, at least possess one hectare of farmland, which will be adequately profiled. The development centre coordinators will ensure adequate supervision of schools and that all out of school children are in school.”

He, however, failed to give details on how impactful these aides had been to the state in the last four years. The ominous silence in this regard has left many wondering whether it was the governor’s way of rewarding their loyalty and helping him win the last general election, or whether he is looking at their electoral value in 2023, even when he is yet to decide his role in it.

There are other considerations about the financial implication of carrying such burden, vis-à-vis the development of the state and the clarion call for reduction in political appointees to enable government effectively serve the people’s interest.

Ebonyi remains one of the least states, in terms of revenue allocation and generation. Its Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) has also remained one of the least in the country. This is largely blamed on the absence of flourishing industries and institutions.

Although the administration has tried to expand the young state’s infrastructure base by remodelling the city centre, building roads and other infrastructure, sources said ongoing efforts at infrastructure development have not translated into creation of gainful employment.

Taxes and other charges are still high in the state. While civil servants’ pay is said to have remained low, his government is said to have failed to recruit anybody into the service since it came on board four years ago.

Nwoba Chika Nwoba, Spokesperson of Ebonyi All Progressives Congress (APC), said: “We have questioned the rate at which he appoints people who are from his party (PDP). We have condemned it because Ebonyi is a young state that lacks required basic facilities. These needs have not been attended to.

“Before now, we were educationally disadvantaged. Sam Egwu came and introduced free education. Martin Elechi continued it, but under Umahi, it was abolished. Fees charged in Ebonyi State tertiary institutions are the highest in the country. That he has recruited over 4,000 aides is not something one should praise the governor for. Ask yourself, who these aides are and what impact are they going to make in the state? People that should be appointed are not appointed. The governor should have used the money he is using to pay them to upgrade facilities at Ebonyi State University, which is the costliest in the country.

“He should have used the money to attend to the infrastructural needs of the state. He is only investing in plastic infrastructure. Ebonyi does not need an Ecumenical centre that will cost N10bn, when there is no pipe borne water, no affordable housing for the people and no industries to employ their graduates. He has created needless offices that have nothing to contribute to the state.”

Reminded that the governor had said the appointment was a way of empowering them to contribute to the development of the state, Nwoba said: “Half of these appointees were people he used during election. He is appointing them because they helped him win the election and that is the only way he can compensate them. By appointing them, he wants to retain their loyalty and make them depend on him and what comes from his pocket. That tells you that he has personalised public patrimony. It is about his personal ambition and not what the state will benefit. He is preparing another machinery to execute his 2023 agenda.”

But Uchenna Orji, a lawyer and Commissioner of Information and State Orientation, dismissed APC’s opinion on the appointments by Umahi as smacking of ignorance and sheer desperation. He said the governor’s manner of appointments had made governance easier in the state.

He said: “Aside the governor’s physical presence in supervising state activities, his presence is now felt everywhere in the state by these appointees who send back messages. Insinuation and allegations of APC elements in Ebonyi is, to the best of my knowledge, an expression of desperation and sheer show of ignorance wittingly or unwittingly of the governor’s robust achievements…

“Let it be known that in the area of appointment, he did not start today. He knows his onions. When he came, he saw the needs of Ebonyi State. In the area of human capital development, he believes that appointment to bring up youths into mentorship programme will enable them take over to guarantee the state’s future…”

Orji stated that the state does not owe a kobo, and had not borrowed from anybody. “What he does is to look at all the money lying waste within development partners, agencies and Federal Government and he pays his counterpart funding and accesses the money. There is free money for each state— the one from the Federal Government under the free anchor borrowers’ programme, from the UNO, UNICEF and what have you.

“We are doing direct labour. We have our procurement act. We have the due process act and we are doing everything in line with due process. We do not engage expatriates. We engage local contents and use them effectively. Some of the people we are using are in the ministries. Some are local contractors, already trained in the governor’s mentorship programme. What is important is the supervision. The governor gives you the standard. He has his own quality assurance measure that he uses.”

Orji said with the way the administration was going, the state would surpass its peer in the coming years. “We are making solid investments in every facet of life, which other states should emulate. The governor understudied the state before coming to power, and what he has done so far bears great testimony of one who has come to work for the people. Let those criticising come home and feel the governor’s presence…”