It’s impossible to match budgetary allocation to projects in Nigeria, says Ucha
Senator Julius Ali Ucha, former Chairman, Senate Committee on Works, in this interview with LEO SOBECHI, explains why some federal roads in Southeast remain uncompleted since 2010, adding that current socio-economic challenges in the country make it imperative for politicians to be cautious in their public utterances.
• Umahi should be emulated on budget implementation
• Ebonyi is one of the fastest growing investment destinations in the country
We remember you played crucial roles in the development of Ebonyi State, especially as speaker, why does it seem like you are absent on the public radar?
I actually don’t know whether I am absent or present on the radar, it depends on what you mean by not being seen publicly. However, whatever is happening with me now is within the providence of God, who has been very benevolent to my family.
The story of opposition politics in Ebonyi State would not be complete without generous mention of your leadership, especially from 2011. How do you feel now with APC in control of the state?
It is true that we provoked effective activism of opposition politics in Ebonyi State, but I am glad that it has snowballed into a huge political gain that we now enjoy having a sitting governor and a government in power in the state. I am particularly happy that our great party, APC, no longer bleeds in protracted factions, as every member of APC in Ebonyi state presently belongs to one united APC family under the leadership of the state governor, David Nweze Umahi. So I am pretty happy and feel good, this is the Lord’s doing.
Recently, some members of Ebonyi State caucus in the National Assembly addressed a press conference through a former governor, where they accused the incumbent governor of unleashing terror on the opposition. What is your take on that?
Everybody is entitled to his opinion, but I believe strongly that it is a total illusion to believe through a jaundiced media story that the governor’s towering image and political profile can be diminished by a mere blackmail.
The most uncharitable thing one can do to oneself is to tell oneself lies. And, he who tells himself lies knows exactly when he is deceiving himself. In politics like other human endeavors, it is a futile journey to reason that you can tame uncertainties and fortunes therein by just mere calculations, predictions, malicious and baseless accusations against your opponent.
Politicians should also watch their strengths and the repercussions of their public utterances on the people they represent. I have my respect for members of the National Assembly representing our state. However, I condemn in strong terms the sweeping and unsubstantiated accusations made against the state governor. The subject matter of that outburst was not only misleading, but also a product of prejudice and self-inflicted blindness. I humbly submit, that a politician who devices a morally bankrupt strategy to ruin the future of the people he represents is supposed to serve is doing the society a great harm.
This is a time that we need to come together as a people and members of one family to support the governor, who has made outstanding achievements and is the mentor and brother of the members of the National Assembly. Those achievements are not for his immediate family, but for the entire Ebonyi State. And what is more, those achievements are very solid such as would outlive us, especially on infrastructural development in the state. We should celebrate and encourage him for that outstanding quality and performance. What we need most now in the state is love, peace and unity.
This is also a moment of sober reflection for all Ebonyi Indigenes, especially those with the mandate of the people, to rally round the governor and ensure an enduring harmony and peaceful coexistence in the state. We are all aware that every human society today is so fragile that any attempt to ignite crisis and confusion will certainly give rise to dire consequences.
In terms of good governance and delivery, do you think the governor has been effective?
Good governance is a product of political will with audacity to fight corruption in execution of government projects and provision of other essential amenities, while tackling monumental projects at minimal cost. In all honesty, His Excellency, Governor David Nweze Umahi has sacrificed enormous energy and demonstrated an enviable political will to develop the state. He has not reserved anything to fight for the glory of the state. He also employed maximum efforts to put up structures on ground for posterity. In all, he enthroned the gospel of hard work and financial prudence, which is responsible for the massive infrastructural development in the state with minimal financial resources. Indeed, he deserves to be commended and appreciated even by his enemies who love Ebonyi State.
There are signature projects like the ring road, medical health facility and airport; some people are worried whether these projects are priority facilities the people really need?
This sounds as an attempt to make me repeat myself on all I have already said about the lofty achievements of the governor. I invite you to visit Ebonyi State and see things for your own testimony. The road projects, flyovers, airport, the new Government House, new presidential lodge, a world-class shopping mall and then the state-of-the-art college of medicine. The structures are there for all to see. Above all, the Abakaliki Ring Road, which was initiated 42 years ago by former governor of old Anambra State, HE. Sen Jim Nwobodo. This is a road that transverses seven local government areas in two of the three senatorial districts of Ebonyi State. The contract has just been awarded by the governor. I do not know what other impactful indices you want to talk about. These are critical infrastructures that would outlive us all. They are also projects that can only be undertaken by courageous politicians. I really wonder how he raises the funds to finance these huge projects.
The most important thing in a developmental programme of a sitting government is road network. This is what impact’s the people tremendously. We are proud of his developmental strides in the state.
There have always been stiff political battles between the party in power and opposition in Ebonyi State. From an insider perspective, do you think APC is trying to muzzle opposition?
Well, in all honesty, the present government in Ebonyi State is led by a true democrat. I do not think that muzzling opposition gives democracy any meaning. The opposition spurs the government in power to work harder and provide essential amenities to the people. That is what the present governor is concerned with, not about muzzling opposition. The current APC government will certainly not degenerate into any action that would stop opposition parties from exercising their political liberty and freedom. That I can say with every amount of certainty, because it does not pay. It is when you are wrestled with, that you work hard to prove that you can deliver, not by dissipating energies in preventing the opposition from exercising their political freedom.
As a former speaker of the state Assembly, do you think project execution so far matches budgetary provision?
This is a very interesting question. Indeed, the bane of democracy in our country is that budgetary provisions are anticipatory funds that are not at hand. If the funds as proposed and anticipated in the budget are eventually available and all things are equal, the earmarked projects and those previously awarded are likely to be executed.
But, if the funds do not come, the projects are abandoned. That is the reason why most government projects are abandoned in Nigeria. For instance, there are road projects that were awarded in 2010 by the Federal Government, like the Ozalla-Obe-Agbani-Akpugo-Amagunze-Ihuokpara to Ezza-agu in Ebonyi State. The contractors are still on that road since 2010. The contract was awarded to Arab Contractors. and the cost then was N7billion in 2010 at the rate N150 per Dollar. What would the contractor do now that it is N480 per Dollar? That is over 300 per cent increase. Same applies to Enugu-Onitsha road; among others. Such huge projects are usually completed within record time, when World Bank or ADB are involved because their funds are always available.
It is important to mention, that when I was chairman, Senate Committee on Works, the World Bank and ADB had five trans-African High ways to be constructed, three in the North and two in the Southeast. Enugu to Abakali was awarded to SETRACO by World Bank, while Abakaliki to Ogoja was awarded by ADB to CCECC (China Civil Engineering Construction Company). The two road projects amounted to $40million and $38million respectively, and they were completed on schedule.
Indeed, it is important to mention that the governor of Ebonyi State deserves great commendation from the Federal Government, Ebonyi people and particularly members of the National Assembly from the state, who are conversant with these budgetary facts, as to how the state governor completes projects initiated within the Nigeria budgetary system.
It is very difficult to match budgetary allocation with execution of projects in Nigeria. In fact, it is almost an impossible task, because you must be an expert in financial and project management to meet up with these facts and challenges especially, as funds are not usually available as proposed in those budgets.
How would you rate Ebonyi presently in terms of development and economic opportunities?
The present day Ebonyi State is a land of many opportunities. People from across the country who hear the level of development in the state schedule their conferences in the state, because there are now facilities that can accommodate thousands of people.
The International airport, the shopping mall, and other infrastructural facilities when completed, would make the state one of the fastest growing investment destinations in the country.
Based on what the governor has been doing and all he has achieved, would you support him for a presidential aspiration?
Oh, certainly, yes. He is already my candidate. I urge the political parties to zone their presidential tickets to the Southeast. People argue that political power is never offered a la carte. We are fully aware, that politics is usually a game of contest and competition and southeast is prepared for this in 2023. We are assertive, we are committed, and we are serious about it.
The fact that we of the Southeast are assertive about our demand shows our seriousness. But, we also need the support of other zones on the basis that equality is equity; and we have also been supporting people from other zones to win the presidential seat. May it please God to bless the work of our hands in this regard.