Umahi’s government has reversed all positive achievements by former governor, says Onyike
Chief Abia Onyike, a former Commissioner for Information and Social Orientation in Ebonyi State, has been a staunch critic of governor David Umahi of Ebonyi state. The former Deputy National President of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) is also the chairman and convener of the Ebonyi Advocacy for Human Rights Initiative, an organisation that works to defend the rights of Ebonyi citizens against alleged political impunity, tyranny and oppression. In this interview with JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, Onyike bares his mind on the governance of Ebonyi state, insecurity in the South East and other burning issues.
You have been in the news of late criticising Gov. David Umahi of Ebonyi state. What actually is the problem?
Well, the problem is Gov. Umahi’s mediocre leadership style, which is a combination of autocracy and anarchism. He is far from being a democrat. He came into governance with a totalitarian mindset. He has uprooted and destroyed all the legacy institutions he inherited from his predecessor in 2015. He has retarded the progress of the state. The first quarter report released by the National Bureau of Statistics showed that Ebonyi State has been on the table as one of the 10 poorest states in Nigeria. The state also came third in food inflation in Nigeria. Ebonyi state is the only state in Southern Nigeria falling into such dangerous poverty levels in recent times because of his vicious anti-people’s policies. His definition of development is extremely dubious.
He sees governance as an opportunity for self-enrichment. He worked for four years (2015-2019) without Permanent Secretaries to deliberately destroy all forms of checks and balances in the governance of the state. It was only in his second tenure, which started in 2019 that he reluctantly appointed Permanent Secretaries. Ebonyians have witnessed a lawless and oppressive government; one in which only the governor’s companies are awarded all the major contracts in the state. For the first time in the history of the state, the civil service and local government service have been submerged and destroyed.
Communal disturbances have reached abnormal levels with attendant destruction of life and property, because of his divide and rule tactics. The Ebonyi State University, which was being rated as one of the best state universities has been ruined and relegated because the Governor has no respect for University autonomy. He constantly invites the university authorities and lecturers to his office to intimidate them. In 2020, he recklessly went to the university and collected N3.5 billion allocated to the institution by the TETFUND for staff training and infrastructural development. He took the money to his village, Uburu in Ohaozara local government area and started building some houses. He then announced that what he was building was the Ebonyi State University College of Medicine, thereby unceremoniously transferring the College of Medicine to his village. The Ministry of Education, which is the supervising Ministry had to gather information about these developments from the radio. There were no documentations. Then months ago, he announced that the College of Medicine he was building in Uburu has been converted to a new University to be known as David Umahi University of Medical Sciences. He claimed that it will be the best medical university in Africa and would end medical tourism in Nigeria. Even without a formal take-off, he also announced that the school fees would be N5million per student. Look at that level of recklesness.
Right now as we speak, the governor has handed over the controversial University to the Catholic Church. Personally, I knew all he was interested in was how to divert a chunk of the money from TETFUND, which he succeeded in doing. So, he is a man bereft of ideas. He is ready to do any thing to break the rules so as to undermine the orderly governance of the state. Secondly, he sees development as costume. He engages in useless paintings and decorations. Yet he has never provided pipe borne water to Abakaliki metropolis since he came into office. No rural electrification is available under his watch. Workers are paid half salary in the state and he has banned new employments into the civil service. He also banned the payment of retirement benefits to retired civil servants since 2015. People are dying installmentally in the state because of his evil policies. The state is getting poorer, while the governor and his trading/construction companies are getting richer.
You reportedly gave Gov. Umahi a two-week ultimatum to withdraw his executive order or you sue him. What was the problem?
On September 2, 2021, he announced that he had issued an Executive Order withdrawing all Certificates of Occupancy in the state. That meant that he was embarking upon the total revocation of all C of O’s in Abakaliki and Afikpo. That was the height of executive recklessness unbecoming of an elected public officer. We gave him the ultimatum, calling on him to withdraw the punitive order or we shall deploy all legal and legitimate instruments to compel him to step down his threat. We appreciate that a responsible government may have a genuine reason based on overriding public interest to revoke one or two C of O’s but never to revoke all the C of O’s in the state. That is anarchism! He is an uncontrollable land grabber and we suspect that he was embarking on the exercise as a selfish and self-serving land grabbing strategy to confiscate landed properties belonging to his critics, political opponents and non-indigenous elements who own property in Abakaliki. He had done the same thing when he closed the old meat market and opened the new Abakaliki International Market. Most of the traders who owned shops in the old market were subjected to fulfilling impossible conditions before they could get stalls in the new market. Many of them developed hypertension and died. We cannot allow him to continue to experiment with the lives of Ebonyi citizens.
But many people hold the view that the governor has transformed Ebonyi state?
The governor is a propagandist! He is not a humanist. Anything he does, he blows out of proportion. Moreover, like I said before, he came into government not to render service. He was a contractor even though he was struggling to make ends meet. He became governor and felt that the opportunity to make it has arrived. Umahi came into office and decided to embark on some white elephant projects, such as the new Government House at Ochudo city, the Ecumenical Centre, the Shopping Mall, the 10 over-head bridges. Unfortunately, the bridges are being built in places without any atom of traffic congestion. The state has no need for any new Government House, but he embarked on it as a process of fund diversion. So, he is merely experimenting with the lives of the people. How can someone spend billions of naira building flyovers when he has cancelled scholarships and re-introduced extortionate levies in primary and secondary schools? How can you be so fixated to certain useless projects such as the Ecumenical Centre, which gulped about N7billion when you have no single functional hospital in the state? The only available health facilities in the state are the Teaching Hospital operated by the Federal University and the mission hospitals at Mile 4 Abakaliki and Afikpo respectively. Human capital development in Ebonyi State is at its lowest ebb.
Ebonyi youths have been forced to go back into petty trading mostly at roadblocks in some Nigeria’s major cities. Umahi’s government has reversed all the positive achievements recorded by the former Governor, Dr. Sam Egwu, who pioneered genuine youth empowerment programmes through overseas scholarship schemes, which he cancelled immediately he took office in 2015. After spending over N6 billion to build a Shopping Mall, he is confused and does not know what to do with it. At the beginning, some companies came up and wanted to build the mall but he rebuffed them and went ahead to commit the scarce resources of the state. That boils down to what I was saying, that the man does not believe in developing the state based on certain priorities. His own priority is to develop conduit pipes for diverting funds. Even the roads he is reputed to have constructed with cement technology, has started falling apart because of cheap materials and low quality compacting. The road from Afikpo to Amasiri is already collapsing and the current rainfall has weakened the structures of his cement roads.
What can you say about the alleged N6 billion paid by the Federal Government to Ebonyi State Government for RUGA, which the governor denied receiving?
I don’t want to bother myself with whether he received N6 billion for cattle ranching or not. What I know is that he is not principled. He is part of the problem we have today in the South East as far as fashioning out a clear-cut policy on the rampaging activities of Fulani Herdsmen in the region is concerned. His unsteady posture arises from certain imaginations of his, which are based on the role he plays as a self-appointed Caliphate operative in Igboland. He believes that by acting that way, he would have warmed himself to the Fulani kingmakers as a possible presidential candidate of APC come 2023. But he must be very funny to contemplate such. He is too small and Ebonyi State is too isolated to become a central part of the Caliphate’s political permutation. He will soon be left in the lurch. The governor has not hidden his role as a double agent in the ongoing crises. He wants to be seen as the one who could help these people have a foothold in Alaigbo. But he is too provincial. He lacks the boldness of Hope Uzodimma. So, he still prevaricates between here and there.
How do you assess his performance as the chairman of South East Governors Forum?
It is my considered opinion that he is unfit for that office. We know the sort of things that former Anambra State Governor, Peter Obi did when he occupied the office. This one is a disservice to Ndigbo. A man who cannot offer satisfactory service in a small state like Ebonyi dabbles into the South East. He is always looking at what to gain from any position he holds instead of considering the challenges of the office. He is not a stable character and he lacks the exposure required for leadership at that level. Look at his counterpart in the Southwest, Gov. Rotimi Akeredolu, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and former National President of the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). What was the governor before coming into government? He was unknown. May be, someday, Ebonyians may demand that former Governor, Chief Martin Elechi explain how he came about Umahi. Elechi brought him from nowhere and foisted him as State PDP chairman and four years later as the deputy governor. Umahi sees himself as a smart guy.
In 2020, Ohanaeze Imeobi passed a resolution mandating governors to create a regional security outfit for the Southeast. Umahi worked hard to undermine that decision for a whole year. He was lucky to get away with his treacherous role because of the internal weaknesses of Igbo political leadership at the moment. When the chips were down, killings by Fulani Herdsmen erupted everywhere around March and April this year, especially in Ebonyi. Then pressure was mounted on him before he came up with the setting up of Ebube Agu, which has now become an exercise in futility. Ebube Agu is only operational in Ebonyi State. Umahi has only succeeded in bequeathing a pseudo security structure to Ndigbo. And his colleagues could as well be threading carefully with him before he blackmails them in Aso Rock.
What are his chances as a presidential aspirant in APC?
Even President Buhari and his kitchen cabinet cannot claim not to have his dossier. Of all those who contributed to making him governor, is there anyone still with him? Starting from former President Goodluck Jonathan, former Senate President, Anyim Pius Anyim, to business men like Chief Cletus Ibeto. Nobody can stand with him today because of his vicious and ruthless attitude to power. So, Umahi’s chances amount to nothing. He should be advised to moderate his inordinate political ambition and concentrate on the governance of Ebonyi State. He is not a material for presidential office. Let him stop carrying trailer loads of rice and yams to Northern leaders, in the name of contesting for presidency. Even if the APC decides to hand over power to someone from the South East, it can never be Umahi. Other stalwarts of APC such as Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Dr. Oji Uzor Kalu, Dr. Chris Ngige, Chief Ken Nnamani etc., are more qualified than him. In the PDP, there are the likes of Chief Anyim Pius Anyim, Mr. Peter Obi, etc., who are more credible, visible and accomplished.
What are the political permutations in Ebonyi State in the build-up to the 2023 elections?
Ebonyi is a PDP state any day. The governor’s decision to cross over to APC in October 2020 was informed by his selfish calculations, especially his desire to try and shield himself away from the inquisition of EFCC. All the major stakeholders in the state refused to follow him to APC. He has incurred the wrath of Ebonyi masses because of his excesses. He will face a level of mass resentment, which he never witnessed in his political career. We hope to use the platform of the opposition to mobilise against whomsoever he would want to support as his successor in 2023. We hope to reclaim the state from him and APC come 2023.