Monday, 1 November 2021


Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information, Barr. Uchenna Orji in this interview answers questions on the political situation in Ebonyi and the southeast. He also responds to critics of the government and insisted that Governor Umahi has performed creditably and has become a reference point for leadership excellence in Africa.


*Recently, it was reported that Ebube Agu killed some youths in Ebonyi State. What is the state government doing to contain all these youth restiveness, all these killings?*

Ebube Agu is a security outfit of the South-East which has been domesticated in Ebonyi State under the pragmatic governor, His Excellency, Engineer Dave Nweze Umahi, and of course, when they carry out their functions, you don't rule out the possibility of cracking  criminal elements, you don't rule out the possibility of having a clash with some criminal elements and hoodlums who wouldn't want to allow peace in parts of communities and so, when you said you heard they killed people, it is far from it.

But in the course of their duties, when armed and unrepentant hoodlums refuse to bow to the cause of security, they can be victims of eventuality. That’s what I can say. Let me tell you that since Ebube Agu came on board in Ebonyi State, our communal clashes have stopped. It has stopped by 99 and a half percent. Since Ebube Agu came to Ebonyi State as a creation,there has been a fine collaboration more of community policing which the conventional security agencies are enjoying and  intelligence gathering that the Ebube Agu is known for. And so, I can tell you that whoever is dishing out fake information to the public should know that we already have law against fake information and hate speech under my ministry and we can crack and and track such a person to face the law.

*What is the state government doing to make sure that these youths, all these IPOB, all these youthful exuberance are contained?

Is there any special programme to engage the youths, to keep them busy in order to make sure that they don’t have time for all these?*

The issue of youth restiveness is actually a national menace that requires collective national attention. In Ebonyi State, we have done quite a lot. The governor immediately after the ENDSARS protest, did constitute a 7-day summit aimed at getting the youths to air their grievances, their opinions, their recommendations that will make us move forward as a nation. The summit was tagged “Youth Engagement in National Development”. And thereafter, the governor in response to their recommendations launched N3billion EndSars Empowerment Programme.

That N3Billion Naira empowerment programme is in the basket. It is not only for the victims of the Endsars protest but it is also for the protesters themselves. It is for entrepreneurs, especially the youths and women. All you have to do is to do a bankable proposal. Once it passes the test by the financial institution concerned, you are sure to be a proud beneficiary of between N500,000, N1,000,000 to N2,000,000.

And I can tell you that so far, 200 people per local government have been shortlisted, that is 2,600 people to be beneficiaries of this empowerment programme. And I am sure that about 20 persons were already given N5,000,000 each and of course, some of them were those that couldn’t make it back to the executive council because they needed to go into business and I can tell you that they are already doing business. So, again, let me mention that we have other packages.

The governor did introduce a talent hunt initiative under youths and sports and has regenerated sporting events in Ebonyi State in the primary, secondary and tertiary institutions and that is playing some roles, that is, catching them young, discovering talents, and redirecting the focus of our your youths, the women in various sporting events and that has also kept our people busy. During the summit, the resource persons were taken in the entertainment industry, security, and even in the academia, and those in the entertainment industry had to bring a proposal on how to tap into the potentials we have in tourism and in the creative industry to develop our youth. As I speak with you, very soon we are going to launch a programme on youth empowerment through the entertainment industry and creative industry that will have a lot of ripple effects in terms of creating jobs and creating wealth for the population. Now, you need to know that we have a vocational college. That vocational college is an institution created by this administration that is aimed at bringing on board all of these talented persons such as artisans, craftsmen, technicians, especially those of them who didn’t pass through the walls of tertiary institutions, getting them into the school, having them trained for a minimum of 2 years, or perhaps to 3 or 4 years, depending on the vocation or entrepreneurship programme and thereafter, they will be given certification – a certificate that will now empower them to access funds from CBN, from Bank of Industry.

Let me assure you that this is going to be an aspect that will get our people to be engaged. Let me also mention that education is also being launched, a creative education whereby we are looking at taking the women outside the streets, taking them back through what we call “Out of School Children’s Programme”. They are to receive counselling, free and compulsory education.

There was a launch of this programme for N7.5 Billion and it will also reduce street hawking in parts of Ebonyi and even outside the shores of Ebonyi State. The last time we came to Lagos, we empowered them with N130 Million at the sum of  N250,000 each. Those people are already prospering with their families because we introduced what we call street-to-skill empowerment programme. Of course, within the shores of the state, we also rolled out N750 Million and empowered 3,000 youths after training them in different entrepreneurship programmes and I can tell you today that they have been taken away from the streets. We also did an empowerment programme for the poorest of the poor widows.

Today, we have rolled out and given out as a grant, the sum of N400,300,000 to the poorest of the poor widows. I can tell you that has enhanced school enrollment because when you empower the women, you have empowered the nation, you have empowered the children. You have even empowered the husbands and that is what is happening in Ebonyi State. I can also tell you that the civil servants are not left out in this.

We have four billion (Facility/loan) which they have already assessed completely. That loan is a single-digit loan that they are to pay over a number of years – a minimum of three years and a maximum of the time they are bowing out of service. That has made our civil servants to be more self-reliant under the programme that is called “Second Address”. The second Address means that even though you have white-collar jobs, you need to have green-collar jobs to make up for the job that you are doing as a civil servant.

That has also helped a lot. We have quite a lot of programmes that we have done, even for the clergy because we also attend to all classes of people – the clergy and the clerics. We rolled out N500,800,000 and gave it to 5,08 people with the sum of N100,000 per person.

We also considered the wives of security officials. In order to complement the efforts of their husbands who are working for us during the day and at night, the governor rolled out N80,600,000, that is N200,000 to 403 people who benefited, and today, these wives of these security officials are doing very well. But our emphasis is on agriculture because in agriculture, both the primary level, secondary and tertiary levels are doing a lot and that I believe will enhance food sufficiency and self-reliance as a people.

The governor is also targeting employing 5,000 youths and women; that is, civil service employment at the local government and state government levels. That recruitment is ongoing and that recruitment I can tell you by January, we’ll be rounding off and the 5,000 people will be recruited into civil service. Let me assure you that Ebonyi State is a construction site.

Anywhere you go, there is a construction going on. That is another form of employment and empowerment that is going on and we are targeting the non-skilled, the semi-skilled, and the skilled labour in this process. In all the local government areas, you see different kinds of projects scattered across the state. You see Ebonyi State indigenes working as engineers in road construction, engineers in flyover construction.

Today, we have not less than 13 flyovers making Ebonyi the highest after Lagos and Abuja. Today, we have the best network of roads, making us the next after Lagos and Abuja. Today, we are the first to construct roads with concrete pavements that lasts for a minimum of 50 years and it is our indigenes that have been doing that. Then we don’t have a capital flight at all because the indigenes, that is, those who are residents in Ebonyi, are the people doing the work. We have quite a lot of facilities created by the governor that empowers our people.

The international market has 5,000 shops that are housing our men and our women and they are doing very well now. The shopping mall is Africa’s biggest shopping mall and it is beautifully adorned. It was constructed with facilities such as lifts, escalators, CCTV cameras, and a car park taking about 5,000 vehicles at once. We also have ecumenical centres that people are managing. This is meant to be driven by the private sector, that is, a place where we have corporate conferences and I can tell you that it is the most beautiful ecumenical centre in Africa. I do not exaggerate. We also have an emerging international airport that provides not less than 10,000 jobs, which will empower our youths to go into importation and exportation.

We are training not less than 60,000 female youths to see how they can be proud millionaires. Africa’s biggest university of medical sciences is in Ebonyi State. We have given it over to the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria because they have the best management and discipline that will give us all we need. All we have to do is to generate revenue and job creation through them and that will trigger job employment and wealth creation in Ebonyi State. I  assure you that we are really emerging and we are very proud of that.

*The governor has less than 2 years to leave office. How does he intend to sustain all these projects?*

Sustainability is through necessary legislations; legislations that will make investors or those who have invested in all of these facilities not be afraid. They can be proud owners of facilities in Ebonyi State. The law is intact. That has been done. We also have an investment promotion law that is encouraging tax holidays and encouraging investors to come to Ebonyi to invest without having to pay so much revenues or some much taxes in Ebonyi State.

Again, on the issue of training our youths, we are training them through what we call “Governor Umahi Mentorship Scheme”; that is to say teaching them in the art of leadership. Governor Umahi is an institution and if you study him, you will know that if you must be a leader, you must have passion. If you must be a leader, you must be selfless. If you must be a leader, you must not rest until you carry out the yearnings of your people.

If you must be a leader, it must be such that must give your people the best. And so through the technical assistants, the senior technical assistants, and the executive assistants, we have turned out not less than 4,000 in the past before now. We are pretty sure that we have good successors even as the governor exits the executive positions in the state that will drive the vision towards its logical conclusion. But let me also mention that part of the sustainability measure that we are looking at is the issue of privatization and I assure you that virtually all the critical facilities, the government will not own and run. We built them a hundred percent with government money and will give them to private institutions to drive

Our target is not just to get money. Our target is to ensure that they own and manage them in such a way and manner that it will trigger job creation, trigger revenue generation through lots and lots of businesses that will be going on.

A government is not a good manager of businesses and that is why we are targeting the privatization of virtually every facility that is a money-spinner including our rice milling plant, which is the biggest in Africa. We are running it for now but we intend that before the government bows out, we will create a very formidable private sector that will participate in the running of the rice milling plant. Of course, the fertilizing blending plant is the biggest in the South-East, having 80 metric tonnes capacity per hour. We are doing the same thing in ensuring that before we bow out, we have to fix it in such a way and manner that it will be self-sustainable and these are the things that we are doing.

Education is one of them. We are privatizing some of our educational facilities, especially our technical schools – giving it to mission schools, that is to the private sector especially the Catholic Mission because we believe in their discipline. We believe in their passion for service, and I can tell you that Ebonyi state is emerging as the economic hub of the South.*

*It seems the governors of the southeast are not together. For instance, each time the Southern Governors met in Enugu, some governors of the South-East were absent. What is the chairman of the South-East Governors Forum doing to unite all the governors?*

That is a good question. When a governor is not present at a major event, he sends his deputy. That is why a governor has a deputy and president has his vice president, and a chairman has a vice-chairman, but let me mention that the issue of anti-open grazing law, which is one of the national issues for which the meeting was called was already discussed.

The issue of VAT is one of the national issues. Our governor has a position on that. In anti-open grazing, we were the first  state to pass the law even before the governor convened a meeting in Owerri where the South-East governors met and amongst themselves, decided that grazing law should be made and this decision of the South-East was taken to the southern level and I can tell you that the governors of the South-East are in tune with the issue of anti-open grazing, amongst other things. Now, let me also say that in the area of VAT which was part of the issues mentioned, the governor has to be very particular about that in terms of his opinion. He has a dissenting opinion and there is a lot of wisdom in that. VAT is a collection by the federal government agency, isn’t it?  and it has to be shared in line with the agreed principle of the VAT formula. Rivers State challenged it, perhaps Lagos joined. At that point, southern governors met under the chairmanship of the governor of Ondo State, which was part of the South West, they also met in Enugu, in the South East. Part of their resolution was that states should collect VAT.

My governor differed and said “no, let the federal agency continue on behalf of the federal government to collect VAT and distribute to us. Do you know why? If not for the federal allocation that the southeast states are collecting, we wouldn’t have been self-sufficient and we wouldn’t have been self-sustaining. You know that and I know that, and so for Lagos that can stand without federal allocation to come and say they want to collect all the VAT is not acceptable. Our idea is that we are not ripe to be so independent. One, all of these production issues starts and ends in Lagos, and they start and end in Rivers State, isn’t it? And tomorrow, they will start an agitation for resource control which was an agitation when former President Obasanjo was in power. I know how it was killed, and so the idea of the governor is that we need to be given time before we start talking about total restructure because it is part of a restructuring process. We need to develop our agriculture. We have the land. We have the zeal. We have the farmers. But we have no money for mechanization. We have no money to do that. We have solid minerals in the exclusive list. We need to bring it out gradually, give it to the concurrent list, and get the federal government to develop our solid mineral so that we can employ our people. Look, we want our people in the South East who are living in Lagos to come and invest in the South East. It is only when we have these kinds of investments that we can be independent. For now, the wisdom of the governor is that we cannot stay on our own, and you know this well as I do.

And so for us, we stand with our governor in this regard, and that is the only place that they have differing opinions, and that did not make the governor not to attend meetings with other governors. The governor attended  through his deputy governor, so there is no problem at all. Let me summarise by saying that the South East Governors Forum is the strongest, most peaceful, most functional, most responsible governors’ forum among the six geo-political zones. Do you know why? We have records of the meetings they are holding, records of meetings by the members with the  people of the zones. You see that the southeast Governors Forum is the most tackled , most dutiful, most responsible, has the most attended meetings compared to any other zone and I challenge anyone to tell me a zone that convenes meetings to discuss security, to discuss economic situations, to take decisions that bothers on national interest, to take decisions on how to solve agitations across the zones of the state more than South East. It is not only the South East that has agitations. The North West also has agitations, for example, the Boko Haram agitation. In the South West, there are also agitations, for example, the Sunday Igboho agitation. I am telling you that our governors in the South East are pretty good. They are up to  task. They are up to excellence.

*Election is going to hold in Anambra on November 6, and there are some insinuations. Some people are blaming the APC governors in the South East for the crisis and the insecurity in Anambra State. What do you have to say about that?*

Who are the people blaming the APC governors? In the history of governance since 1999 till today, it is only in the Buhari administration that the South East can say that we have got  a little part of the fair share of the projects for rehabilitation of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, talking about the construction of the second Niger bridge, talking about the construction of some commercially viable federal highways in the South East and all of that, and I can tell you that the South Eastern governors who are in APC are not relenting in launching us back into the party at the mainstream.

Let me tell you that in the history of the South East, we have never belonged to the opposition party and it is wisdom from the southeast leaders. I tell you that even before 1960, the southeast was known for working with the North to achieve its political aim. In 1963, the first parliamentary system of government, a South Easterner was head of state and Northerner was head of government. It was an alliance that resulted in that. In 1979, with the first presidential system of government, we had an alliance with NPN that brought the first vice president from the South East. And in 1999, we struggled to produce the president. We were denied of that but that did not deter us from being with the party at the centre. We produced virtually all the states as governors under PDP.

 and we saw disappointment and surprising neglect of South East by PDP. 

The much we have got in Ebonyi that is making us happy and proud is because we are working with the party at the centre, right from the time we were in PDP, and so we are proud members of APC. Let me come back to your question. Let me tell you that no APC governor or APC leader has a hand in the issue in Anambra State.

But let us all know that all of these agitations, violent issues accross the five States will naturally  have a ripple effect in Anambra as part of South East  so if anyone is ruling out that the violent agitations are part of the issues in Anambra State, then we are just hiding from the truth. But let me say that people are free because of the idiosyncratic tendencies to accuse APC governors in the South East. I don’t want to talk about that but the governor of Anambra State is about to leave and that does not mean we should not all work together to tell the whole world the truth about the cause of violence in the South East, Anambra State, and other parts of South East Region

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