Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State believes that, for equity and justice in Nigeria, the South East should produce President Muhammadu Buhari’s successor in 2023. He spoke with editors on various issues recently, including his presidential ambition.
In about a year, your administration will come to an end and there are many projects still ongoing, including the international airport. What is the state of things on those projects?
Everything that is of God overcomes. God is not the agent of unfinished product and, if you know that I came on Divine Mandate, then you will know that all will be completed and anchored properly. The Edda flyover, I am sure you have gone to that project, it is one of the wonders of this administration and, of course, our nation, and I believe that, in the next two months, that job will be competed. The Amasiri flyover is also going to be done in the next two months. The airport, by the end of August, we should be expecting the first flight in that airport. The King David University, by the end of July, the free medical treatment, which we are offering to the entire nation for the next two months, will be on. We have offered scholarships for the 36 states and FCT in our fist admission, six per state, for one year, free of charge. So, we have a number of students all over the country that we are doing the same thing for the second year admission and we also have free medical lab examination. So, you can do your total medical evaluation in King David University from the first day of June, and it is going to run for three months.
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The job that may be remaining would be the Olympic Stadium because it has to be the best in this country, but I would have done that job up to 70 per cent. So, the incoming administration, of course, I am going to hand over in that stadium next year, by God’s special grace. And just the auxiliary works should be what is remaining, which should be about 30 per cent, and there will be a contract. What will be remaining will be a portion of Abakaliki-Enugu dualisation; there will be about 15km left. I am dualising the boundary to Nkalagu. I am dualizing from Abakaliki to Ezzamgbo, 135km. So, there will be some portion left in between, about 15km. I will award it and mobilize (for) it before I leave. There will also be a portion of Abakaliki to Afikpo. This is about 100km of road and, before I leave, it will be about 40km left, which will be basically from Abaomege down to Afikpo, and I will also award it and commit a mobilisation there. The Ala Hausa flyover that is moving day and night will be completed, The Nkalagu flyover is done, it’s just the auxiliary works. So, I know local government jobs that are ongoing but the jobs are given to the local government chairmen and they will fund them from our finances.
You are among those vying for the President of this country, in APC, and some people are saying that you are considering backing out of the presidential contest because of the caliber of aspirants in the APC, some of who are founding fathers of the party. What is your take on this and what makes you stand out among these aspirants?
Our country has moved to a very unfortunate stage where we believe that money answereth all things. I know of somebody who used to say that what money cannot do, more money can do that. And so you have mentioned a couple of things, the founding fathers of the APC. There must also be the founding sons of the APC, because life is a relay race; you cannot continue at a stage throughout life. You have also said people that contributed, we are talking about our nation, the state of our nation now. And we are talking about who can do this job, we are not talking about how much money you have because, when you say how much money you have, from which company did you make such money? And so, we are in a critical stage of our nation and we should be very much interested in talking about those who can do the job. The Nigerian nation should be able to see and x-ray the leaders, past and present, and let us talk on essentials, let’s talk on intellectual capacity to do the job, the capacity, the strength, the calling to do the job; and somebody asks me what stands me out. What stands me out is the calling of God, what we have been able to achieve through the grace of God here, because everything we need at a macro level in our nation-building and the challenges, they have been sorted out in this state. Is it the security? Here in Ebonyi, it has been from bottom-to-top approach, not minding the political inclination in our security programmes where everything is about politics: if it doesn’t go my way, it is destroyed; otherwise, I can tell you that Ebonyi State is the most peaceful state. By the way, we have handled security in this state. We have the vigilante, we have the community self-defense mechanism. At the state level, we have the Ebubeagu outfit and these people are doing very well and we have made sure in our laws that they are subject to the police authorities and it is very important. As we have fought this security to a winning point in Ebonyi, I will be encouraging community policing, I will be encouraging state policing, I will be encouraging a reformed security architecture of our country. And I have said that the security we have in the South East is different from what we have in North East, what we have in North West. So, you have to engage, you have to study the kind of insecurity, what brought about insecurity? Of course, corruption is one of them, neglect of the young people at a time they were supposed to be catered for is one of them. There is also a political inclination: let’s destroy it, if it cannot come our way.
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There is hunger and anger in the land and so we are looking for somebody who can do the job, and I think I can do the job. If it is to share money, I can’t share money. I have fear for God and love for the people. I have the strength, I have the health, I have the energy, I have the wisdom, I have the training. I am a professional engineer and I create wealth. In Ebonyi, 95 per cent of the jobs are done through direct labour, through the ministries. There must be a leader that is above board to lead this country; there must be a leader that has the fear of God. The Bible says that by the fear of God men depart from evil. It is not about EFCC and ICPC, there is more that is more than these two, and that is God, because, when you take from the poor, you are doing the opposite of what the word of God says. It says that he that giveth to the poor lendeth unto God. So, I stand out by my training, by the fear of God, by my antecedents. I am an engineer by profession and engineers have not been given the opportunity to lead this country. We have infrastructure decay in this country. My position is that they should allow engineers, I look at them as creators to build the nation, then hand over to the politicians. I liken them to making the food; when the food is done, then we allow the politicians to come and take over. But right now, we need a professional to rebuild this country. Talking about experience, I have been a party chairman for four years. I have been a Deputy Governor for four years under a very experienced man and I will be governor for eight years in the next year plus, and I have the courage, the experience. I have the performance and, if you check all my indices of performance vis-a-viz the rating of the World Bank, the rating of the Vice-President of the country, the National Bureau of Statistics, Ministry of Finance, you will see I came first. But on the overall rating, you will see I came second and I don’t know why I came second because I should come first but I have to accept. So, I stand out to do this job but if you are considering the volume of money, I shouldn’t even contest in the first place because I don’t have the kind of money many of them have. I have done the job in Ebonyi, I have not stolen money, I have not saved money but I have a name and I have legacies. In all honesty, I continue to pray that God will not bring a politician. Promises have been made in the past and failed, we are not going to rely on promises; in fact, I hate to hear promises. I want to see what you have done in your previous outings. What have you done? And that is what Nigerians should be asking now and not when you collect money from people, you begin to talk. There must be a nation for us to be what we are and I feel so sad when elders are not objective when our nation is sinking; it looks like money answereth all things, it pains me so much but we have to grow above that because, if this nation sinks, God forbid that, we will all sink.
There have been clamours for zoning in this country as regards the presidency. What is your take on this?
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The entire South and Middle-Belt came together and said, look, for the sake of equity, justice and fair play, let the next President come from the South and it caught fire and even a lot of our brothers and sisters from the North also bought it. So, everybody had in mind that, when talking about the 2023 presidency, South East that never had an elected President would be given a chance among our two brothers of South-South and South West; and Southern Governors came together and said the same thing. But when I suspected foul play in PDP, I said, no, and made sure that the PDP would keep to this issue of fair play. How is it that we have been supporting and we have never been given the chance to be supported? And I cried to the world and to Nigerians. Incidentally, my own brothers from Ebonyi and the entire South East attacked me but today they have not apologised and they need to apologise but they are at a crossroads and they don’t know what to tell our people, that we are not even being considered for anything in PDP; so, I came over to APC. I have peace in APC, I have respect in APC, there is no headmaster. Even the President has respect for the party and says, look, the governors are in charge of their respective states. But not so from where I was coming from. You see your colleague trying to lord it over you in your own state, but that is not the same in the APC. I am happy that we are being equally treated with respect.
So, if the mind of the South is that when this thing comes, we should continue to vote for our brothers and no opportunity to be voted for, I said, no. Then we have blackmailed the North. It means that it was no longer on the platform of equity and justice. So, it’s blackmail and if that is blackmail, the South East should pull out of the blackmail and then say, look, if you are not basing this thing on equity and justice, then everybody can contest. And so, the South will no longer cry of marginalisation because marginalisation cannot just stop between the North and South. When it comes to South, it has to also trickle down to the three regions with different cultural backgrounds. That’s the position and I think this opinion should be enhanced because justice is justice, fairness is fairness, equity is equity; and I have seen that the body (language) of Mr. President is that this thing should come to the South but if it is thrown to the South and justice and fairness and equity are being denied, then, if I am the one giving it, I have to reconsider my position and that is the truth. So, our brothers and sisters in the South-South and South West should, please, think about tomorrow, think about if destiny is denied the South East; will there be any kind of unity again as people with common voice for the so called justice, equity and fairness. There is a lot of implications in not evaluating this situation properly; it will not make for the cohesion of the South and I want to he heard not because I am contesting and I need to contest. The South East must have something in their hand and that’s why I am not bothered about the number of aspirants from South East but, unfortunately, they are lower than that of South-South and South West. Then, where is the justice, equity and fairness that has been turned upside down? So, I want many Nigerians to speak for South East and then when it comes to who can do the job in South East, you should be very objective and have the fear of God. Don’t be afraid to say its Umahi because Umahi can do the job.
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We have so many of you aspiring for presidency in the South East, do you think of having a consensus among you?
There is no need for consensus. When they say that Igbo should come together, I continue to say there is nothing like that. The Igbo are not making President for the Igbo alone and many of us are there and we are not the ones to choose who should be the President of Nigeria; it is Nigerians that should choose who should be their President. So, we have quite a good pool of aspirants from South East and they should choose. If they are looking for somebody who can develop infrastructure, somebody who is committed, has the fear of God and has very wonderful ratings in terms of transparency in governance, then they will see somebody from Ebonyi and other aspirants that have other qualities including some of my own qualities. Nigerians are there to make a choice. What kind of President do we want at this our challenging moment? That should be the question that should be on the lips of Nigerians.
What is your influence on other South East governors to ensure adequate security in the region; how are you people networking to ensure there is peace in South East?
This one is dangerous. You want to hide under security to discuss development and I can tell you that all the governors of South East are doing extremely very well in terms of development and that we all have our problems; we all have our priorities and so, we never had infrastructure, security and then enhancing the confidence of my people; wealth creation is key for me. Different kinds of challenges may be in Enugu, may be in Abia, Anambra and Imo. So, we don’t have different callings and different challenges. But when it comes to security, I must tell you and in all honesty that there is politics in our security situation. There is extreme politics in this region and it must stop for the sake of our people. When we started, we were all working together and I was championing the fact and I still champion it with no fear or apologies that IPOB is not good for us; that the kind of agitation being meted out was not correct, that hate speeches are not good. And then, from there, it developed to violence and then we continue to indict our people and say we have been infiltrated, ‘na lie’. It is South East killing South East and security people and until we are bold to say this, it will continue. And what is trending now is, why is it that we do sit at-home? It’s not only the Igbo that are in South East that do sit-at-home and it is not the businesses of Igbo and businesses of other people from other regions. Then, you now go to other regions, you are doing your own businesses freely and then nobody is disturbing you and that is what people are sending me as the Chairman of Southeast Governors forum. So, I use this opportunity to tell Igbo to be wise, this sit-at-home is useless and it is nonsense. This agitation is nonsense for me because even if it was to be Biafra, Ebonyi will not belong to Biafra. I have been saying it and I will continue to say it and I have no apologies because we have been used as house boys and house girls and by the creation of Ebonyi State, we are having self-determination and somebody is telling me about Biafra. We have to get to the status of our brothers and sisters in South East. Before, we have no confidence in ourselves and we are changing the narratives and somebody has been your house boy and house girl and the person wants to aspire, you will definitely not be happy. So, we are not for Biafra, we are for a united and equitable just Nigeria. And so, I will continue to preach that there is no gain in sit-at-home, there is no gain in our killing ourselves and I am happy that the altercation with other people from other regions is a thing of the past. We are living peacefully with our brothers and sisters from other regions and it is quite encouraging. But in sit-at-home, I don’t support it at all and I call on our people to come out in sincerity and fear of God, let us work together to do something about our region and liberate our people. So, the moment extreme politics and brainwashing die off in South East, then we can begin to aspire. Killings and violence have not been part of our cultural values and I don’t know where it came from. So, that’s my position.
Why is it difficult for the five governors of South East to work together and function very effectively on security issues, especially on Ebubeagu that was established to strengthen security in the zone?
The issue of Ebubeagu, you see, every state is autonomous and I won’t be able to comment on it because South East leaders came together and said look, by December last year, every state should have Ebubeagu inaugurated and I know that some states have had their own laws. We first made and signed our laws and it is working and it is helping us and that is the way to go and I can’t speak for other states because may be, they have a better way of solving their security problems but this is my own little way of solving it and it is working for me.
What is the relationship between Ohanaeze and South East governors, because the two were supposed to work together on this issue of security and all that?
There is also extreme politics in Ohanaeze. Ohanaeze started very well and I went to Owerri when they were elected. There is politics in Ohanaeze now and they have to honestly discharge themselves because they will still reckon with the moment like this when they should stand apolitical, fighting for the good of our people. I went to table the issue of political solution for Nnamdi Kanu before Mr. President but even at that, it is an insult in Nigerian nation if we are doing sit-at-home and we are talking about political solution. So, this nonsense sit-at-home must give way for the President and the Federal Government to begin to consider and say, look, these people are sincere but not when there are still more killings. Sit-at-home disrupts business activities, endangers the people, creates fear and then killings and then we are talking about political solution. I am not for that. So, I have told the gladiators to stop the sit at home so that we have the face and the courage and the conscience to approach the Federal Government. To ensure that there is no politics in it, I have pleaded with Professor Obiozor to lead this peaceful olive branch created. So, I think we should in strong voice ask these people to denounce this illegitimate sit at home.