Umahi, Ebonyi State Governor and Chairman, South-East Governors' Forum

Silently, without media hype, Engr. Dave Umahi has completed an infrastructural revolution in South East’s youngest state, Ebonyi. Once derided as a backward state, Ebonyi, courtesy of Umahi has taken a giant leap forward to become the zone’s leader in infrastructure, as well as rapid improvement in education, agriculture, health care and other areas.

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Udensi Roundabout, Abakailiki

This, remarkably, has been recorded in just four years and with relatively little resources. Ebonyi, with an annual average internally generated revenue of about N4billion, and yearly federal allocation of about N25 billion, is one of the least revenue earning states in Nigeria. But with its little, the state has achieved amazing feats under the governor’s watch. Umahi’s accomplishments, without exaggeration, have become a stuff of legends.

Indeed, nothing explains his strides as governor of Ebonyi better than the fact that it has, within these few years, transcended from a state regarded by many as the least developed in the South East to one now cited as an example of a working state whose state of infrastructure is used to measure the performance or lack of performance of sister governors in the zone and beyond. In precise, Ebonyi under Umahi has come of age.

Interestingly, even with little revenue, the governor has not, like a few other states facing financial constraints, plunged Ebonyi into heavy debt burden. Indeed, with domestic debt at N42 billion and external debt at $76 million as of July 30, 2019 according to Debt Management Office (DMO) figures, Ebonyi is one of the least indebted states in Nigeria. Yet, all over the state, road and other infrastructural projects are ongoing while many have since been completed.

The Enugu-Abakailiki Expressway is the only interstate road in the South East, if not the entire eastern Nigeria that a traveler would find portholes difficult to come by. Smooth, well paved and beautifully designed, the expressway is a delight to ply. Yet, as impressive as the road is, especially on getting to Abakailiki where, again, courtesy of Umahi, it divides into solid dual carriageway, it only serves to usher visitors in to the jaw-dropping beauty that is today’s Abakailiki, the state capital.

“Umahi is doing wonderfully well in Ebonyi,” notes Dr. Sam Onyishi, a leading transporter in Nigeria and CEO of Peace Mass Transit Ltd. “The roads there are very well constructed. The kind of things he is building there, sometimes you begin to wonder if it’s the federal government that is there building those things.”

Ebonyi remains a massive construction site. Apart from the Enugu-Abakailiki road, the governor has also intervened in other strategic federal roads in the state, including Afikpo Road, Uburu-Amasiri Road among others.

Building for tomorrow, Umahi’s projects are particularly noted for their solidity. Along the Enugu-Abakailiki road, at Presco, Spera Indo junctions and the International Market, are three massive flyovers constructed evidently, by the best of engineers and decorated for aesthetic value by the best of artistes. The bridges are part of the trans-Saharan route to Cameroon. At night, they are lighted up to give the entire landscape an ethereal beauty.

“We are happy with what the governor has done, Abakailiki is now a beautiful place,” noted a bike rider, Nwede. “Yes, I’m very satisfied with what he has done.”

South Easterners, once in a while, hold online debates about which capital city in the zone is most beautiful. Abakailiki has arguably emerged as the indisputable winner of that contest. A trip around the city only confirms this assertion: smooth roads, smart roundabouts, modern storey buildings and fine streets. The Udensi Roundabout with its fountain waterfall and spotless labyrinth of roads is a marvel, yet same can be said about the Government House Roundabout and the Abacha Roundabout, among others.

But in Abakailiki, it’s not just about beautiful roads and roundabouts. The administration has also nearly completed the huge international market, the Margret Umahi International Market, which was started by the Martin Elechi administration. There is the impressive centenary city and a new governor’s lodge, ecumenical centre with combined sitting capacity of 12,000, the largest ever built by any government in Nigeria, if not on the African continent.

For a state with Ebonyi’s revenue profile, contemplating an international airport on paper would seem like an unrealistic dream. But in Ebonyi, Umahi has continued to prove that impossible is nothing. Thus, while one’s first instinct could be to greet his international airport project with skepticism, he has defied possibly bigger odds.

Infrastructure and more …

The conceived Ebonyi International airport, which would have four kilometers by four kilometers in measurement, located in the central part of the state, is the latest of many massive projects ongoing in the state. The now renovated Abakailiki stadium at Ntezi-aba is huge by Nigerian standard, but the governor has since decided that for the future he wants for the state capital and the state, only a brand new stadium that would attract athletes from Africa and beyond would do.

Apart from the three massive flyover bridges in Abakailiki, he has also started constructing other eight flyovers at Abaomege in Onicha local government, Nkalagu Junction, Uburu Junction, Ohaozara, among other locations.

The state capital is easily the best well-organised and has best road network of any in the Southeast, if not the entire country. But it’s not just about Abakailiki. Across the state, there are numerous road projects. The Abakailiki to Ikwo road is well-constructed, the Abakailiki-Afikpo road is not any less so.

“The magic behind what the governor is achieving is highest level of probity and accountability, highest level of transparency, highest level of compliance with the principle of fiscal responsibility and procurement,” notes the state’s Commissioner for Information, Mr. Uchenna Orji.

“The magic is also the fear of God and the fact that the governor was very prepared from the very beginning to govern Ebonyi State. For us, it is a divine project. He came on board via a divine mandate.

“And if you look at his track record, you will understand that he truly came from God. I will also say that his track record, to an extent, explains what is happening now. I’m talking about his experience, his exposure, education but most importantly, his passion. The passion is the engine that drives those three elements: exposure, education and experience.”

A revolution in Agriculture

Noted for its Abakailiki rice, Ebonyi is a largely agrarian state. The Umahi government has continued to support farmers and farming to improve productivity through his administration’s agricultural development programmes.

The government now runs three rice mills with capacity of 24 metric tonne per hour. It also has par-boiling plant with a total of 24 metric tonne capacity that feeds the mill

The governor had also procured four rice mills, each with four metric tonne capacity with parboiling plants with same capacity per hour each, giving to individuals or cooperatives to operate.

Empowerment Programmes

The governor has introduced a number of empowerment programmes. He trained and empowered 3000 youths and women with N250,000 grant each. Through his Street to Skill Empowerment Programme, the governor had also trained and empowered 520 hawkers with N250,000 each and 400 “Okada” riders with tricycles.

He also shortlisted, trained and empowered 403 spouses of security officials of Ebonyi origin with N200,000 each and 508 clergymen with N508 million.

For the state’s civil servants, he introduced the ‘Second Address Scheme,’ a scheme which compels civil servants to have second address in farming, either at the primary, secondary or tertiary production. They are subsequently given loans ranging from N250,000 to N1million to support agricultural produce, among other programmes aimed at promoting entrepreneurship.

The Complaints

Some residents say, however, that while the governor has impressed them with his work, they are being made to bear heavy tax burden.

“The governor has done well in terms of building roads and other things, but he is taxing us heavily,” says Ugwu Onyi, a tailor. “Shop owners are made to pay N14,000 to the government. It is too much for us.”

There is also the complaint about civil servants being underpaid and pensioners being neglected.

“He is using all the money to build infrastructure,” one source says. “We have been making due with half salary.”

Mr. Orji, however, argues that only those who are unhappy with the projects being executed in the state are raising such complaints.

“I think that you interviewed the wrong persons; persons that may not be happy with the progress we are making here,” Orji says.

“But let me say that Ebonyi State has the least IGR in the Southeast. A lot of those living in the urban areas are from Enugu, Anambra, Abia and Imo states. And I know these states have higher revenue profiles than us. So, where is the money?

“Go to our laws on taxation, it is the least. It is very fair, it has human face. We even give tax holidays to companies that are coming to invest in the state.”