Engineer Dave Umahi again! Yes, the Governor of Ebonyi State pulls no punches whenever he decides to speak. No tongue-in-cheek, he just fires from all cylinders.
That was what he did when he was special guest at the State House Press Briefing in Abuja last week. There were many issues of concern in his part of the country, and the governor did not shy away from any.
In recent times, police stations, offices of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), and other Federal assets have come under attack in the South East. They have been incinerated, and scores of policemen killed. Whodunnit? Leaders of the region have opted for ‘unknown gunmen,’ perhaps out of fear of being objects of attack themselves. But Umahi was deadpan:
“We are the ones killing ourselves, not foreigners. We have to tell ourselves the truth, if we want the problem solved.”
The governor said he may not agree with the formation of the militant wing of Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), known as ESN (Eastern Security Network), “but we know why it was formed.”
He said it was a direct reaction to the invasion of the region by both local and foreign herdsmen, who attack farmers particularly, destroy their crops, rape their wives, and kill people.
“We don’t want herders killed, but neither should they violate our cultural values. That was why we formed Ebube Agu, which is a kind of regional security group. It has been signed into law to protect our people. If you cause problems in any part of the South East, Ebube Agu will deal with you, no matter who you are.”
Ask Umahi what the South East really wants. A country of their own, as is being championed from some quarters?
He demurs: “We are Nigerians. We want to belong to a fair, just, equitable Nigeria. We want a country of fairness, equity, justice, and freedom. I want a Biafra of equity and justice, not one of killing policemen and burning of INEC offices. There’s no region that does not have issues in the country, but grievances should be looked at through dialogue, and not by taking the laws into your hands. Killing is not the character and culture of our people. It is sheer criminality.”
The governor laments that 99% of security agents killed so far in the region “are from the South East. They are our brothers and sisters. It is not good for us. We shed tears. Our people should be wise, and deploy wisdom at this critical time.”
He said the agitators should give leadership of the region their demands, “and we will address them within six months. But we are not with them in insulting the President of the country. It is foolishness.”
One way to combat poverty, insecurity and restiveness is through development. Gov Umahi spoke on giant strides in Ebonyi, a state he said he met in massive poverty, but which he is trying strenuously to turn around.
“We inherited poverty, and have demolished it, though there are still some traces. Even Jesus says the poor will always be around. But we do our best, and wish we can do more.”
Talking further on development as means of combating poverty, Gov Umahi spoke of keeping the people gainfully busy through agriculture, industry, rice mills, cassava flour processing, ultramodern shopping malls with over 50,000 stalls, road networks, a medical university being constructed, colleges of nursing, of technology, and human development generally.
“About 95% of our projects are done through direct labour. This ensures that there’s no capital flight from the state.
“We are doing everything to increase value for education. When you are educated, you won’t carry guns at the instigation of juju men, who promise invincibility. It doesn’t happen. You can’t be brainwashed into believing in a shrine that gets destroyed, and the shrine can’t respond.”
Gov Umahi loves President Buhari, and had always done so before he moved to the All Progressives Congress (APC). And the President returns the gesture duly. I recall that it was Ebonyi that the President first visited in his first term, and stayed the night. He was even invested with two chieftaincy titles by the royal fathers.
“President Buhari is doing a lot for the country,“ Gov Umahi says. “He started early on agriculture, otherwise, there would have been severe hunger in the country today. Lots of opportunities have been provided by the Federal Government, but our people don’t want to work again. Government has come with great empowerment opportunities, and they need to embrace and utilize these things.”
Now, to perhaps the biggest issue in the country. Presidency in 2023. Which region should get it? Was that the reason Umahi decamped to the APC? And would he stay, if he didn’t get the party’s ticket? The man is as frank as ever:
“I’m in APC, but it’s not conditional. It is not predicated on the party zoning its presidential ticket to the South East. If we are talking of justice, it is the turn of the South East. No good person from the region will preach seceding. We’re better off in South East under a fair Federal Government. We used to be houseboys and house girls before Ebonyi State was created. But not anymore. All we are asking for is a fair Nigeria. But I’m not in APC just because of presidential ticket.”
A parting shot from the governor?
“We can do with more patriotism in Nigeria. Fake news is a big problem fueling insecurity. We need patriotism to fight both insecurity and poverty.”
Very well said.
*Adesina is Special Adviser to President Buhari on Media and Publicity