The emphasis on economic diversification which consumed the major part of Governor Umahi’s inaugural pages on May 29, 2015 was both prophetic and predictive. Some weeks into the administration, the already bad World oil price worsened geometrically, leaving the the mono economy of the nation dominated by the one time black gold in a State of ceaseless retardation.
True to Umahi’s forecast, the consequent decline in federal revenue filtered down to the States, creating a deep lacuna in both capital and recurrent budgets of the entire nation, a development which almost crippled most States and resulted in government -Labour face-offs in a good number of States, among other crises.
The resultant blow, which could have been worse for States like Ebonyi with the smallest federal allocation, was however averted by the ingenuous stimulation of Internally Generated Revenue by Governor Umahi, especially through the rejigging of the agricultural sector and the harnessing of the State’s solid mineral deposits.
The launching of the One-man, One-hectare Agricultural programme, civil servants agricultural loan scheme, youth agro-empowerment schemes and farmers agro input subsidies saw many people in that category owning farms and contributing immensely to the State’s Gross Domestic product.
The hitherto derelict and dilapidated former NYSC farm of over 2,000 hectares in Ezzillo, Ishielu Local Government Area of the State was revamped. Commissioners in the administration compulsory owned rice farms across the State.
The then Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe, for instance, highly motivated and innovative, took up the challenge with his usual commitment and taintless ardour, and became one of the highest producers of rice in the country, a feat he still sustains, consulting privately for States now, out of office.
Undoubtedly, Governor Umahi’s resuscitation of other sources of revenue for the State, which were hitherto comatose by non patronage, is the secret behind the uninterrupted capital and recurrent expenditures producing industrial harmony, sustained infrastructural projects as well as unprecedented health and human capital development, even amidst the COVID-19 pandemic. Having proven the efficacy of diversified economic sources, even in his personal life as an entrepreneur, Umahi never fails to preach the gospel at any given opportunity.
Featuring as the guest lecturer during the 59th Anniversary and Founders Lecture of the University of Nigeria held on October 9, 2019 at the Princess Alexandra auditorium of the Nsukka main campus, Enugu State, Umahi, armed with the Ebonyi breakthrough story, called on Nigeria Leaders at all levels to tow the path of Agriculture as viable alternative to oil. According to him, the over dependence on oil-driven economy was responsible for the post independent economic and political woes of the country.
Umahi had explained: “Our administration, from day one is working on the premise that one-day oil will go or lose its value in the market. We are working on the stack reality that one day, Federal Allocation will diminish or worse still extinguish and the world would have moved forward without oil. Ebonyi state does not have her oil reserve yet developed and does not enjoy 13% derivation.
“In planning for tomorrow based on our conviction that one-day oil will become history, we focused on the following Programs: Solid Infrastructure, Agriculture, Solid mineral, Human Capital Development, Tourism, water Production, Entrepreneurship, Vocational Development, Education, Health, industrialization and Security as critical sectors that will drive our initiative on zero oil economy.”
As the Leader of South-East Governors, Umahi has continued to aggregate both opinions and actions towards the zone’s economic recovery reminiscent of the glorious days of the Palm oil boom, groundnut pyramids, Coal power, among others. In its last expanded virtual meeting, the South East Governor’s Forum inspired by Umahi, deliberated as a usual on the way forward for the zone’s economy.
Apart from their resolve to consult with the Presidency on the revamping of the Eastern Corridor rail line, they would also ensure that the zone is integrated beneficially in the federal government’s gas pipeline programme under Public -private partnership.
On the Alaigbo Consolidation Fund, the integrative project encompassing the various non-oil economic boosters for the zone, the Governors set up a 54-man committee to come up with the programmes and procedures for the success of the fund and report back to the forum within the next six weeks for review and take off.
However, there is the general appeal that the largest part of the programme should centre on Agriculture and resuscitation of the industrial prides of the zone such as the Nigeria Cement factory in Ebonyi State, Anambra Motor Manufacturing Company, Golden Guinea Breweries and Modern Ceramics Industry in Umuahia, Abia State, the Hotel Presidential in Enugu, among others.
Efforts should be made also to revamp all the oil palm plantations established by Michael Okpara during the defunct Eastern regional administration across the zone, as well as the Imo and Anambra River Basins to boost Agriculture. There should also be a sincere will to revamp all the moribund farm settlements across the zone to draw the youths into full- time Agriculture.
On the ground of meaningful youth engagement, Umahi further raised an appeal of the Governors to the Youths of the zone to key into the many Federal government initiatives, the World Bank and the Central Bank of Nigeria programmes, especially in Agriculture to better their lots and add to the national economy, assuring the readiness of the Governors to assist anyone wishing to venture into these areas. He urged the youths to utilize their times for productive ventures and desist from unbridled indulgence in social media propaganda and dissemination of fake and dangerous news.
Though the Social media has become one of the viable avenue for economic diversification, most youths still do not harness it profitably. They rather employ it to indulge in idle gossips, propagating of fake news and other anti social and anti economic behaviours.
umahi said: “The South East governors are appealing to our youths to try the federal government initiatives through the CBN in resuscitating the economy through Agriculture, rather than wasting their usefulness in Social media and propagation of fake and very destructive news. So we are asking the youths, our men and women that the governors are ready to help them participate in the robust programmes of the federal government, the CBN, the World Bank, in resuscitating the economy, especially in areas of agriculture.”
Meanwhile, talking about the youths, Governor Umahi has, more than any other administration in South East, engaged them. With over 1000 youths appointed into his government as members of his executive council; Executive, Technical and Senior Technical assistants, as well as countless youth empowerment programmes he introduced, the future seems brighter if we’ll harnessed.
However, the Governor has continued to emphasise that his appointments were not for political patronage but for adding value to the economy of the State through sustained job creation. When he announced that all the EAs, STAs and TAs would be relieved of their appointments on 1st August, each with the prospect of being reappointed on the condition that he/she presents evidence of his economic impact, especially in Agriculture, he was not merely politicking. The decision, which has been lauded by some economic analysts, portend good for the State because it would jolt those aides from a possible slumber induced by the euphoria of belonging to the political class, and as such, damming Agriculture as the job of the non-privileged.
Ebonyi is on course, And with Umahi, the South East can only get to its Eldorado via economic diversification, especially towards our area of comparative advantage, which is Agriculture. All and sundry ought to strive to be part of the revolution.
. Agwu, a Journalist and Public Affairs Analyst, writes from Abakaliki, the Ebonyi State capital.