I Will Arrest Local Government Chairmen If … – Umahi

Governor Dave Umahi of Ebonyi State recently had a media chat where he spoke on varied issues including the expected opposition polity in the state, the salary increase being demanded by the civil servants, his promise to reduce school fees. Felix Uka was there. Excerpts:

How do you see the opposition elements in your state’s polity?

Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi
Ebonyi State governor, Dave Umahi

People may have opposed or worked with us differently. In politics, indeed, in all affairs of life, you will always need people. If you are in your electoral ward you cannot know what is happening in the other ward. The opposition elements might have fought us during the State and National Assembly elections but became friends during the governorship election. Politics is all about negotiations, dialogue, agreement and disagreement. There is no one that worked for us, thatwill not benefit from our administration and that is my assurance. But one thing that is very important is the ability to forgive, even those you call opposition elements. When you forgive, you set yourself free.

And forgiving does not make you a foolish person. When you forgive you expect to be forgiven when you as a human, also go wrong. When people see a man that easily forgives, they begin to think that the man is weak, he is not weak and it is you that is weak because a real child of God does what God asks him to do. The reward is from God. A man cannot be disadvantaged because he forgives.

There is the notion that you will arrest, probe and prosecute some local government chairmen, Development Centres Coordinators who are suspected to have embezzled funds?

Everybody has his own method of tackling issues. I will not arrest them but if they fail to bring the money I will arrest them. I will personal invite EFCC to come after them but I believe they will return the money they took away.  Leadership is very important. The face of any administration is the face of leadership. If the past administration did not care so much about eradicating corruption, we cannot allow that, we will recover the money that the former caretaker chairmen took away. We will pardon them but we need the money. We need the money to enable us provide infrastructure and develop to the people of the state. The first thing to do should not be to arrest them because if I arrest them, people will say it is politically motivated. We have decided not to arrest them since they have joined another political party, APC, let them not say I am arresting them because they have joined another party. But let me emphatically say I will arrest them if they don’t bring the money. I will arrest them even if they are in headquarters of any political party. I will come there and arrest them and make sure they bring the money.

We heard some of them are already refunding the money?

I have not seen any money. None of them has refunded any money but we hope that they will refund it. We have charged the local government service commission to do something about it and soonest they will report back to us. We told them that we don’t want to remove anybody from office. This is the first government that is saying, look we want to find out all the fraud that have happened in Ebonyi state but the Bible said “let him that steal, steal no more” we want to negotiate with these people. What we need is the money they stole; we don’t need their down fall. We don’t want to destroy their political carrier but we need the money.  By the time we get the money from them nobody will hear the matter any longer.

Do you at any point feel threatened with the arising challenges in governance so far?

Honestly I am a very courageous person because I have believed in God in all my life. I don’t believe that in life you are not going to have some challenges. The first challenge I had on my assumption of office was my inability to keep to the promises I made to workers, students.

When I was the deputy governor, I was very in with the labour and we understood ourselves the definition of minimum wage and I said I was going to pay minimum wage to our workers and that promise is sacrosanct and remains undiluted. I also made promise to our students that I will reduce school fees and each community we went to we made promises. We saw our defenceless women, mothers, brothers and sisters and their situation was very bad. But the time we made these promises the price of oil then was still high. With what was on ground then as our allocation it was enough to fulfil these promises. I was much shocked that the oil has fallen and it has affected our allocation. As a result I saw myself as not being able to immediately implement those promises. I was badly challenged but my consolation is that is I still hope that our funds shall increase but for now it is tight. I had to open our books of account and showed to our people, that this is what we earn, made our intention known to them and this is what we can do now. To me, that is a challenge that I was unable to implement immediately the promises I made to the people but I am very confident that we will keep all our promises.

Do you plan to go ahead with all the projects abandoned by the immediate past administration?

No doubt we want to complete all projects that are in place. The good thing is that I was a businessman, contractor and an Engineer. If you start a project and you don’t have the means to fund it, you are wasting time. If you get small money and put there, the contractor will finish and be waiting for you. By the time you come back, he will give you a variation that will swallow the money you have put in.

Every contract we want to do, we will sit down and measure it side by side with the amount of money that comes to us.

Payment of workers’ salaries tends to be your most challenging project since assumption of duties. How do you hope to wriggle out of that?

If I pay the much I can pay to our civil servants and if you shout from now till next year, I have a responsibility to fulfil for Ebonyi people. A responsibility in term of security, health care, education and most importantly provide basic amenities/ infrastructural development to the people. All these things we are talking, they all involve money. If we receive whatever comes to us from the federal allocation and the IGR we can generate and use all of them to pay workers’ salaries, then we will fold our hands and do no projects. It is not even safe for our workers because if the security agencies are not encouraged to provide security to us, even if you collect the money you will see hoodlums coming to your houses to collect from you the 50 percent salary increase you are demanding. We have many other things to execute in the interest of the generality of Ebonyi people.

It is very annoying that little equipment we imported into the country are still in the whore-off and today we are paying over one hundred and thirty million naira for demurrage for ordinary containers. This money is enough for us to do over 3 kilometer road for the people. We have geared into action by borrowing little money towards clearing the containers. I believe from next week we will expect the containers.

You promised to do 10 urban roads. How soon do we expect completion of the roads reconstruction?

I assure you by December this year we will be able to complete them.

And we will be able to do that because we are working in the rainy season and you hardly do asphalt during the rainy season but with concrete in some of the roads where we want to deploy concrete we will be able to do that.

What is your major priority?

The priority area? Everything in Ebonyi is a priority because we have been forgotten years back by other states. The priority is to make plans for tomorrow and in making plans, you have to plan for everything, our health system, education, electricity, our water system and the welfare of the people. Take for example, we are impoverished. And that is why I said; whatever little fund that is available we will use it to do projects that will benefit our people.

Our people have no other place of income and we said whatever we get we will spread it to benefit our people so that they will have sense of belonging in this government.

The place serving as the Ebonyi State House of Assembly complex looks like a sheer big classroom block?

The speaker of the house knows the economic situation of the state. We have plans to renovate the assembly complex and whatever we can do to give the place a face lift would be done. When the Speaker comes up with a proposal for that we will definitely attend to that. I love the house members and I am prepared to work with them.

Some people have expressed  fears that the boarding schools system existing may not be sustained?

We actually have 27 existing boarding schools and 3 technical schools.

The state government pays 10,000 naira and then the parent pays 5000 naira for feeding a child per term. This means that state government is paying the total of 30, 000 naira per child per year. This costs government over 500 million naira per year. When I came on board I was confronted with this challenge.  Thank God they are on holidays. When the schools resume, we shall do whatever we can to make the schools.