By Monica Ada Chidinma Eze,
The essence of leadership is measured by its impact on the lives of those under such leadership. On the other hand according to Theodore M. Hesburgh “The very essence of leadership is that you have to have vision. You can’t blow an uncertain trumpet.”. As a concerned daughter of Ebonyi State, it becomes imperative that I should attempt to x-ray the past and feats of past administrators of Ebonyi State, and what led to the current revolution in Ebonyi State under the watch of Engr Dave Nweze Umahi, the current Governor of the State.
For the avoidance of doubt, Ebonyi State is in South-eastern of Nigeria. The motto of Ebonyi State is Salt of the Nation. The state occupies a landmass of approximately 5,935 kilometres, with a population of over 2 million people. Ebonyi is physically bounded to the east by Cross River State, to the north by Benue State, to the west by Enugu State and to the south by Abia State. It is inhabited and populated primarily by the Igbo. It was one of the six states created in 1996 by late General Sani Abacha, after agitation led by founding fathers of Ebonyi: Ezeogo Akanu Ibiam, Chief Martin Elechi, Chief Francis Oji, Chukwu Akpa Oje, Hon Igwe Oje, Felix Mgbada (lawyer), Senator Anyim Ude, Senator Offia Nwali, Prof Chigozie Ogbu, Ezeogo Agom Eze, Eze John Nwenyi, Okeagu Ogada (lawyer), Chief Mrs Enigwe, Dr. Agbafor Igwe, Rev Nwafor, among others.
Its capital and largest city is Abakaliki, while Afikpo is the second largest city. Other major towns are Onueke, Nkalagu, Uburu, Onicha, Ishiagu, Amasiri, Okposi, etc. Ebonyi was created from parts of both Enugu and Abia states. It is home to four higher institutions of learning: Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki (EBSU); Federal University, Ndufu Alike Ikwo (FUNAI); Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana, College of Health Sciences, Ezzamgbo and Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu.
Ebonyi State has 13 local government areas and 77 development centres. The state has a 24-member House of Assembly, six members in the Federal House of Representatives and three senators representing the three senatorial districts of the state. The state has a functional and vibrant judiciary, complemented by the President of the Customary Court of Appeal and their associate judicial functionaries.
The geographical area today known as Ebonyi State was formerly part of the old Ogoja Province, which had Abakaliki as a government station for the administration of the surrounding localities in the then Eastern Region. With Nigeria’s independence in 1960, the area attained a provincial status comprising three divisions, namely: Abakaliki, Afikpo and Obubara. Following the splitting of the former East Central State into Imo and Anambra states in 1976 by the Federal Government of Nigeria, Abakaliki Province was balkanised into two, with Abakaliki Division as an appendage of Anambra State while Afikpo Division was attached to Imo State.
In 1991, another state creation exercise took place, giving birth to Abia and Enugu states. On account of that exercise, the local government areas, which constituted the former Abakaliki Division were placed in Enugu State, while the ones in the former Afikpo Division were made part of Abia State. That was the situation until October 1996, when Ebonyi State was created, thereby bringing back together brothers and sisters from the old Abakaliki Province, who were scattered in the wilderness by the circumstances of history and politics. Today, Ebonyi has become the proverbial stone rejected by the builders, which turned out to be the cornerstone for the emancipation of the Igbo race and revolution of agriculture in Nigeria.
The state, since its creation, has been governed by one military officer and one police officer between 1996 and 1999; and from 1999 till date, by three democratically-elected civilian Governors. That is, Dr Sam Egwu – now a senator of the Federal Republic of Nigeria – governed the state from May 29, 1999 to May 28, 2007; while Governor Martin Elechi ruled between 2007 and 2015. He was succeeded by Umahi on May 29, 2015.
The efforts of the past administrators in the development of Ebonyi State are well documented and appreciated.
Navy Captain Walter Feghabo served as the first Military Administrator of Ebonyi State between October 1996 and August 1998, after the state was created by the military regime of Sani Abacha (retd). He pioneered the setting up of the physical and administrative structures for the development of Ebonyi State and laid the foundation of what Ebonyi State is today. He has continued to identify with the aspirations of the state and its people since he left office as its first military administrator.
Retired AIG Simeon Oduoye was administrator of Ebonyi State from 1998-1999. As administrator of Ebonyi State, one of his first acts was to set up a committee to restructure the state civil service to ensure order, seniority, observance to rules and regulations. In an October 2009 interview, Senator Julius Agbo cited Oduoye’s administration as an example of a very well-organised person, who tried to establish civil service in Ebonyi State.
Sam Ominyi Egwu
Sam Ominyi Egwu (born June 20 1954) was a member of the then ruling Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in Nigeria. He was governor of Ebonyi State in Nigeria from 29 May 1999 to 29 May 2007. President Umaru Yar’Adua appointed him Federal Minister of Education in December 2008. Dr Egwu’s regime was reputed with its Free Education Programme, and the establishment of Ebonyi State University Abakaliki and College of Education, Ikwo.
Apart from the above feats, Egwu introduced a scholarship scheme in partnership with foreign Universities called HIPACK which provided platform for young Ebonyians to study up to Doctorate levels in all disciplines in different renowned Universities abroad. Most of the beneficiaries of that project returned home and became resource persons at the Ebonyi State University while many others are practicing in other areas and as employers of labour. Martins Elechi’s administration abolished the programme. Egwu also in consideration of the poor situation of parents in Ebonyi, allowed indigenous students in Ebonyi State University to pay their tuition fees in instalments. With that, many children from poor homes were able to complete their education in the University. Thoughtful enough, the Umahi’s administration have reduced drastically the high cost of school fees in our university. In Sports, Egwu introduced female soccer programme called Ebonyi Angles through which young ladies from the State and those with the talents harnessed their creativities in football and sadly under Elechi’s administration the club was sold thereby denying young ladies in the State the opportunity to be like their counterparts in the female National team called Falcons.
Martin Elechi ran in the general elections on the platform Peoples Democratic Party ticket and assumed the position on May 29, 2007, succeeding Sam Egwu. Elechi ran successfully for re-election on 26 April 2011. During his eight-year term, Chief Elechi is reputed to have constructed about 29 bridges, tagged ‘Bridges of Unity.’ This was in addition to relevant access roads, and the initiation of two gigantic water treatment plants, of which the Oferekpe Water Scheme is completed, while the Ukawu Water Project in Okawu, Onicha Local Government Area, was abandoned. Chief Elechi was also credited with construction of about 27 secondary schools as pilot schools for boarding house system. He also embarked on a new Government Secretariat, at a new town development scheme named after his chieftaincy title Ochudo. He also commenced the building of a new market. The new secretariat and the new market were yet to be completed before he left office.
Engr. Dave Umahi
The enigma called Umahi is the present Governor of Ebonyi State. He ran in the general elections on the PDP ticket and assumed office on May 29, 2015, succeeding Chief Elechi.
Intrigues and Divine Mandate
To Ralph Waldo Emerson an American Essayist, Lecturer and Poet, “Do not follow where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail”. This is exactly what Engr. Dave Umahi did in his pursuit to become Governor of Ebonyi State creating a path where there is no path and getting Elechi and his allies so confused that till date they are still studying the enigma called Umahi and his new brand of politics. The few months I have spent as a Technical Assistant on Media to Governor Umahi, I have come to understand him as one character that, “Nothing seems a problem to him and no issue is insurmountable so far he is concerned. Problem does not exist in his dictionary”. This is why John Maxwell with Umahi in mind stated, “The pessimist complains about the wind. The optimist expects it to change. The leader adjusts the sails.” Discussing and narrating the journey of Umahi to the office of the Governor of Ebonyi State is like reading a typical story in James Hadley Chase’s novel. It started when the first civilian governor of Ebonyi State, Sam Egwu, appointed him acting chairman of PDP, Ebonyi State chapter. In that capacity, as a Trojan he is, he fought to ensure that the PDP candidate in the 2007 gubernatorial candidate, Martins Elechi, not only won convincingly but saw him through to the Supreme Court of Nigeria. This action led to his businesses and personal outfits being burnt and destroyed in his home town, Uburu. For proving himself as a great leader, he was formally confirmed as the substantive chairman of PDP. He not only made PDP under his watch a cohesive, vibrant, united family but a political lethal force in the state, ready to pull down any form of opposition using its grassroots appeal as a strategy. He is reputed to have built the best State Secretariat of PDP in the entire Nigeria.
Based on his unique leadership style, which he exhibited so much as the PDP Chairman in Ebonyi State, he was duly rewarded with the office of the deputy governor during the second tenure of Chief Elechi, during the 2011 gubernatorial election in which he contributed so much financially, materially and spiritually to ensure that Elechi was duly re-elected.
It was very obvious that he will succeed Elechi come 2015 gubernatorial election, based on mutual understanding, as a result of his sacrifices and the risks he took to ensure the success of his party in the state. But to make his journey the fairy tale it was, he was shocked to his marrows when in the company of elders and chiefs from his community, the then Governor Elechi bluntly told him that he will never succeed him. Instead, he backed then Minister of Health, Prof Onyebuchi Chukwu, who the governor nominated to succeed him.
At this point, Umahi took his fate in his hands and resorted to God. And with the help of the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Chief Pius Anyim, Sam Egwu and others, he was eventually given the privilege of reclaiming what was truly he is. This is the divine march that has recovered Ebonyi State from the doldrums to its present glorified and enviable state.
Bill Taylor after carefully study of the macabre dance in the politics of Ebonyi State in his article titled, “Do You Pass the Leadership Test?” wrote, “The true mark of a leader is the willingness to stick with a bold course of action — an unconventional business strategy, a unique product-development roadmap, a controversial marketing campaign — even as the rest of the world wonders why you’re not marching in step with the status quo. In other words, real leaders are happy to zig while others zag. They understand that in an era of hyper-competition and non-stop disruption, the only way to stand out from the crowd is to stand for something special.”
God’s role and how Umahi, Egwu outwitted Elechi, others to emerge victorious
With a sitting governor and all the paraphernalia and instruments of power at his disposal, resolving not to support your candidature in any given elective position within a country like Nigeria, it can only take a divine intervention for you to survive, talk less of succeeding. That was the fate of Dave Umahi in his drive to become the Governor of Ebonyi State. According to Messrs Umahi and Egwu, during the thanksgiving service by Egwu, who is the current senator representing Ebonyi North Senatorial zone, in Umuebe, Ohaukwu Local Government Area, they formed a prayer quartet, and handed over their struggle to God. Umahi was said to be the arrow-head of the struggle, Egwu’s wife, Eunice, was their consultant. The senator further disclosed that former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Senator Anyim and the Deputy Governor, Dr Kelechi Igwe, were other two members of the quartet.
Egwu told the large gathering, which included Anyim and members of the Ebonyi State Executive Council, that they found out that Elechi was opposed to his candidature and that of Umahi, because he wanted his in-laws to occupy the two positions. He said: “I remember a particular day, myself, Pius Anyim, David Umahi, and Kelechi Igwe sat down in the dining room of the former SGF, and we prayed about our mission. We asked God to support us in the mission we had embarked upon. We knew it was difficult, very, very difficult; but we committed it into the hands of God. Four of us prayed that we were going by the grace of God to contest the elections; we prayed that Umahi becomes the governor of Ebonyi State; myself to be the senator and Kelechi Igwe to be the deputy governor. Of course, Anyim said he was not going for any position, but he would solidly be behind us.” Egwu, who thanked God for answering their prayers, hailed Umahi and Anyim whom he described as the force behind his victory and the face of the struggle in Abuja.
Umahi, in his remarks, also narrated the struggle with former governor Elechi, even after he (Elechi) was advised by the Nigerian Governors’ Forum, to allow Egwu and himself to contest the elections. He disclosed that after their prayers at SGF’s home, they became stronger and more determined to contest the elections.
The governor recalled: “We can’t thank you enough our dear Senator Anyim; we can’t thank you enough. You got all the important personalities to help us; you also brought the funds needed alongside with your friends. At a time, we were more interested in former governor Egwu going to Senate than myself going for governorship position.”
He praised Mrs Eunice Egwu for lending her support to the struggle, adding that she was their main political consultant. Anyim said he was elated, because their prayer for Umahi to become the governor of Ebonyi State and for Egwu to become a Senator was answered by God.
Result and Impact of the Divine Mandate
The results and impacts of this divine mandate is the current peace in Ebonyi State because according to Proverbs 29 verse 2: Holman Christian Standard Bible version, “When the righteous flourish, the people rejoice, but when the wicked rule, people groan” and to King James Bible version, “When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn”.
Today, Ebonyi State is referred to as one huge construction site, and a reference case in terms of revolution in agriculture, and number one state in the area of health delivery to her people. This is particularly in the area of elimination of malaria epidemic. With three solid flyovers almost completed and to be commissioned formally for public use by March, 2017 by President Muahmmadu Buhari, these feats within less than two years in office by this enigma of a leader aptly put him as a revolutionist of our time.
Stating this more aptly was no other person than Engr Babachir Lawal, a chieftain of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF): “Well, I cannot in all honesty understand how these works have been achieved within this short time and, indeed, in the climate of dire economic shortages of government. I am impressed that you (Dave Umahi) were able to do these works within the cost you mentioned. I can, in all honesty, tell you that the work is far beyond the cost. Now, this is a standard for other states and the Federal Government to emulate. To me, Governor Umahi is one of the few persons who believe that meagre resources could be used to achieve much, if we remove greed, which breeds corruption. Without mincing words, Umahi, is better than some governors in my own party, the APC.”
Today, Ebonyi State is rated as one of the most outstanding growing states in Nigeria, as Umahi embarks on total rehabilitation of the dilapidated roads in Abakaliki and construction of roads in all the zones of the state.
While the current recession ravaging most states in Nigeria has made them unable to pay their staff salaries for many months, the administration of Umahi in Ebonyi State has not only increased the salaries of its workers by 5 per cent, but also pays regularly on 15th of every month. What is more, we are now hearing about the 13th month salary in Ebonyi State, Governor Umahi having decided to pay the state’s civil servants 13th month salary during the 2016 Christmas!
Today, there is no family or community in Ebonyi State that is not feeling the impact of governance in Ebonyi, and are all singing the praises of the governor: pleading with him to go for a second term, come 2019.
Umahi has not only redefined governance, but has achieved within less than two years in office what past administrators couldn’t achieve in the 20 years of the creation of the state. This is why it looks as if John Maxwell had Umahi in mind, when he stated: “Knowing how to do a job is the accomplishment of labour – showing others is the accomplishment of the teacher – making sure the work is done by others is the accomplishment of the manager – inspiring others to do better work is the accomplishment of the leader.”
Affirmation of Feats
Based on these feats, the various communities in Ebonyi State have resolved to endorse Umahi, the indefatigable incumbent Governor of Ebonyi State, for the 2019 general elections. This, to me, is demonstration of appreciation of gratitude for Umahi’s unprecedented feats.
In examining the impact of governance in Ebonyi State under Umahi, let us listen to what Jackie Robinson, one of the more iconic figures in Dodgers and Harold Kushner, the spiritual leader at Temple Israel for over 25 years and the well-known author of When Bad Things Happen to Good said about the philosophy of Umahi in the arts of governance: “A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.” Caring about others, running the risk of feeling, and leaving an impact on people, brings happiness.”
To the Chairman, Senate Committee on Sports, Senator Obinna Ogba, “the developmental strides of Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State is unprecedented in the annals of governance in Ebonyi State. Umahi has returned the 20-year-old state to the path of progress. His aggressive infrastructural pursuit and actualising the dream of the founding fathers of Ebonyi State is commendable.”
With the rate the governor is tackling rural and urban development, the state has entered into the record books as one of the fastest developing states in Africa.
Ogba, who represents Ebonyi Central Senatorial District, added: “I am over satisfied. n fact, I am very happy, I want to congratulate him, I don’t know how he got money to do these projects, but we’ve never had it so good. Sam Egwu did very well during his time, but Umahi has jumped and is moving us far ahead.”
Let me conclude this treatise by stating what my political leader and uncle, Chief Austin Umahi, the National Vice-chairman of PDP, South-East Zone, said about the administration of Umahi: “You ain’t see something yet, until Ebonyi become the second Dubai. The fact remains that the current developments ongoing in Ebonyi is just a starting point, as Ebonyi will soon be competing with high profile cities like Dubai. The PDP chieftain made this declaration when Ohaozara stood still for Governor Umahi at the inauguration of Akubaraoha Youth Assembly executives. The event featured men of timber and calibre of Ohaozara LGA, top government functionaries, Ohaozara good people and several top functionaries across the state.