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Somebody from South East will rebuild Nigeria – Daily Sun

Managing Director/Editor-in-Chief of The Sun Newspapers, Onuoha Ukeh recently led a team comprising of
-Iheanacho Nwosu (Editor, Daily Sun), Tope Adeboboye (Editor, Saturday Sun), Chidi Nnadi (Editor, Sunday Sun)
and Magnus Eze (Head, South East Bureau), on a three-day tour of Ebonyi State.
The visit was rounded off with an extensive interview with Governor David Umahi; where he spoke passionately
about why he turned Ebonyi to a construction site; his signature projects, the security situation in the South East
and the increasing agitations for self-determination in Nigeria.Umahi disclosed his next political plans, urging that
the South East should be given due consideration in the 2023 Presidency. Excerpts:
Continued from yesterday
You just said that you may be retiring to your business after May 29, 2023 but many people might be disappointed with that because they are looking up to your likes to gun for the number one job in the land. Are you not interested in the Presidency come next general elections?
I think for anybody who wants to be President of Nigeria in 2023, it should be the calling of God. It shouldn’t just be a mere desire and I feel so sad when you have people that want to be President and you check their antecedents, you see that they have nothing to show. They won’t be able to say this is what they achieved in their previous assignments. I find it so funny in this country. I thought that with the challenges we have in this country; economic challenges, security challenges, that people should be begged, please can’t you come and do this job. It should be something that God will be calling a man to come and do it and the man will say God if your spirit doesn’t go with me, please don’t send me. The next President needs God’s anointing. He needs God’s calling, otherwise this country will collapse on his face. And I don’t think we need pure politicians. This country needs to be fixed and then politicians could be called to continue. This country needs a high level of patriotism at this time. It is very important. It is not just about leadership. You need the finger of God. We are sitting on a keg of gunpowder. We need patriotism from the leaders, we need commitment from the people. It is not about President Buhari. He doesn’t know what you are doing here and what you are doing here matters a lot to the lives of the people. Even Governors criticise the President. What have you done with the little money you have collected; yes federal government collects 52 per cent, state governments collect 48 per cent. Can we be held accountable to that 48 per cent? Let it be that the federal government has squandered their own but before criticising the federal government what have you done with your own per cent. There are some of our state houses where you will see potholes right from the major road down to the precinct and you are doing open letter to the president. You are criticising the President. The security of our states is in our hands. You say you don’t have this and that, what have you done with the people to curtail this insecurity. This very high level of insecurity is a result of neglect in the past. It didn’t start with Buhari, Jonathan or Obasanjo. We should all be blamed for this. This is the truth. So, Presidency is not something someone will jump into. But if God puts the burden, I’m just like an instrument in the hand of God. If He puts the burden on anybody including me and the spirit follows me like He had followed me here despite my shortcomings, then it is doable. But to struggle for it, no. The next president of Nigeria should be a calling. It should be about passion. I will end this by insisting that the South East should not be neglected because even the issue of insecurity in the South East is just us playing into the hands of the so-called agitators. If the agitators say you are not going to list a south easterner into a certain board and it happens, then you are fueling their fears. What is wrong with Southeast person becoming president? What is wrong with that? We are nation builders. As Chairman of South East Governors’ Forum, I’ve been fighting that we done have any crisis because all our investments are outside South East.  And this is what I’m preaching to our people for them to understand. Some people have even gone to court to push us out of a nation that God has used us to build. We need to be sensible and that is my position. We shouldn’t be the people to be afraid of. A South East person is a team player. A South East person is a nation builder. He is not clannish. That is why we went to Kano, we went to Kaduna; we went to South West. We have made investments. These are what we could have invested in the South East. We should be given the opportunity even if it is for four years and if we confirm their fears, they can take back the leadership. It is not a threat but the truth remains that fairness, equity and justice can rebuild this nation. It is very important and I will continue to say it like this even till I leave office because if the South East is not put into calculation, I don’t know what will happen. It will lead to full agitation. I know that nothing can quench the uprising of oppression and neglect and of injustice. We have enough capable hands in APC, in PDP and in other parties like APGA that God can choose to do this. So, let our leaders think about the unity of the nation. Four years in not four decades. You test South East, if they are not able, you take it back from them. But I tell you that a South East man will rebuild the unity of this nation. He may even tend to neglect his own people and be consumed by the pressures of other places.
Regarding the 2023 Presidency, why are all of you keeping quiet? Why is it also that when people said that you moved from the PDP to APC because of the presidential ticket, you have not come out to say that you want the position?
First of all, let me correct the impression that it is only in Nigeria that power is given. And I will give you the instances. In Obasanjo’s case, power was given, in Yar’adua’s case power was given; in Jonathan’s case, power was given. So, it is only in Nigeria that power is given. These things are there. It is not when it is the turn of the Southeast that we will now be saying that we are not speaking with one voice. We have little money and people are out there waiting to take the money and nobody is going to give them, so we are waiting for the power to be given. This is very important. It happened to other people, it should happen to us. This is Nigeria that we all belong to. When I left PDP, I left the party based on personal conviction and it is still hunting them. That is why they zoned the chairmanship to the North. Let me see how they will shortchange South East again by saying that they will not zone presidency to the South East in the PDP. As far as I am concerned, I am a sacrifice in terms of that and it will be fruitful. It will mature. That is very definite. If you say that nobody has come to say that this person has distinguished himself, Mr President has asked you people, you said I have come to become president, what is wrong with my becoming president. The president said it himself. The leader of the party has seen nothing wrong if I become president or if I came into APC to become president. When it comes to the South East, you’ll see so many of my colleagues speak highly of Ebonyi State. I have so much respect for them, they have same too for me. But it is very wrong for any Governor in APC to start saying that this thing must come here. We have a leader, the President and that has been the discipline in party politics. Like here, I stopped people from saying I declare, I do this or that, let us do governance for the people first. Let’s do projects for the people, at the right time you can now declare as you want. The space is open but why do we have do politics from the time we end election, we start the politics. So, I believe strongly even though I criticise my brothers in PDP during their last convention, if other people from the North are coming with trailer load of people to say they are contesting for presidency, for what it takes, you should have had two or three people to raise placards knowing fully well that power is not negotiable in Nigeria. But it shows the evidence that our hearts are there and that we are willing. When I went to Jigawa on peace talk, we saw a lot of northern youths saying that this is their hope for 2023. So, if the convention of APC happens, you will see people who will mount billboards and banners showing support for us. Power is non-negotiable in Nigeria, power is given. Obasanjo came from prison, his people did not want him. So, when they say that we are not speaking with one voice, we don’t need to speak with one voice. We need many voices like other people so that the power will be given to us. When we speak with one voice that means you should be afraid of us because we will be producing a president of our own but when we speak with many voices, it means that the presidency will be given and we will be producing a president from the south East but for Nigeria.
How are we sure that all these projects are going to be completed before you leave office?
The important thing is that there is no project of the previous administration that I’ve not completed. We take it from the King David Hospital. Before March next year, all the small bungalows you see going on would have been completed. But of course, you know that in the university projects are perpetually ongoing. The important thing is that we have the hospital, we have the university and we have the residential quarters. And they are ongoing. The one you should worry about is the airport but the airport, we will do the 7th anniversary at the airport. The airport is 7.4 kilometers and then 2kilometers by extensions and the 3.4 is there, you have the concrete. We are saying that by December, we would have done about 2.4 kilometers leaving only 1 kilometer. We have also paid 50 per cent of the equipment. So, we there’s no project that should be a source of worry. You should be worried about the stadium that I’m just starting. The stadium that is bigger than the stadium in Abuja. As I’m talking to you now, the construction has just commenced. Will I finish it, I don’t know but I would have done 90 per cent of the job because I will hand over at that stadium. We have two more flyovers to do. How long does it take me to do flyover, between six and nine months. Will the money come, yes! I am a very good manager of money. You can never see any of my projects since 2015 that stopped because of funding. The 65 kilometers of road, I have a trick of what to do. All the stakeholders in each local government will choose 5 kilometers. They will now choose their contractor, then I will choose the supervisors. The traditional rulers and the youths will supervise them. That’s what will happen and you know the cost of my project is 150 million per km, concrete road. So, we are saving 50 million per km. And I called stakeholders and said do you want this N750 million to go and share in your various local governments or do you want this road? They said they want the 5km road. I said ok, if I’m doing this, I will not be sharing money. If I’m sharing money, I will not be doing this. They said they want me to do this but they will do it by themselves. So, if it will be an abandoned project, it will be abandoned in the hands of the stakeholders because the money would have been made available to them.
Why is it impossible for the South East Governors to address the issue of sit-at-home in the region and why are they not talking about economic integration?
We’ve talked about economic integration but would you start talking about economic integration when people cannot pass through your state. You have to create road in your state before you start talking about integration. Will anybody tell me to come and do a joint investment if my roads are not fixed? It will be of no use and again if you talk about economic integration, you talk about comparative advantage of the states. Which are the areas we can individually do? What I thought is that as a region, we are supposed to set some dates when we are supposed to have some A, B, C, D done in our various states. And something like railway, it is very important to have a common integration in that respect. Something like to have one university that will be the best in Africa. Something like a hospital that will be the best in Africa. Something like an economic zone. But you can’t do any of these things if you have not developed certain basic infrastructure in your state. But, however, we are talking through the South East Infrastructure Development Agency piloted by the robotic engineer, Prof Barth Nnaji. And don’t forget that power is very key. We are working with him, we are working with the federal government; we are working with the Niger Delta Power Holding, which of course, all the states are shareholders. For the other thing, the sit-at-home is the worst thing that has happened to the South East. People are not obeying sit-at-home out of compliance or sympathy to IPOB. I’ve been saying severally and I will continue to tell IPOB that the show has been taken off their feet. Nobody is obeying them, they are only afraid of them. If somebody should come out to say every Tuesday is sit-at-home, if you come out you will be dealt with, you’ll see that every Tuesday will become sit-at-home. It is fear because people have seen people brutally killed and how to avoid this is to have five Policemen to every five persons follow them about. So, how to solve this problem is to begin to talk to our people and to talk to IPOB. Let us know which coin belongs to Jesus and which one belongs to Caesar so that we can deal decisively with Caesar’s people. IPOB have been saying we didn’t order sit-at-home. We didn’t order anyone to be killed. They event sent me some videos of where they are after those who are after us. So, this is the issue. If IPOB is ready to regulate themselves then the governors will have a teeth to bite because before IPOB came onboard, we didn’t have the killings. And don’t ever believe anyone who is saying the army are behind the killings. These people are helping to secure us and chase away criminals. This is the truth and you know it is very easy to criticize. The job is very easy when you are not the one doing it. These South East governors are doing their best. They are mindful of their people. The people they are representing have been brainwashed to agree that they are being marginalized, yes to an extent but the federal government has played into their hands. So, there is so much feeling of bitterness. The South East governors are also being careful, while not compromising the constitution they swore to uphold but also knowing the side of our people to see how to strike a balance. That’s what we are doing. The South East governors are in a very difficult situation but the sovereignty of the federal government and our state can never be compromised. It doesn’t matter what anybody is saying, Nigeria belongs to us. We are members of the Nigeria nation. We don’t have any other nation as far as today is concerned. But we want a nation filled with equity, fairness and justice, where everybody will be free everywhere you are. That’s what an Igbo man is looking for. Igbo man doesn’t want to secede because we have 90 per cent of our investments outside Igbo land but we can’t be treated anyhow because of that. The question; is Mr President the one marginalizing you people? Mr President has a good heart. Criticize me anywhere. If you go close to the man, you will see that he is a man that has been imprisoned by his own integrity. He will never ask you to go and fight his enemies. He will never do that. And I won’t do that. I fight my enemies when they fight me. They fight me, I fight them. I’m not like Mr President. That’s the difference. He is such a nice man. A pure gentleman. Those who are close to him will let you know. But there are a lot of ills in my government but I bear the name. Whether it is good or bad; that is what is happening at the national level.
Recently, former Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babagana Kingibe, said Nigeria is negotiable; that we can sit down and negotiate Nigeria. Do you subscribe to that? And people also say that you are someone who is so intolerant and that at any little thing you can use the sledge hammer. How do you feel about that?
Well, it is not true but I fight those who fight me. That’s what I can tell you. I am not Governor the merciful to those who fight me, I fight them. And I fight them with the measure with which to they fight me. I do not increase the measure or decrease the measure. That is the situation.
And saying that Nigeria is negotiable, it depends on the language because even marriage in is negotiable. If the man continues to do what the wife doesn’t like or vice versa, then they will be looking at negotiating that relationship. Nigeria before now and even now came together by amalgamation. So, if what had bound us together is no longer keeping us together, then we have to sit down and review it. And that is what I’m saying in terms of South East. Please don’t take laws into your hands. Allow us to go and discuss this marginalization you are talking about. If the leaders of the nation tell us go to hell then we will know that. It then means that as far as our case is concerned, it has been negotiated. Take it or leave it. Every relationship is on negotiation table on daily basis. And someone said that instead of husband and wife killing themselves and having a relationship that could lead to the death of one person, they can divorce. I continue to say that there is a caveat. It is better to negotiate than to fight. You have to also know that I’m also a very mild person. I’m an easy going person. Very easy to forgive. Sometimes, the meekness tends to be weakness. But like David in the Bible, I always ask God do I pursue them, do I overtake them? If God ever says to me yes, I don’t ever go to any battle without His saying yes. That’s why I have lost none and I will not lose any. It’s not every battle that God allows me to go into. But the moment God says fight this enemy, the Bible says suffer not a witch to live. So, the moment God says this challenge is a witch, then we will go into fight. But I’m a very mild person.
I don’t know where your state stands on zoning the governorship. What zone are you going to hand over power to?
I am looking at the zone of God but something is very certain. We have three zones. The North took their turn, the Central took their turn. The South took their turn. And as a father, since the South where I come from is finishing, then South should not aspire to succeed me. Because when you look at the state, the North and Central seem to be one people and they are called Abakaliki bloc and the South is Afikpo bloc. If the Abakaliki bloc wants to rotate it between the two blocs, they can do that. But out of the spirit of fairness and equity, they are not keeping it to themselves. They can keep it but they cannot keep it in peace. Without justice, equity and fair play, there can be no peace and you cannot reign in peace. So, they came together and allowed the South to take that slot.  It is left for the leaders of the state, the Bishops, CAN and others to come together and say we can throw it open to the two zones since you have excluded the South or let it start from the beginning. So, my heart is open. Anytime I kneel down, I ask God to give me a good successor because it is only God that can bring a successor that can uphold these legacies. Not that it is my business if the legacies are going bad because I have done what God asked me to do. You can never really plan for life. God brought me by His strong arm and if Ebonyi people have pleased Him, He will also bring somebody that will continue the good works. For it is He that brings bad leaders and good leaders. That is why when you are criticising leaders, you are criticising God. All God asked us to do is to pray for leaders. God did not ask us to castigate them but you pray for them. So, I’m not yet talking about who succeeds me, I’m talking to God about that but the leaders of the state will have a lot to say about who God brings but God is bigger than every other person. It is good for me to seek the face of God before seeking the face of the people so that God will implant it in their hearts.
As a Governor, what makes you sad and what makes you happy?
What makes me sad is when you say that a man is a woman. It breaks my heart. I love constructive criticism because through constructive criticism, you can achieve a lot. Like when they sent me a video of where school children were swimming to get to school; that was very good for me so, I had to go and fix the bridge and the road over there. What makes me happy is to turn a politician in Ebonyi State into a businessman or woman doing something with his hands or her hands. That is what makes me happy. I feel happy when I go around and see these projects. The trees that were planted in my own presence, the trees are growing. I feel so happy.
We would want to know if there were things you use to do but by virtue of you becoming governor you cannot anymore. What are those things?
Just a few things. I am like my mother. She loved being with people. My mother never ate alone and I don’t eat alone. The only thing I miss is going to open restaurants to eat.  That is the only thing I miss but every other thing that has to do with my people, my work, playing football, interacting with people, I still do them. But one thing I’ve asked myself is what are those things that I will regret that I didn’t do when I leave office and I remember my schoolmates and I tried to go back to them, primary school, secondary school. I tried to see what I can do for them. One of them told me something one time. He said look, if you don’t help us now, when you finish and much later, we all grow old and we get back home and you will see our sorry state and we see your splendour and you start regretting that if I had helped these people, maybe they wouldn’t have been in this kind of state that they are now. Maybe they would have all been enjoying. And you know that in that situation, it will be pretentious love. There will be so much envy and jealous. I try to look back and try to see what I can do for them but I hate lazy people, I hate lying, I hate cheating and I think these are the ingredients of politics and that’s why I am not a politician.
Are there things you had done that if granted an opportunity to do again you would do differently?
I feel that I have not succeeded very well in the area of Internally Generated Revenue. I feel that I fought very hard but I didn’t really get what I needed. I am still fighting. I have done quite a lot in the area of education but I think I did not succeed 99 per cent in the area of education. So, you see education, you see IGR, you see solid minerals, I think I need to be scoring myself below 90 per cent but not below 89 per cent in these areas. So, if I have another opportunity and with the wisdom I have now, I think I would have done things differently in the area of IGR. The people collect the money and we answer the bad names. We have a lot of collection points set up and there are a lot of unpatriotic activities by government officials. But with the wisdom I have acquired now, if I had that wisdom in 2015, I would have done things differently. The same thing with solid minerals. People connive to undermine us. They take all our solid minerals in the night. Who are these people? Our people do that. In the education sector, you see a lot of people who are paid to teach but are not teaching. We have engaged the stakeholders in communities to see what to do about it. That is why in Ebonyi State once it is 8 o’clock, you cannot see any school children loitering. The teachers have been empowered to use cane to flog them just very small. So, these are the things. From day one, I have asked myself this question: what are the things I will regret having done or that I did not do when I leave office. So, I am leaving my marks and that is my own judgment. But that is not the way people will judge me. There are some failures that people will judge me by and some success I didn’t record for myself that people will also judge me by. But I think to my conscience and to God who sent me, I have done my job.
When you leave office, what will you miss most?
I would be missing the trouble of the office. I will be missing the baseless criticisms. I will be missing the envy, jealousy, anger and bitterness. These are the things I will be missing. I want to tell you the truth. One time, I was so pissed off. Sometimes you ask yourself what is all these. But God told me I called you for this purpose and you can’t dictate for me. I was a bit encouraged. So, it’s a very tough job and people think that Ebonyi State is an easy state. It is the most difficult state to govern because when you have impoverished people, there is hunger and anger. And you have to start working on the psych of the people because they have been rendered hopeless. An average Ebonyi man does not want to borrow money from the bank because they are afraid of government. Who are the government, our paymasters? So, we are building their psych to build their consciousness. Now if you ask an Ebonyi man he will tell you he is from Ebonyi State. Before now they will tell you they are from Enugu State. Nobody could say he was from Ebonyi State. But now they proudly say they are from Enonyi State. I heard when the opposition parties campaign in Anambra, they say they want to transform Anambra State like Ebonyi State. That is all I’m looking for. I didn’t tell you about the Buhari Light Tunnel Bridge with lights on top of it and if you go down you see the biggest fountain you would see in any part of this country. One day I sat and I was very angry. I am a very competitive person. You can’t be my mate and you tell me I am nothing because of where I came from. I don’t accept that. So, one day I sat down and said, I want to punish people that are neglecting Ebonyi. I said I was going to design a complex bridge that anybody that comes must stop and ask the way to proceed. So, I started sketching. When I finished, it was difficult for them to build. We brought the Chinese people and that is what we have. So, when you get to that point, you must stop and ask the question where do I go? And you can’t go to the mall unless you go through there and you must ask question. That is what I want. I want to put Ebonyi State in the world map. Let people say where is this place? I am not angry when they castigate me and say a lot of stuff. But when you say there is no road in Ebonyi State, it makes me angry because I know there is road. But when you say things that do not have meaning it makes me to laugh.
How would you want to be remembered; you pray very well, have you ever considered being a preacher?
I want to be remembered as the father of Ebonyi State. As a man that God used to lay the irreversible foundation for the future of this state. This is what I want to be remembered for. On being a preacher, yes, after being President, I will now go through the nations of the world talking about Christ. I will like to do that.

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From Okwe Obi, Abuja The Founder of Shamies Unusual Hearts Foundation, Amb. Sara Abdul, yesterday put smiles…

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