By Sunny Igboanugo
It is said that nature can give a man lemon, but cannot give him lemonade. He would have to pluck the fruit, crush it and make the juice for himself, before enjoying it hot or cold. Development, ensconced in the idea of democracy dividends, takes a cue from this.
As a reporter with The Guardian, in Enugu, I was one of those invited in 1996 to accompany Walter Feghabo, then a Navy Commander and the first Military Administrator of Ebonyi State, from the Enugu Airport to Abakaliki, the state capital, to assume duties after his appointment by the late General Sani Abacha.
The euphoria that day, was tremendous. Speakers after speakers acknowledged the obvious fact of developmental deficit staring them in the face. It was the stark reality emanating from decades of alleged neglect, transferred from the old Eastern Region through old Anambra and then old Enugu and Imo states, that later gave birth to Abia, through which part of Ebonyi was carved.
But the lamentations of the people at that elaborate ceremony, if anything, represented a minute fraction of the enthusiasm and hope, as the implication finally sunk in the people that they had finally taken their fate in their own hands. It actually gave impetus to a battle cry.
Then, gradually, brick by brick, the reconstruction began. As I became a regular visitor, in the line of duty, I saw Abakaliki, begin to take shape, more as the end of military rule, gave birth to democracy. It was a season of red roofs. That was the colour most government buildings seemed to have adopted.
It was not all glory though. Development, naturally has many shapes and sizes, including the good, bad and ugly sides. It was common on many occasions, to be summonsed to the state for news breaks, especially during the internecine political battle between Sam Egwu, the first civilian Governor of the state and Anyim Pius Anyim, former Senate President. But even then, Ebonyi continued to trudge on, brick by brick.
The last time I made a trip to the state, was sometime in 2009 from Lagos for a media tour organised by the state government under the last but one, headed by erudite sage, Martin Elechi. It was an impressive outing that took about three days of intensive activities, touring the project sites, from roads to agriculture, educational institutions and some other structures, some completed, others ongoing and many in the works.
However, what I hear filtering out from Ebonyi today, gives the impression that there is a genie from the magic lamp in the state performing some unimaginable feats. His name is Dave Nweze Umahi, an engineer, scholar and politician. He is said to have spread the state with a streak of projects, like nurseries on a rice farm.
Somebody described the number of projects embarked upon by the governor as agukata-agba-awaa – the Igbo hyperbole for uncountable, literally meaning that attempts to count could break a jaw. I hear that Ebonyi now has a brand new Government House. I hear also that he has built more than 500 different roads. There are also hundreds of classroom blocks, including teachers quarters.
But, the most prominent are the legacy projects, which he now flaunts. They are seven in number, viz: The International Shopping Mall, the Industrial clusters, including the waste to wealth recycling plant, the International Market, and New Building Material Market, about 20 flyovers, a brand new Dave Umahi University of Medical Sciences. The icing on the cake, is that the governor is also delivering a brand new airport to the state, before leaving office in just a matter of months.
No wonder President Muhammadu Buhari is always heading in that direction. In fact, Ebonyi, remains the state most visited by the President since assuming office in 2015, if not in the whole of Nigeria, then in the South East. I hear that another of such visit is already in the offing.
No wonder the governor had the confidence and courage to pick form and actually saw his contest through for the ticket of the All Progressives Congress (APC) for the 2023 election, where he sought the nation’s number one job, the only serving governor from the South East to dare.
Of course it is no longer news that he made very little impact, a development, which comes from a different trajectory altogether. Electoral victories at that level do not rest on performance alone. Rather it is a function of the Nigerian reality. I’m sure if Umahi had commuted the funds for the project into raw cash and distributed same to delegates during his campaigns, the outcome would have been different.
Nonetheless, the governor, does not seem deterred or dispirited from the original focus. He has instead, fired on with more gusto, a drive, which seems to derive its impetus from his peculiar philosophy as underscored by the plans of the founding fathers for the state and the people. In a recent interview I read, where the governor, explained the raison d’etre he explained that the gigantic projects he is building today derives from the burning desire to enhance the rating of his people in human development context.
Hear him: “I build mind-blowing projects to let, first and foremost, our brothers and sisters in the Southeast know Ebonyi State has come of age. So, if I have achieved nothing, it’s to instill confidence in our people because even when we talk about marginalisation of South East, you come to South East, we talk about the marginalisation of Ebonyi people. So, I built that project for people like you, to assure you that we went to the same school, that we have the same brain and that we’ve come of age and that nobody should neglect Ebonyi State again.
“To some people, we use it to punish them. Those who neglect us are being punished by this gigantic project and my projects are projects you can’t find anywhere in South East. You can crosscheck that. So, it’s for punishment. The benefit is to instill confidence in our people, to make our people number one in everything we do.
“That’s why when you are going to marry, you don’t wear tattered dress, and you ask yourself, what is the economic benefit of the beautiful dress you are putting on? It’s to instill confidence and make your bride to accept.”
It was interesting hearing him expand on that legacy on Monday when he appeared on Channels Television’s Politics Today, where he told his host: “We’ve turned Ebonyi State into a construction site. Even for five hours, you won’t be able to mention all the infrastructures we’ve put together in Ebonyi State.
“For me, the greatest legacy of my administration, are – the confidence we’ve instilled in our people, the confidence that our people can now boldly say, ‘I’m from Ebonyi State, by reason of the transformation that has taken place in Ebonyi State.”
He went on: “I’ve made more business people, I’ve made more engineers, I’ve made more contractors than the number of politicians that I’ve made. The infrastructure is given. It is one of the musts that you have to do. Education is a must, health is a must. But these things are very important, because when you build the people then they will build the nation. These are my legacies. People will be thinking that I’ll be talking about the international airport, I’ll be talking about the famous David Umahi University, I’ll be talking about the concrete roads of over 1,000 kilometres of eight inches concrete. No, my legacy should be on human capital development.”
More! The governor, also assured that he would not infest the state with the disease many states suffer – debt overhang either in form of infrastructure or wages, adding that he would ensure that his successor would not be handed a dead duck government.
Hear him: “My administration has not owed any pension or gratuity, but rather, we’ve paid a lot of backlogs, when we came on board. The balance of pensions and gratuities in Ebonyi State at the state level, is N3billion. What we did when we came on board was to use part of our Paris Club refund to offset most of the debts we met on ground.
“We plan in next year’s budget to pay off the remaining N3billion debts on pensions and gratuities. That is why you have the budget of the Ministry of Finance to be 19 per cent, which is the highest. What we intend to do is to pay off the N8billion we took from the UBA and then pay off the N3billion for pension and gratuities, pay off the N 3.5billion of the retention fees for our contractors. We also have the intention to give allowances to every civil servant in Ebonyi State as Christmas package.”
Now the jury is out about Umahi’s many other engagements, especially his politics. Not a few of his critics, are surprised that he has since decided to pitch his tent with the APC at this time, after getting everything he has in politics from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). There are also many who believe that he ought to align with the Labour Party (LP), the only party, with the brightest chance of producing the first President of Igbo extraction, a project, he seems to favour.
But Umahi seems not persuaded or sold on these sentiments, but rather appears to cling to party loyalty more. In fact, he boasts that there is no party in his state outside the APC. “Anybody that tells you that there is another party in Ebonyi State outside the APC, tell him to shut up,” he says.
To prove that, he has asked other states to stay away from making contributions as the campaign trail of Asiwaju Ahmed Bola Tinubu lands in the state on October 22. “I’m going to put about 50,000 Eboyians to come and welcome our presidential candidate,” he said.
Well, the taste of the pudding is in the eating, they say. The ultimate decider on how well Umahi’s politics has resonated with the people, in the contest of all politics being local, would be determined by the same people. That will be by next year when the governor files out against his opponents to contest the Ebonyi South Senatorial seat.
Regardless, what would come into little contention, is that the governor, has etched his name boldly across the pages of history of the state. Anyone that ignores him in this regard, as far as opening up the state to the world, must be an enemy. His philosophy of the Ebonyi Man, as standing shoulder to shoulder with his counterparts elsewhere, seems not only to have reflected the vision, hopes and agenda of the founding fathers as expressed at that event some 26 years ago, but achieved substantially. He therefore deserves a drink from the lemonade he has made out of the lemons nature has provided for his people.
Igboanugo is the Publisher of Whirlwindnews
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Understanding Benjamin Kalu and the new burden on his shoulder
By Ben Benson-Okoli
Napoleon Bonaparte, 1786-1821, was a French Emperor and General whose brilliant victories over Australians and Russians singled him out and made him practically the master of Europe. Addressing his soldiers in 1796 while entering Italy, he said: “It is my design to lead you into the most fertile plains of the world………you will find honor, glory and wealth.”
This sounds familiar today. In his new approach, Rt Hon Benjamin Okezie Kalu, the deputy Speaker and the highest ranking Igboman in Nigeria currently, seems to be telling his tribesmen the same thing.
Also, in his “Maxims of War”, which he published in 1838, Napoleon Bonaparte sees a true leader, as one that “always keeps the element of surprise up his sleeves, which others cannot grasp but which keeps his public excited and breathless.” This too, seems familiar with the style the young Igbo political leader seems to have adopted. Focused, engaging and unpredictable, yet sustaining the interest of those the lot fell on him to lead, he has ostensibly found a sort of connect through his new styles tactics and strategies.
Back home, the late Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, the Ezeigbo Gburugburu was the indisputable leader of Ndigbo, a position many have continued to lay claims to today, even without anything significant on ground to back it up.
The truth is that if Ikemba of Nnewi were to be alive today and had an opportunity to anoint his successor, it is undoubtful, whom he would have passed the baton to. It would have been a man, whose methods, means and mode fits perfectly into foresight and tremendous acumen. No doubt, he would have gladly raised the hand of BOK.
In my piece last year on the same issue, entitled: Enter Benjamin Kalu, the new eye of Ndigbo in Nigeria’s national politics, published in June 11, 2023, two days before he emerged as the number six man in Nigeria, I had x-rayed the man Benjamin Kalu, and his trajectory, showcasing how every inch seemed to prepare him for the current task thrusted on his shoulders,
May be a little recap: “Nobody knows what influenced his parents to name him Benjamin. But going by the narrative about the original bearer of that name in the scriptures, it seems to be turning prophetic in the place of Benjamin Kalu, the new kid on the block in the trajectory of Ndigbo in the Nigeria political firmament.
“Recall the biblical, Jacob, the father of Benjamin loved Rachael, so much that he had to work for the father for years to marry her. But tragedy came when she died while at child birth, not before she named her son Benoni-child of sorrow. But instead of retaining what would have reminded him permanently of the trauma of losing the loved wife, Jacob had to change the name to Benjamin- child of my right hand, child of consolation rather than pain.”
The journey to remove his people from the anguish of the sorrow of the ravages of the civil war started since June 13, when the lot fell on this deep thinker and purveyor of fresh ideas, Rt Hon Benjamin Okezie Kalu, to lead his people; a people badly bruised, wounded and broken by deliberate pummeling. He may have taken the road less traveled but he exudes the audacity of the Johnny Walker, the lanky fine gentlemen on the label of fine whisky, the man who knows where he is going.
Like a good choreographer, well tutored in Napoleon school, BOK has been hitting the right notes, building the right bridges and forging the right partnerships. He admits that his tribesmen are holding the short end of the stick but thinks that what is critical is providing the enabling environment that will re-birth the new Nigeria we all yearn.
His two pet projects, the PISE-P and SEDC are huge. They have the capacity to calm frayed nerves and engender massive economic growth yet to be seen. Peace in South East-Project (PISE-P), is a five-year initiative of the office of the Deputy Speaker, hinged on a non-kinetic method of solving the insecurity challenges in the SE and further reconciliation among the communities and individuals affected by past conflicts. It was unveiled late last year in the ancient city of Bende, in Abia.
BOK had this to say on its launch: “The journey towards peace is not a destination, it is an ongoing process, one that requires commitment and dedication.” Since then, the Bende Declaration, as it now called, has since taken off and on a sound note and the result is gradually showing with the South East becoming quieter unlike before it was a major theatre of war.
SEDC, the South East Development Commission, is another game changer. The speed at which it got the blessings of the House of Representatives, 54years after similar effort had failed, is descriptive of the enormous hardwork of the man who presented the bill. When established, it will not only become the first genuine effort to give Gowon’s triple Rs a meaning but will turn the South East into a massive construction site and a huge rehabilitation center with funds allocated to it from the federation account to address the consequences of the civil war, that is yet to be recovered from.
Given that there are still some naysayers – elements who seek to benefit from the hitherto restiveness in the land, like the avaricious and dignity-stripped onye Nze, and therefore do not want things to change.
They are the ones selling some of the illogical negative arguments all tailored to keep the zone boiling. They are the ones stoking the embers of the release of Mazi Nnamdi Kanu as the condition precedent for peace, without presenting a pragmatic and workable approach to achieve that end.
Yet, the release of MNK is one of the projects closest to the heart of BOK, as those close to him would readily confirm – a project he is consistently, but quietly undertaking without the threats and noise that had over the years made it impossible for the goal to be achieved. Just like Napoleon, the strategy remains embedded inside his chest.
If anyone had been in doubt about his leadership qualities, the setting up of the PISE-P, remains a demonstrable example. The foresight and precision as reflected in the selection of the personnel for the project, showcases not only his vision but the ability at head-hunting to achieve the goal.
No doubt this quality would come handy eventually in creating the political leadership that has eluded the South East in recent past, which is basically the ability to forging the right partnerships and winning the right friendships needed to take the people to the next level.
Even the naysayers and perennial critics, must now be convinced as to the reason BOK has never lost a battle. His uncanny ability to override all forms of distractions, no matter how strong and audacious remains the fundamental reason for trusting him to deliver at this critical time in the life of his people and in Nigeria as a major political force.
Those who know, have identified him as an eloquent speaker, an astute negotiator, a conscientious agitator, awakened mind and transformational leader, who carries with him the message of peace and understanding of the direction he wants to go and where to take his people. Definitely, just like, “the son of our right hand,” BOK will turn out well. That you can take to the bank!
Ben Benson-Okoli Esq., a journalist and lawyer, writes from Abuja
February 21, 2024 7:31 am
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