By Professor Benard I. Odoh, former Secretary to Ebonyi State Government
I watched the disturbing absurdity in a brief video clip from my erstwhile boss and Governor of Ebonyi State, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, during a recent state-wide broadcast. In the clip, he adopted his usual, anomalous and capricious disposition in a vain attempt to discredit the sincere, genuine and patriotic services I rendered to the state during my less than 30-month stay in office as the Secretary to Ebonyi State Government (SSG) with his typical and malignant falsehoods.
In the said video, a visibly agitated and irritated Governor Umahi made false claims and incendiary remarks targeted at my personal integrity.
According to him, “One of the times the critic in Ebonyi State, who was holding a very high position, supervised the N2bn. And he used ghost workers to supervise the N2bn. It’s not recovered. He didn’t even give it to his people, but he claims that he loves his people.
By Exco this week we are going to set up Commission of Inquiry to look at those wickedness dished out to our people. So, I want to assure our people that we are doing everything humanly possible to fight poverty. And today is far, far better than yesterday. And we fight poverty, we may not eliminate it totally but if things are continuous in this direction, poverty will be written off but not 100% because our Lord Jesus Christ says there will always be the poor among us. It depends on the definition of poverty.
But I don’t want our people to join that stigma of they are poor. We are the best. We are struggling in the midst of nothing. You can’t use the money for salary to do any other thing than to pay salaries…”
My immediate reaction is thus: It is either that Governor Umahi is now suffering from whimsical amnesia to have forgotten my unchallenged, detailed and factual reply to a query on the above subject matter since May 2018 (just few weeks after my resignation), when I made the said prompt response, or he has simply elevated his lying and prevaricating dispositions on virtually every issue in Ebonyi State to an art!
Facts about the CBN Agric loan to Ebonyi farmers and how the ‘Umahis’ happened to it!
After my bold resignation on April 2nd 2018, (reasons for which I also audaciously made public) in my viral letter, I wish to place on record that I received a letter from the Ebonyi State Government requesting me to explain and give account of the disbursement and recovery of the loan facility for farmers under the CBN Agric loan policy, which the Ebonyi State Government got the sum of N2bn.
As the Chairman of the EXCO Committee that was set up to oversee the scheme, I did not hesitate for a moment before issuing my response via my memo, which, for purposes of clarity, I have chosen to reproduce below:
REPLY VI: Refer to EXCO proceeding of Tuesday 30/1/2018.The former Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, Barr. Uchenna Orji (now, Commissioner for Economic Empowerment and Job Creation, who is currently the Commissioner for Information and State Orientation) and my humble self-submitted detailed report on 2016 Rice Production and Loan Recovery as follows:
-Total value of farm inputs received by the 13 LGAs and EXCO farmers groups was
N597, 950, 850.00 out of which a total of N114, 459, 958.13 inclusive of 9% interest rate has so far been recovered.
-An outstanding debt of N410, 920, 523.31 yet to be recovered for which 10th February (2018) deadline was given the debtors to pay. Details of debt by various categories of farmers are contained in EXCO proceedings of 30/1/2018.
-Amount spent on procurement of tractors for the 2016 Rice programme was N326m paid for by the Ministry of Finance inline with EXCO and Governor’s approval.
After the submission and discussion, EXCO directed the then Commissioner for Economic Empowerment and Job Creation, Barr. Uchenna Orji now Commissioner for Information and State Orientation and the then Accountant General (AG) of the state, Mrs. Agwu Queen to prepare and submit a proper account of the N2BN Rice Programme loan to EXCO.
That the Commissioner for Local Government, Chieftaincy Matters and Rural Development, Barr. Samuel Okoronwko, and the AG, should ensure that the balance of loan owed by Civil Servants and their guarantors were fully deducted from their salaries after 10thFebruary 2018. A comprehensive list of all beneficiary farmers, value of inputs collected, amount recovered and amount owed to government was contained in the report that was presented to EXCO and decisions on it was taken in the said EXCO meeting of Tuesday 30/1/2018.
It is on record and to the knowledge of the Governor that:
The sum of N597, 950, 850.00 was disbursed to farmers across the state as inputs. The list of all beneficiary farmers and their corresponding indebtedness is contained in the documents of EXCO.
Before I resigned from the Umahi government, the Ministry of Agriculture led by Barr. Uchenna Orji had recovered N114, 459, 958.13 while N410, 920, 523.31 was yet to be recovered from the farmers.
The categories of farmers who were indebted to the state government before I resigned from Umahi’s government is contained in EXCO proceedings and approvals of 30/1/2018.
The following categories of persons were owing government before I left office:
Political Office holders
State Civil Servants
Local Government Workers
Rural farmers and
The sum of N326, 000, 000. 00 was approved by EXCO and paid to by the Ministry of Finance for the procurement of Tractors.
A total of N923, 950, 850. 00 only was the total amount that was spent from the CBN’s N2BN Agric loan while I lasted and that this spending was approved in EXCO and all disbursement made by the Ministry of Finance.
I did not farm in 2016 and therefore was NEVER A BENEFICIARY!
My office did not carry out the disbursement of funds. Rather, the Committee which I headed was only limited to providing workable and strategic leadership for the implementing Ministry of Agriculture in the state. I was only a co-Chairman of the Committee with a CBN co-Chair and the committee HAD NO BUSINESS WITH MONEY!
I have the full records of all the beneficiaries of the amount mentioned above in the categories outlined and I stand ready to release them in due course. The allegations are lies and false with the purpose of distracting Ebonyians.
Background to Umahi’s unending frustrations on my charismatic pedigree and uncommon personal integrity: Why all attempts to paint me with tainted brushes would fail!
Those who know Umahi as a brutal egoist would rightly understand his ceaseless frustrations and fretting whenever my name is mentioned.
Shortly after I penned and made public my reasons for quitting his family enterprise disguised as government on Monday, April 2nd 2018, a shocked, perplexed and bemused Governor Umahi mobilized some rented persons masquerading as people from my community who came to protest in solidarity with him over my well-thought out decision to quit his slave-master mercantilist administration.
Going by Umahi’s obnoxious style of governance, he did not anticipate that anyone who served under him could leave with such an unblemished record as I did. The fact is that I left his government much poorer than I went into it. This is simply because it is my personal principle to serve with sincerity, honesty and integrity.
Despite his greedy and selfish style that makes him keep his eyes awake and restless to ensure that every kobo dropping enters either into his coffers or those of his family members, while setting Banana peels to nail those who work under him, I left office without going home with my official vehicle, which cost value had been deducted from my salary. There was no trace of anything whatsoever upon which Umahi could exhibit his vindictiveness in trying to indict or nail me even when I had notably hinted in my resignation letter that I know he would come after me, my family members and friends cum associates. Till date, a desperate and petty Umahi has found none and will never!
Contrary to his expectations that one could have perhaps come cap in hand as many do, I have continued to shine brighter not only in politics, but in my blossoming career while enjoying even more than the same kind of love and support, which my great people of Ezza nation in particular and Ebonyian people have always accorded me, due to my courageous disposition and rationality to issues affecting the common man in the state. His jejune assertion that I love Ebonyi people is not only correct but unchangeable.
The records of my roles and contribution towards improving the wellbeing of our people speak for itself. Mine is a household name at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, where many young Ebonyians and others have benefitted from my kind gestures. While I served as SSG, many of the issues I had with the governor bothered on my unwillingness to be used to unleash terror on the people.
As a matter of fact, my overall conclusion on Umahi’s toxic cocktail about my era in office is that he is extremely frustrated that his non-adherence to basic governance principles and his over-bloated but false notion of superiority of his ideas, including his one-man-show style of governance, part of which I cited as my reasons for quitting his government, is beginning to manifest widely and glaringly in the figures that the National Bureau of Statistics recently published, which placed Ebonyi where it rightly but unfortunately belongs under Umahi as the 3rd poorest state in the country.
I am startled just like many Ebonyians that Umahi, who has so clannishly privatized governance, does not want to face and address the issues that culminated to Ebonyi’s poverty index rating under his watch and leadership. For instance, why is Umahi mute on the undisputable facts that I stated, which is that in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business ratings, Ebonyi is 36th out of 36 states of the federation in enforcing contracts; 31st out of 36 in dealing with construction permits and; 32nd out of the 36 states in Starting a Business?
I had rightly informed Nigerians in my factual publication and I still stand to be challenged, that under Governor Umahi, Ebonyi Domestic Debt Stock rose by 36.78% from NGN34,168,940,626.65bn in 2015 to NGN46, 737, 752,798.83bn in 2019. I had also stated that within the same period under review, our External Debt Stock increased by 38.22% from USD$ 47, 166, 600.06 in 2015 to USD$65, 195, 266.98 in 2019.
Further, it was my position as one who is very conversant with the happenings in both the government, and within the Ebonyi populace that as our debt grew, our Human Development Index and GDP declined and worsened. I had also disclosed that meanwhile our birth rate is 5.3%; the highest in the South East region. The implication of this is that Ebonyi more than any other southeastern state, produces children who have less access to money for social services in Education, Health, Balanced Nutrition and Good Shelter despite huge debt and FAAC monthly allocations.
In summary, I had boldly asserted that by implication, we borrowed the money we didn’t need to invest in projects that do not serve our needs just to impress those who do not care about us. Among every 10 Ebonyians, 8 are terribly very poor with income less than N18, 000 per month, I had finally submitted. I still stand by these!
All the figures as stated above, like I said in my brief but pertinently informative piece titled: EBONYI FACT SHEET, are from the Debt Management Office published in its official website for the whole world to see since December 2019. Has the Governor Umahi-led administration been on holidays since then that it has been unable to either dispute, reject or contradict these figures? I know they would always adopt the same lazy approach of prevarication and pursuit of shadows instead of substance.
Do Ebonyians and the world at large still need a soothsayer to know that the above figures are all because Umahi is privatizing governance? By his own admission in the said video clip, all these are principally because of his slave-driver mentality that “there would always be the poor among us”. Even Jesus Christ whom he mischievously and disingenuously quoted multiplied fishes and loaves to feed the poor around him! What has Umahi done, as the Governor, to ease the burden on poor Ebonyians?
He has rather been punishing Ebonyians with ‘koboko’ like he shamelessly promised in his viral video. Umahi has set up his Commission of Inquiry and I intend to lay the facts bare before them and the people of Ebonyi State. On his part he should tell the people of Ebonyi State the truth about her indebtedness as he promised the penultimate week. He should be sure to include details of Internal and External Debts so that the masses would know the extent to which he has plundered their commonwealth and mortgaged their future with his bogus and over-priced cosmetic projects, which apart from being conduit pipes for siphoning of several billions of naira, bear no direct immediate future economic impact on the lives of the average Ebonyians.
Finally, I reiterate, as stated in my earlier release asking him to publicly apologize over his dictatorial life ban of two journalists and his vow to flog Ebonyi citizens with Koboko, which drew the world’s attention that Emperor Umahi must be made to understand that Ebonyians are not ALL conquered people terrified and subjugated by his reign of terror!
What is ahead of us, like I often say, will always be greater than what is behind us!