The immediate past Secretary to Ebonyi State Government (SSG), Prof. Benard Odoh, is a frontline governorship hopeful of the All Progressives Congress (APC) in the state. In this interview, he speaks on why he resigned his position, his vision for the state and the party’s chances in the forthcoming elections
You are contesting for the governorship position in Ebonyi State on the platform of All Progressives Congress (APC), what is the motivation?
I am running because, currently, the indices for evaluating the well-being of the common people in Ebonyi State is one of the worst in the country and I strongly believe that we haven’t done as well as we ought to have done as a state. Currently Ebonyi is ranked 34 out of 36 states in the country, on the poverty index, and that is not acceptable by any standards.
The average per capita Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the average Ebonyi person as it stands today is about $200 and that is terribly very poor for us as a people. Right now, our evaluation on the ease of doing business scale, we are ranked 32 out of 36 in the country; which means Ebonyi is one of the most difficult places to do business. So, if you don’t have investors coming in with their funding and you depend only on federal allocations, the state will be in the mess that it is now.
So, I am running because, poverty is high and we must do all that it takes to reverse that trend. Educationally, we are in a mess. Right now, if you look at the statistics before us, under former Governor Sam Egwu, the Ebonyi State Medical College used to rank second in the country after University of Ibadan. Today, EBSUTH is ranked 42nd. So, we need to reverse that trend.
The only way we can prepare for the future is to invest in our people massively. In primary and secondary education, we are also not ranked among the top 50 secondary schools in the country. If you look at the public sector, our governor’s public sector system is one of the poorest. Right now, the state operates without full complement of permanent secretaries; there is no training going on for public servants, incentives are not there, morale is very low. Their contribution to the service is almost zero because they are working in a very difficult situation. So, we need to do massive investment in our people.
Under my leadership as governor of Ebonyi State, I will be committed to expanding the frontiers of food production by doing not less than ten thousand land appropriation annually for us to grow food on a contiguous land and engage our people. In the health sector, we want to bring in health insurance scheme to cover those who can’t afford basic, core health care system, especially those who work and earn salary. So, when you look at all of these, I believe strongly that governance is about improving the well-being of the people of any society. Right now, poverty has actually grown more than any other time in our record history. We have an emergency situation that we must respond to, that’s why I am in this race.
Some people are of the view that you lack the requisite experience for the job of a governor given your age, while others say that at 42, the youth in you will boost your chances. What is your take on that?
I absolutely believe so because the World Bank statistics has it on record that 65 per cent of Nigeria’s population is less than 40 years. That demography would be in my advantage, particularly given the fact that all the issues that I raised here are issues that have direct impact on their future. The young people are ready today. I also came from the university and I have first-hand experience. Annually, not less than five million graduates are injected into the labour market.
These graduates don’t have the right skills and they can’t get the desired jobs. So if we are not talking about the economy and jobs, we are not saying anything because addressing anybody.
So the young people are in this category. Most young people today… they don’t have… a lot of people who graduated with me, haven’t even found jobs till now. So if we can’t create the future for them to be part of the economy, they will be left behind. So, I strongly believe that the population of the young people will be a huge demographic advantage for me as a young person in this race.
Don’t you think inadequate funding may impede this vision if you are elected as governor?
You are absolutely correct. In fact, that’s why if you listened to my earlier discussions, I have focused on three cardinal areas; making the environment conducive for investors. There is no system in the world that can survive on government revenue. So, I am not going to look at government revenue from Abuja; I am looking at ability of the state to pull in investors’ funding. Because, one thing happens, when you have fund in the system, those who sell ordinary items, people who do businesses, landlords who rent their buildings will be able to earn money and support the ordinary people.
This cannot happen if we don’t create the enabling legal framework and institutional support to investors. So, I am looking at a situation where, if you turn Ebonyi into a place where the average investor is willing to come, then we can have a lot more funding in the system to do all kind of things with. So, under our leadership, we want to ensure that people will see Ebonyi as one of the top three destinations where they can come, do their businesses and support the local economy.
Why did you resign as Secretary to the State Government (SSG)?
I resigned because our policies were not tailored towards reducing poverty and improving governance in the system. I will give you an example: There were projects which my former boss, the leader of the government took unilateral decisions to implement. Those projects, if you put a scale of preference of our needs, are not in our first 10 priorities.
For instance, we have three flyovers on a road of less than 12 kilometres. We didn’t do traffic volume calculations to validate the need for those flyovers. And I am sure by the time those flyovers are completed, the state government will have spent more than N11 billion on them. As far as I am concerned, those are not priority needs. If you take N11 billion and invest in quality education, we will move Ebonyi from where we are now to 1st, 2nd, 3rd positions in the country.
Currently the state sits on over a N53 Billion debt as result of spending on needless projects. So, this investment in this massive concrete now is investment that is not adding real value to the system. There is a project going on now at the Ebonyi City Mall. That mall will not take less than N4 billion to complete.
Construction of mall is not a public sector driven initiative; it should be the private sector. Private sector individuals who want to do business will come and government will give them land, Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) and all the incentives and they will build their mall and rent to those who want to do business.
The state government is doing ecumenical centre that is going to take more than N7 billion.
The centre makes no economic meaning to the people. So, there are lots of projects going on now which I personally think have no direct impact on the economic well-being of the people. I advised against some of these projects. We argued it in council. So a lot of these issues that bother on policy and governance were things that made me very uncomfortable and I felt I can’t be in a system where we are not focusing on the human aspect of our development; that’s why I left.
What is the state of your relationship with the governor?
Of course, we are not quarrelling. I have since moved on and I have already declared my intention to take that same seat because he has not offered the right governance to the people. So, when the time comes, the people will make their choices based on what we are going to offer. We have developed a clear road map in our manifesto, how we intend to approach things and our approach to governance is in sharp contrast with what he is doing now. You know, we are going to adopt all-inclusive governance approach. Your projects should flow from the people because as a governor, you are just a custodian of their resources. It is not yours. So, we will ensure that people participate in our policies; it has to flow with them and also flow from them.
Do you think APC has what it takes to wrest power from the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP)-led administration in the state?
Absolutely yes! Right now, the average Ebonyi person is not interested in party. He’s interested in who will best address the issues. If the party gives me nomination as I anticipate they would do because the people of the state are strongly convinced that if I am the governor, or when I am the governor, I will be able to provide effective leadership that will address the issues that we have listed here. So APC has great chances in Ebonyi.
The issue of direct and indirect primaries has caused a sort of rancor in your party, what do you suggest as the way forward? Honestly, I believe that power belongs to the people. One of the changes that APC will leave behind as a party for Nigerians is to ensure that direct primaries is implemented and I will give you simple reasons.
Since 1999, most parties have deployed the delegate system. What happens? Delegate system is prone to massive corruptions because it has become “cash and carry approach” where those who have the highest money buy off the delegates even when they don’t have the ideas. But if you do direct primary, what happens is that every member of the party becomes the delegate. Every member of the party will queue and vote for the candidate of their choice. You would also have the opportunity to interact with a wider population. They would evaluate you based on what you are bringing to the table. So, I am a strong supporter of direct primaries as indirect primary will only continue to throw up mediocrity in governance.
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