Ebonyi State Govenor, Chief Dave Umahi, in this interview, speaks on projects embarked upon by his administration to connect the state with neighbouring states of Abia, Enugu, Cross River and beyond, UCHENNA INYA reports
As the Chairman of South-East Governors Forum, how functional is the preview mechanism you introduced at the inception of your administration?
It is working because every state has their peculiar problems. Some of the states in the South-East have already developed infrastructure wise but Ebonyi has not developed in that regard. So, we are combining empowerment of human beings. But you see; we have different definition of empowerment. I came from the private sector and I empower people the way I know to create wealth and if you want to create wealth, you have to create ideas.
There is a new road you are constructing in Uburu, Ohaozara Local Government Area of the state with a big bridge because of a river there, which will connect Akaeze in Ivo Local Government Area of the state, Abia and Enugu states. Why is that road important to your administration?
There is a lot of arable land here. We are just about to acquire the whole land there; Uburu axis down to Akaeze axis and it is over 10,000 hectares of land and we are giving it to the Nigeria Investment Authority (NIA) for their agricultural programme. It is going to be private sector driven and the communities that are affected are going to be highly involved. So, I needed to put this road and again, we want to fully connect Ebonyi State because without this road, the state is not totally connected without passing through this road because Ivo is in this axis. So, for you to get to Ivo, you have to pass through Enugu but this is what entirely connects the entire Ebonyi State and our people that are travellinBeto Port-Harcourt will just go through this road. It’s a 14kilometre concrete road and about 4kilometre is what is remaining to be completed and with about N500 million, the job is done.
What was your mission in Akaeze in Ivo Local Government Area of the state, where you drove straight and started monitoring projects in Ebonyi South?
The mission was for a bridge that connects Akaeze with Aba State. I was visibly angry there because I visited there at the time I visited the Esu bridge in Uburu, the one we almost completed and that one is a six span bridge while that of Akaeze is a two span bridge and I directed that the bride should be done and it should have been done within three months but the council chairman did not do it.
Meanwhile, I have directed for a probe on the funds that were allocated to that. Every month, they show me their allocations and after paying salaries and pensions, the funds that is available, they now see how they want to spend it and they said they want to spend it on the bridge. And of course, if I want to see what you want to do with fund, I will say ‘go ahead and do it.’ But the failure of the local government is my responsibility and so, I have the responsibility to know what they want to do with the excess funds and that’s my involvement in the local government funds and I will continue to do that. So, I need to know where the money is.
To the new caretaker chairman, I have told her to do the drainage of 1kilometre road to the bridge and then at the market, we want to redesign the famous Akaeze Market. We want to see the beautification of the park. I want the caretaker committee chairmen to plan trees on the roads in the areas; federal roads, state roads and local government roads. I want them to plant trees all through the roads at 5.5 meters interval. Immediately, they should start to plant trees. They good thing about it is that when you leave office, the trees will be standing and if you are passing you will say I did this and that’s the joy of life.
In Edda, Afikpo South Local Government Area of the state, you have almost completed the road that connects the community, what informed your decision to construct that road?
We have a very difficult terrain here. Fortunately, I was the contractor to this project when I was still a businessman and the terrain was so terrible. About four expatriates contractors were awarded the job from Owutu down to Nguzu, its about 14.5kilometres but they could not do it until Dr. Sam Egw, the first civilian governor of the state brought us to do it and we started working on it. Chief Martin Elechi came in as governor and inherited it and we finished it under him. But under Sam Egwu, this particular terrain I am planning to construct flyover is where we were to follow but Elechi came and felt that we should follow the other one. We have one 20m span bridge of which the depth is about 25m. We have so much accident on this route and I am very much concerned. Because of my passion for the people and construction even when I was still a businessman, the route not done with any stone base since 2004 is still standing; very terrible terrain and it is still standing, no stone based, it is two inches asphalted. We glorify God that He gave me the opportunity to rework the road and it can last for another 70 years and that is why we are using concrete to do it. Not only did we start in Owutu, we have to project backwards about 10kilometres, starting from Amasiri junction. Right now, we have done a total of 20kilometres of concrete from Amasisri junction to where we have stopped.
It seems you are also not happy over the Edda hill the way you were in Akaeze. What happened?
I was a bit angry because I directed the commissioner for Works and the local government chairman that this concrete should stop somewhere for me to see the possibility of putting a flyover to destroy this hill and then save the lives of the people through a flyover bridge. I was visibly very angry because this 300metres of concrete is about N30 million which I will not pay. The chairman of the local government, the contractor and the commissioner for Works will meet and take the responsibility because I was very clear on what should be done, I was here with the commissioner for Works and we agreed on what to do. This is not my first time we will agree on this. I hope the commissioner will send back the resident engineer to actually be resident in this place and that the commissioner as a matter of urgency begin to obey instructions. Get the contractor back to site to cut the concrete that is already cast by four inches and put bitumen on it. This is my directive all over the state but it is not being carried out. He has done it in our own way and he says the cost is about N3 billion. This is quite 1.2kilometre of flyover bridge; not only is 1.2kilometres, the height is about 25metres. We are encouraged in the Lord, so this is what we are thinking of what to do. The local government here has the responsibility of building two abutments and doing the earth work while we have the responsibility of building the flyover and we are starting this August. For me, everything is possible with God. The life of one Edda man is more than N3 billion but I will still achieve the project with less than N2 billion.
This Edda hill flyover is a capital intensive project and the state has cut down its 2020 budget because of the coronavirus pandemic. Where will the money for this project come from and will you complete it before the end of your administration?
Two years and ten months is still a lot. This project is not going to be completed in one year, the important thing is to start and God will have his way. We are bringing all our projects together; we are not starting new projects as such; we have to conclude all we are doing. But the local government has to start and they have to start with the abutment and then next year, we will come and do the pilling and then we will continue. We will achieve this project.
It seems that you like constructing flyovers across the state. Are you planning to construct more?
Yes, I will construct more of the flyovers. In Afikpo North Local Government Area, there are going to be two sets of flyovers there; one at Afikpo junction and the other at Amasiri junction. It is something that must be accomplished before we bow out. And of course, the flyover at the International Airport will get started by September; that of Amasiri will also start by September.
In health the sector, you are constructing an ultra-modern medical school. What is the situation of things there?
We have a lot of finishing materials that are available there. In terms of the building, we have attained about 80 per cent completion; in terms of equipment, we have paid about 40 per cent for the medical school. We have an eye centre there which is going to be the best in the whole of West Africa. We have a cancer centre there, we have a kidney transplant centre, we have a dialysis centre also there and we have a factory that produces dialyzers. Dialyzers is a disposable component of dialysis operation which is the most expensive of dialysis operation and it is not produced anywhere in Africa. So, we have taken that technology from Switzerland and we have already made part payment of 40 per cent and it is going on very well. We have also specialized pediatricians who will handle little babies. We have two hostels for males and females. We have eight buildings dedicated for junior and senior staff. We have a secondary school there that is dedicated for the community and a primary school is coming up.
When is the International Airport you are constructing going to be completed?
This is 2020; we are looking at 2022 unfailingly to complete the airport project. Most of the important projects we are passionate about completing are the airport, the College of Medicine, dualisation of Abakaliki- Afikpo Road, Abakaliki to Enugu and the stadium. These are the major projects we have. The Bible says when men say there’s casting down; we will say there’s a lifting up. Abraham followed God when He asked him to follow Him to show him a land, he believed God. When God sends you on a mission and you have a passion, He gives you a vision which you pursue with passion.
Everything is possible to those who believe. You have to have the passion then, God will make a way for you. The terminal building for the airport is like two and a half size of the Shopping Mall. It is going to be the biggest terminal building in the country.
We have done almost 90 per cent of the pilling and the vocal, and that’s the real work and it is where takes more money, what’s on the ground is more than what is coming up. The tarmac is 100metres width; it’s like ten-lane by 4kilometres. Tarmac is a different thing because there’s impact load, there’s traction load and also there’s dynamic load, there is a special design, but the earthwork is very challenging, we are going through valleys and hills and we are on it. You can see the airport road, it’s about 4kilometres. The airport flyover is being set out for construction.
What gives you joy in life?
Money doesn’t give joy; it is service to the people. I continue to tell people, if you think about those who milked this country dry, they are still looking for money, then you have to rethink that the only thing that is sustainable is service to the people.