Ebonyi State Governor and Chairman of South-East Governors Forum, Dave Umahi, in this interview, speaks on agitations by youths across the country and the ensuing civil disturbances as well as the way forward. UCHENNA INYA reports
You have just inspected the police stations burnt in Ebonyi State by hoodlums in the guise of #EndSARS protesters. Do you have plans to rebuild them or build new ones?
Four police stations; two in my local government, one in my community Uburu and another in Okpo, were burnt by hoodlums. Two in Abakaliki metropolis, Kpirikpiri police station and Ekeaba Police station were also burnt. The two in my local government will not be rebuilt.
My position is that any property that I have built and it is destroyed, I will not rebuild it in my tenure. The other two police stations are rented apartments. So, even though it is quite very tasking, we will do everything possible to build two new police stations in two different locations.
I am also not going to replace the decorative lights that were destroyed; it is the duty of the citizens of Ebonyi State to protect their infrastructure. So, anyone they allowed hoodlums to destroy, its either they produce the hoodlums as we are hunting for them because the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has already denied that its members did destroyed anything. IPOB said that those who destroyed things were criminals and should be dealt with accordingly. So, we will just do that.
How do you see the civil disturbances across the country?
You know we have exercised so much caution and patience because the rule of engagement of security agencies is that if you see somebody committing arson, you kill the person. But we have refused to do that not even to talk about security agencies, you overrun them and collect their guns, it is not done anywhere in the world and that is why I am shouting that they must stop this madness because you can’t behead a policeman and be showing it to the world. What do you want the world to believe? Where does it happen in international community? That is how civil war starts; that is how killings start. It calls for caution, especially, on the side of our people. It also calls for strategic cooperation.
There is no other country, where the President will exercise that level of patience; soldiers have been killed, policemen have also been killed and burnt. We have condemned those who shot at peaceful protesters in Lekki, Lagos State. Every leader in this country has condemned it but we should not be glorifying hooligans; people who are setting prisoners free. Who will suffer it? It is still the poor people who have no security. If God did not help us to secure the prison, possibly, hardened criminals and those who have killed would have been let out. They will continue to kill; they will continue to terrorize you. I don’t know what the society wants.
You are letting prisoners out and hailing them but it is still you that they will come after. You are destroying a bus stop, who makes use it? It is still you! You are going to rob the bank, is that part of the protest? We have to call evil, evil. As journalists, go and find the rule of engagement of the security people.
But I commend the President, the Inspector General as well as the Chief of Army Staff. They have exercised a lot restraints and patience. So, we civilians should not provoke them further. Where do you see a man who has a gun and you are coming to collect the gun to kill him?
What do you think should be done to end these agitations and disturbances by the youth?
Honestly, I feel that there is the need to have a national conference as well as in each of the states. It is important that the youth will come to a round table conference with the elders and political office holders because there is a lot of misinformation. People think that a leader must perform magic but if you are building infrastructure, you are empowering people. However, they prefer you to share the money. No nation is going to thrive on that; no nation is going to succeed without everybody making up his mind that we must all work.
I think politics has killed us in this country. Graduates no longer want to work, everybody wants to join politics. Even PhD holders want to be councilors, how can we succeed? How many of us are willing to work other than making cheap money? Our elders, how many of them are willing to remember the younger ones? Just take for example, we asked the young protesters to give us leaders and they said no.
I said why and they said they will take bribe. It means there is no hope if the young ones cannot elect their leaders and they said we are their oppressors but we can at least manage to elect our leaders. These people, who are shouting, how many of them will vote their conscience during election? How many of them that will identify bad leaders and say don’t vote for them? So, there is the need to have a conference.
If what I am getting is N100, we say okay civil servants are our first priority, let’s bring it out. We put the other one on the table and say what do you want us to do with it? Do we build hospitals, do we build roads, do we put water, do we put light or do we give it to you? That’s my own suggestion over this agitation. When everybody is on board, we announce it and publish it, so that everybody will see it. People are saying that we should employ civil servants, we should share money but we have civil servants all over the nation, who are crying about their meager earnings.
So, why do you need to employ more? You rather have to do things that will create jobs, so that people can become their own masters. How many of the students are willing to bend down to read? We have caught students, who are armed robbers in town.
So, the situation is very bad. Is it the governor or Mr. President that is responsible for cheating during exams and cultism in our schools? The system has gone very bad. We are not saying that leaders have done their best. No! Leaders must be held accountable genuinely by the youth but the youth should also be honest to themselves and then be very much focused and willing to work.
This is very much important. We have a lot of rice mills; people can come together and say we bid for it. Even if they don’t have money, they can say sir, give us these rice mills we can run them. We have many cassava plants we did, nobody is taking it. We have one man, one hectare of land policy; everyone who takes loan in Ebonyi for agriculture does not return it.
So, a conference is very important and even if other states are not do it, I am going to convoke a youths and elders summit early next year, so that we will all sit down and discuss things together. There must be some people, who are not happy that we are building roads. Some people believe that until everybody is satisfied we cannot build an airport.
They believe that everybody has to eat enough before we can build roads but the beginning of economic activities in every country is infrastructure. Do you know how many jobs our airport will create? Do you know that we are negotiating for and Air Force University down the airport? This is a catalyst’ how much can you share? If you receive N3 billion for the local governments and state and you divide it by three million people; go and do the mathematics of what everybody will get. People have forgotten where we are in terms of funds.
Somebody called from Cross River State and said Ebonyi people are very stupid; what are they protesting for? He said that he comes to Ebonyi State every weekend to get fresh air. So, I think that the agitation, bitterness and anger will end if we can all open our hands, so that everybody will know that it is not government but that everybody should be willing to work is the answer.
You put a call to other leaders across the country to protect ethnic nationalities across their regions. Are the ethnic nationalities safe?
Those calls were very productive; it was apt. I called Northern governors and made an appeal on the need to protect all ethnic nationalities in their states, including our people there and they all agreed. I also assured them the protection of all ethnic nationalities in our state. You know that at a time like this, you see a lot of good news and fake news. They said that Muslim clerics were distributing leaflets and that they were going to agree in the Mosque to attack our people in the North and in Abuja.
There were also same rumours that our brothers and sisters in the West have branded the protest an Igbo and Fulani affair. But I made effort after our meeting with the leaders of South-East and our governors to reach out to leaders of these regions, including the South-South and they assured me and I am very happy that they are keeping to their words and we doing everything possible to protect people of other ethnic nationalities, who are also living in Ebonyi State. We will stop at nothing to protect them and both churches and mosques in Ebonyi State and I am glad that this madness is coming to an end.
One of the things bothering the people of South-East zone is their marginalization, especially, when it comes to national leadership. How do we have political restructuring, so that the zone can produce the leader of this country?
The same people, who have been asking that question, are also saying that they want to secede. They have been saying that they want a country of their own. So, they may be asking for two things. Now, they have come up with more demands, oneness and unity. It means they have been integrated. So, from there, we can begin to talk about an opportunity and I think it is ripe for the South-East to be allowed to rule the country.
I think it is a legitimate demand and I think a lot of leaders in this country are already thinking about that. We are getting more sophisticated every day, so it is difficult for any section of this country to come and lord it over others and I think that the Igbo man is found everywhere in this country and beyond. The Igbo man is a bridge builder and I believe strongly that together we are stronger.
There is a viral video where an unnamed person issued a 48-hour ultimatum to the people of Igbo extraction to vacate Yoruba land; threatening to deal with them should they fail to comply with the ultimatum. What is your take on that?
I want to tell all our people wherever they are in Nigeria to remain where they are, to remain very peaceful and not to join any protest. I saw online, where one man that is not living in the country and claims to be from a very peace-loving extraction of the Yoruba, was threatening the Igbo in Lagos but I want to ask the Igbo in Lagos to ignore it. I have spoken with leaders in the South-West, and they have assured us that all our people in the western part of the country are safe and we should disregard the empty threat.
I want to also assure every ethnic groups living in the South-East, including the Yoruba to go about their businesses very peacefully. If there is any threat to any of them, they should immediately let our governors and the security agencies know.
As Ndigbo, we believe in one Nigeria, we believe in a country where justice, equity and fairness will thrive. We believe that together, we are bigger, better and stronger. So, I want to appeal to Ndigbo across the country to pull out of every protest. The constitutional protest had taken place but hoodlums have hijacked the peaceful protest.
South-East governors and other leaders of the zone met with representatives of the youth of the region and we learnt that they made some demands from the federal government. What are those demands?
The youths are requesting that the Federal Government should complete the dredging of the River Niger. The youth of the South-East are grateful to the Federal Government for the upgrading of facilities at the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu.
The youth are demanding that the remaining work at the airport should be expeditiously completed as matter of urgency. The youths are grateful to the Federal Government on the progress of work at the second Niger Bridge.
However, they want an update on the work and specific completion timeline. The youth also tasked the governors of the South -East to engage critical stakeholders in the ongoing protests in their respective states and the local security architecture.
The youth also demand massive rehabilitations of federal roads in the South-East, especially Enugu/Onitsha Highway, Port-Harcourt highway, Umuahia/Ikot Ekpene highway, Ikot Ekpene/Aba highway, Abakaliki/ Enugu highway, Aba/Owerri road, Umuahia/Arochukwu road, Abakaliki/ Ogoja road, Abakaliki/Afikpo road, Uturu/Ishiagu/Nguzu Edda road and Owerri/Port Harcourt road. I can say that the Federal Government is already working on some of them. Sometimes, the problem is with some of the contractors but we must also know that the Federal Government is not for the South- East alone.
These are the demands of the youth and I think they are very reasonable in the demands and what they brought to the table is that all protests, all divisive words, all destructive tendencies would be stopped immediately. I promised them that I am going to take these demands to Mr. President and I believe that they are going to reciprocate from now and cessation of hostilities in every party of the South-East and anywhere they are involved in the country will cease. We have directed our people everywhere in the country and outside the country to stop protesting.
The youth also demanded that by the time this Inspector-General of Police, who is doing tremendously well, retires; the South-East should be given an opportunity to also occupy the position. This, they said, I should also tell Mr. President, so that they will also have a sense belonging.
I believe very strongly that we have struck the iron while it is very hot and within the week, we will be engaging an enlarged stakeholders, where our ministers and other stakeholders will join us in in a meeting in Enugu, so that we can further the gains of this our interaction with the youth.
Do you have plans to ease the curfew imposed on the state, following the security situation in the state?
The security chiefs are the one advising me; when they advise for the next step, I will only comply because they are the people that have the intelligence. We have been going round the state and we can attest that everywhere is calm, so people should disregard a lot of fake news that are flying up and down. I think God has heard our prayers.
Schools were shut in the state because of the disturbances by the hoodlums. Will they remain shut?
Schools are on and I have asked all the youth to come out and defend their localities. Those who destroyed our properties are not from Ebonyi State and we will not let them in again. I think the madness has gotten to the level of killing school children. I assure that there will be no problem in my state, there will be no problem in the South-East. So, are sure there will be peace in the state.
You have gone round the airport, which your administration is building, are you still going to complete it as scheduled?
Yes, but our revenue is dwindling. However, instead of being afraid, my faith is in God.