…50,000 cubic meters of water delivered everyday — Commissioner From: Obinna Odogwu, Abakaliki The Ebonyi State Government, on Monday, described as absolute falsehood the reports trending in the social media that there is severe water scarcity in the state. It said that the ‘distractive report’ was not only the figment of the writer’s imagination, but…
Today’s discourse is a very important subject matter in any democratic system. We know it, but typical of us, we mouth it so often but hardly practice it. It is about assessment or appraisal of those we elect into public offices. Our thinking and ways of doing things emphasize products or outcomes over processes; we want the dividends of governance (water, roads etc.), but bear in mind that I am not talking about democratic dividends (right to life, expression, movement, religion, etc.) even though they are important also, yet only few know what it takes to make our leaders produce results.
Those familiar with this column would attest that in the seven years of keeping it, not more than three leaders have graced this space on account of assessment. The reason being that this nation has no ideology (set of ideals) and if this is lacking, assessment exercises would be in vain as a result of the absence of objective and scientific criteria. The situation we have is one in which every leader in different tiers of administration do what they like and when it is few months to election, we begin to clap or jeer based on the factors of ethnicity, religion or group interest, and in so doing sidetrack the real issue which ought to be whether an elected leader has drawn down on governance and democratic dividends.
This approach distorts reality and it has been doing so in our case and I will give examples: some governors build new school blocks but the teachers are low quality and there is no information and computer technology (ICT) provided, yet to the uncritical minds he has done wonders; I take the examples of Babatunde Fashola and Godswill Akpabio, who we agree performed excellently as governors of Lagos and Akwa Ibom states. If we look down, we will discover Fashola got a better part of the accolades. If we had a scientific standard for measuring performance, I think the outcome would have been different, and among the decisive factors would be that Lagos had already attained some higher level of development than Akwa Ibom, and also has more money, so when there is a clash of good vision, the one that had greater odds and surmounted it to post impressive performance ought to be acclaimed as the best performer. Let me leave assessment and its challenges and concentrate on the issue at hand. Across board there is so much misconception as to what constitutes real development. I laugh sometimes when I see what some of our leaders’ parade on television as their achievements, some in the bid to transpose western world into their states, end up muddling everything. They do one poorly constructed road and at another end build guest houses and when it is time for assessment they clap for themselves while the people are shouting that what is keeping them down is still holding them and that is poverty. This would not be if we know what our priority areas should be.
Given our level of development and the overall vision of what we want to make of our nation, it is important we outline our priority and approach, and if we do, the takeoff point should be agriculture, human capital development, technology and improvement on social capital e.g. roads, education, health, power, etc. Agriculture ought to be central for reasons that are very obvious to rational minds; I stumbled on Governor Dave Umahi’s magic in Ebonyi on my way to the northern part of Cross River State and my heart warmed up to the man and what he is doing. Signs of progress were visible, the people were in farms, I could see new tractors, from the rural areas to the capital Abakiliki everywhere was a beehive of construction activity. Those who saw Abakiliki two years ago would not recognize it today and this is because a lot has changed positively. It is not the transformation alone that has provoked my interest but what I know the governor may have passed through to do what he is doing. Definitely he transcended negative stereotyping to take Ebonyi into the modern time. Stereotyping can be a burden as most of us know but more importantly he is not transforming in the ‘anyhow fashion’ we are accustomed to; there is a scientific approach anchored on rationalized priorities similar to what I envisage for the nation.
Ebonyi agricultural policy is not being pursued haphazardly; the state is leveraging on areas of comparative advantage. So, emphasis is on rice, cassava, yam and salt; activities on rice farming are very fascinating, the state has committed itself to produce 10 per cent of national rice requirement and by their calculation this amounts to 600tons of rice production annually. By the end of last year, they had reached 200tons and their expectation by the end of this year is 400tons and by 2018 they expect to reach or surpass the target. If this is not qualitative transformation, then tell me what else is? I subscribe to states running farms alongside private individuals, but Umahi has chosen the option of private initiative in full but he has done something creative in this regard: the bane of private initiative in our kind of environment is poverty and lack of access to available credit. Umahi has gone round this challenge by opting to give some amount to everyone that accepts to return to the farm to cultivate rice, this is apart from collaboration with international finance agencies to make some critical agricultural facilities available to farmers either free, through cooperatives or at half the market price. As you read this, fertilizer for 2017/2018 farming season has been procured.
Development is not a one-sided affair, and I am sure Umahi knows that excellence in agriculture may not mean so much to people who would clap when they see tangible things; so like I observed earlier, a lot is going on in other strategic areas. The poor image arising from low human capital development is being vigorously fought through establishment of new primary and secondary schools and rehabilitation of the existing ones, same for health matters. As of today Ebonyi can boast of being the best in waste evacuation and disposal. It has done away with the waste bin system; if you are in Abakiliki you did think they don’t generate waste but that is not true. They do but the government is very alive to its responsibility. I have often argued that we ought to be telling our stories and the question has been where are the good stories? The Ebonyi story in 2017 under Governor Umahi is a wonderful story, a story of the blackman’s ability to transcend constraints to lift himself high; that is why I am telling the story to encourage others. I understand Umahi does not like telling his story and my response was: “In politics”? He had better blow his trumpet before it gets rusty or forcefully appropriated by those who know the use of the trumpet. On the whole Umahi is truly working.