In this interview with EGWUAGHA AMARACHUKWU in Abakaliki, former Secretary to Ebonyi State Government, Professor Bernard Odoh, sheds light on his intention to wrest power from his former boss, Engr David Umahi, among other issues
Please introduce yourself sir? My name is Prof.
Benard Odoh, the immediate past Secretary to the State Government (SSG) .
Any ambition in the forthcoming general elections? My ambition is straight forward.
I want to be the next governor of Ebonyi state in 2019.
I have been in the governorship race for that intention.
Why contest against your former boss? I was in government for three years before I left, My motivation starts from the fact that governance supposed to provide real sectors growth for citizens and in this three years that the present administration has been in power, the statistics of the various organisations including World Bank does not show that we have really made progress in terms of poverty reduction in the state.
I give you an example, last month, the latest release by World Bank shows that Ebonyi ranks 34 position on the capital GDPN in the country.
Ebonyians are still living under 200$ per capital of GDPN that is not accepted by any standard.
Ebonyi state is also one of the most difficult places to do business today in the country because of the harsh environmental conditions , taxation and all kinds of things.
So is on that kind of ranking.
School ranking Our schools, if you Google, not among the top 50 secondary schools in the country, you can’t find any secondary school from Ebonyi state in the list .
Ebonyi state university under the days of Dr.
Sam Egwu, our medical school was ranked second after Ibadan, today that university is ranked 42 position in the country.
So if you look at the indexes to measure progress, we have not really made progress.
And for me, governance should be able to provide hope for the people.
If you take opinion poll in Ebonyi today you will see that most people are hopeless more people are completely despair, they don’t know what is going to happen next so what we need now is a major shift, they are not sustainable if we don’t consciously invest in our people, the future will remain bleak.
These are the key issues we must address.
No matter how anybody is looking at me as somebody who is greedy or whatever, that is not the issue because, I as an individual, I have personal accomplishment, but it is not all about me but how do we improve the wellbeing of our people.
Today, the Ebonyi man is still disregarded there is no need to be pretentious about it so we need to do things differently.
Education, right capacity Our education must be positioned to prepare our people for the future.
Right now that is not there .
If you look at our schools yes we have tried to do one block cement or the other one, investment in education is not about classroom, the soft component, the curriculum, training of teachers, giving them the right capacity, providing the right learning tools, there are not there so our children can’t still compete .
If you look at our secondary schools they are the same.
Our university is the worst now.
If you go there and interact with those that work there, they are in a hopeless situation, they don’t know what will happen next.
Civil service collapse Our civil servants they are worse hit, the administration structure of governance has completely collapse the state, they don’t have the idea on how tomorrow will bring, the greatest desire of anybody who is working is to have capacity to contribute and also to enjoin the benefits that should come with hard work forget about the issue of 5% increment this and that, if those working for you are grumbling there is a problem.
So this is while I am in this race because I feel I can do better than the guy who is there now who was my former boss.
I have a track record, I have worked through a system and I was also a public servant.
He was never one so he can’t give what he doesn’t have.
Ebonyi budget system As a state our budget system is one of the most funny because many states don’t implement their budgets.
So we should be able to have a governance system that allows ministries with high level independent to function.
We must democratize governance and allow every office to flow and function effectively otherwise they will sit down there and be grumbling the way they are grumbling now .
You can’t control the system all from one point and everybody is putting the whole.
So what you see now is what I will call malicious obedience.
People are following but their wish in the system doesn’t work because they are not really participating in the process so we need to free our political space and allow our people to really participate in the process.
We also need to throw this city open for people to come in and put money here.
There is no cash flow that is coming into this state as we speak, there is no investment going on in this state.
Ebonyi people alone cannot develop Ebonyi state there is no way in the world that indigenes develop their state rather the external people.
If you don’t make here conducive for investment to come in, our people will continue to be in pains and they will be sweating.
Let me give you a practical example Ogun state has over nine private universities and if you take average of 1000 people admitted there annually, so when you get that kind of cash flow in a system, landlords will be able to get their rents, those who sell in the markets would be able to make earnings, the medical people will be able to offer their medical services and earn a living with the cash flow.
In Ebonyi now, the only money that comes to the state is the money from the federation account and that can’t sustain the system.
So if we don’t throw the state open, we cannot create the enabling opportunity that people required to grow and this is the fundamental issues.
We individuals should ask ourselves if there is real economic growth in Ebonyi.
The answer is no.
We still have capital flight going on so we need to make our environment more enabling for investors to bring in their money for a cash flow in state.
Our rice production for over the years, as we speak today, we ‘re still using hole and cutlass to farm so we are not mechanized and until we mechanize we can’t grow the kind of food we need to grow to support our economy and our region .
So things need to be done differently.
Our mineral sector, we are still struggling to do it right.
Most of our solid minerals we have not defined the prospect and volume and quality across the state.
And I have the right thinking, the right mindset, the right contact to be able to provide that leadership that will take Ebonyi to the next level.
That is why I am in the race.
Leadership and honesty The best way to function as a leader is to be honest with your people, I believe that leadership must be all about honesty, certain clear roles and getting your people to buy in your roles if your subordinate do not buy in your goals they will sabotage you because those people are the owners of that project, they will should be able to see the link between the project and their future and in their progress, they will give us the desired cooperation.
So we will be building a governance system that encourages participation and opinion building not that I am a governor and my opinion is final, things don’t work that way and that is the problem of the present administration.
Is one that decides everything, if you have a contrary opinion, you are seen as an enemy, we cannot grow a system that way so if you allow participatory democracy, like I said if you allow the MDAs to do their program and give them their desired leadership, peace will reign.
Which of the issues raised gives you much concern? Education, business and our civil servants.
If we restructure and strengthen governance system which is public sector system, if we reorganise and invest in our people, if we make our environment conducive for investors to come into we are good and going every other things will fall in place.
There was no specific agreement per say.
He, after the 2015 election, invited me and I obliged the invitation.
He requested that we work together so on the 29May he appointed me as the Secretary to the State Government, there was no conditions attached.
Just that he said he liked me like a candidate who runs for an election and even though I lost the election, he is requesting that I give him support and this was before his election.
So I consulted my team they said I should go ahead so we accepted his request that was how I came into the government.
There was no hard role or hard decision or things attached to it.
We obviously know that you were one of the most loved cabinet members in Umahi administration, but suddenly you tendered you resignation letter, what went wrong with your relationship with the governor? My letter was exclusive I stated why I left so I think anybody who read my letter will understand why I left the government.
I have separated matters from government matters because I was appointed as Secretary to the State Government not as a person, but so I am more focused on policy issues which were in the letters .
If there are other issues that are personal there are not meant for public domain.
Multiple poverty Given money N250,000 to people does not equate empowerment.
In fact the fastest way to multiply poverty is to throw money to the people.
You must invest in knowledge first which is a key of renovation so when you give people they will eat it and comeback the following day that is not empowerment.
All that have been done since past three years which we call empowerment here by giving people N250,000 each in the short time they appeared nice and sounded good but I will tell you five years from now you cannot track real impact because somebody who do not have a job, skill, you give him N250, 000, the first thing he will do is to eat, pay house rent, and take care of his wellbeing so what empowerment would that do for him? Honesty is leadership, in the past 10 to 15 years, Nigerian fly to Dubia more than any other country in the world, because investors are there but the place is duty free you come there and do your work and go away.
It was this year January that Dubia started paying tax since the last 30years.
Taxation can’t develop any economy what grows economy is an enabling environment for investors to come in while that is not necessary.
Investors are not coming because we made the conditions unnecessarily difficult for investors to meet with.
It took almost two years to sign community cooperate institute.
We kept arguing and holding meetings, workshops time for doing things that is important put conditions in the wheel of progress.
How prepared are you for the race? Well preparation is a continuous exercise so I am doing all that I should do with my team to ensure that we get victory so I am not the one to score myself, but I know we are doing all that we are required to do to ensure we succeed in our outing.
In the last paragraph of my letter when I left office is my central message where I said what is ahead of us is more important than what we have now.
I have a message of hope; you give me your support, I and my team will do things differently we will treat our people with respect .
We will invest in our people to ensure that this environment called Ebonyi will be a place where an average Nigerian will like to come to do business.