Chief Donatus Ezeogo Aja, popularly known as Zentus, is a business mogul; a former governorship candidate in old Abia state; a former Commissioner for Border Peace and Conflict Resolution and former Commissioner for Environment in Ebonyi state. In this interview with PAUL OKAH, he gives an assessment of the administration of Governor David Nweze Umahi, the recent crisis in his community, and proffers solution to the plethora of social ills in Ebonyi in particular and Nigeria in general.
What have been your contributions and/or achievements since you joined politics?
Let me start by saying that I am from Amankwo in Nkpoghoro autonomous community, Afikpo North local government area of Ebonyi state. My contributions are too numerous to mention. While in government, even when our roads were too bad and impassable, I single-handedly repaired bad roads. When a bridge collapsed in my village, I single handedly used my money to do another bridge and we are still using it to get home now. Also, I attracted two transformers to my community. Even when people tried to vandalise the transformer, I sponsored its fencing. Also, as a businessman, I have awarded scholarships to students from secondary school to university level. Even while still in old Abia State, 2,000 pieces of water pipes were brought to Water Works and I used my personal resources to lay the pipe from Water Works to different communities. I spent over two million on the job at that that time, between 1992 and 1993.
Also, many civil servants in Afikpo today passed through me as I ensured I gave jobs to them. When Omezue Emmanuel Agboti was chairman of Afikpo Town Welfare Association (ATWA), I made huge contributions to the Okenwa fund. I paid my dues to be nicknamed Okenwa Ehugbo. I have given loans to market women and those in my line of business too. I have sponsored many people on skill acquisition, including tailoring, hairdressing and what have you. I also fund successful people to start up their own businesses; after trainings. I have sponsored people engaged in petty trading because I believe in teaching people how to fish, instead of giving fish to them all the time. In a nutshell, I have empowered many people in Afikpo, Ebonyi and Nigeria as a whole.
What were your landmark interventions as the commissioner for border peace and conflict resolution?
My achievements as Commissioner for Border Peace and Conflict Resolution are numerous. My duty then was how to resolve anything conflict in the whole Ebonyi state, not even in a particular senatorial zone, LGA or community. I handled more than 50 cases. Some cases had lasted more than 100 years.
Many people still visit to greet me for the way I made peace to return to their villages. Many communities still pay homage to me by visiting me with gifts during festive periods. In fact, a particular community in Ikwo brought a cow to me in appreciation of the way I ensured peace returned to them. I simply gave the cow to Amankwo elders because I don’t believe in eating alone. Anytime I am home, many people would throng my place to visit me, while others feel I am being given unnecessary recognition. In a nutshell, during my time as commissioner I attracted so many things, including bringing peace to different villages and communities.
How would you describe Ebonyi under Governor Umahi?
Umahi is a wonderful personality. There is no way everybody will be clapping hand for you if you are doing well. Nigeria of today, people prefer a governor or politician sharing money to them than the leader who tries to change the environment for good and laying the foundation for the young ones. Umahi is developing Ebonyi very well. Before, people nicknamed Abakaliki as Wawa people. Whenever they come to Abakaliki, they will say they want to enjoy Abakaliki powder, which is the dust on road sides. But everything is now in the past with the coming of Umahi. In fact, many people who have not been to Abakaliki in the last five years sometimes miss their ways when they enter the city, because everything has changed. Umahi is very creative, hardworking, intelligent, brilliant and determined. He is a go getter. He works day and night. He is doing his best, but there is no way in the whole world you can expect a government to please everybody. Umahi is the only governor with the highest appointees as he wants to carry everybody along and make sure that families are touched. The times of Sam Egwu and Martin Elechi were not like this. Umahi does not even owe any salary. Everybody is pleased with him and wondering where he is getting the money to perform wonders because allocation to the state from the federal government is not even enough compared to other states. So, Umahi is working very hard and is a good and God-given leader to Ebonyi state. Our prayer is to get another person like him in the next dispensation so that development will continue as he is serving his last term.
Ebonyi was recently ranked by the NBS as the 4th poorest state in Nigeria; what’s your reaction to this?
Well, I agree with the Ebonyi state Commissioner for Information, Barrister Uchenna Orji, that we have a bunch of lazy fellows at the National Bureau of Statistics, who sit in their offices, hide behind keyboards to dish out unrealistic figures. You need to visit Ebonyi for a firsthand assessment of the giant strides of His Excellency, Engr. Dave Umahi. Like I mentioned earlier, Umahi has so developed Ebonyi state that people hardly recognise the state for what it was years ago. The workaholic governor has touched all aspects of the economy: agriculture, education, health, just name it. Nevertheless, even if NBS rates us the poorest state in Nigeria, it wouldn’t change anything, because those in the state, who see the realities on ground, believe the leadership of Governor Umahi and his plans for the people. I sincerely hope he is not discouraged by critics, cynics and those who never see anything good in any government.
Are pleased with Umahi’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic in the state?
I am pleased with the way the governor is handling the whole coronavirus issue in Ebonyi. Without the stringent measures he has put in place, Ebonyi would have overtaken Lagos, Kano, FCT, Ogun and other places in terms of highest recorded cases. At the moment, all the confirmed cases in Ebonyi are the people from outside, who sneak into Ebonyi from different states. No Ebonyi resident has tested positive, but people keep importing the virus. Also, I pity those who think coronavirus is not real. There is no vaccine yet, so it is better for people to protect themselves against infection by obeying the directives of government and health authorities, because prevention is better than cure. Everything happening at isolation centres is just trial by error. Some recover while others die. For instance, the former Chief of Staff to President Buhari, Abba Kyari, died of Covid-19 complications. Is it that he lacked money to treat himself? That’s the question those doubting the existence of Covid-19 should ask themselves. It is better to suffer and stay alive than to complain of hunger and die of Covid-19 while disobeying government directives. Whatever you can’t eat today can be eaten tomorrow.
So, Governor Umahi is doing his best to safeguard Ebonyians and I am not ashamed to admit that I am really pleased with him. Because of the situation of the country, coronavirus has not allowed the state to conduct LGA elections, so I am happy with the decision of the governor to set up caretaker committees. In Afikpo North, Mrs. Amauche Otunta Godwin has been made the caretaker committee chairman of the council and I am pleased with the decision of the governor. Caretaker committee is normal as it is just for the time being and elections will be conducted later. It will be disastrous to conduct elections now, especially with the social distancing stipulations by the government and health officials.
What advice do you have for Umahi at this second term?
Well, I will advise the governor to complete all the projects he started in this second tenure. He should make sure the standard of the projects he is executing are top-notch so that they can last. We don’t want a structure where he will be talking about replacement in a few years. We want structures he will put in place so that whenever he comes to Abakaliki, he will say yes; this is what I did during my time. He should execute projects so that whoever he is handing over to can continue from where he stopped.
You were once accused of having a hand in the death of a member of your community…
The accusation is the handiwork of mischief makers. Some jobless people are doing what they can to pull prominent people like me down, so that we can be at the same level. In fact, I read a publication by one Ekuma Charles on Facebook criticising me. Presently, Ekuma is a disabled man locked down in his father’s house. He is not contributing anything positive to the development of Amankwo community, besides locking himself inside his father’s house to write inanities on Facebook. I don’t even think Ekuma has the mental capacity to write anything logical.
The truth is that I was not at home and so cannot tell the beginning of the crisis that led to Azubuike Inya’s death, apart from what I heard from witnesses, just like other people. There is no way I could have directed anyone to kill Azubuike or any other human being. Was he a goat or an animal I can kill to eat the flesh? Was he not a human being created like everyone else? Which problem did I have with Azubuike that would make people believe I have a hand in his death? Am I dragging his father’s property with him? Was he working under me, to say he stole my money? What did he do to me to warrant being killed and what would I benefit from his death? I believe God is the giver and taker of life and will always disappoint Obila and his cohorts, who feel they will only be satisfied if they hear that I am dead today.
Have the police intervened in the matter?
Yes, thankfully, the police are aware of the situation now. They have intervened and arrested suspects and have even transferred the case to Abakaliki, while investigation is ongoing. However, while the police are investigating the matter, I am of the view that Amankwo people should proffer a solution in order to nip the crisis in the bud and avert future occurrence.
What should be done for peace to return to Amankwo community?
For peace to return, parties must come together and seek peace. Our matter is still within Amankwo, so there is no need for external bodies to come in. It is not about staying in Abuja, Lagos and different parts of the country to give orders to loyalists: we must come back home to sit and find a solution. For instance, what is happening now was carefully planned by Ifeanyi Obila, who instructed people that are not even living within Afikpo to come back home and cause trouble. Ordinarily, the guy that lost his life, Azubuike, was not even supposed to be at home as he was busy with his timber business until he was invited home by Obila to come and die such a shameful death. Therefore, people should swallow their ego, put their community first and look for solutions to conflicts. What sacrifice have you made to ensure peace returns to your land? Must you continue to claim your right and destroy your community? Have you put your ego aside for the common good? Those are three pertinent questions Obila and his cohorts should answer. There is no problem that would not be solved if we put our egos aside to come to the roundtable. The crisis in Amankwo is not even a quarter or anywhere near what I have solved in the entire Ebonyi state as commissioner for border peace and conflict resolution in the last dispensation.
Lastly, what advice do you have for Afikpo people in general?
Amankwo and Afikpo youth should not make the mistake of thinking that things are easy and that food will fall into their laps like Manna from heaven, without working for it. During my time as a youth, I passed through different stages. After primary school, I learnt carpentry, trade, building materials and many other things within my reach. I started my business after my master settled me with just N1, 000 after nine years apprenticeship. Then, you could load a lorry load of wood at N750, including the transportation, so I still had a change of N250. That’s how I started my business.
Till today, I have never collected loan from the bank or any individual as I raised money from my business for any other investment. So, to the youth, if you are in school, make sure you face your studies squarely. If you are learning any skill, show interest in your apprenticeship and also respect your master and not join cult groups; when you are yet to earn a dime for yourself. In a nutshell, most of the people you regard as rich or wealthy today is through their hard work, not ritualism or crime. They are prudent in the management of funds. To progress in life, love your business or profession as you love yourself and pray for God’s guidance and protection in whatever you do. There is no other magic to life than working hard and trusting God in everything you do; for God is the determinant of our survival here on earth. He is the Ultimate Judge and will definitely reward us according to our lives here on earth.