Hon Barr Uchenna Orji is the Ebonyi State Commissioner for Information and State Orientation. In this interview with Editor Daily Champion, UGO AMADI, he x-rays how Governor David Umahi’s administration is tackling security challenges and his strategies to ensure adequate protection of lives and property to further drive investment in the state. Excerpts:
*Sir, before now Ebonyi was one of the most peaceful states in the South East and in the country. But recently there have been some killings including three policemen. How is the state government responding and containing the security challenges being experienced in the state?*
Surely the public will have the same view as you because since 2015, the administration of His Excellency Engr. Chief Dave Umahi has been working round the clock in a peaceful environment. And he has been making efforts to resolve pockets of communal clashes that were there before the government came on board.
He has also been doing some good work even when we joined the APC in the second tenure and towards late last year. I can really say that the sudden eruption of violent attacks and communal crises is becoming very surprising. However, the administration of our governor is not taking the situation with kid gloves. So far, the government has deployed more security personnel to help in curbing the challenges and in policing the affected areas. Of course, this banditry and cases of snatching guns of security personnel especially the police is actually another strange behaviour and challenge that the government is seriously working to get to the root of it. I would say that so far, the various communities have been mobilised through the security architecture we have so they can assist the conventional police to police the areas. Out of the 140 communities, we are raising five neighborhood watch personnel each (civilian security )to work with them in supervising the security neighborhood watch we have. And all of this will be integrated into the recently launched ‘Ebubeagu ‘security outfit of the South East Governors. The state government is also procuring about 140 patrol vehicles for security at various communities. We are looking at intelligence and information gathering and proactive measures to curtail the high level of criminalities we are witnessing in the state. I sincerely assure you that the violent attack is a temporary challenge and it will soon be nipped in the bud. Very soon the perpetrators, masterminds and sponsors will be exposed, and that will definitely give us a close solution to the problems of insecurity in the state.
I want to say that as heinous as it is, it cannot be unconnected with a deliberate attempt to destabilize and distract the governor, but I assure you that our governor is undistracted and highly focused. As we speak, he is mobilizing all the apparatus of the government to ensure that the recent insecurity spikes are nibbed in the bud. I know we cannot have a perfect society, as you can’t see where there is perfect security. But where there is some level of insecurity it is the duty of the government to checkmate it, crack the criminals and bring them to justice. That is the will of the government. In the case of Egedege community, where herdsmen were fingered to have caused the gruesome murder of about fifteen persons and destruction of properties, the government has directed security agencies to wade in, and of course, information has been given to the Presidency and other security agencies at the federal level, that they will use to really unravel the perpetrators and know the reason behind their actions. That is why when Mr. Vice President came to Ebonyi State, the people of that community presented a kind of protest paper showing evidence that seems to contact that can be used to tracing and cracking down on the suspected herdsmen, some of them the community saw their phone numbers. Again, in the case of Ohaukwu, where all of a sudden on the 12th of April, 2021, about four people from the Mgbo community were left dead and properties destroyed, preliminary investigation revealed that they might not be unconnected with the age-long communal clashes they have been having over a land dispute, between Igilla in Benue State and Mgbo in Ebonyi. As a matter of fact, we have other boundary issues, which the government has taken some steps to address by creating permanent demarcations and delineation; where we have inter-state boundary issues the federal agency in charge of it has helped in dealing with it.
When do you think the recently formed Ebubeagu will take off? Is there going to be a legislative process before that? When are we expecting the patrol vehicles the governor promised to beef up the security?
I can only speak for Ebonyi state. The government is already on the verge of procuring them and very soon they will be ready and distributed to the people that will use the vehicles. I think about 100 motorcycles were distributed a couple of days ago to security personnel to enable them to go to the hinterland, where vehicles cannot ply through. This is part of the arrangement. The other vehicles will soon be available and the government will distribute them. I would not be telling you issues the commissioner of finance should handle. For, South East, I don’t have the mandate to speak for them. I am not a commissioner for South East. But I am aware that the commissioner for justice and the state house of assembly has been detailed; I think other states have the same level of action on the matter. The southeast Governors Forum has a security committee and I am sure their recommendations are being handled by the various Houses of Assembly in the zone. Also, I know they will be looking at the issues of collaboration, cooperation and coordination. I think that is the way to go. I can tell you that in all these things, what is important is the substance and not just the name and what are the efforts the various states are making in funding the outfit. You may be surprised that the Ebubeagu will be stronger than any other security outfit in the country.
The governor talked about people committing crimes in the name of IPOB and ESN what is the reason for this?
The governor is very correct. He has been consistent in his comment on all of this. No organization commits violence, like banditry. It is the individuals that commit crimes; even if you use the name of the organization to commit a crime, the law will hold the individual and not the organization. An organization will not be held responsible for crimes committed by individuals. That is why the governor has asked us to leave the organization and hold people responsible for their actions. If you are committing a crime in the name of herdsmen, ESN, or any other body if we arrest the individual we will treat him according to the law. That is the jurisprudence and philosophy of the explanation the governor gave. Hold people accountable for their actions. Also, the various state governments are not having parallel security outfits with any group Ebubeagu is a security outfit of the South East and it is geared towards helping the conventional security agencies of the federal government. Also, who are the members of this Ebubeagu? They are the individual youths who are able-bodied, qualified by their character and integrity. They are the ones being recruited to be part of it. It doesn’t matter the association they belong to. They may be members of the Owerri association or Anambra youth council, what is important is that individuals with credibility are recruited to be part of Ebubeagu. So, every bonafide son and daughter of South East is qualified to be part of it.
What is the Governor doing to ensure lasting peace and drive more investment in the state?
Ebonyi State is one of the safest states in the country. The eruption of violence is surprising. What we are seeing today is still surprising. However, we are investigating to know what is the cause and we are going to nip it in the bud. In the last five years, we have been rolling in peace and with all the dividends of democracy we have garnered, the people are very happy but all of a sudden, we saw activities of bandits. The government is laying lasting legacies. He took the bull by the horn and created enabling environment, the road network that will last for fifty years before maintenance will take place. Flyovers and other development will attract investors to the state to create jobs for the people. We have about 13 flyovers and they are interconnected to various zones in the state. In the next fifty years, you will not be talking of traffic jam, you are sure of good roads and convenient road network and system. Also, the governor has put in place something concrete for the creative industry that can ensure job creation for the teeming youths in the state. Ebonyi State Government is the first in the country to secure approval of the Federal Government to build an International Airport. The airport is fashioned after Lagos and Abuja. The projects embarked upon by the government are gigantic, people-oriented and massive in nature. The projects are coming on board because we are coming from very bad history. We were criminally marginalized. We inherited a deficit of infrastructure and human capital development. The government pursued aggressive road construction with a concept that is novel in Nigeria. That concept is road construction with 8 inches of concrete pavement. The roads are scattered across the nooks and crannies of the state. A minimum of 25 kilometers has been constructed in each local government with bridges where necessary.
Virtually all federal roads linking the state have been done. The idea is that the users of these roads are Ebonyians. The government is equally constructing an ultra-modern stadium in Abakaliki to help in getting investors to relax with all the necessary sporting facilities.
The government’s motive for having an airport is to see how we can take advantage of a business airport, even in agricultural and commercial facilities. Our Solid Mineral products can be exported as the case may be. This would increase revenue for the state. There is a concerted effort to ensure the completion of the airport in good time.