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How not to empower a people: a cue from Dave Umahi

How not to empower a people: a cue from Dave Umahi

As soon Governor Umahi mounted the stool of leadership as the Ebonyi State governor, he made a proclamation, that all Ebonyians hustling in various states of the country should return home, that he the messiah had come to liberate them from the shackles of poverty. He had promised them free education, employment, empowerment and development. I recall warning those I could, not to listen. Never to abandon their legitimate businesses over a fake promise of a political swindler. But many dismissed my warning. What followed was a shocker.

As his government beamed to life, he raised the school fees of the state university. He abrogated the then ongoing undergraduate and postgraduate scholarships started by his predecessor. As if that wasn’t enough, he introduced fees in the government Primary and Secondary Schools that used to enjoy free education. He downsized the staff of the state university and the civil service by sacking nearly a quarter. He slashed their salaries by nearly half or more of their basic including those of pensioners. It was then that Ebonyians began to have a taste of empowerment especially that of an Apostle. Till now, there hasn’t been any recruitment into the Ebonyi State Civil Service since Umahi assumed office almost 7 years ago.

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As the clock ticked, he opened the chapter of those in business. To encourage SMES, he introduced high and multiple taxation. Also taxing those who have no shops such as hawkers, cobblers and shoe shiners. Then he raised the bar even higher by demolishing the Abakaliki main market and shared the shops at Ochudo market to his brothers who pegged the rent at nothing less than N2million no matter the kind of business you did. Having such amount wasn’t even the criteria for securing one. You must have been his diehard supporter or ready to sing his praise.

Then the grants began. Firstly, in early February 2017 during the launch of his wife’s petty and now obsolete widow’s empowerment programme, he announced that he had set aside N2billion naira to empower 8,000 civil servants in the state to go into agriculture. He further promised to empower 4,000 youths at the same time, and to be paying selected 273 people monthly stipends across the 13 local government areas of the state. All these died almost instantly with the beating of the bands that heralded them, as the entire state continued to dawdle in poverty and trepidation.

He repeated a similar promise in April 2018, when he said that he had set aside N2.6billion to empower 13,000 Ebonyi youths. But nothing ever happened in reality.

Governor Umahi announced again in March this year that his government had set aside N3billion naira to empower Ebonyi youths with grants to start small and medium scale businesses, as a consequence of the #Endsars protest, to meaningfully engage the youths. The whole social media went agog with jubilation. People unsuspectingly applied, some paid money to be selected, did everything possible until they realised that it was all a hugwash. No one ever got a dime. It was nothing less than fraud.

Umahi used the State’s resources and Ebonyi tax payers’ money to build gigantic structures for his private medical school (King David University of Medical Sciences) in his hometown, Uburu. His drummers again took to the social space to celebrate. First, they assumed he built it for the state government and for the use of Ebonyi people, even when the truth is obvious, but some of them would choose to die than believe otherwise. They forgot that Ebonyi State University has a Medical School which started as far back as 1998, graduated her first set of doctors in 2002 and since then has graduated 19 sets of doctors, and still on till date. The newly established Alex Ekwueme Federal University, Ikwo also has a medical school. But these irrational supporters would argue saying ‘what’s wrong with having three?’ Now the medical school has released the school fees per session to be N3million (N5millon with admission fee) and N10million for Nigerians and non-Nigerians respectively. Fees that not even his SSG can afford, not to mention the average Ebonyi parent.

I recall with nostalgia how the defunct Ebonyi State scholarship board used gleam with activities during the previous administration under the chairmanship of my friend, Chief Godwin Ogbaga. How there used to be interschool debate and quiz competitions under the steer of Prof. Otuma, with awards and bursaries across the local governments, all to promote education and scholarship. Umahi brought an end to all. Last year, I ran into Chief Godwin Ogbaga in Abakaliki. We talked and laughed, and I recall saying, ‘sir, you see what happened to the scholarship board?’
“It’s unfortunate, Doc.’ he had replied.

Umahi understands that there is no better way to subdue a people than to deny them education and keep them hungry. Those two weapons rob people of the ability to think and act. While lack of education robs you of critical thinking, hunger weakens you and bequeaths you with both fear and listlessness.

But to be fair, Governor Umahi has empowered people though. He has empowered over a hundred youths with phones and monthly data subscriptions to overshadow every contrary voice and opinion such as this. And he in the midst of all deserves full credit and honour for it. Thank you, wonder-working governor.

Most times it’s not the criminality of Nigerians leaders that pisses me off but the impervious gullibility and inaction of the people. I have posited many times that Ebonyi State has never had it this bad since her creation. The State has been so decrepitated by the current government that in ten years to come, she wouldn’t have picked her pieces not to speak of assembling them no matter the resolve and dexterity of whoever takes the baton of governorship.

I had promised not write about Umahi’s government. This isn’t about it though. It’s about the people who not only choose silence but celebrate when they are being dispossessed, when they’re afflicted and robbed. It’s not the best. Such choices enthrone a cycle of mediocrity, corruption and retrogression. It has no favour or fortune in it.

This article is about that next governor or predator, running from pillar to post, praying for a chance to prey yet again on Ebonyians, to please have a change of heart. Never to toe this path. To realise that Ebonyi has never had it this unfairly, and prepare for a tough work ahead. It would be a total freshening and debridement of sores created so far, so they could heal. Whoever it turns out to be must realize early enough that the Umahi way is one hell of how not to empower a people.

Ebonyi is yours as much as it’s mine. Let’s prepare to give her the best.

Obinna Oke writes from Abakiliki

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