UMAHI: Poll Hangover, Policy Somersault And Search For Compass



IF there is any state governor that is still having a hangover from the last general election, it is the new Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi. The governor has been reversing himself, holding meetings with interest groups as if he is searching for a compass for his administration.

The first appointments made by the governor left the impression among the people that he was on a mission of vendetta and vexation. He appointed a former lecturer from Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Prof. Ben Odoh, as the Secretary to the State Government.

Apart from the fact that Odoh contested for the Ebonyi Central Senatorial district seat on the platform of All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA), it is believed that his appointment was to reward his contributions to the battle between Elechi and the Ibeto group.

It was this battle that brought Odoh, who is a geologist, closer to Sir Cletus Ibeto and of course, helped to attract some campaign funds to Umahi’s Divine Mandate Campaign organisation. Furthermore, Odoh was encouraged to contest the senate seat, even when it was obvious that Ibeto had pledged support to former State Chairman of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Joseph Obinna Ogba, for the same senate seat.

The ploy was to divide the votes from the Ezza clan and make it impossible for Chief Elechi’s eldest son, Prince Nnanna Elechi, of the Labour Party, or even the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) candidate, Vincent Anyigor, to win the highest number of votes to beat Ogba.

However, PDP stalwarts who were not privy to this underhand deals, sulked when Umahi named Odoh as SSG.

Interestingly, Umahi declared during his inaugural address that the war against Ibeto over the NIGERCEM ownership was over; stressing that Ibeto was free to enjoy his rights as core-investor in the foremost cement factory.

And as if the appointment of a ‘stranger’ into his cabinet was not painful enough to most of those who worked for electoral victory within the PDP fold, Umahi appointed another former academic, Professor Aja Akpuru Aja, as his Chief Press Secretary (CPS).

While the appointment of Aja as CPS irked his loyalists, many people in the state expressed outrage that the erudite professor of Political science should condescend to accepting the lowly appointment.

Some members of the Okposi community from which Aja hailed saw the appointment as an obvious intent by the governor to traduce the community for not supporting his governorship ambition, even as some commentators wonder why Umahi should chose to appoint a professor for the position knowing that Ebonyi is not like Ekiti State where virtually every family could boast of a University graduate.

However, close associates of the governor disclosed that the former CPS to former governor Martin Elechi, Dr. Onyekachi Eni, performed creditably well to the admiration of the new governor, such that he needed to make a statement that if Elechi could use a person with Ph.d as CPS, he could as well use a prof.

The perceived lingering animosity between Umahi and his former principal seemed to have dictated the reversal of some appointments made by Elechi on the tail end of his administration. The most outstanding review was that of 16 permanent secretaries, which included the former CPS, Eni, and the wife of Elechi’s former Attorney General and Commissioner of Justice, Dr. Ben Igwenyi.

Nullifying the appointment during a meeting with leaders of organised labour in the state, Umahi explained that the decision was warranted by the lean status of the state treasury, stressing that his predecessor left a near empty coffer for him.

He argued that since his government was finding it hard to pay workers’ salaries and meeting its other obligations, the appointment of additional permanent secretaries would create more problems for the state government.

Umahi further contended, “the appointment was also riddled with controversies and has witnessed several agitations against it by organised labour and other relevant stakeholders.”

However, no sooner had the governor made the controversial review of appointments and sacking of some senior officers, many residents in the state grumbled that the former deputy governor could not emulate the new Governor of Kaduna State, Malam Nasir el-Rufai by cutting his own salary and allowances.

As rumours of an impending sack of over 1, 000 teachers in its employment continue to circulate in the state, Umahi met with transition chairmen of local councils and Coordinators of Development Centres appointed by Elechi.

But while the council officials zeroed their mind at the possible dissolution of their offices, Umahi rather invited them to work with him, enjoining them to feel free to criticise him, as they deem fit without disobeying his instructions.

And in a surprising about face, Umahi disclosed that he was no longer going to probe his predecessor, Elechi.

His words: “We have no intension of probing the past administration because I was part of that administration.

I will not witch hunt anybody. We will not retaliate for whatever wrong we feel we suffered during our struggle to come into power. I should somehow praise you for your loyalty to the past governor and I’m not saying it to patronise you even though that some of you were very excessive, but I bear no grudge because you shouldn’t have left the former governor to support me.

I’m a rational person because the former governor was your boss and loyalty demands that you should give that to him.

Now I’m on seat, I demand the same level of loyalty.” Umahi still has an election petition to grapple with at the Tribunal. Despite that sudden rapprochement, many of the council officials who had earlier indicated interest in defecting to the APC say the governor was merely buying time so as not to expose his plans to extract his own pound of flesh.

The House of Assembly is yet to be proclaimed, as such, sacking the transition chairman may warrant the appointment of new transition officials, thereby, jumping into the same error that Elechi made. With the way things are going in Ebonyi, the new government will move in circles until it gets its bearing right.

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