By Senator Anthony Agbo
Several national, societal and individual factors infringe on the burden of leadership in Africa and our nation, Nigeria in particular, which combine to deny us the classic record of achievements, which the western nations and other developed nation-states have recorded over the centuries which compulsively draw the rest of the world to them to directly and indirectly continue to feed their economies and assuage their national propaganda yearnings.
Among these numerous toxic factors that impede our development, two of them shall form the subject of my discussion here; namely: our incurably loose procurement practices that tragically erase prudence in government expenditure, as well as absence of novelty of ideas in the conception, design and execution of projects.
Contract and contract financing has consistently been weaponized by the privileged ‘business’ cum political class, as well as the heartless bureaucrats in the salacious alters of Nigeria’s high echelon civil service to feed the bottomless pit of greed and white collar thievery. It is an unabated whirlwind that has for decades blown away the huge resources of this nation into the deep pockets of individuals of privilege and advantaged class.
A co-victim to prudence in the challenge of governance in Nigeria is novelty of ideas in our conception, design and construction of projects that produce finished works which possess uniqueness of concept, high durability index and exceptional aesthetic appeal.
Among the developed and ambitious nations of the world, every piece of public and private infrastructural project is strictly guided in design and construction to emerge as an enduring time capsule and imperative instrument of national propaganda which must add something novel to the attraction of the city and the nation to visitors and citizens. Hence, buildings, roads, bridges and flyovers etc, are not just utilitarian public facilities alone, but also elements of co-ordinated artistic embellishment and ornamental totems to the nation. And when a nation makes this a rigid national policy with permanent regimentation and control, the whole nation with its component cities becomes a giant piece of irresistible art work, which when combined with whatever imperative transactional services, such nation can render to others make it an unavoidable attraction to the outside world whose nationals throng there for investment, business, holidays, tourism and for pleasure. Through this, foreign capital from ceaseless traffic of foreigners robustly feed the economy of the nation to make her an indispensable economic power.
Great leadership requires bold and courageous decisions and actions which yield landmark projects whose utility value last for generations. And to achieve this, extreme prudence in management of resources must be a guardian angel of the leader.
Among whatever number of leaders in Nigerian’s political landscape that has recognized the above truisms and have put same in practice, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State stands out.
Before going ahead, the reader is invited to look up the position of Ebonyi State in the federal revenue allocation among the 36 states and Abuja. The state which was carved out of the rural tail of the South-Eastern Nigeria, which decades-long agitation for its creation was predicated on total absence of all indices of development, virtually receives the least among the 36 states.
But curiously, Governor Umahi seems to have discovered a secret and magical element of prudence unknown to others, which seem to conjure up the mightiest of works out of the least financial resources.
In the border town of Inyere in Afikpo South Local Government Area, as one heads to the boundary between Ebonyi and Abia states, a traveler encounters Ebonyi State version of the historic, notoriously deadly Enugu Milken Hill. Here, an undulating range of ferocious hills has created a forbidden landscape in which the mother earth seem to have opened a deep, dark and angry mouth to swallow up whatever man or machine that may mistakenly tip from the precarious narrow road that snake round the delicate slope of the foothills. This old road was long ago constructed by expatriate contractors to carefully avoid a deep and wide gorge created by pre-historic geological convolutions that formed the hills. This wide, deep and fearful gorge sits at a depth close to 100 metres below sea level. As I passed through this road over three months ago, I had beheld a stunning sight of a majestic forest of high density steel rods sitting on massive decorative columns, shooting out solemnly from the dark depth of the great gorge to announce a multiple-step flyover bridge that will beam across this fearful gorge to permanently nullify the pathological fear and horror associated with travelling the precarious road that dangerously circle the edge of the hill range.
The kind of defiant courage required to tackle this kind of fearful project considering the factors of the enormous financial resources involved, extra-ordinary feat of engineering required, including fear of sinister natural forces; is approximately similar to the ones exhibited by President Muhammadu Buhari in confronting the 2nd Niger Bridge (which every leader in this country since independence had ran away from), as well as criss-crossing the wide and wild landscape of Nigeria with rail lines and rail transportation, not to talk of transnational gas pipelines, among others.
Hence, from the Ebonyi State International Hospital/College of Medicine, which the like of it cannot be found anywhere in the African continent; to the hundreds of kilometers of novel, imperishable concrete roads that transverse and connect virtually every community of the state to the state capital; through Ebonyi State International Airport project; to the new state Olympic Stadium; to the dizzying state Ecumenical Centre, with the intricate network of classic road tunnels that lead to it; then to the new state of the art Government House Complex that incorporates Governor’s Lodge and offices, Presidential Lodge, House of Assembly and other facilities; to the state’s International Shopping Mall, which is a marvel to behold; and then to the spectacularly custom-made Ebonyi designer flyovers in every busy and semi-busy intersections all over the state; through the dualization and rehabilitation of federal roads in the state up to the boundary with sister states; among several other projects. Each and every of these projects are conceived, designed, constructed and finished with calculated strength and durability, delicate refinement of taste and spectacular ornamental appeal.
All these put together staggers the imagination and defies common sense, in the context of meager resources available to the state.
A question may then be asked by a curious and objective enquirer; as to what previously unknown, critical and high-yield procurement formular and advanced principles of prudence has Governor Umahi discovered that can yield projects which ordinarily are beyond the capacity of the state resources to deliver?
Speaking from outside the platform of eulogy, I can make bold to say in succinct terms that Governor Umahi’s governance style and the unique consequent infrastructural accomplishments that result from it as narrated above stands out as a veritable school of leadership that has so much to offer in the troublesome areas of prudence in the management of resources, as well as novelty of ideas in the conception, design and execution of projects.
Since Umahi defected from the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, to the ruling APC, a multitudinous flurry and volleys of incendiary attacks, blackmail as well as outright machinations have ceaselessly rained upon him and woven around him from those who feel wounded or threatened by his bold and courageous decision.
The most curious and outstanding of these attacks have come in the manner of wild and factless accusations of looting the treasury of Ebonyi State; as well as accusing the governor of building white elephant projects that have no direct relevance to the needs of Ebonyi people.
The accusation of looting the treasury of the state could be the most absurd, pathetic, wicked and treacherous, which any bonafide, sane-minded citizen of Ebonyi State could make against Umahi, who has simply done the impossible with the little revenue that trickle into the coffers of the state, by putting in place unique models of infrastructure that shall last for generations. Outside fictional, politically motivated accusations, insidious blackmail and deliberate destructive machinations; naked and obvious facts point to the truism that Umahi is a towering reference totem of prudence and fiscal discipline to a level that is rarely seen in African leadership landscape.
The accusation of the governor investing on white elephant projects that do not benefit the masses, as pitiable and pathetic as it is, squarely borders on the same primitive mindset and lack of cultural literacy which has kept the African continent in retrograde motion for several decades.
It is such primitive mindset and absence of cultural literacy that makes even the educated critics not to understand how concrete roads; street lights; International Hospital, farming grants to farmers, civil servants and public officers; International Airports, Olympic Stadium, etc, all impact on the lives of the people.
In enlightened climes, and among visionary and ambitious regimes all over the world, leaders don’t work or build for the present and near future in order to just assuage the ephemeral elementary appetite of some restless stakeholders. No! Rather civil works and other infrastructure are conceived, designed and constructed as imperishable time capsules that stand as mute witnesses to the distant and endless mist of time.
The Anglo-Saxon heritage that formed the foundation of western nations of Britain, Europe and America, for instance, had from day one of their nationhood set out to build cities and infrastructure, which for centuries have remained as historical masterpieces of human accomplishments. They did not wait to first conquer hunger, or to first accomplish a besotted state policy of ‘stomach infrastructure’ before going ahead to build enviable cities.
Hence, in such environments, you see stunning masterpieces of classical architecture, quaint designer bridges and flyovers, historical monuments done in spectacular vibrancy of style; you encounter centuries-old stone-cast roads snaking through some thickly wooded forest that lead into medieval castles nestled on top of seemingly inaccessible mountains; you encounter iconic city landmarks and structures erected as far back as the historical infant days of the nation and city; all standing to decorate the high metropolis of these nations and bear testimony to the towering vision of iconic leaders of past era. These are cultural inductions and elevated governance baptism which Governor Umahi is a proud initiate.
In 1904, the United States, under President Theodore Roosevelt, began the construction of Panama Canal, to create a man-made waterway over an 80kilometre stretch of mountains and plains that will link the Atlantic to the Pacific Oceans, across the Isthmus of Panama, the objective of which was to shorten the navigation distance between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. This project engaged over 75,000 workers, engulfed $350 million and took the lives of 5,609 workers. But it removed 8,000 miles from the ocean trip between Atlantic and Pacific Oceans; and currently employs 9,000 workers and generates annual revenue of about $2.5 billion. If the $350 million spent on this ‘white elephant’ project was shared to desperate stakeholders and opportunistic citizens for ephemeral satisfaction to draw cheap and brief applause for the leader, the problem this project solved for America and the world (8,000 miles less of sea route) will still be there, and the nation will be $2.5 billion poorer annually with extra 9,000 unemployed workers.
What critics of visionary governments in Nigeria call ‘white elephant’ project is what civilized, and well-guided governments all over the world do every other time: Projects that will serve the interest of successive generations of citizens, and capture the imaginations of visitors. The great pyramid of Giza, in Egypt, built by Pharaoh Khufu, 6,000 years ago is still one of the frontline sources of revenue (in tourism) for the Egyptian governments of today. The Eiffel Tower designed and constructed for French government by the French engineer, Gustave Eiffel, in 1887, has remained the number one tourist attraction in France and a major source of revenue for the French government. Underground railway tunnel that is a common phenomenon in all civilized nations of the world would have been a ‘white elephant’ project here. And other innumerable bold and visionary projects all over the world.
I would kindly advice the honored critics of Governor Umahi to kindly begin to think like Umahi in order to hasten the greatness of our country.
With appreciative solemn opinion, I must offer my reverential acclaim of Umahi’s family members; his wife and children, his brothers and sisters and relations, all of whom are highly cerebral, very successful, cultured and exceedingly accomplished set of human stock; who at all time and in all ramifications have exhibited the highest principles of civilized conduct and cultured bent, that is rare in the circumstance of their position. I adore and reverence this family because, in a society like ours, families pull down governments, destroy visions and sway the noble intentions and focus of their own person in power, that it is their turn and opportunity to chop. But Umahi’s family has been different. At the background you see them offer copious, valuable and complimentary ideas, gratifying encouragement and delightful helping hands.
Also deserving of my reverential acclaim is Umahi’s team of appointed and elected officials, particularly the young, patriotic, sharp and witty Speaker of the House and his members.
Governor Umahi’s illustrious ethos of prudence and novelty in governance and his consequent achievements represent imaginative giant leaps in Nigeria’s leadership landscape. And I am persuaded to aver that his biggest story has not been heard.
Jesus Christ is Lord.
•Senator Agbo, an astute politician and author, is a chieftain of the All Progressives Congress, APC, from Ebonyi State