With strategic business-unusual approach, we’re growing Enugu to be among top 3 economies in Nigeria – Gov. Mbah

Enugu State Governor, Peter Mbah, clocked one year in office on May 29, 2024. He spoke on the events of the period under review in this special interview with ONUOHA UKEH (Managing Director), IHEANACHO NWOSU (Editor, Daily Sun) and MAGNUS EZE (Assistant Editor). 

The governor delved into varied issues, including challenges faced by the administration, Enugu’s changing investment climate, insecurity and regional development.

He also shared his thoughts on state police, local government autonomy and how the ongoing Constitution review could recalibrate the country’s economy.

Congratulations on your successful completion of one year in office. What has the journey been like?

For us, the 365 days have been a journey of greatness and development. We invited our people during the campaigns and the buildup to the elections to join us on a journey of disruptive innovation. We used the word disruptive because we realised that, if we achieved the growth plan or rate that we have set for ourselves, that is, growing the economy from the levels of $4.4 billion to $30 billion, what that simply means is that we are looking at an exponential growth.

And just a casual trend analysis we did revealed that, over the years, we have grown marginally and at best incrementally and we felt that that growth rate was no longer able to serve us even though it may have served its purpose. In order for us to catch up with the rest of the world in terms of the great things happening across the world, if our people must not be left behind, we needed to disrupt some of the status quo and basically do things radically.

So, it has been that journey and we have essentially set forth at dawn because we recognized that the growth plan and the inclusive economic development we have outlined for our people had timelines to them so they weren’t vague. We said to them, in specific terms, this is what we are doing and this is where we are taking you over this period of time. And we realised that, if we must keep to our part of the bargain, we had no time to spare and we did exactly that.

So, it has been a period of monumental growth in terms of provision of basic amenities. It has also been a period where we have identified both the kinetic and non-kinetic approaches to fighting insecurity and we deployed them.  We recognize that if we must grow at the level we have proposed, it must come from activities from the private sector. So, we needed to have private-public sector partnership and so for that to happen, you have to create the environment.

The government must be able to provide the key enablers for that to occur. And then we also recognize that security was a major risk factor that must happen. So, we addressed that frontally on assumption of office. We recognize that the Monday sit-at-home, which we inherited, was not sustainable and that, if we must attract investment and private sector investors to Enugu, we needed to address that frontally.

We also recognize that we need to apply the non-kinetic approach. We recognize that some of the fragilities and security challenges we have in our communities are also largely driven by poverty and unemployment. So, we also had to ensure that we have an integrated approach in getting our young people constructively engaged so that they would have less time to think about vices.

We know that it hasn’t been a bed of roses within this one year. You have had some challenges; so, what were the challenges that you faced?

We have always referred to democracy as a collective work, which means that you have to carry along the people you are leading. We recognized that, over the years, there has been some kind of trust deficit between the people and the government; it was some kind of a challenge convincing them that, this time, we want to do things differently. When we talked about the plan to provide water within a period of 180 days in office, it was treated with a lot of cynicism. So, we have naysayers, we have doubters. It was difficult for people to believe that these things were possible. We needed to double down on our communication strategy, making sure that our people understood that when we talked about disruptive innovation, when we talked about how we wanted to grow the economy exponentially, it required us coming up with new innovation.

Basically, dealing with getting the people to buy in and believe in what we are saying, it’s been a challenge and we’ll continue to hold ourselves to account. So, if we have not communicated, we hold ourselves responsible. We have a duty to continue to communicate and get our people to understand that, essentially, this is business unusual. What we are here to do is to grow the economy to the level we have said, get the poverty headcount rate crash from 58 per cent to zero and that will require us doing things differently and making sure that our development plan is integrated and inclusive.

You could be said to be the first governor that did a budget with capital expenditure higher than recurrent before others started; how has the implementation been?

We basically have a budget size of N520 billion or thereabouts, of which over N400 billion is dedicated to capital expenditure. And, again, it speaks to the immediacy and the urgency we have to get development to our people and provide basic amenities to be able to attract this investment. Of course, we can wish for all these things, but the truth is that it requires you to fund them; so, it has to be cash-backed.

It is not just good enough to say you want to have a budget of that size. So, what we did was to disrupt our revenue model. Before we came in, our base revenue was focused on the federation account. That was where the lump sum of our revenue came from. We felt that that was suboptimal and that money coming from the federation account was hardly enough to attend to the critical sector we have to deal with. So, we urgently needed to look at other models of revenue. If you look at our budget size of over N500 billion, you will notice that what we have indicated there as external funding is about N70 billion and that N70 billion is essentially a bridger because it is not a long-term loan. It is a very short-term loan, which will be repaid in a very short time because we are deploying it to an activity that will generate revenue to clear it. But the huge part of that revenue is coming from our efforts in mobilizing our domestic revenue, which means we have to enhance the quality of our service. We have to expand our tax net to bring in a number of people who, before now, were not in the tax net into that tax net. Also, in the informal sector, we need to digitalize a lot of the payment platforms to ensure that we accurately capture all the revenues that accrue to the government and ensure that they are deployed for the benefit of the people. So, that’s largely what we have done in that respect.

Many people say you seem to have so many things on the cards at the same time; how are you coping, especially coming from the private sector?

The governance aspect of my job in the public space is not radically different from the corporate world that I am coming from. So, if you were to look at it as coming from a background where I had been a CEO of a company, you know, part of what we presented to our people when we were asking them to give us their mandate to serve them was the fact that we’ve been able to do something great in the private sector space where we were coming from. Playing in a space where we started, coming from ground zero and eventually rising to a point where we became market leader and were doing the largest volume in terms of output, we felt that deploying the same strategic thinking and disruptive innovation, which was what led to the growth we had, because this was a mature market and we were late entrants, but we came into that space and we were able to displace the incumbents and took over the market and became the market leader in the downstream oil and gas sector. So, we also believe that deploying the same strategy and thinking creatively outside the box, if we are to essentially achieve the growth rate, and it’s one thing making those pronouncements, being able to conceive ideas in terms of how you want to grow the economy of the state, where you want to take the people to, but it’s another thing crafting strategies that will take you there. And, in fact, what is even more critical was being able to assemble the team that you will work with because you are hardly able to execute this alone. So, you needed to have the right set of manpower to get them to buy into the vision. Essentially, that was what we did: had clear vision, had a clear idea of where we wanted to get to. So, the vision wasn’t vague at all. We want to make Enugu State a premier destination for business, investment, living and tourism. That was what our mission was. In terms of expressing the vision, we were clear. We wanted to grow the economy from the levels of $4.4 billion to $30 billion. We wanted to become one of the top three states in terms of GDP and to achieve a zero count in our poverty headcount index.

So, those ideas were very clear and what was important about them was that they were built over a timeline. These things were to be achieved over eight years. What that means is that you have a measurable indicator. You know that if this is going to happen over a period of eight years, it means there are milestones that must be accomplished. And you need to be able to show that scorecard. So, this was what we did, expressing that vision. But, again, what I brought with me, which is why I believe that a lot of people tend to think that we are doing much or that we have a lot on our plate. But I actually don’t think we are doing as much. We really need to double down. We really need to get more because when we say tomorrow is here, it means that there is no room for procrastination. We cannot defer to tomorrow what we can do today. So, I think that the private sector background helped a great deal and recognising that, if we work as a team, we will be able to accomplish so much. The thing we did at the very beginning was bringing in the team; having an offsides retreat where we ensured that we got the buy-in of my direct report. But above , also getting them to fulfil a social performance contract where we come in every week to review our performance. We have regular performance reviews. Because everybody across the sectors is very clear as to where they want to get to, so, what they want to do is to measure their performance to ensure that they are getting closer to that destination and that’s been the experience.

The current economic climate is not allowing most businesses realise their projections. Is the situation in the country not taking a toll on your plans and projections?

We also knew when we were making these promises that it wasn’t going to be a walk in the park. It wasn’t going to be essentially a tea party. We recognize that the demands of the times requires that we think outside the box. So, where people saw challenges, we saw opportunities. Where it appeared as if the outlook looked bleak and we are all focusing on those bleak outlooks, we are thinking more about the opportunities, how do we take advantage of these challenges. Because again in business parlance, we say that if everybody is saying the same thing, it is no longer an opportunity because everybody is going that direction. You are able to distinguish yourself if you come up with a unique value proposition, especially where others have failed to see that opportunity. That is the attitude we brought to public service. We see that we have a huge opportunity to grow our internal revenue so we are able to mobilise our revenue, deploy technology to plug all leakages, and enhance the quality of service we provide to the people and ensure we grow the revenue, but above all, harness our resources. We believe that, given our historic nature, given the brand name of Enugu and the brand equity, we have no doubt at all that we could bring Enugu back to that pre-eminent position, having been the economic hub of this country at one point.

You have achieved your target of providing water for Enugu people within 180 days but several parts of the state still do not have water. One year after, why has it been difficult to make water flow to every other area?

What we did in the water space, I don’t think has happened anywhere on the continent and maybe, I dare say, perhaps, in the world. Within a period of six months, you are able to grow your generation capacity from two million litres per day to 120 million. And, by the way, the daily consumption of the metropolis is about 80 million litres. We were able to build a water production capacity that enabled us to produce 120 million litres daily. What that means is that we built more than enough capacity to attend to all the people living in the metropolis within 180 days and not just enough but we also have a 50 per cent buffer. What it means is that even if we have issues, we are still able to produce enough for the state to utilize. However, having dealt with the upstream challenges, which was the production side of things, we had to deal with the distribution. First was the transportation from the production to the reservoirs where you store them. We had to enhance the transportation facilities so we are able to move the water to the reservoirs. In the distribution side of things, we have three lines. We have the primary lines; we have the secondary lines and the tertiary lines. We have addressed water from the production to the primary lines of transportation to the reservoirs. The secondary lines now take it to the headers where you call the booster stations and it is from there that you now start taking them to homes. We have addressed the secondary lines across the entire zones in the state. We have water up to the headers from where we can now take to different homes. However, taking it from those primary lines to the tertiary lines, which are different homes, is where the challenge is because you now have houses that have been built over the pipes. You now have to start dealing with how to address this. Bring down the house, re-channel the pipe? And because these lines haven’t worked over the years, the people neglected the right of way of the pipelines. They built on them and in most cases blocked the pipelines. That was essentially what we had to deal with and continue to deal with. The other major challenge is the fact that a number of those, even in the secondary line aspect, are old pipes. Some of them are asbestos pipes. They’ve gone brittle and corroded, so we needed to replace them. We have been aggressive, but I can tell you that across all the 10 zones, we have 10 locations where we need to take water to and we have water in all these 10 zones. It’s a daily thing; we keep connecting. During my address, I was able to in specific terms address the ratio we’ve been able to accomplish. I think overall, we’ve done more than 70 per cent and we have of course, extended the network, the tertiary network to new layouts that were not captured in the original master plan. So, what we are doing is taking the water to the last man and that’s ongoing. That’s a continuous process because as new layouts are built, you must also be able to reticulate. The good news and what is radical about what we have done is the fact that we have enough water to go round. We have enough water to supply to the people of Enugu metropolis.

Some of your policies have attracted some controversies. For instance, the ranch issue; People feel that you want to give Fulani herders the leeway to infiltrate the state. What is actually the correct position of government on the matter?

In terms of the controversy, I think that, again, is the issue I pointed out when we talked about challenges of governance, communication, making sure that you distil these things in a manner that the people understand what you want to do. And the animal husbandry, the cattle space is a huge business. It’s a business that has a turnover of N50 billion annually. It is a subsector that we can structure and get not just people from one part of the country to play in that space. We think it is a space that even our business people can play in. For us, what we proposed, or what has actually been passed into law, is proposing that we have a structured way of managing these cattle rather than have them roam around farmlands or indeed our streets. So, we are saying, let’s have a ranch, which is like a cattle market where you provide abattoirs, feed mills and you have a proper structure of a market. And when I say market, it’s a market. Exclusively a market structure. It is not like where people live. And then anybody who is interested has the opportunity to play in it, including our traders. So, that is essentially what the law advocates.

What about the contention over Produce City?

Agriculture is also another sector where we are doing radical things because we see agriculture as a sector that could enhance our growth plan. It is a sector where, if we are looking at growing our economy exponentially; we cannot neglect it. So, what we did was to have two-pronged approaches to our strategy. We looked at creating an agriculture sector where we can bring in commercial farmers to farm and we then said that what will make it more attractive is to have special agro-processing zone so that we capture the full value in the chain of production, processing, distribution and all that. And we also said that for smallholder farmers, we needed to build clusters, increase their capacity so that they can also do very well. That’s essentially what we are doing because if you are looking at an integrated produce city or a special agro-allied processing zone, you need a feed, you need to enhance your production capacity so that you can feed that processing zone. So, that’s essentially what we have done. We have a land bank of about 300,000 hectares where we hope to attract commercial farmers and that is already ongoing. We have signed a number of MOUs. Some of them have moved to an agreement level where we have commercial farmers coming into the state, taking a large size of land to farm and now we have built a data bank of all our farmers in the state and we are building them now in clusters. So, our objective is to enhance their production capacity to ensure that we increase their production and so, ultimately, with the construction of the FCPZ which is due to start at any time soon, we are already at the end of the construction period, you are not going to have a dormant processing zone without produce. We are going to have enough feed. So, the idea is to capture all the value chains of production, processing, packaging, marketing, logistics and all that.

When we talk about eradicating poverty, to achieve zero hunger in the next eight years, agriculture in the short, medium and long term is that sector where we hope to accomplish that. We are encouraging and building the skills of our young people to take to the production of farm inputs, getting them to migrate from the manual way of farming to mechanized way of farming. And we are also working with them to do that. We are not leaving them to themselves. We are not just providing extension services; we are also helping them to provide those machineries and implements that are needed to enhance their production capacity.

You have made efforts in reviving moribund assets in the state, ICC, the NigerGas and all that. People are asking, why not sell or privatize them, since the government might have problems in managing them? So, why didn’t you consider the option of selling them off so that the government would be free from getting involved in managing businesses?

That’s not completely off the table. What we didn’t want to do is to sell the assets to investors that would strip them off and not have them back to an active status. So, what we are trying to do now is to get back those assets into a functional state so that if we decide to divest or if we decide to bring in investors to manage them, they will be attractive. It will be that you are bringing in people to come and take over a functional asset. You are not bringing them to buy scrap. We don’t want to just sell scrap and what we also recognize, given my background, if you de-risk construction and get what should have just been an asset or a scrap, if you get it into a production state, the evaluation will be enhanced because you are doing evaluation on a functional asset. So, it is not the same as when you have a moribund asset and people are already just thinking about how to dispose the scrap or how they could just make money. That’s not what we are planning to do. We had to come up with the best strategy, which will fast-track the revival of those assets and enhance their value. So, even if we are bringing investors either to divest as a state or to concession and have it managed by the private sector, we would get the optimal value for the state.

Talking about roads and other infrastructure, which we will call the hardware and enabler in development, what are you doing in this area, especially as it concerns virgin roads that would interconnect with other SouthEast states and other parts of the country? And what are you doing for the software of development, like having the right personnel in schools and hospitals?

We are quite heavy in infrastructure because the view we’ve taken of what we could achieve is humongous. The strategy is to make it government-enabled but driven by private sector. So, if it’s going to be government-enabled, that means that there must be some key indicators that you must accomplish. What we are essentially doing is, if you go back to the centre, what you are going to be seeing is how we are connecting the dot across the different sectors. Coming back to that objective of growing the economy, we’ve taken a very radical approach to infrastructure provision and security as it were. For infrastructure, our objective is to make sure that you do not have a street or either what you refer to Trunk A or Trunk B road in our metropolis that is not paved. We have done about 70 roads and we are just getting ready to award another 80 roads in our metropolis. And again, it’s intentional to have all the Trunk A and Trunk B roads or whatever you call it, including Trunk C, all of them paved. The challenge is that if you pave the Trunk A and you have to run through a muddy street on Trunk B and get into Trunk A, you’re also damaging that Trunk A road; you’re painting it brown and not black, coming from a muddy street. So, why not all the roads?

The strategy is to pave all our roads in the metropolis. We are also not leaving behind our rural communities. We’ve awarded a number of roads even in the city; a lot of the roads we are doing are green roads, they have not had pavement on them before; we are paving them for the first time. For the ones that are old, we mill them, get rid of what is on top and ensure that we do something more sustainable. We are also doing some brand-new roads; we’re doing some gateway roads. We’ve commissioned over 40km dual carriage gateway road that will enable you access the north from Owo-Ubahu-Amankalu-Neke-Ikem. So, if you’re going to Abuja, and you don’t want to go through the Opi-Nsukka route, there’s an alternative route that takes you less than 40minutes to Obollo-Afor. It’s a major gateway road. It wasn’t there before and we are doing it now. We’re working with the federal government, in fact, we are doing the dualization of the road from Emene to Ebonyi boundary. There is a tension point where people spend six to seven hours on that road. We are making sure that we dualise that road and also have a flyover at some point there. We have a couple of roads that we are about to award; we are doing 10 rural roads and we are doing another 40km road from Ninth Mile-Ezeagu-Uzo-Uwani. We are, of course, doing some roads in the New Enugu City.

We have a local government that before some people there will get to their council headquarters, they would have to go through three or four other local governments because the access to that place required a long span bridge. So, we are currently doing that; building the long span bridge and that road as well. We are looking at this next phase to also get into the dualization of the Abakpa-Ugwuogo Nike-Opi-Nsukka Road. That’s another 42km road, it’s a road we committed to our people that we’re going to dualize. That will come in the next phase of award. We have a huge number of roads that we are doing and our plan is to make sure that we build at least 10km of roads across the 260 wards in the state-that’s about 2600km. That’s something that we are working closely with the local governments to accomplish because, ultimately, we want them to take ownership of all those roads.

What about schools, hospitals and the personnel?

We’ve heard things like, ‘these people are obsessed with education’. We make no apologies for it because we believe that the true wealth of a nation should be measured by the quality of public education that nation offers to its citizens. What people usually do is to think about a rich country and make the mistake of thinking about their material or mineral resources. We take a completely different view; we believe that the true wealth every nation is measured by the quality of human resources. That’s why we are doing what we are currently doing in the education space where we are building 260 smart schools. And beyond the 260 smart schools, you talked about personnel, you have to even understand the features of these smart schools.

First of all, in terms of the number of years that a child should be in the smart school, we’ve moved that threshold from just nine years of basic education. We’re now able to provide 12 years of basic education, which means our children get to start the smart school experience from age three where they go through the nursery school; do the Pre-primary 1, Pre-primary 2 and we get them into Elementary One, from where they have access to android.

Each smart school has 700 androids; it has labs for robotics, for Artificial Intelligence, for mechatronics, it has Computer Generated Image (CGI) studio. So, all the skills that you need to equip these young minds with in order for them to compete favourably with their peers from across the world is essentially what have ensured that the smart school provides. It has also something that we’ve made not to be elitist because we are building them in the rural communities. It’s not just something we want to build in the city or the three senatorial districts and only the elite or children of the elite have access to. No! This is an experience that every child in this state will have to pass through. Our hope is that over the next 10 to 15 years, these kids would obviously be the decision makers. Again, because we bring them in from age 3, we also make sure that we imbue them with the right civic habits.

Beyond exposing them to the skillset that prepares them for tomorrow’s workplace, we are also ensuring that we pour a lot of moral values, deposit that into them at that impressionable age. That’s exactly what we are doing in the smart schools and we have heard questions like, is it sustainable? And I laugh because of all the things we are doing in the different sectors; I don’t think that there’s one that will be as sustainable as the education. The reason is because these kids that you are equipping would, obviously, be broadening their minds, exposing their world-view and forging their horizon at that young age. They are the ones ultimately that will elect leaders tomorrow that will lead them. And you can trust that they will make the right choice and will ask the right questions.

Again, it’s not just a section of the people, we’re exposing everybody to it. For me, it’s an equalizer; building minds that will interrogate the status quo and make the right decisions. So, even the challenges we are dealing with today; we’re already building minds that will crack it; you’re exposing them to that thinking, to begin to solve problems. We have what is known as experiential learning, which is largely a delivery method of the curriculum. Beyond just reviewing the curriculum in line with the future skills, also the delivery method has changed radically. We are not just teaching these children to memorise things; we are teaching them to practicalize these things. We’re not just passing information to them but we show them how to apply the information. That’s something I believe that, if we fail in every other thing in terms of sustainability, we can’t fail in education.

If you build roads and you don’t have the right people, tomorrow, that road will fail because you don’t have the human capacity to maintain them. But if you build these people and you build their capacity, if every other thing failed, they will be able to fix it. I believe that education is the most sustainable thing of all the things that we are doing.

And in terms of the software aspect you mentioned, we have a programme that will enable us churn out over 6,000 smart teachers as we call them, in the next one year. The objective is actually to make sure that we get 10,000. We have in the last six months been training these smart teachers. We have a centre of experiential learning and innovation which is where these teachers have to go through. So, there is an intense training going on as we talk. In terms of maintenance, when we do budgeting for these smart schools, we also factor in the recurrent implication, so, we understand that we need data to be able to run them because each classroom has a board where the kids learn from, so, you need data. The smart schools all have solar systems; we have renewable energy across all the smart schools.

Regarding healthcare, we are also aggressive in that space where we are doing 260 Type 2 Primary Healthcare Centres; again, making sure that we upgrade our healthcare facilities. As I have always said, we are not so much enthused about building the infrastructure. We are more excited about the future; the things we have inside. So, beyond just doing the infrastructure, we are equipping these hospitals with modern equipment; we are providing furniture, water, solar system and we are also building the quarters for the healthcare personnel. I just recently approved the recruitment of over 2000 healthcare personnel in our primary healthcare centres. Just to show that we are not just going to have the building standing and you walk in you don’t find the healthcare personnel. So, as we are thinking about the hardware, the infrastructure, we are also thinking about the soft items, the personnel that will man them.    

We are aware that Enugu is not among the very rich states; how are you funding all these great ideas? Are you borrowing? How much have you borrowed?

I mentioned earlier on that with a budget size of over N500 billion, what we hope to borrow is about N70 billion. So, if you look at that in terms of percentage, it’s just about 12-13 per cent of the budget size. I did also say that it’s not a long-term borrowing; it’s not what I will bequeath to my successor, for example. It’s a short-term borrowing, like a bridger, in business parlance, where you needed to do a project and you know that the project will repay the money but you have a shortfall, you get a bridger. And once the revenue from that project comes, you take out the debt instrument. That’s essentially one strategy we have.

We are doing a brand-new city; it’s going to be one of the best cities in the country, if not Africa. A service city, so everything is going to be provided; there’s no need going in there with a generator, it wouldn’t even be allowed, your gas will be centrally piped; there would be no need going there with your cylinder. Your sewage system is central, so you wouldn’t do septic tank; fibreoptics would be run, it’s going to be fully serviced city. And it’s going to be able to stand tall against any great city on earth. That’s ongoing as we talk. I think it’s misconception really to think that Enugu is a poor state. Think about it, Enugu at some point was the economic hub of this country when we were not even known as Nigeria. That was before the amalgamation; we had played a lot of consequential roles in terms of the economy of this country. So, we’re richly blessed in so many things-human, material and otherwise. And essentially, the view we’ve taken in terms of revenue is bringing Enugu back to that pre-eminent position she had always played.

You recall that even when we became a nation; the twilight of that exercise, Enugu was one of the tripods on which the then newly independent Nigeria was built. Enugu was to the East what Ibadan was to the West and Kaduna to the North. So, we’ve played the role of administrative headquarters, we were the capital of the former Eastern Region, capital of the former East Central State, capital of the Old Anambra State. So, Enugu is not just another state, Enugu is Enugu and essentially, in bringing her back to that position, in our view is to say, we shouldn’t be outside the first three states in terms of GDP in this country. And that’s the vision of this government, to bring Enugu back to that preeminent position.

Your administration took a novel initiative in the electricity sector with the enactment of the Enugu Electricity Law. Could you speak on the inherent benefits of the law and how soon Enugu people will begin to enjoy them?

We saw a huge opportunity following the signing of the Electricity Act in June last year by President Bola Tinubu and we felt that this was a long-awaited opportunity, in fact, belated, in my view. Having electricity devolved and also made a shared responsibility. So, it was an exclusive preserve of the federal government. We now have it in the Concurrent Legislative List. We have a legal framework that gave us the opportunity to play in that space. So, we took advantage of it. We had to set up the Electricity Market Law of Enugu State. That Bill was prepared and ensured that there was an expeditious passage of that bill and of course, I did not hesitate to sign it into law. What that did was that it allowed us to set up the Enugu Electricity Regulatory Commission which again under the Act, you needed to have your own electricity regulatory commission for power to devolve from NERC to that state electricity regulatory commission. So, in terms of structure and the legal framework, we made sure that we were ready.

But don’t forget that we had also mentioned during our campaign to our people that we were going to ensure 24/7 power supply. So, this has now given us the opportunity to see how we can refence Enugu as a state, determine our power deficit, what we actually need as a state fully provide electricity across the nooks and crannies of this state. And also, to be able to attract the investment because we are now able to deal across the value chain because if you look at the global challenge of electricity, it’s multi-faceted, it’s not just looking at production and say we have production deficit-we are 220 million people, we are only producing 12,000megawatts. But that’s not the issue.

Even the one we are producing, as minimal as it is; we are still having the challenges of evacuating the power or even the transmission, to send it to the last man, get to the distribution, take it to the last man. There are some inherent challenges in that whole value chain. So, we now have the opportunity to refence Enugu; look at Enugu and say what will be the strategy to ensure that we deliver power to our people 24 hours, where do we need to invest, how do we design that because even if you look at the distribution, beyond the technical capacity, you also deal with a lot of other issues like the metering. We now have the opportunity to design a market that will see all the players from generation, transmission, distribution, talking to each other and making sure that we have the infrastructure to be able to take electricity to the last man and ensure that there is value for everybody playing in that space.

One year after, people are saying that the South-East governors are not doing well in the area of regional cooperation; people want to see cooperation in the development of regional infrastructure like rail, roads and the rest, including security. What’s wrong?

What you said about the South-East is a fact that we are working on as governors. We all agree that there is the need for regional cooperation; regional development. We have a unique advanage as people of the South-East, firstly, we are the most densely populated region. I don’t think that there’s a region where you have people from one common stock as densely populated, concentrated in one small area as you have in the South-East. The entire South-East is about 30,000 square kilometres. We have a population of over 27 million people. There’s nowhere else you have that. It’s a major market and we are also a people that have the purchasing power. If you look at purchasing power of the South-East across the entire regions, you will also notice that we are about the number one in terms of purchasing power parity.

So, you have a concentration of so to say, affluent people in the South-East, so, it’s a huge market. All we have to think about or design is how do we build a common market, how do we take advantage of this dense population that we have in the South-East and that’s essentially what we are thinking about, both in terms of economy and security. We are thinking about how do we collaborate as a region to be able to deal with the challenges of security that we have to deal with. So, that discussion is actually in the front burner amongst my colleagues.

The Minimum Wage is a raging controversy. What’s the position of Enugu on the N62,000 proposal or less?

Regarding the Minimum Wage, our position has been clear from the oitset. We committed to our people in Enugu State that once there’s a position that is passed into law, of course, we would not hesitate to begin implementation of that law. We’re going to do the domestication and begin the implementation. What we also have done in the interim is to say to them, we are going to continue to pay you your salary award and we did that in the first six months, but we then said that this salary award will go on until there is a law for the new minimum wage. Once that law becomes operational, we just migrate from the salary award to the minimum wage. We are set to get to our State House of Assembly, get them to domesticate that law and ensure that we do the right appropriation to deal with the minimum wage. 

Governors are Chief Security Officers and there’s talk about State Police. What’s your position?

My view on State Police has been clear. I think that we need to decentralize security. There’s just no way we can deal with security challenges that are happening in the remote villages and communities from Abuja. So, there is need to decentralize security, empower the states to be able tackle the security challenges within their domains. It’s the right thing to do and I believe that that decision will be made. I have always said that I see Nigeria as a family with 36 able-bodied children. What we did was to identify five or six of us out of the 36. And these were the only productive ones. At some point, those six people have become frail and they are no longer able to produce optimally. Rather than to begin to think about how other able-bodied members can join and help in production, we haven’t really quite done that.

What would you want reviewed in the ongoing Constitution review? 

My take in terms of the Constitution review is to see how we boost production. And if we are thinking of taking our development as a nation by growing the economy to two trillion or one trillion, it’s going to happen from the peripheral; the bottom-top, it’s not going to be a top-bottom approach. So, what would I like to see is the same way we’ve devolved the electricity thing; we need to also ensure that we allow states more access to the resources within their states to be able to build the economy. I believe that is essentially what is going to help in growing this economy exponentially.

The federal government is determined to grant the local government autonomy. What’s your take?

The issue of local government autonomy is a constitutional provision. I think the oath we took as people whether governors or President of this country is to uphold the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria. And if at anytime we need to change the provision of the constitution, that needs also to follow the process. Of course, if you go back to what gave rise to the issue of local government, it’s something that has always featured in our constitution right from when we were a regional government. Those regions were always allowed to make laws for the effective governance of their local areas. That was actually what was taken and planted into the 1979 Constitution. So, there is a history to how that has emerged.

You recently reached agreement with the EFCC to release assets of the state seized from previous players in Enugu State Government. Some people are saying that these assets might find their way back to those whom they were recovered from. What’s going on? Has the EFCC returned them? Are there monies returned and what are you going to use the money for?      

Of course, we got the assets and we’re going to deploy them to the benefit of ndi-Enugu.

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