Precisely six years ago, Chief Martin Elechi rode on the wings of popular acclaim to emerge as the second executive governor of Ebonyi state. His emergence was, to say the truth, like the anointing of King David.
When God sent Samuel to go to Bethlehem to the house of Jesse to anoint a successor to King Saul in Israel, it was not the tall and handsome Eliab that emerged but the grit and rugged shepherd David that won the favour of God. Samuel saw Eliab and thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before him.” But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature. For the Lord sees not as man sees: man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” Jesse made seven of his children pass before Samuel, but Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen these.”
In the political calculations of many, Governor Martin Elechi was not among the favoured candidates of those who dictated the trajectory of Ebonyi politics. He declared his ambition late, at a very odd hour when the campaign teams of others in the race had already gathered momentum and zoomed off, giving him miles ahead. Besides, he was not one of the original founders of PDP having fought and lost the gubernatorial ticket of a rival party—All Peoples Party, now ANPP—to Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu.
But above all, his traducers accused him of being stingy and were therefore afraid he would rock the boat. “This man is analog, he wouldn’t share the thing,” they reasoned. They wanted the old order to continue without knowing that, as it is said in ecumenical circles, “old things have passed away, behold the new!” Thus, they chalked up all these complaints against him and gave him no quarter in the election even when his skills as an experienced technocrat were honed as commissioner in the old East Central State under Ajie Ukpabi Asika.
When the struggle of who to replace Dr. Sam Egwu heated up in 2007 with everything foggy and no clear favourite, I consulted my source in Abuja. I was told: “You see all these people that are jostling for PDP ticket, none of them will get it. The candidate has not even declared, when he declares, I will tell you,” he said with finality. And true to his promise, he called me when Chief Elechi entered the race and told me: “See your governor.” The rest, they say, is now history.
Six years after this historic change of guard, has Elechi proved his critics wrong? Have they been converted? Will historians be kind to him? In short, will his achievements secure him a comfortable place in the annals of our state and nation?
Chief Martin Elechi came to power with a new paradigm shift. This was, to many, like giving hemlock to Socrates. He came singing a new song—do I say in a strange land—and telling us it was not business as usual, that the time of sharing the money was over, something that was not exactly music but jarred in our ears. The anger burned deep, like Dante’s Inferno. We swallowed the phlegm and watched with bated breath to see the unfolding reality.
He came telling us that he was investing in solid infrastructure, that he was building Ebonyi state of the future. He envisioned Ebonyi where all the communities are linked together without physical barriers. In his mental imagination, he wanted a state where there will be regular pipe-borne water and the endemic guinea worm we have worn for so many years as ornamental embellishment driven out of our borders. He was, in short, looking for a city on a hill whose foundation will stand solid on the rock and shining bright like royal diadem.
And critics answered back: shall the sun not shine first on those that are standing before it shines on those that are sitting? Wouldn’t the living eat to their fill first before reserving for those yet to come? But the engine was already at high throttle, revving up to move. It began with one bridge, and one bridge led to two and two to 36 and counting!
As we roll out the drums to celebrate Democracy Day and six years of Ebonyi State under Elechi, have the critics been silenced? Have they been convinced that age is still a factor in leadership? That ‘analog’ is sometimes better than digital?
I say ‘yes’ with all emphasis. I was not part of the team that followed my colleague and Minister for Information Labaran Maku (yes, we worked together at Champion Newspapers, Lagos) when he came on Good Governance tour to inspect projects in the state, but I was elated and overwhelmed with joy when I went round the state on a private note to document projects of this government.
Chief Emma Agu, former Editor and Managing Director of Champion Newspapers and later Chief Press Secretary to the Head of State, who was part of the tour, told me they inspected projects of all the governors in the East but none came close to half of what they saw in Ebonyi. “So there are also action governors in the East!” he exclaimed. In the February edition of his monthly editorial magazine, Zest Traveller, he wrote:
“The tour revealed that there are Action Governors outside the traditional areas of media emphasis. As everybody admitted, Martin Elechi with his team is a good advertisement for democracy, the Ebonyi electorate a people to adore. The giant developmental strides taking place in Ebonyi dwarf the noisy claims of some Elechi’s counterparts.”
He spoke my mind. I visited the Oferekpe Water Scheme at Ikwo and marveled. Only a governor with the heart of Elechi can embark on such gigantic project. I visited also the Oshiri Water Scheme; work on these projects had reached advanced stages, and it is envisaged that when completed, the two projects will pump water to all the households in the state. I visited the 36 Bridges of Unity scattered along the length and breadth of Ebonyi and the various road projects. From there I went to catch a glimpse of the New Secretariat Complex popularly known as Ochudo City. Was I disappointed? Not in the least. The 11 blocks of three-storey buildings standing impressive with the finest architecture said it all: this is a city on a hill. And I remembered John Milton’s 1671 classic title, “Paradise Regained.” This, I said to myself, is what Elechi has in mind for Ebonyians! To regain the paradise lost during the years of the locust, we must build infrastructure that will stand the test of time.
Ebonyi State is not an oil producing state, how the governor is implementing all these including the Rice Mill Projects, Ebonyi Independent Power Plant, Ebonyi State International University, etc upon the lean resources, achieving so much with so little, needs much commendation. He is a wonk, and he has my respect for that.
Infrastructure apart, another area the governor has proved his critics wrong is in the area of security. When he took over, it appeared as if the state was at the cliff edge of doom. Enemies of the state who profit from chaos played up primordial sentiments to further divide and separate the Abakaliki bloc from their brothers in the South. But Elechi came waving an olive branch, preaching peace, love and unity. But how he maintains that unity as agitation for a governor of Southern extraction builds to a crescendo in 2015 remains to be seen.
While Jesus Christ criticized the Jews for their unnecessary adherence to the Law, he nonetheless commended them for paying tithe but scolded them for neglecting the weightier matters of the law. “These” he told them, “you ought to have done, without leaving the other undone.”
But has Elechi left anything ‘undone’? In my mind, yes. We need grassroot empowerment to fight poverty. How will he do this? Simple! By putting more emphasis on our area of comparative advantage. Agriculture is our mainstay and our future. I was glad when I saw the modern rice mills, but the mills cannot work maximally without a corresponding investment on the raw materials to sustain them. Agriculture has to be made attractive by government to attract our jobless youths, and this is where I advocate for a credit scheme which may be patterned after the Federal Government YouWiN! initiative. Besides, Elechi should think of building at least one industry in the state. It is a pity that 17 after the creation of Ebonyi State there is no single industry in the state, the only industry we have is government and the occupation of most is politics. He should change this skewed orientation and give the people a new lease of life.
This is one way he can jazz up our lives, build a vibrant state of the future and ensure sustainability of the projects after his tenure.