When Minister David Umahi Was Cautioned at the Market Square
By Moses Idika
CAVEAT: Ebonyi State, I mean Okposi in Ohaozara Local Government Area produced one of Nigeria’s longest serving ministers and the very first indigenous Minister for Education in Nigeria, the great and erudite Onyiba Aja Nwachuku. He served in that capacity between 1958 and 1965 when late Richard Akinjide took over from him.
Today, the Headquarters of the National Universities Commission (NUC) located at 26, Aguiyi Ironsi Street, Maitama, Abuja is named “AJA NWACHUKU HOUSE” in honour of that great patriot, just like Aja Nwachuku Hall at the University of Nigeria bears the eternal testimony of his service to Nigeria.
It is also to be noted that a scion of the great Aja Nwachuku, Dr. Igwe Aja Nwachuku also rose through the ranks of public service and also served as the Minster for Education of the Federal Republic of Nigeria between July 26, 2007 and December 17, 2008.
I have to give this little background to situate the ugly incident involving Mr. David Umahi and civil servants at the Federal Ministry of Work, Abuja in proper perspective. Umahi couldn’t have been the first!
The event of Thursday last week that involved civil servants in the Federal Ministry of Works standing up against the petty tyranny of David Umahi who was appointed a minister barely two months ago has got tongues wagging with insinuations that Ebonyi State was being disgraced.
It is here that I beg to differ! Ebonyi State and its great people is NOT in any way disgraced, In fact, Ebonyi State will NEVER be disgraced!
The case of Mr. David Nweze Umahi is a classic case of the popular Igbo saying that a child who refuses to be cautioned at home will eventually be cautioned in the market square.
That Umahi was cautioned on the market square in Mabushi, Abuja on Thursday September 28, 2023 cannot be over empahsised.
But then this public caution was a long time coming and a peep into David Umahi’s time as the governor of Ebonyi State provides some insight.
Ebonyi State Civil Service
From May 29, 2015 when Mr. David Umahi assumed office as the governor of Ebonyi State till May 29, 2023 when he left office, the public service rules and practices in the Southeast was put in abeyance.
He never worked with organized labour in any form, as a matter of fact, he formed parallel unions to counter the organized labour in Ebonyi State for 8years.
While the Academic Staff Union of Universities (ASUU) and the Nigeria Labour Congress (NLC) maintained their relationships with their national bodies, then Governor Umahi worked with his amorphous creations, the “Divine Mandate ASUU” and “Junior Workers Union of Ebonyi State.”
Umahi at a point in his administration hugged news headlines when a video of him supervising the brutalization of Ebonyi State civil servants who were kneeling down leaked and went viral on various media outlets and the internet.
For over seven years, under Umahi no civil servant was promoted or trained within the civil service. In fact, throughout Umahi’s first tenure as a governor, he ran the state civil service without permanent secretaries. Just as his second tenure was ending, he quickly appointed a few permanent secretaries obviously to help close the books on his administration. Not a single person was employed into Ebonyi State civil service throughout his tenure.
For instance, under Umahi, all public hospitals in Ebonyi State was practically shutdown due to lack of medical staff. Ebonyi State Ministry of Health had only six medical doctors, one pharmacist and less than 50 nurses and midwives for eight years. This perhaps explains why the current governor of the state, Hon. Ogbonna Nwhifuru’s first outing was starting a process of recruiting medical staff for the state healthcare services system.
Similarly, under Umahi, the Ebonyi State Ministry of Justice was unfortunately subsumed under the arms of the immediate elder brother of the governor, Mr. Roy O. U Nweze- even the Attorney General of the state reported to him. Mr. Roy O. U. Nweze became the state’s lead lawyer despite his obvious lack of experience as a lawyer. All these were done to circumvent the rules of public service and to keep everything within the whims and caprices of one man- David Umahi.
Ebonyi State University
Under Umahi as the governor, the state’s university, Ebonyi State University (EBSU) became a shadow of itself, losing accreditation of several programmes due to lack of funding. While other states and the Federal Government were looking to increase subventions to their public schools, Umahi rather slashed by half the subvention to EBSU. Most poignantly, when the school management eventually secured a lifeline from the Tertiary Education Trust Fund (TETFund) for the building of its College of medical Science, (haven earlier lost its Teaching Hospital to the Alex Ekwueme Federal University), Umahi craftily diverted the TETFund monies to building a his King David University of medical Sciences, which he later said he was donating to The Federal Government of Nigeria!
This is in clear and flagrant violation of rules governing management grants from TETFund to higher institutions in Nigeria.
Indiscriminate appointments/ Anti- System Antics
As the governor of Ebonyi State, Mr. Umahi prided himself as the governor that had the largest number of political appointees in Nigeria. He appointed over 5,000 Senior Technical Assistants (STAs) and Technical Assistants (TAs) who were unleashed on the state and were paid humongous emoluments ranging from N100, 000 to N250,000. Whereas, level nine officers of Ebonyi State civil service were receiving N37, 000 as monthly salary at the same time.
Umahi’s STAs and TAs took over the jobs of civil servants in all the sectors of the state, of course, without any form of training or qualification and most importantly there were no rules, just the Governor’s directives.
Meanwhile, Ebonyi State ministry of Education under Umahi never employed a single teacher for eight years, but the STAs and TAs were unleashed on hapless teachers as enforcers of punctuality for teachers and other civil servants.
Despite the collapsing civil service in Ebonyi, Umahi spent his entire eight-year two terms tenure on doing concrete roads through what he called “direct labour” system. This uncanny approach became an avenue to impoverish the people and circumvent the procurement process. Unfortunately many of the roads that he promised will last for 100 years have all collapsed, just like the supposedly N32 billion Okadigbo Airport which is less than one year old now requiring N13 billion maintenance for its runway.
The Public Caution of Umahi by Civil Servants
It is instructive for Nigerians to note that the event at the Federal Ministry of Works, Abuja was in the best interest of Nigeria, especially as that ministry remains a critical organ of our government.
As a reminder, the Labour leader in that ministry promptly reminded Umahi that Nigerian laws must be obeyed irrespective of whose ox may be gored and that is why he looked Umahi in the face and told him, “Sir, honourable minster, there are principles and laid down rules for running the civil service, no one is a sole administrator, it doesn’t happen in the civil service,”
Watching that video, it is humbling when another voice from the crowd echoed- “teach him very well”!
As it is his character, the civil servants noted thus: “We see you on the media castigating us as civil servants, without us the country cannot go forward, we are civil servants and you need to respect us, and you cannot import workers from outside to run the ministry.”
“You cannot place the cart before the horse”
Mostly notedly, Umahi was frontally reminded that the impunity which he perpetrated in Ebonyi State was not acceptable at the federal level, hence the reminder. “You don’t just come and say lock the gate, sir we are sorry, this not state, this is federal government.”
Another significant reminder to Umahi was when he was told that he may only issue query to any staff through the permanent secretary- that is, due process.
Obviously, the workers already knew that as the governor of Ebonyi State, Umahi gloried in indiscriminate suspension of civil servants and members of his government as if they were his domestic staff.
As we commend the brave workers of the Federal Ministry of Works for their doggedness in the defence of the dignity and rights of the Nigerian worker from rabidly greedy and shylock politicians masquerading as “leaders,” Nigerians must remain vigilant in protection of the sanctity of our laws.
It is my considered opinion that the baptism of fire and the shame that followed Umahi’s caution at the market square remains strictly on him. That public caution should never and will never be associated with Ndi Ebonyi or Ebonyi State.
Sons and daughters of Ebonyi State including the great Akanu Ibiam, Senator Offia Nwali, Martin Elechi, Ezeogo Dr. Agom Eze, Dr. Ogbonnaya Onu, Chief Frank Ogbuewu, Sen. Anyim Ude, Chief Goddy Ogbaga, Sen Chris Nwankwo, Dr, Sam Ominyi Egwu, Anyim Pius Anyim, Mrs. Helen Eleje, Prof. Nnenna Oti and thousands more have served Nigeria at various high levels with their heads held high. And one month old minister cannot become Ebonyi poster boy in any form. We hope that in line with the Igbo proverb that whenever one wakes up is their morning makes a meaning to the Honourable Minister for Works, Mr. David Umahi.
There is always a time to learn, let him learn that no one is above the law and for our dear country to move forward, due process at all levels, including the Federal Ministry of Works must be upheld in the interest of the growth of democracy and the rule of law.