OchoUdo City: Umahi’s Feud With Elechi Turns Uglier

A section of the property           PHOTO: IKENNA ONYEKWELU

A section of the property PHOTO: IKENNA ONYEKWELU

THE development of the new Abakaliki satellite town, known as OchoUdo City, is at the root of renewed feud between Governor David Umahi and his predecessor in office, Chief Martin Elechi.

Ever since the former governor threw his weight behind a former Health Minister, Professor Onyebuchi Chukwu, and later, Architect Edward Nkwegu, to succeed him; Umahi, who served Elechi as deputy governor, has not hidden his bitterness against his former principal.

Having been returned as winner of the April 11, 2015 governorship election, Umahi does not miss any opportunity to criticise the former administration as either corrupt or riddled with nepotism.

A lot of policy reversals that marked the initial steps of the new administration were targeted at Elechi’s signature policies. Apart from the celebrated reversal of the appointment of 16 permanent secretaries by the former administration, the incumbent has gone ahead to instigate a probe of the local government administration by the State House of Assembly, which culminated in the mass sack of Permanent Secretaries and Heads of Personnel Management of the 13 Local Government Councils and the Ministry of Local Government and Chieftaincy Matters, for “colluding with the executive to misappropriate huge sums of money in the local government system”.

Despite these obvious changes, it is in the area of urban development and planning that the effect of the unfriendly transition between the two administrations is taking a great toll. For instance, the present government has indicated plans to turn the famous Staff Development Centre (SDC), which Elechi put up and which was commissioned for use by the former Head of Service of the Federation (HoSF), into a ministry. SDC has been a training facility for civil servants and just recently housed the training of over 4000 Ebonyi civil servants in Information Communications Technology (ICT). And in the ongoing efforts to undermine some of the perceived achievements of the Elechi administration, billboards bearing the image of the former governor are being systematically removed in “a renewed bid to enforce environmental sanitation”.

But what came as a last straw that is currently threatening peace and communal harmony in the state is the stop work order slammed on a property owned by the immediate past governor.

The OchoUdo City is a massive expanse of land obtained from the Nigeria Army in a swap negotiated by Elechi shortly after coming to office in 2008. The state government gave the Army alternative plots of land around the Amasiri-Edda areas in Ebonyi South Senatorial zone to serve as shooting range. Elechi had convinced the Army at the time that since Abakaliki has become a state capital, the purpose for which the land was given was no longer proper.

Previous administrations, especially that of Dr. Sam Egwu, tried unsuccessfully to retrieve that land from the Army until Elechi came on board. And upon succeeding in getting back the land, Elechi decided to get a consortium of estate and quantity surveyors to develop a master plan, to ensure proper development of the area as a satellite town in a bold attempt to decongest Abakaliki, a built up erstwhile divisional headquarters.

The idea was to develop a new city altogether. It was based on that concept that even the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) started constructing its permanent state headquarters in the administrative area of the city. Many other federal government establishments were also allocated plots in that zone to put up their office blocks. Like such other new layouts, there were provisions for residential, commercial, administrative and industrial areas and other spaces for future development.

The entire elite class in Ebonyi State was allocated plots in that place including the incumbent governor, judges, former commissioners, permanent secretaries, members of the National and State Houses of Assembly from the state, as well as those who applied for plots when it was advertised.

Out of enthusiasm, and in a bid to become one of the early birds and stoke rapid development of the satellite city, the former governor started developing a residential house, to which he hoped to retire after serving out his two-terms in office. As a man known for austere lifestyle, the former governor designed a modest British-style bungalow with boys’ quarters and lobby.

The contractors started work on the plot in the understanding that the governor would move in straight from the Governor’s Lodge on May 29, 2015. By that date, the main building had been completed, awaiting plastering of the boys’ quarters and completion of the perimeter fence. But on July 2, 2015, the unthinkable happened. Before the workers could turn up for work at the site, the words: ‘STOP WORK’, were boldly marked on the fence and on the walls of the lobby.

Like a fire in harmattan, words of the latest action by government ran through the length and breadth of Abakaliki. When The Guardian visited the site, the former governor could not be seen. But one of the workers standing amazed disclosed how men from the Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Authority, (ACTDA) came in a Hilux van to mark the place.

The construction staff, who refused to be named, said the building plan “was approved because the building was consistent with the original plan of the designers of the city.” He said his company was worried because there was no public service announcement indicating that the government was moving against the construction, and that his director informed the former governor immediately they told him of the order.

But what seems worrisome to many residents is that the state government is yet to make use of any area or even develop the administrative space, talk little of saying it has run out of land.

A staff of the ACTDA confided in The Guardian that they informed their superiors that the building design was duly registered and authorized, adding that the directive on the agency to proceed and mark the building came from Government House. “There was no indication that the government wants to use the place for any other purpose; it is simply a case of vendetta and bad faith,” he added.

The source disclosed that ACTDA has also received information that the new administration wants to bring Shoprite to Abakaliki, stressing that the international market, which forms part of the ancillary facilities for the OchoUdo City, designed to have banks, markets, schools, is being stalled with a view to revoking allocations already made.

Attempts to hear from the former governor could not bear fruit because during a visit to his Ikwo country home, the reporter was informed that Elechi traveled to Abuja to keep a date with the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), and also rest with his grandchildren.

It is not clear whether the state government would move bulldozers to bring down the structures already put up by Elechi. But many people in the state have expressed outrage at the feud between the incumbent and the ex-governor. One commercial driver from Elechi’s Ikwo community said: “If Umahi pulls down Elechi’s house in Abakaliki, he would be inviting anarchy.” In Abakaliki, public officials keep sealed lips over the ugly development.

Last Wednesday, The Guardian made frantic efforts to see the Acting General Manager of ACTDA, Unah John, without success. When it was obvious that the GM was not prepared to entertain media enquiries on the Stop Work order by his agency, a message was sent to his mobile phone: “Sir, Abakaliki Capital Territory Development Authority, recently posted a Stop Work order on the building construction site of former Governor Elechi. As the Acting GM and Town Planner, could you comment on why that order was made?” The GM is yet to return his calls or reply to the SMS.

The Commissioner for Lands, Survey and Housing, Hon. Sunday Inyiama, was not on seat when The Guardian went to his office, even as calls to his mobile phone were not answered.

The Attorney General and Commissioner for Justice, Hon. Augustine Nwankwagu, was non-committal as he dismissively responded: “I do not have details of what you are saying.”

At the office of the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Prof. Bernard Odoh, The Guardian was told to leave a message behind or come back next week.

How far the loss of goodwill between Governor Umahi and his predecessor would affect development in Ebonyi, against the backdrop of alleged paucity of funds, would be seen in the days ahead.

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