President Muhammadu Buhari arrived Ebonyi State on Tuesday, Nov. 14, in what has been tagged the first presidential visit to the state in the last 17 years.
Buhari’s visit to the south-east has been described as a welcome development which gives hope to the people of the region assuring that they have not been forgotten in the scheme of things.
More so, the presidency has vehemently denied claims that the present administration sidelined the zone in appointments and that the president’s visit to the South-East region was politically motivated.
Noting that Ebonyi is under the control of a party in the opposition, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), presidential spokesman Femi Adesina stressed that Buhari’s visit showed he meant well for all parts of the country regardless of political affiliations.
During the visit, the president was received by Ebonyi State Governor, Chief David Umahi among other South-east governors and dignitaries from the state at the Enugu airport.
The president commissioned six projects and was also conferred with two traditional chieftaincy titles Enyioma 1 of Ebonyi, (a trustworthy friend of Ebonyi) and Ochioha Ndigbo (the leader of Igbo people), by both the Ebonyi State Council of Traditional Rulers and South-east Council of Traditional Rulers respectively.
In his remarks, Buhari stated that the visit was a strong expression of his belief in Nigeria’s unity and pledged to improve agriculture, power supply and the provision of infrastructure projects in the region when the 2018 budget is passed.
Recalling how some Igbo leaders had visited him at the State House, Abuja, in October to express concern over the poor state of infrastructure in the region, Buhari assured them that resources meant to address their concerns had been captured in the 2018 budget currently before the National Assembly.
The president promised to concentrate on power and agriculture projects as well as other social services in the region when the budget is operational and praised the state governor for the projects being executed by his administration in the state, describing them as laudable.
Celebrating what he described as the ingenuity of the people of South-east and their talent for trade and commerce, the President said the Igbo ethnic group and Nigeria were inseparable. He emphasized that Ndigbo is synonymous with Nigeria just as Nigeria is synonymous with Ndigbo.
In his remarks, the Ebonyi State governor congratulated the president on the chieftaincy titles conferred on him and thanked him for his enormous assistance to the state, which he said had resulted in a revolution in the agriculture and solid minerals sectors.
In appreciation of the assistance, Umahi presented 2,000 bags of rice and 2,000 tubers of yams to the president, describing the presentation as the fruit of the state’s prayers that the president would enjoy the fruits of the seeds he planted.
There were also some demands made by Governor Umahi during a reception for the president at the state’s stadium. They include:
- A plea to call some of the president’s appointees to order, who were accused of frustrating efforts by the state to obtain loans meant for the development of the state under the guise of politics.
- The president’s intervention in certain challenges confronting the state such as non-functioning dams in the state totalling 30 in number, which he said would have boosted rice production. Umahi pointed out that the dilapidated dams had restricted rice production in the state to only the rainy season.
- The federal government’s intervention in the existing hydropower dams in the state for electricity generation, which he said would go a long way in improving the well-being of the people of the state.
- He further drew the attention of the president to some federal roads that his administration had constructed, lamenting that such projects were not captured for a refund in 2018 budget.
Also speaking at the reception, the President-General of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Chief Nnia Nwodo, thanked Buhari for his visit to the region barely a few weeks after Igbo leaders had visited him in the State House to draw his attention to infrastructure deficit in the South-east.
Nwodo then painted the horrible state of infrastructure decay in the region and appealed to the president to address it. He said the decay included:
- The rotten state of the Enugu airport, recalling how an Ethiopian Airline aircraft recently lost a tyre while landing as a result of the bad runway.
- A threat to livelihoods in the region by the infrastructure decay including the dilapidated state of the Onitsha-Enugu expressway, Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, stoppage of work on the Second Niger bridge, unemployment, hunger and starvation, among others.
- Nwodo demanded the concession of collapsed major roads in the South-east to the governors of the region to enable them to rebuild such roads the way they want them.
However, Nwodo lauded the president’s decision to pay pensions to ex-Biafran policemen and damages to victims of the Nigerian civil war.
In response to the issues raised by Umahi and Nwodo, the president who was clad in an Igbo Isi-agu (lion head) jumper with a red cap to match said:
- His government was working aggressively to improve infrastructure by building roads and improving power supply, adding that efforts were being made to guarantee food security for the nation.
- He told the gathering that his government had recently resolved to mobilise contractors back to the Second Niger bridge.
- Buhari also said N10 billion had been earmarked in the 2018 budget for the Enyimba Industrial Park and the Nnewi Auto Park which he said would be implemented in collaboration with the states and the private sector.
- The president further disclosed that payments to ex-Biafran police officers had commenced 17 years after they were pardoned.
- He disclosed that an upgrade of the Umuahia Diagnostic Centre in Abia State was also in the pipeline.
Buhari is expected to be in Anambra as part of his official visit to the region. He will depart Abakaliki on Wednesday for Awka, to lead the grand finale of the All Progressives Congress’ (APC) campaign rally for Saturday’s governorship election in the state and will return to Abuja later in the day.