EBONYI State which prior to May 29, 2015 was considered one of the most underdeveloped states in not only Southern Nigeria but also the country as a whole is making appreciable progress in the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) under the visionary leadership of its current governor, Engr. David Nwaeze Umahi.
When he assumed office on May 29, 2015, Governor Umahi promised to “enhance the welfare of our people, and empower all Ebonyians to be self-reliant, through the compassionate delivery of transparent and God-fearing governance, based on integrity and dignity”. He has stuck doggedly to this commitment for the state that prides itself as “the Salt of the Nation” because of the huge salt deposit in some parts of the state, especially in the Okposi and Uburu Salt Lakes.
Since the implementation of the SDGs commenced in January 2016, the Umahi administration has embarked on various projects to give the Ebonyi citizenry a new lease of life, especially those in the rural communities. The strategic plan of his administration in the implementation of the SDGs focuses on key areas, which include poverty alleviation, quality education, and gender equality, reduction of inequality, peace-building and climate action.
Transition from MDGs to SDGs
The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) adopted in September 2000 was aimed at eradicating extreme hunger and poverty in the 189 member–countries of the United Nations by 2015. In Nigeria, one of the states that embraced the MDGs is Ebonyi State. Chief Martin Elechi, immediate past governor of the state embraced the MDGs programme because the people of the state suffer deprivation to the extent that guinea worm infestation became part of their history, as good drinking water was in short supply; good roads were lacking, a situation that looked as if the MDGs were specially tailored to turnaround their plight.
Obviously aware of the situation, Elechi domesticated MDGs in the state in 2009 and made conscious efforts to tackle an array of issues under the MDGs that included combating poverty and promoting sustainable development.
Establishment of the Office of the focal person on SDGs
To build on the modest achievements recorded by his predecessor in the implementation of the MDGs, Governor Umahi demonstrated his passion for the implementation of the SDGs by establishing the Office of the Focal Person on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). He then appointed Dr. (Mrs) Ngozi Obichukwu who was the head of the MDGs programme in the state to take also charge of the implementation of the SDGs.
Following her appointment, Obichukwu hit the ground running by focusing attention on the eradication of poverty and making the presence of state government presence felt in all the rural communities across the state. With her wealth of experience as the former head of the MDGs programme, Obichukwu ensured a smooth transition from the MDGs to the SDGs.
Her office keyed into the state government's philosophy of not leaving any segment of the society behind in its drive to implement the 17 global goals, particularly poverty alleviation, enhancing quality education, ensuring gender equality and decent work.
Poverty alleviation strategy
The United Nations report on Nigeria's poverty index carried out in 2014 indicated that Ebonyi is one of the poorest and unequal states in Nigeria with the poverty rate at 56 percent. In terms of the proportion of Nigerian states by percentage above poverty (below national average), Ebonyi State's rate was 44 percent. With GDP of $2.27billion (as at 2007), Ebonyi is comparatively a poor state, no doubt, with largely unexplored mineral resources and arable land.
Worried by the ranking of Ebonyi State among the poorest states in Nigeria, Governor Umahi's administration embarked on initiatives that tackle poverty from a multi-sectoral perspective in order to create opportunities for good and decent jobs and secure livelihoods. The government is also encouraging inclusive and sustainable business practices and promoting better government policies as well as accountable public institutions.
One of the poverty alleviation programmes embarked upon by the state government is the empowerment of women and youths. Chief Donatus Odi Njoku, the commissioner for Economic Empowerment and Job Creation said that the programme is targeted at empowering over 30,000 women and youths. According to Njoku, the empowerment programme is part of Umahi administration's resolve to touch the lives of the citizenry positively, especially the low income earners and the rural dwellers by giving them special grant of N250,000 each to start off any business of their choice. He said the idea was to ensure that poverty was reduced to its barest minimum and to positively engage the youths and women across the state to be self-reliant.
The fund is being distributed through the State Ministry of Economic Empowerment and Poverty Reduction and has been done transparently. The disbursement of the grant is monitored by the state government to ensure that the beneficiaries utilize the funds as required.
As a strategic move to alleviate poverty, the Ebonyi State budget of N127.2 billion for the 2017 fiscal year was tagged: “Budget of Inclusive Growth and Poverty Reduction in Economic Recession.” The state government has utilised it to implement the plethora of poverty reduction programmes and this has lifted a lot of people out of poverty.
Embracing the N-Power scheme
Ebonyi State is one of the few states in Nigeria that has embraced the social investment programme of the Federal Government known as the N-Power for Job Creation Initiative. The scheme is geared towards reducing poverty by empowering the unemployed youths. The state government earmarked about N600 million for the scheme which was given to 2,400 youths in its revolving loan scheme programme. The strategy is to help the youths own businesses, curb crime and youths restiveness and significantly reduce the rate of unemployment.
Investment in agriculture and mining
Ebonyi is primarily an agrarian state. It is a leading producer of rice, yam, potatoes, maize, beans, and cassava. The state has more than 250 hectares of arable land for farming, especially rice farming. The present administration in the state is striving to maximize this agricultural potential as a poverty alleviation strategy. The administration embarked on aggressive agricultural revolution with about N2billion consolidated fund to boost rice production in the state. This investment has yielded dividend as Ebonyi is now one of the leading producers of rice in the country.
In addition, the state government in conjunction with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has made it possible for rice farmers in the state to benefit from the Anchor Borrowers' Programme (ABP) introduced by the apex bank. Over 100,000 farmers in Ebonyi State have benefitted from the scheme.
In August 2016 when the programme was flagged off in Abakaliki, the state capital, Umahi said that his government had put in place incentives to make the farmers meet the expectation. He also said that the state government had begun a partnership venture with the CBN not only boost rice production but also motivate farmers to engage in large scale commercial production of rice among other food crops in the state.
In his remarks, Uchenna Orji, the State Commissioner for Agriculture and Natural Resources, expressed joy over the partnership between the state and the CBN, especially as the scheme has made it possible for farmers in the state to flood the market with the popular 'Abakaliki rice.'
Another programme initiated by the state government to boost food production and alleviate poverty is the 'one man one hectare programme.' This programme enjoins every inhabitant of Ebonyi State to have a farm. Based on the government's investments in agriculture, Ebony has regained national prominence as one of the food baskets of the nation.
Apart from agriculture, the Ebonyi State government is also making concerted efforts to exploit its huge salt deposit at the Okposi and Uburu Salt Lakes so as to assist it in alleviating poverty.
Enhancing quality education
Some years ago, Ebonyi State was the weak link of the South Eastern Nigeria in terms of education. It was lagging behind other states in the South East geo-political zone in primary and post primary school enrolment and other indices.
The report by the Universal Basic Education Commission (UBEC) in 2010 showed that Ebonyi State had only 18, 167 pupils in basic education schools, the least in the South East geo-political zone. Abia had 53,030; Enugu 63,699, Imo 83,077 and Anambra 111, 163. But with conscious efforts by the successive administrations in the state, Ebonyi has made considerable progress in education. In recent times, it has emerged one of the top ten states in the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSE) and other national examinations. The state took the 10th position in 2015 WASSE results.
The improved performance in education has been achieved because Ebonyi State has gone through different stages of advancement to ensure quality and affordable education for every child in the state. One of the measures taken to improve education in the state was the declaration of free and compulsory education during the era of Dr. Sam Egwu as governor of the state between 1999 and 2007. This singular initiative opened the vista of opportunities for Ebonyi children to go to school. The momentum was sustained under the administration of Elechi, the immediate past governor of the state. Taking a cue from the previous administrations, the Umahi administration initiated inclusive education policies in his bid to bequeath a vibrant education system that would stand the test of time.
To enhance quality education, the state government recruited more qualified teachers and reintroduced boarding system of education by establishing 27 pilot secondary schools across the state.
Ebonyi is also one of the states in Nigeria which have benefitted from the National Home-grown School Feeding Programme, one of the Social Investment Programmes (SIP) of the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari. According to the Presidency, a total of N344, 633,100 had been released for the feeding of 163,137 pupils by August 2017, with a total of 1,453 cooks paid.
Indeed, Ebonyi State has made remarkable progress in terms of quality education not only in the primary and post-primary schools but also the tertiary institutions. Presently, it is home to four higher institutions of learning: Ebonyi State University, Abakaliki (EBSU); Federal University Ndufu Alike Ikwo (FUNAI); Akanu Ibiam Federal Polytechnic, Unwana; College of Health Sciences, Ezzamgbo and Federal College of Agriculture, Ishiagu.
To ensure that many Ebonyi State indigenes acquired higher education, the state government recently announced a reduction in the school fees paid by students of Ebonyi State University.
Gender equality and women's economic empowerment are at the centre of the SDGs. Ebonyi State government is working vigorously to achieve the gender equality goal by 2030. According to Governor Umahi, his administration is committed to building a state devoid of gender discrimination. It is also creating the enabling environment that will guarantee equal access to political, social and economic wealth creation opportunities for women and men. To balance the lopsided appointment of women into key positions in the state and appreciate their enormous roles in the society, the Umahi administration resolved that women would be appointed vice-chairmen of the caretaker committees in the 13 Local Government Areas of the state.
However, at the state level, only three out of 18 members of the Ebonyi State House of Assembly are women.
Although only few women have been appointed into Governor Umahi's cabinet as commissioners, he has promised to improve on it to prove that he is gender-sensitive.
The government is also making conscious efforts to empower women in the state. Mrs Rebecca Ogbuewu, Commissioner of Women Affairs and Social Development and Mrs Rachael Ogonna Umahi, wife of Ebonyi State governor are also working harmoniously to ensure that Ebonyi women are elevated and lifted out of poverty.
Shortly after her husband assumed office in 2015, Mrs Umahi floated her pet project, the 'Family Succour and Upliftment Foundation', as a platform for positively touching the lives of people, especially the down-trodden women. The foundation has four thematic areas: health, education, economic empowerment for women and youths as well as women liberation.
To further drive home her determination to improve the socio-economic status of Ebonyi women and children, she embarked on advocacy visits to several agencies and organisations such as the United Nations Industrial Development Organisation (UNIDO), UN Women, the World Health Organisation (WHO), Society for Family Health and other agencies and organisations to garner support p for the successful actualisation of her programmes.
Mrs Umahi has through her pet project been working assiduously to put adequate measures in place aimed at improving the family income of Ebonyi women through entrepreneurship and job creation for women and youths. She has collaborated with the entrepreneurship centre located at Abakaliki, to train women and youths across the state in the areas of shoe making, hair dressing, fabric weaving, fish farming , soap making, ICT software development and system maintenance. Some of the beneficiaries of the vocational training workshop were provided with micro credit facilities to enable them establish small scale enterprises.
In her determination to ameliorate the sufferings of widows in the state, Mrs Umahi flagged off the construction of 250 units of 3 bedroom bungalows for widows through her widow-care housing programme. It is also on record that about 5,000 widows have been placed on monthly allowance of N10, 000.00 each while 200 persons drawn from each of the 13 Local Government Areas in the state have been selected for a loan facility of N200, 000.00 each so that they can engage themselves in agricultural ventures in the areas of fish and poultry farming.
The Family Succour and Upliftment Foundation has equally invested in the education sector. It has the mandate to achieve 100 per cent girl-child education in the state with a driving slogan, “Women education guarantees healthy family.” To this end, street hawking has been prohibited, especially among teenage girls of school age.
War against Female Genital Mutilation
Ebonyi State government is equally waging a relentless war against all harmful practices against women, especially the Female Genital Mutilation (FGM).
Women in Ebonyi State heaved sighs of relief in June, 2017 when 26 communities across three local government areas in the state banned the age-long traditional practice of female genital mutilation. The event took place at the Izzi Nnodo Cultural Centre, Amegu in Izzi Local Government Area of the state. It was witnessed by Ibrahim Conteh, UNICEF Chief Field Officer in Enugu, who commended the people for helping to eradicate the obnoxious practice.
Rachel Umahi, wife of the governor expressed joy at the eradication of the harmful practice. She described female genital mutilation as a harmful traditional practice against womanhood, whose abolition is heart-warming. “We can't continue to live in dark ages at the detriment of our women in the name of female circumcision or genital mutilation. Our women have suffered a lot because of these traditional harmful practices against them and we waged a serious war against the practice. A situation where women's reproductive organs are butchered in the name cultural practices is no longer unacceptable,” she said.
Before now, Ebonyi State had the second highest FGM prevalent rate in Nigeria which was 74 per cent. To sustain the record so far achieved in stamping out FMG, a five-year jail term has been proposed for anybody who practices it in Ebonyi State.
Decent work and economic growth
The Ebonyi State government is working hard to implement SDG-8 – which is Decent Work and Economic Growth through job creation and the provision of decent employment opportunities for its people within the productive age range. Governor Umahi realises that decent work is central to poverty reduction and is a means of achieving equitable, inclusive and sustainable development. Despite the economic challenges in the country, the Ebony State government has not only created employment opportunities for its people but ensured regular payment of workers and pensioners.
The Ebonyi State government has been strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate-related hazards and natural disasters. This is because gully erosion is widespread in some local government areas of the state. The worst hit among the local government areas are those in the southern part of the state which have boundaries with Abia and Enugu states such as Afikpo North, Ohaozara and Afikpo South. On the other hand, local government areas such as Abakaliki, Izzi, Ikwo, Ebonyi and Ohaukwu suffer mostly from flood which washes away crops and submerges houses.
The menace of gully erosion is traceable to the difference in topography and soils of communities in the southern part of the state and those in the northern and central parts. For instance, Abakaliki, Izzi, Ikwo, and Ohaukwu enjoy plain topography hence they experience less erosion than Afikpo North and South which are on hilly setting. Among the eight local government areas where erosion has wreaked havoc is Afikpo South, which has over 21 identified erosion sites.
The erosion at Nzuzu-Edda in Afikpo South Local Government Area headquarters recently submerged three buildings, including the administrative block of the council which houses the office of the chairman and also destroyed farmlands, economic trees, buildings, roads and bridges.
To address the climate-related hazards, the Ebonyi State government has been creating awareness on how to mitigate the effects of climate change through early warning signals. Mr. Donatus Njoku, Ebony State Commissioner for Environment said the state governor recently approved about N250 million to check the menace of gully erosion in the state, especially that of Nzuzu-Edda, through the Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management Project (NEWMAP). “We are also advising people to stop building along the waterways, stop disposing refuse into rivers and stop cutting down trees because these are the major reasons the state is experiencing flood and erosion in some communities,” Njoku said.
Enhancing peace, justice and strong institutions
Among the SDGs for transforming the world, SDG-16, which focuses on “peace, justice and strong institutions” rank high, and for obvious reasons. Without peace, justice and strong institutions, the society itself may be likened to the Hobbesian State where life is nasty, brutish and harsh.
Governor Umahi is conscious of this and is therefore making efforts to bring lasting peace and justice in the state. He is also building strong institutions in Ebonyi State. To ensure that peace continues to prevail in the state, the governor has been waging relentless war against the menace of kidnapping, robbery and other vices. The state government has been collaborating with the police and other security agencies to achieve security of lives and properties.
One of the strategies adopted by the state to achieve this is the provision of Close Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras and street lights in strategic locations.
Umahi has also vowed to deal decisively with any individual or group of persons who would attempt to re-ignite the Ezza-Ezillo crisis that had claimed more than 200 lives and destroyed property worth millions of naira. The governor said that his administration will continue to uphold the peace accord signed by Ezza and Ezillo communities, which brought to an end the protracted communal clash.
As a result of the security measures taken by the Umahi administration, Ebonyi State is quite peaceful as the communal clashes which characterized the state in the past have been curtailed. The state government has also improved access to justice through improvement in the welfare of judicial officers and the provision of conducive environment in the courts. This has motivated judicial offices to ensure speedy dispensation of justice.