Category: Comment & debate Written by Nnamdi Nwokedi Jr. Hits: 1894
Few experiences in my adult life have left me as shell-shocked and short of words as my recent foray into the functionally-branded Coal City State of Enugu. And it was patently fortuitous as I was not in the frame for the trip. I had barely resumed from my extended end of year cum New Year holidays when my organization received invitation to join the Good Governance Tour of the South East geo-political zone.
Once I took up the challenge, it was not far-fetched what to expect. State governors who routinely host these tours are adept at their game and will stop at nothing to turn the tour into empty window dressing exercises. The tour served off with Anambra State where, it soon became obvious, that even amidst the ruins, there are still traces of architecture. The tour of Imo and Abia States was relatively straightforward, if not altogether predictable.
The team’s tour of Enugu would, however, break the mould. My connections with the state as a whole are fairly strong and long lasting. My Delta-State-born father had resided in Enugu metropolis since the 1960s up to the early 70s and later as an undergraduate of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka in the 80s, I followed closely the ebb and flow in the development and evolution of the town at the time. It did not stop there. I have nothing but fond memories of the capital of Eastern Nigeria: a beautiful, laid back but well planned city, surrounded by alluring rolling hills with its totemic parched red earth and swirling dust storms. By the mid and late 1990s, Enugu, like much of Nigeria, had fallen into torrid times. Back in the day, a certain mythmaker wrote a hymn “Enugu is working” which in the nature of Nigerian politics, enjoyed generous playtime on the airwaves to little redeeming effect. The message mocked the messenger! More tellingly, was the cordon of insecurity of life and property that in dramatic fashion enveloped the Coal City. A beautiful, peaceful city was suddenly overwhelmed by violence and gangsterism on all fronts, and before our very eyes, it descended into a killing field!
To be on a safe side, as they say, I arrived Enugu on that fateful trip expecting nothing out of the ordinary, but if possible, more of the same menu. The tour, led by the Honourable Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, began innocuously, but it soon dawned on someone like me with an intimate knowledge of the city that we were in for an elaborate shocker. For me, the critical test lay in the very simple things. So on the first night, I was prompted to explore the city some more, and thankfully, an old pal from our Nsukka days had graciously agreed to show me round the city’s new bazaars and entertainment points. For good measure, the entire metropolis was lit up with street lights on extra-ordinarily well paved roads, a feat, my friend hinted was made possible by dedicated sound-proof generators.
The previous night’s outing had gone a long way to stimulate my interest fully in the tour. As the second day of the tour got underway, I eagerly looked forward to setting sight once again on the Nsukka campus of the University of Nigeria, after what has seemed quite like an age. Within thirty minutes of moving around the campus, it became apparent to me that UNN was in the throes of monumental transformation, which in several ways, also mirrored the transformation of the entire Enugu State under Governor Chime. The dusty roads, dilapidated buildings and rustic environment that my generation of students grappled with are systematically giving way to modernization, changing physical infrastructure and a serene, green environment complete with well paved asphalt roads and walkways, construction of several new buildings and the extensive renovation of existing ones including student hostels, laboratories and classrooms. Further enquiries would unveil the hands of Chime’s government in turning around UNN’s recent fortunes.
Firstly, the administration partnered with the school authorities to accomplish a new water scheme which has ensured regular water supply on the campus, thus significantly improving hygiene and sanitation on the main campus. The state government also single-handedly built a new main entrance dual carriageway that has bye-passed Nsukka Township completely, running in southerly direction through Eha Alumona to connect the 9th Mile Obollo Afor highway. This is no doubt a significant milestone in the annals of the University. By the third day, it dawned on me that I could not possibly shirk the responsibility of providing this narrative, if only to lift the lid on what seems to me like a self-imposed cauldron of anonymity by the Enugu State government.
Of the numerous projects and tangible achievements which may be credited to the Chime administration, none perhaps compares to the sheer quantity and quality of roads infrastructure, complete with asphalt and double drainage system, being put in place, or already completed across the length and breadth of the state. Some of them look overly audacious such as the 50 kilometer Nike – Opi Nsukka road which eliminates the treacherous bottleneck of the 9th Mile/Onyeama Hills, and especially halves both the distance and time for a trip from Enugu to Nsukka; the 65 kilometer Aguobu-Owa – Adani – Uzo Uwani Road ; the 20 kilometer Amechi Awkunanaw – Amodu – Umueze road, the 40 kilometer 9th Mile – Oji River old road, the 15 kilometer Udi – Ozalla Four Corners bye pass; the 40 kilometer Akpasha – Ozalla – Agbogugu – Ihe – Awgu; among others.
The Enugu metropolis in particular has received major attention in the distribution of roads infrastructure. Nowhere in the city, from Awkunanaw, Achara Layout, Uwani, Coal Camp, New Layout, New Haven, Independence Layout, Trans-Ekulu, Emene, including the Central Business District, is there a lack of major activity on roads. What is more to the point: these roads come with such features as double drainage, kerbs, pedestrian walkways, functional street lights, and side trees to boot. There is no gainsaying, the obvious fact that within less than six years, Sullivan Chime has put in place roads infrastructure that will last the state capital another fifty years! At any rate, if further proof was required, an excursion to the Mgbemena – Mbanugo by-pass, CBN – Trans-Ekulu by-pass, the CPS – Akwata – Ogbete landmark dualisation, the second Zik Avenue Bridge, the dualisation from the junction of 82 Division to the Airport Bridge which includes a flyover, would render it absolutely unnecessary. That these roads are fitted with functional traffic lights which have limited the presence of the traffic wardens was quite novel to behold.
The state government investment in infrastructure, from what I was able to see is not limited to roads. It spans housing, education, health, rural development, civil service and transport. The state’s Housing Corporation for instance, has already delivered the Coal City Gardens, Liberty Estate and the RCC medium income estate. The Polo Park has assumed ubiquitous presence as an irresistible tourist attraction that serves the shopping needs of the whole of the South East, while the new N13Billion Civil Service Secretariat Complex is springing up from the ruins of the hitherto dilapidated colonial government buildings. The ESUT Teaching Hospital has been expanded; the ultra-modern state’s Medical Diagnostic Centre is taking shape, while the Emergency Medical Rescue Services with ambulances fitted with state-of-the-art facilities is fully operational. Even the often forgotten State’s Fire Service has been repositioned. To put it mildly, it is perhaps now that our good old Enugu is working! We can now safely accept that at crucial moments in a people’s history, God intervenes and can write straight on crooked lines.
Nwokedi works with the Initiative for Democracy and Good Governance (IDGG), Abuja