By SHEDDY OZOENE
The Peoples Democratic Party governorship campaigns for the 2015 elections that ushered in Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi in Enugu state was ran on the mantra of continuity and consolidation. Ugwuanyi had pledged to continue in the strides of his predecessor in office, Sullivan Chime who confronted the challenges of the state’s development commendably.
Like during Chime’s tenure, rural development has been the fundamental issue, but departing from the old pattern, Governor Ugwuanyi has latched on a new paradigm that integrates rural development with his administration’s other key policies of economic growth, social services and employment generation. While the previous administration received accolades for its superlative performance in this sector, it is obvious that Ugwuanyi has determined to showcase his efforts in rural development around the massive upgrade of two semi-urban towns in the state: the urbanization of Nsukka and the Ninth Mile Corner with its multiplier effects in the increased volume of economic activities and the concomitant employment and social well-being it will generate.
One year into Ugwuanyi’s tenure, that conversation in transformation is already ongoing with both towns already turned into huge construction sites. It is safe to say that though rehabilitation of infrastructure is similarly taking place in many other places across the state, those of Nsukka and the Ninth Mile axis where durable roads have increasingly displaced dilapidated and impassable roads and other social amenities are being provided, are easily the most ambitious of all his projects so far. The question is: why has the upgrade of both areas become so compelling and how has the administration fared in the task against the background of the nation’s harsh economic realities?
As we seek to interrogate the issue, it is worthy of note that both semi-urban areas are unique in their individual contexts, but the upgrade of Nsukka is significant in more ways than one. Beyond the creation of an urban area to boost economic growth, it was also about according Nsukka — a university town founded over a century ago—its due in terms of social and economic upliftment. In line with this, the governor appears resolved to modernizing the state’s second largest city in a way that it can compete with other university towns in attracting technology and knowledge-based businesses and other industrial support ventures.
After years of neglect by successive administrations which paid lip service to the development of vital social infrastructure in Nsukka, Ugwuanyi is indeed walking his talk. Though the dualization of the Opi-Nsukka road has been on the drawing board since the tenure of the first governor of Enugu State Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, successive administrations failed to keep faith with the project which was of central relevance to the overall development of the University city. Since then, the gateway to the city of Nsukka has remained a nightmare to travelers until the present governor who had made it an issue during his 2015 election campaign, redeemed his promise. Other roads flagged off by the governor in the state’s second commercial city are the Oberechara Road junction-Umuakashi-Mechanic Village-Ikenga Hotels Junction Road; Post Office Roundabout-Odenigbo Roundabout-Ogurugu Road-Ikenga Hotels Junction Road; Enugu Road (Nsukka) Junction -Umezedi-Nru Junction and the University Gate Road.
Second to the Opi-Nsukka road dualization, in terms of magnitude and significance, is the construction of the Udenu Ring Road. The project which covers 42 kilometers and passes through seven communities, has been reoccurring in the state’s budget without execution since the early 80’s before the administration broke the jinx and awarded the contract for its construction. But while road construction may not be considered the only index of development, it is no doubt a major factor. Beyond road construction, however, the administration has also activated the major water project for the area and approved the construction of a 200-bed specialist hospital in Orba. These are in addition to several electrification projects that will all feed into the city’s urban development profile.
The Ninth Mile Corner may not be as big a city as Nsukka but its historical neglect is in several ways similar. It has faced series of failed promises of a facelift and its position as an economic hub in the state as well as the South East region, was largely lost on successive administrations at state and federal levels. Nowhere is this neglect as pronounced as the road network in the state’s melting pot of business and commerce, haulage and public transportation. Home to two of the South East’s largest breweries, bottling companies and several manufacturing concerns, the poor roads have been a nightmare to product truckers, commuters and natives alike. For decades, the city has become synonymous with human congestion while traffic gridlocks have always been commonplace. Governor Ugwuanyi believes that the 9th Mile sub-urban is an economic hub that the state needs to harness in order to enjoy the benefits of its newly acquired status as a free trade zone.
After decades of expectations by the people that governments at state and federal levels would address the poor road networks and save lives that are perennially lost on themthrough avoidable accidents, Governor Ugwuanyi’s response has come like a fresh wind. Among the road projects flagged off within his first six months are the construction of the two major roads within the axis, namely the Ameke Ngwo- Nsude junction by-pass and the Ninth mile Corner by-pass. The roads are strategic and their importance can only be measured against the relief it brings to commuters who usually experience the problematic gridlocks. Even the Ebeano by-pass, a federal government road that was expected to kick-off the Enugu-Makurdi dual carriageway, has not been revisited since 2005 when President Obasanjo first flagged it off amidst fanfare. The earthwork that once made it motorable in the interim for use during high traffic periods of Christmas, has since been washed off while gulleys have taken over.
If Governor Sullivan Chime’s eight years has been an era of exceptional transformation in physical infrastructure in the state, the events of the past year give a foretaste of what Ugwuanyi’s tenure portends: a period during which rural development will be redefined by the impact it has—in real terms– on the people’s wellbeing. He stated that giving attention to these twin cities “will speed up urban development, create fresh economic opportunities and reduce pressure on Enugu metropolis”. His belief is that the twin projects will spiral into major economic activities across the state. Going by the commitment displayed in the past year, it is a conversation that will continue through the life of this administration. And if the developments in Nsukka, Ninth Mile and elsewhere are anything to go by, then the people of Enugu have reasons to be optimistic that a new vista has opened ultimately, for the sustained economic development of the state.
*Sheddy Ozoene is a publisher and media relations consultant based in Abuja.