At the level of small talk, you could hardly get the better of Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the governor of Enugu State. But for an ex-national parliamentarian more at home with analysis and action, this trend of dialogue could pale easily with the big, top-draw business administration guru.
His earthiness and folksy charm disarm and readily suck you into his growing army of admirers. But these hide inner steel that has unerringly guided the trajectory to his current elevated position.
Perhaps, not surprisingly, this focused mindset informed his serving a notice at theoutset of his first tenure that the lukewarm narratives of past administrations associated with core infrastructure and human development drivers were gone for good. Armed with a grassroots insight and intimate knowledge of his home state, Ugwuanyi simply hit the ground sprinting. The pivot of his administration’s policy trajectory was on peace, grassroots developmentdrive and knowledge-driven economy through innovations to “harness those potentials, which free oil money has blinded Nigeria from exploiting.”
His clear vision was to lead the state out of the economic crunch and reignite the confidence of the people, especially the rural populace, in a viable, participatory democracy.
He had clearly promised to pay special attention to rural development, a stance anchored on the fact that majority of the people of Enugu State reside in the rural areas and deserve a sense of belonging, peace and reward of good governance. But there were immediate impediments.
As Ugwuanyi’s administration notched its fifth anniversary om May 29, it is worth recalling that he assumed power when the country was in recession as a result of a substantial dip in crude oil prices in the international market. As a result, the state was challenged with paucity of funds, coupled with inherited debts and other huge wage bills to be serviced.
It was indisputable that the nation’s economic challenges adversely impacted the state’s allocations from the Federation Account. There were consequently limited funds to attend to development issues and other sundry needs of the public. Enugu’s purse grew leaner as federal allocations dwindled to an all-time low. It is also worth recalling that 27 states (Enugu State excluded), could not pay workers’ salaries nor embark on capital projects. The governors resorted to bailout funds unlike their predecessors who had access to the excess crude oil funds, which enabled them to execute sundry capital projects.
Notwithstanding all these challenges, Ugwuanyi maintained an unswerving focus in his vision to build a new Enugu State in sync with the founding fathers’ dream, where all enjoy equal rights to dividends of democracy, in a peaceful and secure environment.
More, the neglect hitherto suffered by the majority of the state’s population was overbearing and created a hydra-headed imbalance in the distribution of democracy dividends between urban and rural inhabitants. Strangely, the concentration of development projects in Enugu metropolis became the only barometer to assess performance of a government in the state.
In Ugwuanyi’s words, “My administration will deploy government services to create fair and equal opportunity for every willing citizen to make a living and create wealth, educate our children, and enjoy life in a peaceful and secure environment.”
Five years down the line, his administration has vigorously and religiously pursued this lofty vision, closing the urban-rural imbalance in the distribution of basic amenities. His administration has ensured an enduring peace in the state, a cherished exploit that has made it possible for the state’s political leaders to unite and forge a common front for progress and rapid development.
As the long-neglected communities in Enugu State are appreciating the governor for accommodating them with development projects, the state’s workers regularly express their appreciation on the streets of Enugu, the governor’s commitment to their welfare and for the existing cordial government-labour relationship.
Early in his tenure, Ugwuanyi convened the maiden Enugu State Investment Summit, appropriately tagged Oganiru, which captured the new thinking in Lion Building, Enugu.
His words: “Oganiru…is a bold initiative towards realising our collective dream of repositioning Enugu State to meet the economic challenges of the 21st Century.”
Responding to the vision, Enugu became a huge magnet that attracted Nigeria’s best brains and international personalities, who were in sync with the possibilities of the new, bold vision enunciated by the plucky governor. Despite the economic challenges, Ugwuanyi ensured that workers’ salaries and pensions were paid regularly on the 23rd of every month with or without receipt of statutory allocations from the Federation Account, even at the time 27 states could not pay because of the nation’s economic meltdown.
Again, the state government has remained consistent with the payment of the “13th month” salary to workers as Christmas bonus.
Clearly, Ugwuanyi’s novel rural development policy, coupled with his uncommon leadership style, vastly scaled up his popularity. It was hardly surprising that a grateful populace overwhelmingly reelected him with an unprecedented 95.54 per cent of the votes cast, the highest in the history ofthe country.
In the course of his governance positives and to fully actualise his administration’s promises after reviewing the public sector for optimal service delivery, the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic hit the globe. This brought the socio-economic life of the people and government to a standstill, forcing government structures across the globe to review their policies and development agenda and focus on health.
Not one given to foot-dragging, the administration of Ugwuanyi responded swiftly and expediently to contain the spread of the virus in the state and ensure that the effect of the pandemic does not adversely affect the state’s development programmes. It also ensured that the effect does not negatively affect the people.
Palliatives were massively distributed, an exercise still ongoing, targeted especially at the most vulnerable of society. In spite of the pandemic and its obvious adverse economic effects, state workers have continued to receive their full salaries while various degrees of welfare packages were approved for the health workers as incentives for them to battle the virus.
As isolation and treatment centres for COVID-19 were established and fully equipped in the university town of Nsukka and the ESUT TeachingHospital, Parklane, Enugu, the ultramodern Enugu State Medical Diagnostic Centre in Enugu was also equipped and designated as isolation and treatment centre to enhance the state’s preparedness and capacity to fully tackle the pandemic, should the disease escalate.
The Ugwuanyi administration is presently carrying out a massive reconstruction and construction of new structures at the Colliery Hospital, Enugu, which has been designated as an infectious disease isolation and treatment centre. Importantly, Ugwuanyi has continued to keep wake at night and also visit the state’s land boundaries to monitor and enforce presidential directive on 8pm-6am nationwide curfew and interstate movement restriction order, respectively.
Prior to the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the state government had made a mark in the health sector such as the construction and renovation of district hospitals and health centres in the state, especially in the rural areas under the primary healthcare programme; the upgrade of Udi district hospitals and Polly Clinic, Asata, to general hospitals; the launch of the Universal Health Coverage to provide comprehensive health care delivery toresidents of the state, among others.
On security, besides various interventions in enhancing the security architecture to sustain the state’s status as one of the most peaceful and safest in the country, the administration recently procured and donated 100 units of Innoson (IVM) patrol vans equipped with communication gadgets to the security agencies to aid their operations in the state. The state government engaged 1,700 Forest Guards (first to do so in the South East zone), repositioned the Vigilante/Neighborhood Watch groups and purchased 260 security vehicles for their community policing operations.
Five new IVM fire-fighting trucks were handed over to the state fire service, for the five new fire service stations across the three senatorial districts of the state, to enhance their efficiency and effective response to emergencies.
On infrastructure, the Ugwuanyi administration has constructed/rehabilitated over 600 kilometres of road across the state, mostly in the rural areas. Some of the signature road projects include the remodeled ancient, historic and undulating 11-km Milliken Hill-Ngwo-9th Mile road – a tourist attraction and state’s natural roller coaster; thestate-of-the-art 12-km Opi-Nsukka dual carriageway with a spur to the UNN gate; the Ebonyi River Bridge, Ikem; the 31km Udenu Ring road with two high-tech bridges; Iva Valley road, Enugu; the 8.8km Nkalagu-Eha Amufu road in Isi-UzoLGA, neglected for over 35 years; the 26.66 km Ukpabi-Nimbo-Ugbene Ajima-Ezianiroad in Uzo-Uwani LGA and the 22.443km Neke-Mbu-Ogbodu Aba-Obollo Etiti inter-community road linking Isi-Uzo and Udenu LGAs being constructed by the state government in conjunction with the Rural Access and Mobility Project (RAMP-2).
Just last week, the governor, amid jubilation, inaugurated the 13-kilometre Nike LakeJunction-Harmony Estate-Amorji Nike- Adoration Pilgrimage Centre-Orie Emene road, constructed across the thick forest of Umuchigbo community in Enugu East Local Government Area of the state. The virgin road constructed with lined drains and five river crossings, including culverts and bridges, now links the ever-busy and thickly populated Abakpa Nike with Emene satellite town.
Expressing joy during the inauguration of the project, the spiritual director of Adoration Ministry Enugu Nigeria (AMEN), Rev. Fr. Ejike Mbaka, described the road as unprecedented and a miracle, stating “this ultra-modern road built by the Governor of Enugu State, our beloved Gburugburu, before now was a thick forest.”
Others include the 8.2-kilometer Inyi-Akpugoeze road in Oji River LGA, the Ituku Road in Awgu LGA and the Amurri road in Nkanu West Local Government Area constructed for a hitherto neglected community that has not experienced any form of government development on its land in the past 100 years, etc.
It would be recalled that Ugwuanyi’s administration, three months in office, spearheaded the massive development of urban and rural roads across the three senatorial districts of the state, in Emene, Abakpa-Nike, 9th Mile Corner and Nsukka. Shortly after, 35 grassroots development projects across the 17 LGAs of Enugu State were simultaneously awarded and executed, ensuring that every council benefited from at least one project in the programme.
The N10 million “one community, one project” scheme, also recorded a huge success in expanding development to the frontiers of the rural areas – an initiative that gives every community in the state the opportunityto decide their priority projects. This also ensures that communities that have never experienced any government presence benefit, accordingly.
The first phase of the Enugu State Secretariat annex in Nsukka satellite town is nearing completion, while the construction of the Nsukka Township Stadium and more internal roads are ongoing, in keeping with the governor’s promise to equip and modernize the university town of Nsukka, as the second largest town in Enugu State.
In achieving all these landmarks, the Enugu urban area is not left out as numerous roads and other infrastructure were rehabilitated in line with the state’s urban renewal drive.
The first Enugu State Customary Court of Appeal Headquarters complex and other infrastructural development projects in the state’s judiciary are standing tall as among the legacy projects of the Ugwuanyi administration. Adjacent to the popular Michael Okpara Square, Enugu, is the Unity Park formerly known as Forest Reserve, wearing a new look to serve as a tourist attraction and a place for relaxation and recreation when completed.
On education and empowerment, over 5,000 primary and secondary school teachers have been recruited in the last five years, while 897 classroom blocks and other school projects have been constructed, renovated and/or equipped with learning tools to improve the standard of learning in the state. Above all, a review of primary and secondary classroom blocks across the state is ongoing for a comprehensive intervention by the state government.
While landmark interventions were witnessed in the state-owned tertiary institutions, the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, had its first convocation after 11 years.
The first phase of the traders’ empowerment scheme assisted 3,600 genuine traders with the sum of N50,000 each to grow their various businesses; 750 youths under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) programme were also empowered; 680 indigent engineering students of Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo, Ezeagu LGA, and the Institute of Management and Technology, Enugu, were awarded scholarship for four years of academic studies as well as the recent scholarship offered to 22 indigent post-secondary school students to study at Mewar University, India.
Importantly, the state government, two years ago, launched the Enugu Clean Team Project, which has engaged 2,000 youths in cleaning up the state to enhance and sustain its rating as one of the healthiest and cleanestcities in the country, among others.
The economic indices of Enugu State have remained favorable in the eyes of observers as the state’s ratings have been outstanding in the last five years, such as: the second most advanced state in Nigeria towards thefrontier of global good practices with regard to Ease of Doing Business, by the World Bank Group, among others.
Governor Ugwuanyi has simply demonstrated that a genuine, viable democracy can only thrive in an environment of political inclusion and justice.