Felix Ikem, Nsukka
For the people of Odenigbo Eha-Amufu in Isi-Uzo Local Government Area of Enugu State, they are literally living in abject neglect and deprivation.
For a community that can boast of a population of 15,000 people, there is no single presence of either the local, state and federal government apart from a dilapidated primary school. They are, indeed, living in inexplicable deprivation.
Travelling to the villages that make up the proposed autonomous community is like making a journey to hell. Whether one is embarking on the journey during the rainy season or dry season, the story is still the same; the roads are a no-go area for motorists. In the rainy season, the enclave is submerged with water. In the dry season, the roads are covered with overgrown grasses.
Indeed, recently, the Catholic Bishop of Nsukka Diocese, His Lordship, Most Rev. Prof. Godfrey Onah had embarked on a pastoral visit to some parishes in Ikem Deanery, Isi-Uzo LGA.
Sunday Sun gathered that the visit was part of his pastoral work targeted at coming into personal contact with the priests, lay faithful and the entire Catholic community in different parishes under the various Deanery under his watch.
It was indeed a joyful mood for the priests, laity and the Catholic community in the area as they trooped out en masse to welcome the bishop.
During the memorable and historic visit, which lasted from 22nd to 26th January, 2019, Bishop Onah visited St. Michael’s Parish, Aguamede Ulo; St. Paul’s Parish, Ndiagu Aguamede; and St. Mary’s Parish, Odenigbo Eha-Amufu.
The bishop equally took time to visit all the out stations of the above three parishes.
At these stations, Bishop Onah’s message centred on peace, love and unity amongst the lay faithful and the entire Catholic community thereby admonishing them on the need to show love to all, stressing that love is paramount in the life of every Christian.
The bishop equally encouraged the spirit-filled congregation to embrace peace and unity, adding that they are the core qualities, values and insignia of true Christians.
He stressed on the importance of the education of the young ones in the rightful way as education is power.
Bishop Onah celebrated masses at the parish centres during which he administered the Sacrament of Confirmation to no fewer than 1,000 Christians amidst massive joy and jubilation at his presence by most of the parishioners who thought it was an impossibility to behold the local ordinary in their parishes due to his tight schedule.
In his homilies at the confirmation masses, he again urged the massive congregation to eschew the spirit of disunity and embrace love and total peace as the time for division was over.
The Chief Shepherd equally visited the Federal College of Education, Eha-Amufu where he celebrated mass for the management, students and the entire Catholic community.
In his homily at the College, the bishop who frowned at the poor infrastructural development in the school urged the management and students to continue to work hard for the betterment of the institution and Nigeria at large.
However, the bishop’s visit has exposed the infrastructural decay in the community after a picture of him on a motorcycle during the visit surfaced on the social media, depicting the true state of the roads in the area. He had to park his vehicle somewhere and mounted a motorcycle to be able to get to his destination.
When Sunday Sun visited the community, there was anger, deprivation and poverty written all over the people. The three hours’ journey to Odenigbo Eha-Amufu was as tortuous as travelling in the valley of death.
Odenigbo, a border community with Benue State, has no pipe borne water, no electricity, no health centre or hospital, no government secondary school, no good access road. The only government primary school they have is dilapidated. To cap it all, there is no network operator’s mast to feed the community. They get virtually everything from Benue State so much so that one of the community dwellers who spoke to our reporter under anonymity revealed that in the recent past, some youths in the community have opted to be annexed by Benue State.
According to him, “why shall we not join Benue State when we get everything from them. Even the wooden bridge we are using in our community today to connect with them was built by Benue State government. Enugu State government has forgotten everything about us.”
The sleepy community, which is about 30kms away from Ikem, the headquarters of Isi-Uzo LGA is said to be rich in agricultural produce like cassava, corn, rice, yam, among others.
Though the community has boundaries with Ogbadibo Local Government in the South and Okpokwu LG, all in Benue State, they still pledge their political allegiance to Enugu State, except for the recent agitation by their youths to join Benue State.
The community is under Eha-Amufu political Ward 1 comprising Agu Amede, Isu and Odenigbo and 99 per cent of the people are predominantly farmers with land rich in yam, rice, cassava and other crops.
The villagers speak
Speaking to Sunday Sun separately, the villagers expressed dissatisfaction over their pitiable situation, describing their community as a dungeon.
They, therefore, called on Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi to come to their rescue.
Mr Ogada Ejiofor, a farmer said that the deplorable condition of the road was making life difficult for the villagers, especially traders and farmers in the area.
According to him, the deplorable state of roads had hindered economic and social development in the area.
“The only road linking our community with the outside world is not passable, especially when it rains.
“I want to call on Governor Ugwuanyi to come to our aid and get the road rehabilitated so that we can bring out our farm produce where people can buy them.
“I don’t know if it will be too much for me to ask for other social amenities that are lacking in the community. We don’t have electricity, we don’t have pipe borne water, no hospital, no secondary school, teachers are not finding our community habitable to live and teach due to poor infrastructure,’’ he said.
The Town Union President of the proposed autonomous community, Mr Ferdinand Nnaji, told Sunday Sun that the poor infrastructural situation in the community has degenerated to a stage that some of their people are threatening to join Benue State following many years of government neglect.
According to Nnaji, “the Benue State government has approached us in many occasions to join them so that we can get some social amenities since the Enugu State government we are waiting for are not forthcoming.”
He also said that the Benue government built a connecting bridge for them at Ogbowu water so that they can connect with them.
He also stated that most of their people, especially the youths, are currently agitating that they should join the Benue government, a situation he attributed to the poor infrastructure in the community, adding that teachers posted in the area to teach in the primary school has all ran away, leaving only three with the headmaster behind.
He, however, stressed that the hope of the community was that government would approve their proposed autonomous community so that they would have a common front to appeal to the state and federal government for social amenities.
Mr Ogbu Anselem, a farmer and a Catechist at St. Philips Catholic Church, Ogbugwu village, said that “the body language of the Enugu State government is that they are not interested in the community’s wellbeing. I always wonder why the government will deny us all the social amenities our community deserves.”
He lamented that the only time the government knows that they exist as a community was during election period.
“Once it’s election time they will flood our community with campaign posters, promising us heaven and earth just to get our votes, immediately they get our votes you will not hear anything from them again and our community will become too far for them to visit again.
“Because of the way the government neglected us we don’t feel like citizens of Enugu State as we are not given any sense of belonging. We have waited for successive governments to no avail. Even this present government has not had any tangible project for us. They are treating us like animals. No good access road, no pipe-borne water, no electricity, no secondary school, no hospital and the list is endless.
“Assuming that the government has us in its plan let, them start with one of the things I mentioned above so that we will know that they have regards for us.
“Now, to bring out our agricultural produce to where people can buy them is a very big problem we are facing due to poor access road,” he lamented.
The traditional ruler-elect of the community, Chief Gilbert Ogada, said that the people of Odenigbo took a unanimous decision to get an autonomous community.
He said that the decision came after many decades of total government neglects and maginalization by their parent community.
He admitted that the bad situation of the community has attracted the government of Benue State, who has helped them in construction of a bridge that connects them together.
He said that the offer by the Benue State to annex their community and provide them with all the social amenities is a no go area, saying that the community has high hope in the Ugwuanyi’s administration.
He, however, appealed to the state government to hasten up and gazette the autonomy status of their community so that the good people of Odenigbo would have direct access to the government.
Youths threatening to join Benue State
One of the youths in the community, Mr Sunday Odoabuchi who spoke to our reporter said that the people of the community have been suffering for so long due to lack of social amenities.
He said that “it was the poor infrastructure in the community that attracted the Benue State government who offered to fix some of the roads and connecting bridges in our community and at the same time offered to annex our community to be part of Benue State.
“This we have given a thought and we considered it a welcome development, but to our surprise our elders later developed cold feet to give us a go ahead.
“Can you imagine at this 21st Century a community in Enugu State has no electricity, we cross over to Benue to charge our phone and other electrical gadgets, we take our sick people to their hospitals.
“We are not getting good value for our agricultural produce because our community is locked up due to no access road. How can government neglect a community that has potential to feed the whole state and beyond with its agricultural produce?
“Currently a painter of garri is sold in our community between N100 and N150 as against N500 to N600 you can buy it elsewhere. This is because traders are not coming to patronize us, and we don’t have the way to take our produce to the market because of no good road.”
Another youth who pleaded anonymity wondered why a state governor of Nsukka cultural extraction would neglect a border community for over four years in office.
“When Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi became the governor of Enugu State, we celebrated him as if he is our own son that won the seat. Our expectation was that he will remember us at least in one of our basic needs.
“As at today the situation is getting worse, our community is like a dungeon. We rely on Benue State for virtually everything. How can a responsible government put a border community in darkness for many years?
“For over two years, we have been appealing and asking for autonomous community, all to no avail, yet, they said that Enugu State is in the hands of God.”
What government is doing to rescue the situation
Hon. Ugwu Thaddeus, the immediate past councillor who represented Eha Ward 1 in Isi-Uzo LG council, said that Governor Ugwuanyi’s administration has brought positive signs of hope.
He noted that the community has been denied of her fair share of democracy dividends since the country returned to democratic rule in 1999.
“There’s hope, Ugwuanyi’s administration has rekindled our hope in government. It is only in his administration that Odenigbo people were allowed to produce a councillor which I was the one elected in 2017 and by the grace of God I’m going back to finish my second term. This has never happened before.
“Just recently, his administration built three classroom blocks for nursery school pupils attached to our community primary school,” he said.
Ugwu, however, appealed to the people not to lose faith in the state government, stressing that, “since government has remembered us by allowing us to produce a councillor definitely they will remember us in our other needs”.
But, unfortunately, one of the community dwellers, John Agu, told Sunday Sun that “as it is now, nothing can stop us from joining Benue State, whoever that was happy with the present situation in our community should stay behind.
“Yes. I am telling you the truth. There is nothing we can do about it. We marry each other. We help each other. In fact, without Benue State, you wouldn’t have been able to come here. So, we have made up our mind to join Benue State if something meaningful does not come out of Enugu State government soon.”
Will Enugu State government allow Odenigbo Eha-Amufu to be annexed by Benue State owing to alleged total neglect being meted out on them by the state? Only time will tell.