Reappraising Ugwuanyi’s five-year stewardship amid Covid-19

By Louis Amoke

Pushing further a transformational vision of Enugu State, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi continues to deploy special focus and an intimate understanding of his turf to address key human development, infrastructure, economic and sundry challenges and perhaps not surprisingly, is indeed changing the Enugu story.

As his administration clocks its fifth year, the unassuming, highly focused former national legislator has simply reaffirmed the enduring truth that, indeed, political inclusion, empathetic human development and justice are the first conditions of a viable democracy.

Gov. Ugwuanyi took over the mantle of leadership of Enugu State on May 29, 2015, when the country was in recession as a result of drastic drop in the crude oil prices in the international market. Consequently, the state was confronted with paucity of funds coupled with inherited debts and other huge wage bills to be serviced.

It could not be disputed that the nation’s economic challenges adversely affected the state’s allocations from the federation account, to the extent that there were 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 – a source of worry the past governor of the state, Barr. Sullivan Chime acknowledged during the thanksgiving Mass to commemorate the end of his administration.

This undoubtedly posed a serious threat to the speedy actualization of the governor’s well-thought-out vision for the people of the state as contained in his administration’s four-point agenda.

The situation was so bad that 27 states, excluding Enugu State, could not pay workers’ salaries, let alone 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.

Despite all these challenges, Gov. Ugwuanyi remained undaunted and focused in his vision to build Enugu State of the founding fathers’ dream, where everybody irrespective of class, religion or political association is given equal rights to dividends of democracy, in a peaceful and secure environment.

The fulcrum of his administration’s policy thrust was centered on peace, grassroots development drive and knowledge-driven economy through innovations to “harness those potentials which free oil money has blinded us from exploiting”. His vision was to lead the state out of the economic crunch and rekindle the confidence of the people, especially the lowly and long neglected in the rural communities, in a viable, participatory democracy.

The neglect hitherto suffered by the majority of the state’s population in the rural areas was overbearing and created a hydra-headed imbalance in the distribution of democracy dividends between urban and rural inhabitants. It was a winner-takes-all scenario, as concentration of development projects in Enugu metropolis became the only barometer to assess performance of a government in the state.

In his inaugural address after assuming the mantle of leadership in 2015, following an overwhelming endorsement at the poll by the people of Enugu State, Gov. Ugwuanyi, as a grassroots-politician, promised to pay special attention to rural development. His decision was 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.

This was in line with his vision to “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, Gov. Ugwuanyi’s administration has vigorously and religiously pursued this lofty vision, closing the urban-rural imbalance in the distribution of basic amenities. Consequently, his administration has constructed and rehabilitated over 600 kilometres of road across the state, mostly in the rural areas.

Gov. Ugwuanyi has ensured an enduring peace in the state, a cherished feat that has made it possible for the state’s political leaders to unite and forge a common force for progress and rapid development. One is therefore proud to say that peace is now synonymous with Enugu State.

As the long-neglected communities in Enugu State are appreciating the people’s governor for remembering them with one development project or another, the state workers are singing praises and dancing on the streets of Enugu, also in appreciation of the governor’s exceptional love and commitment to their welfare and for the existing cordial government-labour relationship.

The most recent experience was the workers’ “Thank-you” visit to Ugwuanyi for being the first governor of the state, since the inception of democracy in 1999, to pay them the minimum wage without rancour.

Beyond this, workers’ salaries are paid on the 23rd of every month while pensions are also paid regularly, with or without receipt of statutory allocations from the federation account – even at the time 27 states could not pay because of nation’s economic meltdown. Again, the state government has remained consistent with the payment of the “13th month” salary to workers as Christmas bonus.

This was as a result of the impressive performance of the Enugu State Internal Revenue Service in raising the state’s internally generated revenue (IGR), following the far-reaching reforms introduced by the Ugwuanyi administration.

There is no doubt that Gov. Ugwuanyi’s rural development policy coupled with his uncommon leadership style has indeed dignified him as a great asset to the people of Enugu State, who in gratitude overwhelmingly reelected him with an unprecedented 95.54 percent of the votes cast, the highest in the history of the country.

As the governor was in a hurry, hitting the ground running to fully actualize his administration’s promises after reviewing the public sector for optimal service delivery, the world was hit with the outbreak of the novel Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) pandemic, which brought the socio-economic life of the people and governments to a standstill, forcing government structures across the globe to review their policies and development agenda and focus on health.

Despite this, Ugwuanyi’s administration 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. His administration immediately approved and released N350 million to the State COVID-19 Multi-Sectoral Rapid Response Team to tackle the health challenge. It also ensured that the effect does not harmfully affect the people, especially the lowly and less privileged, through the ongoing distribution of palliatives. 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 incentive 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 Teaching Hospital Parklane, Enugu, the ultramodern Enugu State Medical Diagnostic Centre in Enugu, completed by the Ugwuanyi administration, 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.

In furtherance of all this, the Ugwuanyi’s 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, Gov. Ugwuanyi has continued to keep wake at night and also visit state’s land boundaries to monitor and enforce Presidential directive on 8pm-6am nationwide curfew and inter-state 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, after their rehabilitation; construction of 200-bed Igbo Ano Specialist Hospital, Enugu North Senatorial District, to serve as facilities for the ESUT College of Medicine that has been relocated to Nsukka; the launch of the Universal Health Coverage to provide comprehensive health care delivery to residents of the state, among others.

On security, apart from various interventions in enhancing the security architecture to sustain the state’s enviable status as one of the most peaceful and safest in the country, Ugwuanyi’s administration recently procured and donated 100 units of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) patrol vans equipped with communication gadgets to the security agencies to aid their operations in the state. The state government engaged 1,700 novel 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 newly procured IVM fire-fighting trucks were handed over to the state fire service, for the five newly constructed fire service stations across the three senatorial districts of the state, to enhance their efficiency and effective response to emergencies.

On infrastructure, some of the  signature road projects include the remodeled ancient, historic and undulating 11km Milliken Hill-Ngwo-9th Mile road – a tourist attraction and state’s natural roller coaster; the state-of-the-art 12km 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-Uzo LGA, neglected for over 35 years; the 26.66km Ukpabi-Nimbo-Ugbene Ajima-Eziani road 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).

Others include the newly inaugurated 13km Nike Lake junction-Harmony Estate-Amorji Nike-Adoration Pilgrimage Centre – Orie Emene road, constructed across the thick forest of Umuchigbo community, linking the ever-busy and thickly populated Abakpa Nike with Emene satellite town in Enugu East LGA; 8.2km 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 the University town of Nsukka. Shortly after, 35 grassroots development projects across the 17 Local Government Areas of Enugu State, were simultaneously awarded and executed, ensuring that every council benefited at least one project from 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 opportunity to decide their priority projects. This also ensures that communities that 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 in Nsukka town are ongoing, in keeping with the governor’s inaugural address 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 is not left out as numerous roads and other infrastructure were rehabilitated in line with the state’s urban renewal drive. Some of them include: the Holy Trinity Street and Bishop Michael Eneje Street, Independence Layout, Enugu; Mount Crescent, GRA, Enugu; Orofia Street, off Nza Street, Independence Layout, Enugu; Dental School – Tipper Garage road, Trans Ekulu, Enugu; Loma Linda- Timber Shed road, Maryland, Enugu; Nwafia Street, Independence Layout, Enugu; Mbanefo Street, New Haven, Enugu.

Others include, the Secretariat Road, G.R.A, Enugu; Court Avenue by new State Secretariat, Enugu; Ibuza Street at Independence Layout, Enugu; Isi Uzo Street at Independence Layout, Enugu; Owerri Road and Poly Clinic Road, Asata, Enugu; Carter street, off Ogui road; renovation of the Enugu State House of Assembly Complex and rehabilitation and re-asphalting of the popular Michael Okpara Square, Enugu, and a host of others, including various intervention on federal roads.

The first Enugu State Customary Court of Appeal Headquarters complex and other infrastructural development projects in the State 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. The vision behind the interventions at the park is also to preserve the state’s heritage for generations yet unborn.

A lot of new projects are ongoing and more contracts are being awarded to improve the people’s standard of living in spite the state’s lean resources and outbreak of COVID-19.

On education and empowerment, over 5000 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 education 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 are being witnessed in the state-owned tertiary institutions, it is pertinent to note that the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, under this present administration 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 were empowered in skills acquisition under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) programme. 680 indigent engineering students of Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo, Ezeagu L.G.A and the IMT, Enugu, were awarded scholarship for four years of academic studies as well as the recent scholarship offered to 22 indigent post-secondary school students who are presently studying at Mewar University, India. Importantly, the state government, two years ago, launched the Enugu Clean Team Project which has engaged 1000 youths (additional 1000 underway) in cleaning up the state to enhance and sustain its rating as one of the healthiest and cleanest cities 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 the frontier of global good practices with regards to Ease of Doing Business, by the World Bank Group, and the most recent- the 9th best performing state in terms of IGR for the year 2019, among others.

From the above highlights, it is undisputable that Gov. Ugwuanyi has performed creditably and has remained committed to his solemn mandate to continue to reward ‘Ndi Enugu’ with peace and good governance and build Enugu State of the founding fathers’ dream. Let us, therefore, continue to pray and support his development and people-centered administration as he continues to create a genuinely humane society. Happy Anniversary! Enugu State is truly in the hands of God!

 

Amoke writes from Enugu State.

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