Critics of the local government system often bemoan their utter helplessness and frustration on how to make the system equitable as well as effective. In a competitive political environment where the winner tends to take all, there can be no doubt about the fate of the ‘less fortunate communities.’ Which has been the only explanation for the state of Amurri Road, in the Nkanu West Local Government Area of Enugu State. It was so until November 2016 when Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi drove through the road and into the town.
It was not the first time a governor visited Amurri; nor the second, nor even the third. Governors come readily to campaign for votes. It was always announced. A long noisy motorcade heralded his arrival and our colourful dances and entrancing masquerades were always on hand to entertain the august visitor. But on Amurri’s lucky day last November, a governor arrived without prior notice, with no fanfare, almost silently, catching the towns folks unawares.There were no prepared venues, or tributes, or dances, or welcome addresses or traditional gun salutes. Nothing except the natural welcome smile of a handful of surprised Amurri people who chanced to be around.
Gov. Ugwuanyi halted at a few village squares to the apprehension of the villagers. They calmed down when he only asked them to name their most immediate need which the state government might help them with. They all told him “Amurri Road.”
We are not sure why the governor chose to do the survey by himself and in person. He has aides who know the place. He could have sent for a delegation of Igwes and chiefs, or the executive committees of Amurri town unions. He probably went there by himself to be sure of the truth.
The story of Amurri Road often sounds like it’s being exaggerated. Governor Ugwuanyi drove into Amurri through Agbani, the neighbouring town which hosts the Nkanu West Local Government headquarters. He returned through the Obe exit. There is nothing to choose between the two roads. It’s like choosing between Scylla and Charybdis.
But he apparently saw enough and a few days later, road-building machinery and equipment arrived Amurri Road and work commenced from the Agbani end. As the graders and earth-movers worked, Amurri people were simply speechless. And it was understandable the emotional communiqué issued by the Amurri Unity Forum which in appreciation of Gov. Ugwuanyi’s considerate gesture pledged its loyalty to his administration assuring the governor that “our people both born and unborn will ever remain grateful if he tars the Agbani-Amurri Road.”
Now, Amurri Road became a physical and psychological affliction to Amurri people because the oldest signpost on it was erected in 1919. In two years, it would be 100 years. That signpost was for the “Methodist School Eniagu Amori.” The colonial mission had then anglicized the names of “Enuagu” and “Amurri.” Older Amurri people swear that the present location of the school was not its original location, that the original location was closest to the No.3 Bridge at Umuigbo, close to the Community Secondary School, which means that its first location pre-dated 1919. Governor Ugwuanyi on his return to Enugu did what good-natured, virtuous princes do. He invited a few Amurri leaders to “express regret” that Amurri had “been allowed to experience such marginalization for a long time and promised that the award of the contract for the road will be made this year.”
The absence of connecting roads turned Amurri into a cul-de-sac instead of an alternate route and a gateway into Awgu Local Government Area. As the Amurri road deteriorated, so did economic activity diminish. In the 1960s and the 1970s, the Afor Amurri was famous for garri, ogbono, and palm oil among other food products. At least four trucks come from Enugu to convey those products every four days. That is now history.
Amurri borders Awgu Local Government Area at Agbogwugwu, and Ogbaku. Between Amurri and Agbogwugwu, and between Amurri and Ogbaku are trapped thousands, perhaps, hundreds of thousands of hectares of extremely rich fertile land which have now turned into virgin forests because no one has access to them as farmlands. Those farmlands are enough to feed the entire Igbo land. The only expenses required to open up the Agbogwugwu axis are essentially three bridges across two small streams, the Ebenta, and the Ebezhinne; the Nvuna River needs a bridge of the size which Gov. Ugwuanyi is building now on the way to Amagunze in Nkanu East Local Government. The Ogbaku axis requires a second bridge across Nvuna River. The Federal Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development cannot seriously talk of reopening the food baskets of Nigeria without opening the Amurri-Agbogwugwu road and the Amurri-Ogbaku roadway.
Gov. Ugwuanyi has proved himself to be a focused, result-oriented governor who is not afraid of difficult work, who goes to inaccessible places, who listens to the distressed and lifts up the ignored. People govern according to their character, not where they come from as this case has proven. One would have thought that Nkanu-born governors would have tarred the single route that led to Amurri from Agbani.
But two Nkanu-born governors ran Enugu State for 12 full years but found no time, or resources or empathy for the only access road to Amurri. The second governor, Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, is from Agbani and lives in Agbani, less than three kilometres from Amurri. Chief Jim Nwobodo, the first governor of the old Anambra State is from Amechi, less than 10 kilometres from Amurri. It is thus easy to see that the problem has little to do with the origin of the governors. It has everything to do with their character and priorities.
The Amurri Road case does not fall under the “one community-one project programme,” but the programme deserves commendation not just for its utility and wisdom but to serve as the reality check that no community is forgotten no matter how small.
It should be a corner-stone to enthrone equity and fairness in the location of development projects in our local governments, not only in Igbo land, but, indeed, in all parts of the Nigerian countryside. And after nearly 100 years neglect of Amurri Road by previous governments, the people are justified to feel greatly obliged to Gov. Ugwuanyi.
- First published in The Sun on May 18, 2017.