Very rarely do we reminisce about our experience of Christmas in the countryside among kith and kin without a sense of nostalgia. The acute sense of community bred by a rural upbringing, the cold, dry winds of the harmattan plus the excited chatter of children as they flee from masquerades typically make Christmas spent in rural areas an unforgettable experience.
As a child, Christmas brought all the idyllic experiences outlined above. But it still came with an endless swirl of red dust that dampened our spirits, left an embarrassing smear on clothes and hair, and served as a cruel reminder of the utter neglect our community had suffered for decades. The community here spoken about is Amurri, a sprawling rural community located in Nkanu West Local Government Area, Enugu State.
So over the years, with such abject condition persisting, Christmas soon became an occasion to which sons and daughters of Amurri never really looked forward. But that is not to say the community fared any better during the rainy season; the situation was just as bad. With the community’s youth staying away largely due to lack of infrastructure the impact on the local economy can only be imagined. It is particularly telling that there was no tarred road in Amurri, which is roughly one kilometre from Agbani, headquarters of Nkanu West Local Government and home to the Nigerian Law School’s Enugu campus, and the Enugu State University of Science and Technology.
That was the sordid state of things in Amurri until an intervention by Gov. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi resulted in the construction of this erosion-threatened stretch and only access road into the community, effectively putting an end to feelings of alienation which its residents had lived with for decades. Beyond making access into Amurri much easier, that intervention brought back the lost allure of Christmas. This Christmas, village squares teemed with townsfolk, unlike the scanty presence which had been the case when many people stayed away due to the bad road and the nuisance caused by cloud of dust that filled the air as commercial motorcyclists and the few vehicles that braved the crater-sized gullies meander their way in and out of hamlets.
The effect of the turnaround has been very noticeable. Shops whose owners had to shut down long ago as a result of unbearable dust have today received a new lease of life. Farmers too are experiencing boom-times as harvested crops are transported with ease to markets unlike in the past when their produce rotted away in the farms due to how prohibitive the bad roads made the cost of procuring vans. The many pleasant effects of the intervention however begs the question: why was Amurri neglected for such a long time spanning decades? Did it stem from an absence of political will? Was it merely a consequence of fund paucity or sheer intrigues?
An observer can only hazard a guess. But what cannot be in doubt is the incremental development that the community and its people would have enjoyed over the years if past administrations had shown as much responsiveness as the Ugwuanyi administration.
The sheer scale and significance of the Amurri road construction rank it among the Enugu State government’s most outstanding legacy projects in terms of impact. It is thus very hard trying to make sense of incipient voices singing the old tune of neglect of Nkanuland. Nothing can be more ironic than accusing a government that helped Amurri make such huge leap from an inglorious past of neglect whereas two previous administrations headed by Nkanu sons made no effort to change that.
Equally significant is the fact the recent rehabilitation came without any prompting. Neither was it done with any fanfare. That intervention, simply put, was consistent with the governor’s oft-expressed view that rural communities shouldn’t be mere stomping grounds for votes. They are just as entitled to improved living conditions as urban dwellers, he would normally say, not because it’s a moral imperative and accords with every sense of equity; but also due to the positive social and economic effects it can create. Improving rural area’s infrastructure will, for instance, lead to better standard of living and most likely curb the perennial urban migration from the countryside which could potentially boost agricultural production.
As it turned out, the praises for Ugwuanyi that reverberated across Amurri this Christmas in celebration of the smooth ride back home wasn’t limited to our clan; other parts of Nkanuland were just as ecstatic as we had been over projects sited in their communities, not least of which is the construction of the Omuoha – Obuoffia road, Awkunanaw, in Nkanu West Local Government Area. So elated, indeed, that the paramount rulers of the various communities through which the road cuts a large swath conferred a chieftaincy title on the governor during an event held late last month to commemorate Awkunanaw Day.
Before the construction of this 2.2km road, locals had to endure a rather circuitous journey that took hours either to access their village or travel to the city. Now such trips are covered in about 20 minutes. Like in Amurri, last Christmas celebration in Awkunanaw was several notches higher than the previous experience. Such dramatic transformation helps put the symbolic title of “Omeru’oha” conferred on Gov. Ugwuanyi by the Awkunanaw elders in perspective. He is indeed the “generous one who transforms without discrimination”. There is no better proof of that than the numerous life-changing projects implemented by his administration across Enugu State, including the very remarkable “every community, one project” initiative where each of the state’s over 250 autonomous communities nominates and implements a project considered expedient with a N10m grant (of which N5m has been released to each community in the programme’s first phase.)
So, for those still wondering why there is such a groundswell of support for Governor Ugwuanyi’s reelection, the answer is certainly self-evident.
- Nwatu, an archivist, lives and works in Enugu.