By Steve Oruruo
Nigeria’s reality of the universal urban-rural dichotomy vis-à-vis political leadership tells a vivid story of lopsidedness, isolationism and despair. For decades, the political elites have operated on two interpretations of democratic governance – wanton looting of our common treasury and staging shadows of development in the metropolis in which they and their cohorts dwell. The rural areas are thus isolated in a separate universe of rot where trickles of their rightful share of resources dry up en route. I can still hear the drowning echoes of the displaced and vulnerable rural dwellers defiantly asking impulsive question; Is the country on auto-pilot or rudderless?
Economic growth is not a function of the wealth of the leaders but that of the well-being of the people.
An estimated 49.66% of the total population of Nigeria live in the rural areas, according to data sourced from the World Bank’s collection of development indicators. In the 2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria report published earlier in the year by the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the poverty headcount rate in the rural areas is put at 52.1% which towers in comparison to 18% for the urban.
It is therefore axiomatic that the perennial rural neglect bedeviling the nation doesn’t rest on the premise of development indices, rather on the greed, selfishness, and aloofness of successive governments. It is baffling, even to the uncritical mind, that the plight of nearly half of a nation’s population doesn’t trouble the conscience of leaders. The grassroots have been condemned to political farming grounds, only visited and appeased each time the overlords are hunting for ballot thumbprints in their self-acclaimed fiefdoms or fortresses. No wonder, the rural dwellers are most often comfortable with the sentiments expressed by an American comedian and writer- GROUCHO MAX when he posited that “Politics is the act of looking for trouble, finding it everywhere, diagnosing it incorrectly and applying the wrong remedies “
The quest to overwrite the years of rural-urban polarity motivated the Executive Governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi to launch and set into unstoppable motion, a grassroots development agenda in spite of his sustained performances within the metropolis. Five years down the line, the governor in his microcosm is changing the narrative, restoring justice and apparently setting new precedents for Nigeria’s evolving democracy. Indeed, Justice is neither the will of the majority nor the wealthier, but that course of action which the moral aim of the state requires.
This rural development agenda seeks to re-balance the scale of the unpalatable rural-urban contrast and stem rural-urban migration. Buoyed by the governor’s philosophy of leadership probity, equity and inclusivity, the drive has been multisectorial, opening up new vistas of economic growth and human empowerment in even the remotest of terrains. For the first time in a very long while, the rural dwellers feel the impact of governance and have seized every platform to convey same to the governor.
Interestingly, the Ugwuanyi regime arrived on the heels of unprecedented and astronomical history of enduring goodwill; accentuating an engraved and pervasive assurance of succour to the poorer majority. Part of this the people excitedly labelled Nrashi in a clairvoyance preluding the initial recession and the prevailing Covid-19 pandemic. This irrepressible but baptised Governor’s sense of benevolence still inures both in his intent and delivery. This is perhaps the face of a Government that has strategically mitigated the suffering of the majority.
The most terrifying health challenge besieging black Africa is not Covid-19. It is the reckless and unprovoked abandonment of the poor by the political and leadership class. Politicians out of inexplicable greed, brazen ignorance, crass injustice, ineptitude, profligacy and wanton criminality systematically deny the masses life-sustaining amenities. Nothing could have been truer than the absence of asphalted roads, functional health care facilities, water and power to mention but a few.
As it concerns infrastructure, the Enugu governor has brought his Midas touch to bear on rural roads, charting new territories, connecting communities and linking villages to the urban areas. As a result, the micro-economies of local governments which had hitherto been asphyxiated are beginning to draw fresh breaths of air. Some of these rural road projects executed by Governor Ugwuanyi include: the 12km Opi-Nsukka dual carriageway; Ebonyi River Bridge, Ikem; 31km Udenu Ring road with two high-tech bridges; 8.8km Nkalagu-Eha-Amufu road which was neglected for over 35 years; the 26.66km Ukpabi-Nimbo-Ugbene Ajima-Eziani road in Uzo-Uwani LGA (RAMP-2); 22.443km Neke-Mbu-Ogbodu Aba-Obollo Etiti inter-community road linking Isi-Uzo and Udenu LGAs (RAMP-2); Amaeke-Ngwo-Nsude-9th Mile and Amankwo-Amaeke-Amah Brewery Junction-9th Mile bypasses in Udi LGA; and the 8.2km Inyi-Akpugoeze road in Oji River LGA.
Other completed rural road projects include: the ‘miraculous’ Amechi bridge linking Awkunanaw communities in Enugu South LGA; Enugu Road (Nsukka) Junction-Umuezebi-Nru Junction-University Gate road; Post Office Roundabout-Odenigbo Roundabout-Ogururu Road-Ikenga road and Obechara Road Junction-Umakashi-mechanic Village-Ikenga Hotels Junction road, all in Nsukka; Ituku Road in Awgu LGA; Orie Market-Nkwo Ida-Afor Inyire road; Ndiagu Akpugo and Amurri roads in Nkanu West LGA.
The governor after reclaiming his mandate in 2019 injected more fuel in his rural development drive, giving it increased traction. As such, many more rural road projects are under construction, in joint sponsorship with Rural Access and Mobility Project -2 (RAMP-2). Some of them include: Premier Junction – Umabor – Mbu Road in Eha-Alumona; Umaji-Umuida Road, Igbo-Eze North Local Government Area; Ihe-Ogbaku rural access road in Awgu LGA; Neke – Eha Amufu bypass across the thick forest of Umualor Community; 16km Eha-Ulo/Eha-Etiti/Eha-Ndiagu-Mbu road; and Premier Junction – Umabor – Mbu road.
On other frontiers of rural infrastructural development, the first phase of the Enugu State Secretariat annex has been completed and the ongoing Nsukka township stadium has reached advanced stages. In the judiciary, new court buildings, open registries and modern customary courts have been constructed in rural areas to facilitate fair hearing, resolution of conflicts and speedy dispensation of justice.
The yawning gap between the quality of education in the rural and urban areas is being bridged by the governor’s grassroots development agenda, through infrastructural rebirth and a string of other reforms in the sector. Thus far, thousands of primary and secondary school teachers have been recruited and deployed to meet local education needs. Tens of rural schools have benefited from the construction and renovation of classroom blocks, equipped consequently with modern facilities and instruments of teaching and learning. Offices and hostels across the six education zones of the Post Primary Schools Management Board (PPSMB), covering all the rural areas, have been constructed to compensate for severe deficits. Governor Ugwuanyi has also procured and distributed thousands of lockers, chairs, marker boards, desks, ceiling fans, computers, science equipment, etc. to rural schools to facilitate conducive teaching and learning and provoke innovation-based education.
It is no coincidence that the first degree-awarding institution in Education in the South East, the Enugu State University of Education, is under construction on the rural landscape of Ihe, Awgu LGA. This legacy project promises to create hundreds of direct and indirect jobs for the rural population and magnet a chain of external investments. The governor has thus planted a viable seed which will bear fruits for generations to come in the host community and the state at large.
Another crucial component of Governor Ugwuanyi’s grassroots development agenda is the rural health sector, which had wallowed in dilapidation for years. Through the governor’s network of interventions, new realities in this regard are emerging. Several district hospitals and health centres in the rural areas have been constructed and renovated under the primary healthcare programme. Immunization of rural children have been sustained and continuously expanded to accommodate other pertinent health challenges. The Ugwuanyi administration launched the all-important Universal Health Coverage as well as intervened and integrated faith-based rural health facilities into the Free Maternal and Child Health Programme.
Some of the numerous ongoing infrastructural projects in the rural health sector include: the 200-bed Specialist Hospital, Igbo Ano, affiliated to the ESUT College of Medicine being instituted in Nsukka; upgrade and rehabilitation of general hospitals including the General Hospital Ogrute, Enugu Ezike and Nsukka District Hospital; and the construction of 7 units of Type 3 Primary Health Care Centre in 7 rural LGAs.
To address headlong security challenges in the rural areas, the governor set in motion a couple of reforms and projects. He instituted a 1,700-personnel Forest Guards which he empowered with 260 motorcycles and 300 bicycles; purchased 260 vehicles for the community policing operations of the repositioned Vigilante/Neighbourhood Watch groups and constructed a new 76 Mobile Force Squadron Facility at Ekwegbe, Igbo-Etiti LGA. These and more have reassured the rural population of their safety as they go about their everyday legitimate endeavours.
In recognition of agriculture as the mainstay of the rural economies, Governor Ugwuanyi, through his ongoing grassroots development agenda, has boosted the sector through strategic policies and projects. Approval was given and counterpart funds paid for the establishment of two World Bank projects, namely IFAD and APPEALS programme for women and youth agricultural empowerment. The governor has also purchased over 20 tractors for mechanized agriculture to automate processes and enhance productivity.
On other human development vanguards of the governor’s grassroots development campaign, hundreds of rural traders have been empowered with N50,000 each under the Enugu State Traders Empowerment Scheme. In a similar vein, 750 youths were empowered in various skills acquisition under the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) programme. Over 471 autonomous communities in the state have benefited N5 million each from the N10 million naira to be disbursed by the Ugwuanyi administration under the “One Community, One Project” scheme.
Governor Ugwuanyi’s grassroots development agenda tells the story of a man from a humble background who rose to the zenith on the shoulders of diligence, hard work, integrity, morality, determination and the fear of God, and thus felt firsthand the pangs of rural neglect and malgovernance. He is righting the wrongs of years past by re-integrating the hinterlands into the affairs and benefits of governance, through infrastructural renaissance and multidimensional economic development. Project by project, the Governor is challenging an unhealthy tradition of rural-urban bias and provoking new pacesetting trends. We are not yet where we want to be, but I am sure that we are no longer where we used to be. Out of the shadows and shackles of the traumatic and inglorious abandonment of the past, emerges a resilient rural personnel grinding out rare survival through the easement offered by the Ugwuanyi ‘s administration. In the words of Kahlil Gibran, “out of sufferings have emerged the strongest souls; the most massive characters are seared”.
Steve Oruruo is the Special Adviser to the Governor of Enugu State on Information