From a Glorified Village to a Sprawling City
Benjamin Nworie writes that Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State, has witnessed tremendous renewal since Governor David Umahi assumed office.
The story of Ebonyi State has changed overnight. New things have begun to emerge in droves. Ebonyi people and residents of the state are now happy to say they reside in the state christened ‘Salt of the Nation’. Formerly, any person living in Ebonyi State is either classified as a ‘poor man’ or it was a state that people referred to as a backward state. However, all these classifications were true, though bitter.
Abakaliki before now, was a city that couldn’t boast of good and motorable street roads. It had no night life, all social amenities and identities of new cities were scarce commodities and the city was simply abandoned.
Before the emergence of David Umahi as governor, the Abakaliki capital city was a glorified “village” in most eastern states. Just within 18 months in office, Umahi has changed the story of the backward city. Umahi has set the pace for reference and emulation by his fellow governors. The 18 months of the administration of Umahi as the Governor of Ebonyi State have been revealing and most historical. It is an administration that has taken centre stage in infrastructure revolution, delivering and focusing on his campaign promises. Since Umahi assumed office, the state has witnessed tremendous achievements especially in urban renewal.
Testimonies of Umahi’s modest achievements will reverberate in 2017 when President Muhammadu Buhari would be expected to inaugurate most of the gigantic projects of the governor. Although, inauguration of projects have long started when Umahi began to inaugurate most of the roads, street lights and bridges. Abakaliki capital city now ranks and competes favourably with major cities in the country. The Closed Circuit Television (CCTV) networks mounted at the major roundabouts in the state capital is uncommon feat that has reduced and changed the impression of many on the strict security network in the state.
It was not magic neither was there miracle or another manna falling from anywhere except the meager monthly allocation accruing to the state government. It is a product of prudence and transparency in financial management. The governor adopted a new leadership dimension, which he has advocated to free Nigeria from the economic quagmire. At many fora, the governor has advocated that all levels of government in Nigeria should be handled as a business. In Ebonyi State for instance, it all about business.
Over 90 per cent of all the projects in the state are executed under direct labour with the supervision of the state Ministry of Works. The governor, as an engineer by profession has inculcated his discipline into the service of the state. The governor has baited and assured that all his projects would last more than 50 years. On a daily basis, the governor would put his wealth of experience in engineering work to bear and make sure that all the projects are done according to specification. This way, he must have curbed the incessant contract inflation which crippled the last administration and was responsible for the litany of uncompleted projects by Martin Elechi’s administration. The state Commissioner for Works, Engr. Fidelis Nweze, has been a supportive and dependable pillar for the massive construction works in the state.
Nweze’s team has flagrantly pushed Umahi’s vision and mission in infrastructure development to unimaginable height. The governor has disclosed that any money above N100, 000 that will not be used immediately would be fixed to generate interest. So far, the state government has generated huge sum of money that can attend to other critical needs of the people. At this time, Ebonyi need critical leader like Umahi who also knows the business aspect of politics, by transmuting all raw materials to cash and reinvigorating the need for tax payment to boost the internally generated revenue which is actually yielding positive results.
Umahi came on board and blocked all loopholes created to loot and siphon state funds. Apart from urban renewal, the governor has added another feather to his empowerment programmes. It is remarkable that Umahi’s welfare programme for the betterment of Ebonyi people has remained an assessment index for his overwhelming performance. Over 3000 youths have been penciled down for empowerment scheme. They are to benefit about N250, 000 each to start-up menial businesses.
The governor’s idea is that if these unemployed youths, most of whom are hawkers in the major streets of the country are meaningfully engaged, crimes and other social vices might be reduced to a reasonable percentage in the state. It has baffled onlookers the miracle of the governor in tackling most of the infrastructural and financial needs of his people at the moment, the economy of the country is in recession. The state university which is at the centre of the Abakaliki city is also undergoing structural transformation. December 3, 2016 was a day the university community may not forget in a hurry. It was the first day; the governor visited the permanent site of the university.
The visit has no doubt contributed immensely to the growth and development of the state. The university is seen as the only industry of the state government. But recent happenings in the university have endangered the concept of its establishment. Students decry the lack basic facilities. School fees were hiked in 2008 by the Elechi’s administration without corresponding provision of amenities to better the lots of the students and school. The increment in school fees generated ripples and violent crises that almost pulled the immediate past administration down.
But in the character of the former governor, all agitations and demands fell on deaf eyes. It was on this basis that Umahi rose up on December 3, to pronounce the unexpected reduction of school fees by N10, 000 which represents about 25 per cent of the total fees in all the categories in the university. The jubilation and cheers from students, workers and onlookers shook the walls of the university main auditorium, venue of the event. The reduction was mostly not thought for at least in the face of recession. But the governor decided to take bull by the horns in delivering all he promised during his electioneering campaigns. The reduction would take effect from 2017.
The governor has painstakingly transformed the ignoble and excruciating outlook of the capital city, which did not receive the touch of the previous administration. The expansion of the capital city is in full force. The vision of the governor is to make Abakaliki capital city the best in the country. The journey to the actualisation of that dream has long begun. The reconstruction and rehabilitation of most of the deplorable urban roads is a litmus test of the governor’s commitment to making the city befitting and centre of attraction.
Many urban roads measuring over 350 kilometres have received the touch of his administration. The dualisation of the Abakaliki-Enugu expressway that is part of the trans-Africa Mombasa highway will definitely be a good site in the Abakaliki new city. And where roads go, street lights follow to ensure adequate security. Before now, Abakaliki city has been in blackout halting and paralysing economic activities. The street lights have also fine-tuned night activities. Businesses of all forms are booming. Traders have started smiling over reduction in crimes. The demolition of all antiquated roundabouts in the capital city has received the commendation of the people. The demolition was necessitated by the fruitless efforts by the state government to beef up the outlook by constructing fountains on it. Though the fountains worked temporarily, the commitment of the governor pushed him into total demolition for befitting fountains.
Works have been going on simultaneously on the four roundabouts that were demolished, reaching advanced stages of completion. Last month was another history making moment for the people of Ebonyi State and supporters of Umahi’s-led administration. The dreams of Ebonyi founding fathers came to bear. Umahi led an everlasting and historical legacy for the Salt of the Nation. Umahi and stakeholders gathered at the first flyover to test run it. It was a moment of joy. The governor, out of jubilation popped champagnes for the realisation of his dreams. The dream of making Ebonyi great through landmark infrastructural development.
The need of the flyovers at International market, Spera Ndeo and Presco junctions cannot be over emphasised. It is to ease perennial traffic snarl which has affected human and vehicular movements. The Commissioner for Information and State Orientation, Senator Emmanuel Onwe noted that the flyovers constitute just one, but major component of the solution to the infrastructural jigsaw of Ebonyi State. “It is a super structure. You find right now, three flyover bridges, one of which has been tactically completed. The semi-inauguration that took place was just an indication to Ebonyi people and to Nigerians that yes, we can do this. I personally, it took my breath away being on top of that bridge seeing Abakaliki in a different vista. “It was a wonderful achievement that was accomplished within 14 months. There is another flyover bridge at Presco junction with 80 per cent completion and there is another one at the International Market which is more than 60 per cent done. In addition, we have a pedestrian bridge at the permanent site of the university.
“Within Abakaliki metropolis, I can count 37 roads that are re-laid, reconstructed, rehabilitated or constructed newly. Some have bridges, coverts and dual carriage ways. In order to continue in that line of creating a proper metropolitan city, he has gone to ensure that where road goes, street light follows and so on,” Onwe said.
The governor said that he would embark on the construction of three additional flyovers at Union Bank, Vanco and Nkalagu junctions. The Deputy Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Hon. Francis Agwu noted that never in the history of the state has any governor achieved what Umahi achieved within the same space of time. Agwu added that on a modest comparison, Umahi has achieved what his predecessors could not achieve in four years.
“We are grateful to the governor. We all know how Abakaliki capital city used to be. In less than two years, he has turned the story around. If you come to the city now, you will see massive inter-city road construction works. Our roads are now motorable. If you ply the roads, you will not experience any gallop. In fact, mechanics are complaining of low patronage,” he said. In order to sustain the environmental cleanliness and evacuation of heaps of refuse dumps scattered along major streets and roads in the capital city, the governor has appointed Technical Advisers on Environment. Their mandate is to ensure the daily cleaning and supervision of the capital city. As the yuletide approaches, new aura of the season has started to blossom in the city. Christmas lightings with adoring colours have added a new look, mostly at night.