Crossing Idodo river on make shift bridge
CHRISTOPHER ISIGUZO TELLS THE SAD STORY OF SOME COMMUNITIES IN NKANU EAST LOCAL GOVERNMENT OF ENUGU STATE THAT ARE STILL LITERARILY TRAPPED IN THE STONE AGE WITH BARELY ANY MODERN INFRASTRUCTURE
In recent times, the local government system has come under serious scrutiny as major stakeholders seem divided on whether or not the system should be retained. Their position arises from the fact that despite its classification as the third tier of government and indeed, the arm of government supposedly closest to the people, its performance has left much to be desired.
It is believed that managers of the local government system are more interested in dipping their hands into the treasury each time they receive monthly allocation, to the detriment of the people such resources is meant for and thereby retarding development at the grassroots. It is the position of such school of thought that the tier of government should be scrapped since the purpose for its creation has been defeated.
However, another school of thought thinks the local government system may have performed below par because of its ‘strangulation’ by the state governments under the State/Local Government Joint Account system. To them, instead of scrapping the system, it should be made more autonomous in order to be able to deliver the goods.
Caught between the two schools, THISDAY undertook a tour of the Nkanu-East Local Government Area of Enugu State, classified as one of the remotest council areas in the state to see the way things have gone with them; whether they have been touched positively or are the worse for it. The tour turned in shocking discoveries in this council that was created over 20 years ago and boasts prominent people including governors, senators and senate president.
It was indeed a difficult one to believe with regard to level of lack of modernity in terms of amenities and access. It was unbelievable that in the 21st century, there are still communities that have not experienced vehicular movement since their existence. There is a pronounced lack of basic amenities like electricity, hospital, modern housing and schools among others, which to them still remain the exclusive preserve of those in the urban cities.
Mildly put, even at a time, when the world is becoming a global village with modernity as the order of the day, some of the communities in this local government are still living in the Stone Age. Movements in and out of most of the communities are either by foot or bicycle for those who can afford them. The most horrifying discovery in one of the communities of Amankanu is that the people still convey pregnant women in labour to where they could be delivered of their babies using wheelbarrows.
The council area has communities bordering Ebonyi State to the east, an area of 795 kilometres and a population of 148,774 based on the 2006 census. It is predominantly swampy, rich in fertile land. It also has great lime stone deposits, a raw material used in cement production. Most communities in the council area are situated on difficult terrains that make movement to neighbouring communities a nightmare. Lack of connecting bridges across many rivers in the area is one of the greatest challenges of the people that make them lament that they live in different worlds even when they are just few kilometres apart.
For instance a man that lives at Amankanu, Owo, Ubahu or Amechi-Idodo who wants to visit the council headquarters Amagunze would have to travel westward to Enugu first, a distance of about 30 kilometres before detouring by bus to Amangunze, a distance of another 30 kilometres, before accessing the headquarters. Ordinarily, the journey would have taken just few hours to cover the 23 kilometres to Amagunze from Amaechi-Idodo community. The roundabout movement is as a result of lack of accessible road and bridges to cross the Inyaba and other rivers that separate Amagunze community from the rest of Nkanu East communities.
Even though most communities in Nkanu East share similar experience of lack of infrastructure, the story is however worse for Amankanu community. Amankanu is the last community in the northern part of Nkanu East local government bordered by Ubahu, Umualor in Isi-Uzo LGA and Obeagu in Ishielu LGA of Ebonyi state. From testimonies of the natives, no vehicle has gone into Amankanu community in history. Most of the communities at present access themselves by foot across locally made wooden bridges. In present age, most of the places are still littered with shrines.
The journey through the communities were severally punctuated as this reporter had to remove his shoes to wade through murky terrains as well as narrow bush paths since the only accessible roads are virgin roads being constructed by the Council Chairman, Pastor Sam Iyiogwe.
A villager, Chief Nnaji Ude who painted a picture of gloom said: “there is no hospital up till now. We use wheel barrow or motorcycle, for those who can afford it, to transport women in labour to faraway places like Ubahu or Eha-Amufu in another local government to deliver their babies”, noting that since he was born, he had never seen a vehicle within the precincts of the community. Ude appealed to the state and local government for the provision of such amenities like hospitals, electricity, good roads and construction of link bridges to enable them relate with their kith and keens in neighbouring villages.
On his part, Hon. Thomas Ugwu who works with the local government expressed dismay over the plight of his community, saying, “sometimes we use barrow to push pregnant women, some use bicycle to evacuate our farm produce. We can’t even sell because there is no thoroughfare here. Within 48 years of my life, I have not seen a car in my community. Sometimes women die before we get to Eha-Amufu or Ubahu carrying them in barrow”.
Patricia Igwe who put her age at 68 said in most cases where they could not access either wheel-barrow, the only alternative left for pregnant women is either to seek assistance of local native doctors or such a woman would be left to her fate. He said such facilities as routine immunisation had eluded them for many years until recently, adding that even those on national youth service have continued to reject postings to the communities as a result of the absence of social amenities. School children, she said, still trek a distance of 25 to 30 kilometres to get to their school every day, a situation she said was completely pitiable.
However, in the face of this gloomy picture, some of the residents said things are gradually changing for the better since the present administration at the council under Iyiogwe came on board as he has embarked on construction of bridges, culverts, as well as opening of new roads. They are of the belief that the situation in the area would require the combined efforts of the local, state and federal governments for them to have a new lease of life.
Speaking on the development, the council chairman, Pastor Iyiogwe, said he met a deplorable situation in most of the communities when he assumed office last year, noting that virtually every part of the council required urgent attention.
According to him, the council has already begun the construction of a bridge across Ora River so that vehicles could begin to go into the disconnected community. The council chairman has also graded the 12.3 kilometre virgin road from Ubahu to Amankanu to create a thoroughfare and liberate the community from their present hardship. He equally pledged to commence constructions of school, hospital and extend electricity supply to the area as much as fund would permit him to.
Apart from Amankanu, the stories of other communities in the local government are not different. For instance, Owachi, Odobudu, Ndiagu-Omulo, Owo and Ubahu communities were virtually inaccessible before Iyiogwe assumed office. Odobudo is a community few kilometres from Emene in Enugu East local government, but there was no road to the place until the council opened one from Ugbo-Bishop, where the Catholic Church has the permanent site of Bishop Okoye University. The 27kilometre road with 22 culverts has now given access to Owachi, Odobudo, Ndiagu-Omulo, Ohani, Ubahu, Owo, Obinagu and Mbulowo, linking the communities to 7th Mile that terminates at the Enugu-Abakaliki expressway.
The council chairman said that one of the challenges he encountered on assuming office last year was how to link up the communities disconnected by lack of culverts and bridges, adding that absence of basic infrastructures also contributed in retarding development in the council. Though he said his administration had embarked on over 77 projects since he assumed office, the dire need in the council had made it look like a drop in the ocean. According to him the council had commenced the mobilisation for opening of the road from Amagunze village to the Idodo riverbank where the construction of the bridge is expected to take place, adding that there are two other rivers between Amaechi-Idodo and Amagunze, which the administration was set to build.
“We have approached our governor, Sullivan Chime, on the matter and he has promised to help us construct the bridge because some communities are trapped there. We want to start opening up the place to Ezeama, Amaechi-Idodo. We have to find a way to cross the river because it makes things difficult for our people. There are Umunevo-Amagunze, Amaechi-Idodo Obinagu and some other communities cut off by the river. If the bridge is done, it will also be beneficial to Ebonyi State people. It will cost a lot of money but the governor has promised to help us”, he said.
While disclosing that work has commenced at the Amechi-Idodo-Owo_Ubahu road which is about 10.7 kilometres, the chairman further enthused that by the time the bridge across Idodo river was completed, it would go a long way in easing movement while expressing hope that the state government would come to their aid in attending to the myriads of challenges facing the people of the Nkanu-East.
He also disclosed that his administration spent N10 million in order to fix the council headquarters as he met the area in a terrible state. According to him the area was in shamble as he had to renovate the office blocks. “It was in shamble. We are to do roads and drainages within the council headquarters because it is usually flooded during the rainy season,” he said, adding that funds had remained the greatest challenge of the council in spite of the other challenge of being the recipient of the least allocation in the state.
No doubt, the situation in Nkanu-East council of Enugu state is better experienced than imagined. It would no doubt require concerted efforts from both the government and private sector to fix the area to the level that it can at least feel like part of 21st century Nigeria.