At 25, Enugu is a Study in Resilience

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By Laurence Ani

There are some rural visits I undertake – and there have been quite a few – that often leaves me wondering what such communities would have looked like decades back. So each time there is a debate on the aptness of creating additional states, I naturally recall such visits.

As states grapple with the challenge of paying workers’ salaries in face of dwindling revenue from the federal purse, the entire process of states creation has come under fresh scrutiny, with some critics even suggesting a return to regions as was the case in the First Republic. Proponents of this bizarre step apparently attribute the current cash squeeze to Nigeria’s multiple state structure. What they fail to reckon with is that the regions as constituted in the First Republic were to a large extent autonomous.

So even if all the states were collapsed into regions while the pseudo federalism we practice subsists, the socio-economic problems will only worsen because the country’s population had more than tripled since the regional era. In fact, such regions will be in pretty much similar dire straits as their obligation would by no means shrink. Despite all its flaws, additional states have significantly helped governments to extend their reach and bring the social benefits of governance to communities that would have otherwise been shut out as a result of their location.

In the 25 years of its creation (the state was among 12 new states created on August 27, 1991), Enugu State has experienced some radical transformation with salutary outcomes. Many villages have since shed their rural status in what has become, largely, an inexorable march to modernity. The state now teems with many urban townships, a far cry from what it was years back when hardly any location barring the capital could rightly be described as a bustling metropolis.

Enugu has over the period too shed its unflattering image as a “civil service state”, a moniker which hinted at the absence of industries and a thriving private sector. Today, there is a rising middle class whose earnings do not necessarily proceed from the government’s purse. So, in the same way I ponder how forbidden some communities must have looked like many years ago, I also usually recall how bad the situation once was just a few years back in my village before Enugu State was split from the old Anambra State. Then, you had to traverse several kilometers to access a mere dispensary. There may indeed still be huge areas of need, but there has no doubt been significant leaps of progress.

Since its creation, Enugu State has had nine helmsmen whose imprints are evident across the entire 17 local government areas. However, owing to individual foresight or sheer length of time spent by those who have been in the saddle, the scale and impact of such imprints would understandably differ.

From the early, giddy days of statehood through the rather curious military-civilian hybrid government created by the General Babangida regime, to the certain and occasionally faltering steps seen over the years, the state has always emerged stronger – thanks to the resilience of its people.

Anniversaries such as this help shed light on a people’s history and keep the memories of public servants alight both in our hearts and in print, and lend perspectives to the discourse on how the future could be made even better. In an increasingly cynical world with an obsession for the mundane, it’s very easy for public figures who once held sway to slip into obscurity. Barring the rather frenzied preparation for Enugu State’s Silver Jubilee, I may not have known that another military administrator of the state besides Colonel Lucky Mike Torey had died.

Colonel Sule Ahman, I understand, died in 2007 at the National Hospital, Abuja, “after a brief illness”. He had, of course, been promoted to the rank of brigadier-general before his retirement in June 1999, a point oblivious to most indigenes of the state he served and for which I got a mild reprimand from another ex-administrator, Navy Captain Temisan Ejoor. “Commodore,” he said curtly on the phone as I sought to know if I was “speaking with His Excellency, Navy Captain Ejoor”. He would later ease my discomfiture by assuring me that his wife would assist with an updated profile of his that I had requested. And, truly, the good-natured former Enugu State First Lady, Rev. (Mrs) Florence Ejoor, did not disappoint. So, today’s anniversary is a celebration of legacies bequeathed by the state’s past leaders.

There is often the niggling temptation to re-examine legacies and make comparative assessments of the various administrations that have graced the Lion Building since the creation of Enugu State. But as the governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, had rightly noted, all such vainglorious tendencies should be repudiated. For him, the efforts of past leaders of the state – either appointed or elected – have been more or less a question of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

It was heart-warming to hear the state’s last military administrator, Navy Captain Benson Agbaje, express similar sentiments. “Please note that our greatest achievement is successful transition to civil rule. All other achievements are merely incidental,” he wrote, in a prompt reply to my inquiries. Coming from a leader who restored the payment of years of pensions arrears during his administration (August 10, 1998 – May 29, 1999), it was indeed humbling.”Of particular concern to me is the plight of pensioners,” he said in a broadcast commemorating the state’s seventh anniversary. “Our pensioners have made enough sacrifice; we definitely owe them our gratitude and not our indifference.”

Such mindset, happily, still prevails at the Lion Building. And it is epitomised by Governor Ugwuanyi’s unwavering commitment to the payment of civil servants’ salaries and pensions to retired personnel, an obligation that remains mostly unfulfilled in about 30 states. Yet, that is not a reason to gloat, for as the governor would always insist, obligations such as these and a lot more are the raison d’etre of governments across the world.

Enugu’s continued success is a tribute to prudence, fidelity and enterprise. It is as well a function of the resilience of its foremost city and capital, Enugu, and of course its inhabitants. The city attained prominence in 1909 after the discovery of coal deposits in vast swathes beneath the Udi Ridge by a team of British geologists.

That discovery was the catalyst for the sustained migration to Enugu recorded in the early 20th Century. So, Enugu State may have been created 25 years ago, but its capital had long been a preeminent settlement and the oldest urban area in the South-east.

With such an enduring history and remarkable score on various socio-economic indices, it’s no surprise then that Enugu was listed recently as one of the world’s “100 Resilient Cities”, by the Rockefeller Foundation. Enugu was just one of five such cities in Africa cited in the report and the only in Nigeria.

Indeed, these cheery state of affairs may rightly be ascribed to the people’s resilient spirit, but it’s no less a question of providence. And no one aptly captures this better than Governor Ugwuanyi, with his optimistic quip: “Enugu State is in the hands of God”.

* Ani is Senior Special Assistant on Research and Communication to the governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.