Like every other headquarters of a council, Amagunze offers a realistic glimpse of life in Nkanu East, one of the 17 local government areas in Enugu State. Indeed, you actually don’t have to speak to residents to deduce that life here is anything but wholesome. Although a largely agrarian community with vast tracts of arable land, harvest time is seldom ever bountiful for the many small-holder farmers here. It is, rather, a particularly harrowing time – no thanks to floods from the Inyaba River.
When the river overflows, as is often the case when it rains, crops and entire farmlands are destroyed. Also, residents of the over 10 communities on the northern fringe of the river become literally cut off from their kith and kin because the makeshift wooden gangway which ordinarily aid movement is swept away as well by the river’s swift waters. Worse still, the severe floods often hamper the daily commute of students who typically fall behind their peers in examinations which determine promotion to higher classes.
But it’s not that locals fare any better in the dry season particularly with regard to moving their farm produce to the market. That is because vehicles simply can’t drive across the improvised structure.
This has been the situation for decades – a situation so sad that locals seeking to visit their council headquarters located roughly 800 metres away often had to embark on a rather circuitous journey that took them through the Enugu-Port Harcourt highway across two local government areas. There are, in fact, some communities on whose land a vehicle has never ever driven and it’s commonplace seeing women in labour being transported to clinics in wheelbarrows. While such Stone Age scenarios may seem like mere exaggeration in a modern era, they nonetheless underline the degree of lack that a people may experience when literally cut from the rest of civilisation.
The road to redemption began shortly after the inauguration of the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration. Once he was sworn-in, the governor embarked on an assessment tour of all the local government areas. It emerged from the tour that Nkanu East was the least developed council in terms of infrastructural development. Irked by the deplorable state of affairs, Governor Ugwuanyi announced the immediate award of contract for the construction of the bridge across the Inyaba River during his visit to Nkanu East to establish the sorely needed access road for villages such as Amechi Idodo, Amankanu and Ohwo.
The focus on rural communities is consistent with a vision the governor had outlined in his inaugural speech. “Enugu State under us will pay special attention to rural development because majority of our people live in the rural areas. We will create more urban areas to boost economic growth… Giving attention to these places will speed up urban development, create fresh economic opportunities and reduce pressure on Enugu metropolis.”
So, to the governor, the situation in communities contiguous to the Inyaba River was an expedient one for which no bureaucracy will be tolerated. So, it wasn’t long before contractors were mobilised to site, a huge contrast to past experiences when campaign rhetoric was hardly ever matched with the requisite action. The council chair, Mr. Ikechukwu Ubagu, noted that the governor would not have known the sort of grim situation faced by locals barring his visit to their community. “He walked on this wooden makeshift bridge,” Ubagu recalled, “and decided to come to our aid. This is like a rescue mission for Amagunze and Amechi Idodo communities.”
The resident engineer from Enugu State’s Works Ministry, Mr. Christian Ovute, recounts the experience he met on ground: “The experience cold best be described as disastrous. For the villagers, once it rains heavily they cannot access the market at the other side of the bridge. I have experienced one rainy season here. For three months, this place was not accessible due to flooding.
“This river has split the local government into two. People coming from Amechi Idodo and beyond cannot access their secretariat which is just a stone throw from across the river. They go round Enugu Four-Corner through Agbani before they can get to the secretariat. But with what we are putting on ground, 2016 will be the last such experience they would ever have. These bridges will solve the problem of containing the water, and then allowing traffic and humans to pass through them.”
Indeed, the plaudits for Governor Ugwuanyi has not ceased since construction of the bridges began. “We pray God to protect Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for us so that this project and other projects across the state will be completed successfully,” Maureen Nweke from Ozama Agu, one of the communities that bore the heaviest brunt when it rains. “We are grateful to God for sending us a saviour in the person of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State. We pray God to prosper him in all his endeavours. God will shield his family from the eyes of the wicked ones.”
Expectedly, the villagers are looking towards the future with optimism. With the new project, locals can easily get to their local government secretariat in less than 20 minutes, a journey that took them over two hours when the construction was not in place. The sheer scale of the project and its significance to these communities could be glimpsed further in an encounter recalled by Kenechukwu Ozor, project manager to the contractors handling the project. “One of the villagers told me that even if the governor does nothing else in Amagunze after this project he would always remain grateful to him,” he said.
Such is the excitement in communities contiguous to the river that an indigene and businessman resident in Onitsha had to drive down from the bustling commercial city, located some 90 kilometres away, to simply experience the thrill of a concrete bridge in his hometown. “It was always an unusual experience for me; you can imagine having a car and being unable to drive to your country home. I can’t believe this is happening in my lifetime,” he said, beaming as he took in the sights of Inyaba’s leafy surroundings.
But there is yet another reason to applaud Ugwuanyi soon. The council headquarters is beneficiary of a road project which emerged out of the governor’s determination to spur socio-economic activities in rural communities and reduce the pressure on Enugu metropolis. That vision resulted in the simultaneous flag-off of 35 projects across the state’s 17 LGAs, late last year. The road rehabilitation will commence from Nkerefi and cut through Nara and Ugbawka – villages whose roads have long been in deplorable state despite their status as major hubs for rice cultivation – towards Amagunze which reputedly had the unenviable tag as the only headquarters of a local government area in Enugu State without a well paved access road.
Their completion will bring to an end the embarrassment of always having a smear of red dust for the locals and passengers who commute regularly via that route. So, as the Ugwuanyi administration commemorates its two years in office, there is certainly a lot to cheer about in Nkanu East.
* Ani, formerly Editor of ThisDay, The Saturday Newspaper and later Saturday Telegraph writes from Enugu. He could be followed on Twitter on @AniLaurence and laurenceani.blogspot.com