By Uchenna Nwatu
Few highway stops during my childhood holiday trips with my parents ever captured my imagination like Ore, in Ondo State, and 9th Mile Corner, a popular terminus for the weary traveller and corridor for north- or east-bound vehicles.
While Ore was particularly memorable for the horrid gridlock travellers experienced as they plodded through kilometres of treacherous roads, 9th Mile on the contrary evoked pleasant memories, first for the convivial air it exuded as loud highlife tunes and indigenous gospel songs blared from rows of stalls and, secondly for the opportunity it presented for children to splurge on the many local snacks hawked by traders who seemed to become even more unrelenting the more they are shooed away by parents.
But the intervening decades brought a somewhat reversal of memory, with the 9th Mile road experiencing a period of constant deterioration that would later result in a nightmare traffic while Ore has since shed its once notorious image. The effects of the collapsed 9th Mile were often severely felt during the Yuletide season given the understandably high traffic caused by the massive influx of Igbo sons and daughters returning to their country-home for Christmas. The story until three years ago was one of sheer frustration. There were, indeed, accounts of travellers spending hours, and even Christmas Eve, in the 9th Mile traffic.
Although the 9th Mile intersection has today witnessed a substantial upgrade, with a number of bypass created to further aid traffic decongestion and give motorists diverse options – a luxury they could not have contemplated years back – it’s hard to miss its subtle sub-text, especially in a campaign year where, a candidate whose administration had fixed the rot is pitted against another who could easily have facilitated its rehabilitation long before the former’s ascendancy, but curiously did not.
The latter candidate referenced here is former Senator Ayogu Eze, who was chairman of Senate Committee on Works in the 7th Senate (2011 – 2015), a period that witnessed the near total collapse of the 9th Mile Corner and the roads leading to it. As chairman of that committee, former Senator Eze could have influenced the rehabilitation of this important federal road that is both an access route to the Enugu – Onitsha Expressway and Nigeria’s northern flank via the 9th Mile – Oturkpo – Makurdi Expressway. The reason the roads were not fixed is a puzzle which only former Senator Eze himself can resolve.
And how sorely he must be wishing that he had, for it is certainly a failing that has come back to haunt him as he launches a bid for Enugu State’s top job, fully aware that the road in question – despite being a federal infrastructure – has been given a major facelift by his fellow contestant and incumbent helmsman of the state – Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. A sense of how mortified former Senator Eze has felt, apparently, as a result of his non-action on that road while he was chair of the Senate’s works committee could be discerned from the fact that his headship of this influential committee was missing in the profile section of his official campaign document.
The profile section of his manifesto, instructively, gushed about how he “distinguished himself as a member of various committees: Police Affairs, National Planning, Information and Media, and Federal Character & Inter-Government Affairs”, adding that “by 1999, he has become the face of the Senate, a darling of the media… (and) ran the information machinery of the Senate like no other to date.” So was the omission of former Senator Eze’s headship of the works committee simply an oversight? Again, it’s a question he alone can answer. What is not in doubt though is that had he utilized such influential position to attract federal projects to Enugu State, the state government wouldn’t be seeking a refund of over N22bn it has spent fixing the many collapsed federal roads in the state. That is no way to treat a people whose votes you hope to solicit someday.
However as I drove through 9th Mile last week, I couldn’t help viewing the current excellent state of the roads as self-validating points that further strengthen Governor Ugwuanyi’s bid for reelection. Few years back, it would have been a different sentiment altogether when the roads were still in a horrible condition. But the governor responded to an expedient situation which, to all intents and purposes, has been the hallmark of his administration to date. And that has been the difference as the Enugu electorate prepare to vote in the governorship election, early next year.
Another point I find especially gratifying is that the policies of the Governor Ugwuanyi administration have never even remotely seemed like they were conceived with a desire to secure the electorate’s support. They have mostly been shaped, in my view, by the conviction that governments should always be accountable to the people; that the rural dwellers are just as entitled to the good life as their city counterparts; and that high-density suburban communities are not locations politicians should visit only when elections are nigh. These are no campaign rhetoric, they are democratic virtues embodied by the incumbent governor of Enugu State and candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party.
If it were not so, then nearly all the infrastructural projects sited across the state including in the remotest regions would not have been conceived, let alone implemented. No doubt about that, the 9th Mile intersection and all the adjoining roads would have still retained its previous sorry state because the governor could conveniently had found solace in this excuse: “It’s a federal road!”
I find such philosophy as embodied by Governor Ugwuanyi a lot more welcoming compared to former Senator Eze’s disconcerting reference to the prospect of being governed by one in the same party as that at the central government, as the reason why the people should vote for him. Flaunting political affiliation to the ruling government has become rather staid, especially where the other contestant has shown a sufficient capacity to respond to the yearnings of the people. That is a lesson former Senator Eze ought to have learnt. It’s all about the people.
–––Nwatu, an archivist, lives and works in Enugu.