Sonnie Ekwowusi argues the urgent need to fix the busy expressway

Apart from being a veritable eye-sore, the Enugu-Onitsha highway is an albatross of national magnitude. The highway, for me, is a metaphor for the monumental ruin that has overtaken Igbo land since the end of the Nigerian civil war. It beats the imagination why over the years this highway has been allowed to deteriorate so badly that is now impassable. The Enugu-Onitsha expressway is not one small road tucked away somewhere in Igbo land: it is a major federal highway connecting the South-West through River Niger to the South-East, South-South, and Northern Nigeria through Benue and Kogi States. It is an important artery of commerce, culture and race. But unfortunately, as important as the Enugu-Onitsha highway is to the economic viability, cultural integration and national planning of Nigeria, the highway has virtually ceased to exist. It is now encumbered by deep gullies, pot-holes, torn-bushes, thistles and craters which have now rendered the expressway impassable.

Far from undermining Igbo ingenuity, industry and courage; far from denying Igbo marginalization (the worst witnessed in the present Buhari government) but I agree with the out-going Ohaneze Ndi Igbo President General Chief John Nnia Nwodo that Ndigbo should stop seeking alibi in Igbo marginalization. Of course Nwodo does not deny Igbo marginalization. What he appears to be saying could be likened to what Sir Louis Odumegwu Ojukwu said many years ago that “the challenge of disadvantages should be the Igbo man’s gold mine”. In other words, Igbo ingenuity thrives in adverse circumstances. It is still a mystery how the Igbos survived the Nigerian civil war after the starvation and seizure of the monies in their respective bank accounts. So, Igbos can survive under any harsh situation or circumstance. Therefore it serves no useful purpose bemoaning Igbo marginalization. Ndigbo should put their ingenuity and courage to work to secure what is their due in Nigeria. In the First Republic, the Vice-President and Speaker of the House of Representatives were of Igbo extraction. From the Second Republic to date, Igbos had served as the Senate President, Deputy-Senate President, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Secretary to the federal government, etc. At least Enugu State has produced the Senate President and Deputy-Senate President.

The pertinent question: why were the Igbos who occupied the aforesaid top political positions unable to attract enough federal presence to Igbo land? Femi Gbajabiamila, who had barely spent a few months as the Speaker of the House of Representatives, has been able to attract sufficient federal presence to Lagos State. For example, he has been able to get the federal government to reconstruct virtually all the small streets and alleyways in Surulere, Lagos. Visit Surulere, Lagos and see for yourself. Now, why can’t the few Igbo political office holders in this Buhari government emulate the good example of Femi Gbajabiamila?

But come to think of it, does the federal government need to be reminded about the infrastructural deficit in the South-East? Is it not true that 51 years after the Nigerian civil war many parts of Igbo land still look like conquered territories despite Yakubu Gowon’s post-war catch-phrase “no victor, no vanquished”? Besides, the federal government has been dragged to court several times over Igbo marginalization. Go to Owerri, Aba, Okigwe, Umuahia and other South-East big cities and see the dilapidated public infrastructures and public utilities there depicting the cities as glorified villages. The problem is that the government is not sincerely committed to the reconstruction of the said dilapidated infrastructure. For example, oftentimes caterpillars are mounted on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway to give the impression that reconstruction work had commenced whereas there is nothing to that effect. Of course rumours are constantly making their rounds that monies budgeted for the reconstruction of the highway had been routinely embezzled by some Igbo politicians. Now the Buhari government has confirmed that the highway is under reconstruction and will be fully reconstructed in 2021. Going by the old lies and deceptions on the reconstruction of the highway, it is doubtful if reconstruction work will be completed this year. Mind you, the Lagos-Ibadan rail line has been commissioned and now fully operational. When will they approve the Enugu-Onitsha rail line, if any, let alone construct and commission it?

Our greatest undoing in Nigeria is that we always fail to get our priorities right otherwise why should an important expressway such as the Enugu-Onitsha highway be left in a permanent state of disrepair for years? You see, when the Akanu Ibiam International Airport, Enugu was under reconstruction most Igbo politicians and big men were pressurizing the federal government to urgently finish the reconstruction. Why? Because they travel by air and make use of the Airport. But they forget that their parents, uncles, siblings, town folks, friends, associates and acquaintances are risking their lives plying the dreaded Enugu-Onitsha highway. Little things that make life livable simply do not work. After 61 year, we have not managed to get our priorities right. Imagine a country as big as Nigeria still without constant electricity supply in the 21st Century. Insecurity of lives and property had worsened. Government institutions may appear beautiful from outside but are littered inside with dead men’s bones. The much-vaunted decay in the education sector appears to have no remedy, at least, in the foreseeable. I think our biggest challenge now is to create a new work culture and serviceable public ethics that encourage hard work, honesty, diligence and meritocracy in our public institutions.