Isi-Uzo: Prototype of Enugu’s Changing Development Narratives Under Mbah  

Obiora Obeagu

Isi-Uzo is a rural area and one of the oldest local governments in Enugu State, sharing borders with Benue and Ebonyi States. It ranks low on the bottom rung of the ladder as one of the least developed LGAs in the state. Lack of requisite infrastructure has stalled its socio-economic development for over 48 years of its existence as a Council. The burgeoning agri-business of the agrarian populace of Isi-Uzo has equally been mired by insecurity: farmers-herders’ conflicts, banditry, and sundry criminalities. The lurking complexities of this underlying insecurity triggered a December 2022 unprecedented crisis that turned Eha-Amufu, in Isi-Uzo, into a ghost town. It saw the people – leaders, elders, youth, women and children – scatter across Isi-Uzo and neighbouring communities.

Therefore, the 2023 general elections came at a time when the people of Isi-Uzo, like the psalmist wrote in Psalm 121, lifted up their eyes to the hills and wondered where their help would come from. However, though Isi-Uzo people were united in that prayer, they were divided in where the answer to the prayer would come from. But Governor Peter Mbah’s manifesto was laden with humongous and clear vision: To grow Enugu State’s economy from $4.4 billion to $30 billion; to make Enugu the premier destination for investment, business, tourism, and for living; to eradicate poverty, just to name a few. Thus, it was not surprising that our people, in their thousands and against all odds, chose capacity over kinship. But the good news is that he has given those who stuck out their necks to fight for his victory causes to thump their chests about the choice they made. 

Dr. Mbah’s ban of illegal sit-at-home a few days after his swearing-in was a signpost that it is indeed business unusual. The action sent a glimmer of hope to Ndi Enugu and the hopeful agrarian people of Isi-Uzo, whose economic potentials and freedom have been battered by over 15 years farmers-herders conflicts and banditry. This is because to the people of Isi-Uzo, their very vast and arable land resources remain their oil well. With our untapped land and natural resources, Isi-Uzo has the capacity to become the hub of agri-business in Enugu and neighbouring states if our agro-potentials are well harnessed.

Today, Mbah is taking some unprecedented, strategic steps to address the age-long and hydra-headed security challenges in Eha-Amufu and Isi-Uzo. The context and content of his kinetic and non-kinetic actions mark a remarkable departure from the norm. He is deploying security, infrastructure, and agriculture produce city projects to confront these challenges. For instance, there is an ongoing 22km asphalt road, with drainages, bridges and culverts, from Agape area to Orie-Ogbete in Mgbuji farm settlement. It is the first in the history of our people by any administration in the State.

The nature of the soil and dilapidated roads in Eha-Amufu and some other Isi-Uzo communities make the farm settlement terrains inaccessible and worse during rains. This mega project is already addressing problems of bad terrain and tackling insecurity, as local farmers, who hitherto deserted their farms out of fear have gone back, in their numbers, to farming this season. The project is poised to revive agri-business and bolster huge economic development with the re-establishment of the popular inter-state Orie-Ogbete market. It was abandoned over two years ago, after heavily armed and camouflaged bandits from neighbouring state swooped on our people and massacred them in their numbers on 6th January, 2022, burning them along with their shops and goods.

What’s more? Presently, there is ongoing road intervention by the Mbah administration to link these vulnerable Isi-Uzo communities and enhance security operations from Ikpapkara Aguamede – Uzam Ado–Odoba–OnuAdo–Orenu – Ojeshi–Akpugo flushing out to Ikem-Nkwo road that links Enugu and Benue States.

Very significant also is  the ongoing construction of the 40km Owo-Ubanu-Amankanu-Neke-Ikem dual carriageway. This road will now serve as a gateway to the North Central. For instance, those traveling to the North from Ebonyi and parts of South-South like Cross Rivers wouldn’t need to go through 9th Mile. Governor Mbah has also promised to open up the about 17.5km Ikem-Nkwo-Odenigbo Eha-Amufu-Ichama-Benue State road that will join the Owo dual carriageway where it terminated at Ikem. These projects will  spring up new businesses.

The Mbah administration has equally set up a military camp at Ogbete and security buffer zones across the affected border communities and flashpoint areas in Isi-Uzo LGA. Presently, there are over 200 military and security forces across Eha-Amufu communities of Eha-Ohuala, Aguamede and Ikem-Nkwo in Isi-Uzo to sustain security operations around the forest zones and border areas. The planned military barracks and restructuring of local security will ensure proactive operations, while the innovative Enugu State Security Trust Fund activated by the government will enhance and guarantee sustainable security interventions. The measures are yielding positive results, as the usual stories of killings, kidnappings, and burning of houses and properties in Isi-Uzo are fast waning. Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) have also returned to their communities.

In the face of dwindling oil resources, our ailing economy and high rate of unemployment in the country, agriculture is the way to go. Governor Mbah has set machinery in motion for the innovative Produce City projects in Isi-Uzo and other parts of the state. This will, among others, harness arable and fallow land banks for commercial agriculture projects involving production, processing, packaging and marketing of farm products like rice, cassava, palm oil, yam, maize, among others. The government is gathering data with plans to integrate local farmers into the project and empower them with agricultural inputs. This will help them engage in large scale agriculture that will create wealth and improve their livelihoods. And only a few weeks ago, the administration sealed a N100bn deal with a private investor to revive the moribund United Palm Products Ltd palm plantations established by the Dr. Michael Okpara Government in the 1st Republic.

Malcolm X, a US civil rights activist, described education as the passport to the future, for tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today. I have always said that education is the sure road to freedom for our disadvantaged children, our hope for tomorrow, in rural areas whose only crime is being born into poor families in our local communities with a poor learning environment. But that is going to change with the smart school project initiative of Governor Peter Mbah, the first of its kind in the country and possibly in Africa. It will provide a world-class learning environment and equipment. Each Smart School comprises an interactive digital whiteboard, an internet system, robotics and artificial intelligence centre, modern ICT centre, two science laboratories (for primary and junior secondary), hybrid multimedia library, creative production studio, 25 inclusive classrooms and 700 Android tablets.

Currently, Smart school projects, scattered across Enugu’s 260 wards, are ongoing in 9 out of the 11 wards in Isi-Uzo. The Governor said the smart school will provide free education for early years to Junior Secondary 3. This will drastically reduce the number of out-of-school children and curb the proliferation of quack private schools in education for business in the state. Teachers are being recruited and trained for the task ahead. The provision for teachers’ quarters will curb the menace of teacher absenteeism and lost teaching hours.

Nelson Mandela said that Education is the most powerful weapon with which you can use to change the world. For me, the smart school project is the best revolution to not only Enugu State, but Africa and the Governor has laid foundation for human empowerment and legacy that will shape the future of our successive generations and give the state a quantum leap. 

There is a popular saying that health is wealth. The Mbah administration is facilitating access to quality healthcare for our rural populace, especially women, children and the aged. Government’s plan to construct 260 Type 2 Primary Healthcare Centres is also rubbing off well on Isi-Uzo where such constructions, including living quarters for health workers, are ongoing. Aside from ridding the system of decrepit health structures, it will ensure access to modern medical facilities and healthcare with doctors and nurses on ground.

Governor Mbah is strategically opening up new economic corridors in our localities and Enugu State. He is leveraging on his enormous and digital wealth of experience in public and private sectors to reinvent governance in Enugu State. His 521.5 Billion 2024 “Budget of Disruptive Economic Growth” was a marked departure from the norm. With N414.3 billion capital expenditure over N107.2 billion recurrent expenditure, it carries weight with potential to positively impact the development trajectory of our dear Enugu State. It is, therefore, not surprising that BugIT ranked Mbah Administration the most prudent and least recurrent spender among the 36 states.

My encounter with Governor Peter Mbah reveals a leader with intellectual prowess, who is passionate about his people and, who is ever poised to translate his vision into action. There is hardly anything more obvious than the fact that he is delivering on his promises. Enugu State is witnessing unprecedented projects and transformation across key sectors like Education, Health, Agriculture, Security, Roads Infrastructures, ICT, among others.  The 180 days commissioning and delivery of promised water, renewed the hope of a better life for Ndi Enugu. The revival of moribund assets like the abandoned Hotel Presidential and Enugu International Conference Centre, coupled with the recent flag-off of 5-Star Hotel project will boost tourism and the economy of Enugu State.

One year is too short a time to determine if an administration has delivered on its four-year mandate or not, but it is enough to check if the proper foundations have been laid and if a government is on the path to deliver on its promises. So far, Governor Mbah has laid a solid foundation and is on a sure footing and path to transforming Enugu State. And his many completed, commissioned and ongoing projects  like roads where he recently commissioned 71 urban roads, the smart schools, Command and Control Centre, Primary Healthcare Centres, etc, bear testimonies to his commitment and determination.

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