ECHOES OF NIGERIAN TRAVAILS @ 60 AND GOVERNOR UGWUANYI’S SILENT STRIDES

Sixty long years after gaining Independence from the protracted shackles of British colonialism, Nigeria remains a nation gasping for breath aboard a ship in the foggy horizon of turbulence, despite all the spirited efforts from one administration to the other. Still trapped in the debilitating matrix of neo-colonialism and bedevilled by the hideous monsters of ethnocentric jingoism, religious bigotry, flailing institutions, ideological vacuity, economic malaise, indiscriminate killings and social instability, Nigeria at 60 is justifiably headlined by a sombre reflection rather than fireworks ripping across the skies. Or how else can one possibly explain the seemingly insurmountable deficits in governance, from the post-independence republic through the military interregnums to the current political dispensation that epitomize our multidimensional catastrophes?

In the words of the literary sage, social critic and activist Chinua Achebe, “The trouble with Nigeria is simply and squarely a failure of leadership. There is nothing basically wrong with the Nigerian land or climate or water or air or anything else. The Nigerian problem is the unwillingness or inability of its leaders to rise to the responsibility, to the challenge of personal example which are the hallmarks of true leadership.” Uninterruptedly across six decades, not only have some corrupt elements within the political class remorselessly embezzled our common patrimony, they have weakened the beacons of our nation’s democratic institutions, robbed the people of their dignity, jeopardized our economic potentials, squandered our collective prospects, and eroded the cherished values integral to our proud African heritage.

The socioeconomic class polarity in Nigeria portrays a deepening chasm between the haves and the have-nots; overlords and serfs, political gladiators and minions; the privileged and the downtrodden caught in an unmatched battle between the bourgeoisie and the proletariat. Millions of our people who are born into destitution in the midst of unharnessed resources, misappropriated wealth and needless wastages; see their chances of a dignified living slide into the oblivion of hopelessness with every setting of the tropical sun. The Nigerian humanity is hence defaced by a spectre of suffering, malnutrition, diseases, injustices, depression, suicide and preventable deaths. Such agonizing imbalance is also manifest in the rural-urban contrast.

After decades of being afforded the rare privilege of fresh starts, the nation remains several light-years away from attaining political freedom, security of lives and properties, civil liberties, press freedom, electoral sanctity, practical egalitarianism, and inclusive economic sustainability. Insurgency which has survived three regimes consecutively and claimed thousands of lives, continues unabated while increasingly assuming dangerous political undertones and nomenclature; culminating into Boko Haram, armed banditry, kidnapping, wanton annihilation of human lives, and roguery of diverse dimensions. If answers have not been provided for the repeated massacre of tens of security personnel attached to the convoy of a serving Governor, what becomes the fate of the masses in total consternation as fear and terror run a giant of a nation ragged? The rights of the people to self-determination over the years are flagrantly subjugated through the abuse of political power and horrendous shades of electoral fraud in spite of the frantic attempts by the present administration to curb the menace. Yet, INEC’s performance in Edo State Gubernatorial election in conjunction with the unshaken resolve of the electorate remain a glimmer of hope. Some quarters of the Fifth Estate, entrusted with the mandate of curbing the excesses of leaders, are utterly compromised and often recruited as leprous arms of repressive cum insipid political regimes.

Still operating a monolithic economy since the advent of oil exploration, the Nation, 60 years after Independence, reels on the throes of economic recession, deficit balance of trade, regular astronomical hikes in fuel price, outrageous electricity tariffs, and unstable commodity markets; no thanks to the ravaging and debilitating effects of the pandemic mixed with human error. As at June 2020, Nigeria’s total debt stock, both foreign and domestic, stood at an appalling 31.01 trillion naira. In what epitomizes utter anomy, only about 19% of this debt load has been invested in infrastructural development; the rest have been funnelled into recurrent expenses. A new proposed Chinese loan of $5.3 billion for the Ibadan-Kano railway is a subject of nationwide outrage and contention, for its potentially enslaving clauses that raise national sovereignty concerns. Nigeria already owes China about $3.1 billion, more than 10% of the $27.6 billion external debt stock, many of which we will be servicing till around 2038. The nation is blindly and rapidly creeping back into the dungeon of colonization, disguised in contemporary times as unserviceable indebtedness. We are already borrowing the future of our generation unborn. Then who will pay? Certainly not those whose sun is already set, who are old and are logically set to leave the political stage any moment from now. So what does the present administration expect of the younger generation, who practically have no say in the leadership of today and out of school with neither blue nor white collar jobs? These are the links to part of the massive and unbridled crime rate staring at all of us today.

As a people, have we honoured the painstaking labour of our heroes past who doggedly championed and chaperoned our independence or have we condemned their unmitigated commitment and industry to the bottomless doldrums of vanity, in stark contradiction to the proclamation of the national anthem? Those radical icons, activists, liberal minds, eccentric thinkers, true patriots and socialists were united above ethno-religious alignments and primordial sentiments, to liberate the most populous nation in Africa from the manacles of the British feudal lords. They were committed to nationalism and democratization geared towards nation building. Today, persisting realities are at odds with antecedent projections; our democracy and political institutions remain infantile and feeble; leadership integrity is rarer than astatine; to quote Chinua Achebe’s immortal masterpiece, Things fall apart. In the most recent 2020 Fragile States Index, powered by The Fund for Peace, Nigeria is ranked 14th, only above volatile hotspots like Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Syria, Congo (Democratic Republic), Central African Republic, Chad, Sudan, Afghanistan, Zimbabwe, Cameroon, Burundi and Haiti. This indexes what is our voluminous compendium of woes and degeneracy, negligently incurred from one regime to another.

The nation continues to fall short of modest expectations, in even the most critical sectors of the economy. For instance, aggregating the pathetic fact that 47% of Nigerians do not have access to grid electricity, the economic cost of power shortages in Nigeria according to World Bank is estimated at around $28 billion, equivalent to 2% of its Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Even with daily electricity generation stalled at an insufficient average of 3,600 megawatts (MW), the electricity tariff was increased from 30.23 Naira per kwh (kilowatt unit of energy per hour) to as much as 62.33 Naira per kwh, a compounding burden on the impoverished masses. The education sector, which should be the mitochondrion of economic development, a catalyst for credible leadership recruitment and chaperone of digital evolution, has not received deserved attention. In the 2020 appropriation bill, as if in conformity with the precedence since 1999 till the last administration, only 6.7 percent of the budget (671.07 billion naira) was allocated to education, a far cry from UNESCO’s benchmark of 26% of the national budget or 6% of the gross domestic product, GDP. With 10.5 million children out of school, Nigeria has approximately 20% of the total out-of-school children population in the world.

The electorate, the masses; victims of maladministration must speak the truth to the volume and vortex. The people must rise up in support and constructive criticism to spur governments at various levels into optimal performance. Nigerians should not reduce themselves to a generation of impotent and lachrymal people now weeping about “bad governments” and ruing our historical standing without first re-jigging the regressive strategies of apathy, indolence, docility and criminalities. It is a kind of nostalgia that is both deadly and defeatist because it continues to romanticize the past while the future speeds away. We must not forget to appraise our leaning as to whether we are on the side of positive resistance to enthrone functional institutions with patriotic citizenry or part of the gruesome and installmental decimation of all vestige of historical heritage of our fatherland.

It is a brazen incongruity to watch a very informed populace led by her inferior and still maintain a deafening silence while democracy is routinely eviscerated by a bunch of characters riding on the crest of the electorate’s ignominious acquiescence. (“Those who are too smart to engage in politics are punished by being governed by those who are dumber”- PLATO). This is a debacle that places guilt on all of us. Therefore, under trial is not only the quality of our Government or leadership models, but that of our citizenship too.

It is thus apt that on this 60th commemoration of a historic milestone, we congratulate all the leaders who are the embodiment of the visions, values and character of our founding fathers. Steadfastly committed to the philosophy and ideals that underlay the Independence movement, His Excellency Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Lawrence Ugwuanyi remains the epitome of progressive leadership; a proponent of political probity, accountability, integrity, credibility, ingenuity and transparency.

In 2015, through the instrumentality of victory at a gubernatorial election, Governor Ugwuanyi entered into a social contract with Ndi Enugu, sending signals of reinvigorated hope, unprecedented tranquillity and sustained growth to the people. He committed himself to enhanced social services, good governance; rural development; employment generation, security and justice. Ndi Enugu renewed their implacable trust in the personality of the Governor by delivering a resoundingly flawless mandate to him at the 2019 polls; thus imbibing in His Excellency a robust impetus to further stretch the frontiers of good governance.

For the five brilliant years he has been in office, Governor Ugwuanyi has wilfully donned the toga of disarming peace, uncommon honesty, judicious management of taxpayers’ money, accountability and ascription of relevance on all persons no matter how lowly placed. In spite of the dire financial straits which heralded the beginning of his two terms, he has skilfully grown the IGR profile of Enugu state through curbing of unnecessary expenditures, plugging loopholes of misappropriation, diversifying the economy and a diligent removal of bureaucratic duplicity. He has fostered goodwill and imbued conciliation across the socio-political spectrum.

The governor has constantly acknowledged the civil service as the kernel of his government and indispensable stakeholders in potent leadership. No wonder he invented and sustained the culture of paying salaries on or before the 24th of every month and the novel additional 13th month salary. His government’s promptness in implementing the New National Minimum Wage depicts his unflappable commitment to this pool of extremely resourceful, very dedicated and consummate workforce.

The most recent credible indices show that Enugu is one of the safest states in Nigeria; a reward of Governor Ugwuanyi’s deliberate, assiduous and strategic efforts at re-jigging the state’s security architecture in resonance with rapidly-evolving dynamics. In discharge of his constitutional responsibility to secure lives, properties and interests, considered primary by our nation’s founding fathers and as the Chief Security Officer of the state, Governor Ugwuanyi has been investing massively to sustain Enugu’s thriving amity. It is no longer news that he procured and donated 100 units of Innoson Vehicle Manufacturing (IVM) patrol vans with communication gadgets to security agencies in the state; instituted and enabled the pioneering 1,700-personnel Forest Guards and repositioned the Vigilante/Neighbourhood Watch groups in the state.

Governor Ugwuanyi’s rural development agenda is systematically rebalancing the scale of the discriminatory rural-urban contrast. He has willfully discountenanced with the parochial misconception that development can only be justified to have been achieved if weighed via the precincts of urban renewal. In his regime, rural communities have been remembered with basic social amenities; new territories charted; villages connected; and economic-oriented rural-urban linkages established. The governor’s rural development agenda has been in measured sync with his urban renewal goal, both coalescing into inclusive non-discriminatory movement. From the valleys of the Milliken Hill to Opi Nsukka dual carriageway; from Ebonyi River bridge Ikem to the bridges in Udenu ring roads; from Iva Valley road in Enugu North LGA to Nkalagu-Eha Amufu road neglected for over 35 years; from Ukpabi-Nimbo-Ugbene-Ajima-Eziani road to Neke-Mbu-Ogbodu Aba-Obollo Etiti inter-community road linking Isi Uzo and Udenu LGAs; from Inyi-Akpugoeze road in Oji River LGA to Ituku road in Awgu LGA and down to Amurri road in Nkanu West LGA, to mention but a few, Governor Ugwuanyi has courageously toppled the biased structure of the rural-urban dichotomy, deploying reticulate road networks to liberate rural dwellers from years of socioeconomic strangulation. He is fulfilling the earnest wish of our founding fathers that no one is left behind, regardless of demographic, socio-political or ideological leanings.

The agenda to deliver quality, accessible and affordable healthcare has been pursued by the Ugwuanyi regime with unyielding determination and resolute poise. The Governor completed and equipped the ultra-modern Diagnostic Centre inherited from the previous administration; upgraded seven general hospitals; constructed and renovated district hospitals and health centres especially in the rural areas; and reconstructed and erected new structures at the Colliery Hospital. Confronted by the strange daunting challenge of the rampaging COVID-19 pandemic, the governor has been innovative and diligent in proactive planning and management, implementation of strategies and inspiring collective action against the vicious foe.

Across all levels of education in Enugu state, Governor Ugwuanyi has championed the renaissance of quality academic training and research in the southeast capital. He has inter alia constructed, renovated and equipped several classroom blocks, offices and hostels across the state via the lethal and proficient expertise of the Chairman of ENSUBEB Chief Ikeje Asogwa and the blistering professionalism of Barr Nestor Ezema who pragmatically but effectively superintends over the affairs of PPSMB. Over 5000 primary and secondary school teachers have been recruited, and another 1,000 existing volunteers converted to permanent teachers, to compensate for yawning shortfalls. Extensive infrastructural development efforts continue to breeze across the latitudes of tertiary education in the state, encompassing the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT) under the enterprising and dynamic chairmanship of Deaconess Mrs Ifeoma Nwobodo, Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT), Enugu State College of Education Technical (ESCET) and Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo. In what is one of many historic firsts, Governor Ugwuanyi is building the first degree-awarding institution in Education in the South East zone, the Enugu State University of Education in Ihe, Awgu LGA.

With a sweeping judiciary reform which is accentuating a judicial system renowned for inalienable independence, robust infrastructure, untainted probity, unscathed transparency and unflagging commitment to Rule of Law, rectitude and due process, Governor Ugwuanyi is building legacies that consolidate on the democratic nationalism and forthrightness envisioned by our founding fathers. Most recently, out of dilapidation emerged a modern edifice that is the State Judiciary Complex, Enugu, the perfect quintessence of Governor Ugwuanyi’s transformations within the realm of the state judiciary. His humongous achievements in other sectors, including agriculture, housing, water supply and sports bear further testament to the integrity, credibility and political will of Enugu’s preeminent servant-leader.

What Governor Ugwuanyi has diligently and pragmatically done to keep the economic shape and peaceful balance of Enugu in a peak period of economic quagmire and security challenges will convincingly resonate in the reckoning of the naysayers when he leaves the Lion building. The Governor has contrived to unite all contending foes with his weaponry of peace, shouldered the burden of chilling tranquillity at the expense of his convenience and sacrificed the paraphernalia, glitz, glamour and exotic trappings of his exalted office at the altar of disarming humility.

As Nigeria attains the diamond age of retirement, it is contingent upon us, on this day of our 60th Independence Anniversary, to reflect on the vagaries of our journey thus far, examine our collective efforts and deficiencies, and to set loftier standards and goals. Even for dedicated leaders like Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State, the desire and commitment to remould our nation should remain rife and unfading beyond the commendable interventions on ground. Even as I sense a divination of renaissance and rebirth of this great Nation, the facts before me present a fragile country on the precipice or fringes of collapse if we do not rally around our leaders. At no time in the history of this Union has the fate of this country been so tenaciously nestled in the hands of both the government and the governed. We must collectively rise beyond the confines of ethno-religious sentiments, sectarian barriers and the attendant recriminations, to commit to a charter of redemption where everyone will carry his share of the cross. We must shrug off the barriers of protracted despondency to rediscover our confidence in God’s infinite powers to navigate this country to safety. In the words of Martin Luther Kings Jnr “I have been driven to my knees too many times because I have no other place to go”. NIGERIA CAN BE GREAT AGAIN. I already feel the drift.

Steve Oruruo weighed in from Independence Layout Enugu

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