I remember vividly the condition of the roads in the former Biafra (now the South East) when the war ended in January 1970. I recall because at a tender age, after our lives and education had been truncated by the war that had broken out three years earlier, we were in a hurry to pick up the shattered pieces of our fragile lives when the war ended in 1970. The start of the war had caught us in our first year in the secondary school and had therefore, put our lives on the pause mode, unless of course, if you factor-in the subsequent month, which most of us spent fighting in the different theatres of the war as boy soldiers.
So, when a few weeks after the guns of battles had gone silent, and the school doors which had been shuttered for three years where re-opening, we made a dash for them from many parts of the shattered East Central State. That was how I and my classmate, Osita Okpaloka, had mounted our rickety bicycles for a gruelling journey of some 80 kilometres from our homes in Aguata LGA of Anambra State to Umuahia to report and register at prestigious Government College Umuahia, which we had abandoned when the war broke out in July of 1967. In comparison to the gruelling activities we had been compelled to go through during the war that had just ended, riding a bicycle – which, in any case was the most reliable and practical means of transportation then, was like a piece of cake. We had left at about 8 o’clock in the morning and had got to our old school, at Umudike, Umuahia at about 5pm. Seeing our school compound once again looked surreal and the feeling was an enough compensation for the long and hectic ride.
The experience on the road and the different incidents that spiced the journey now belong to the realm of the oblivion and so do not belong to this piece. What belongs to this piece is that the ride sort of dissected the current South East zone and it was obvious that the roads which we had followed across the present day Anambra, Imo and Abia States were more or less as intact as they had been left by the visionary administration of Dr Michael Okpara, the premier of Eastern Nigeria. There was no indication that the military administration of Emeka Odumegwu had left any infrastructural or physical developments on the ground in Biafra. And I welcome any correction.
In the past three weeks, I have undertaken road journeys that spanned most parts of the South East and my first and immediate impression was that we had been rewound back to some period in the past. It is clear from the condition of the roads in the South East, especially those owned by the federal government, that someone in Abuja has donated the zone back to Biafra…as the zone could not be a part of Nigeria that is investing billions and billions in infra structural development everywhere else in the country. The two major roads that define the South East, namely the Onitsha – Enugu Road and the Enugu –Port Harcourt highways had since beome death traps. Remarkably, the Enugu –Onitsha highway is a prominent section of the African highway, and while Lagos-Benin- Onitsha section is routinely maintained, every section of that highway in the South East seems to have been permanently abandoned. Yet, this is one of the most commercially viable parts of the country where economic activities largely depend on roads and communication.
Without the diligence of South East governors in the last 12 years or so, the South East would have been a forgotten hell. It is indeed true that every people get a leadership they deserve. In that wise, the South East has been largely luckier than most other parts of the country when one considers the amount of developmental projects and infrastructures that the different state governments have put in place.
Last weekend, I was able to travel around in Enugu State and I was really proud of what is currently happening there. I used to boast that my state, Anambra, under Mr Peter Obi could not be bettered or equalled by any other. But last weekend, I was in Enugu and was driven around some parts of the state that are under-going spectacular infrastructural transformation. Since I left the UNN at the end of the 1970s, I have had only a few reasons to go back to Nsukka and its environs. On those few occasions I was at Nsukka, I sadly observed that the base of Nigeria’s first indigenous university was like a glorified hamlet. I was there, again, last Saturday and was pleasantly astonished at the level of transformation that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is bringing to the university town and the surrounding areas. It is clear that the receding rains had delayed the completion of the massive road construction going on at Nsukka and other parts of the state, but I was told that those roads, as well as others in some other parts of the state would be ready for commissioning in December, by the time the rains would have been gone and the people would be flooding home for the Christmas.
From his predecessor, Sullivan Chime, rural infrastructure in Enugu State has been receiving amazing attention. It has climaxed with Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi who is basically a grassroots politicians and who is visibly better at home with the rural people, hence his preference for rural infrastructural development.
In the face of the federal government criminal abandonment of roads in the South East, the state governments have, in the classical Igbo philosophy of refusing to deny ourselves when other people had done so, taken up the gauntlet, even with their very meagre resources. The federal highway from the North into the South East through Nsukka has since become impassable. But considering how important the road is to the lives and economy of the people, Goveror Ugwuanyi has embarked on a massive rehabilitation of the highway, starting from Obolla Afor.
When the very important Enugu-Onitsha highway became the ultimate death trap, the Sullivan Chime administration and that of Peter Obi’s in Anambra State had rebuilt the old Enugu Onitsha road built by Okpara and it instantly became the road of choice for travellers to the extent that the heavy duty traffic that had totally abandoned the federal highway were diverted to the rebuilt ‘Old road, making it impossible for the road to bear the unprecedented traffic on it, mainly made up of heavy duty trailers and tankers. Inevitably, the road has failed and has become an ultimate death trap and would have spelt a disaster for the people who had depended on the road for their journeys between Enugu and other parts of the South East.
Typically, Governor Ugwuanyi, in appreciation that if that road is allowed in its present condition, it would be a certain Golgotha for people returning home for Christmas, and has embarked on the rehabilitation of the all-important road, meaning that he would put a smile on the face of every South Easterner during this Christmas. That obviously, is what dedicated leadership is all about. One can say, hardly without any fear of contradiction that, with very minor aberrations, here and there, the South East has been consistently blessed with good leaders who have made the people almost forget the structured marginalisation of the federal government.
From the days when the federal government has created death traps all over the zone, the South East governments have with meagre resources risen up to the challenge. Today, Anambra and Enugu States have the best network of roads in the whole of Africa, and by the time Ugwuanyi would have gone through his first term, the situation would have become even better in the other areas of human endeavour.
A very merry Christmas is loading in Enugu and Anambra States. Those are the places to be this Christmas. Not to worry, Imo State of Rochas Okorocha is not quite there yet, but it will undoubtedly get it right soon.