Politics

Gov. Mbah’s one year anniversary attracts mixed reactions on Enugu’s future

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Mr. Peter Mbah, the governor of Enugu State, on May 29, officially marked his first anniversary in office. It has been an eventful one year for a governor, who came to power following a bitterly contested election, one, which many argue, for good reasons, was manipulated in his favour, against his Labour Party opponent, Chijioke Edeoga.

But the election and its controversies have faded into the distance, as Enugu people have fully accepted the new sheriff, who came on board with the famous ‘Tomorrow is Here’ slogan, and have braced for life under his stewardship. And walking through the streets of the capital city, and interacting with residents a fortnight ago, as part of a project to access his performance thus far, it was obvious opinions have vastly shifted.

“People say that Sullivan Chime is the best governor we have had so far, and that’s true,” said Ekene Nwobodo, a tricycle rider at Gariki. “But with the way Peter Mbah has started, he might surpass Chime. To be honest, Mbah is doing well in terms of building roads, and we’re all happy with what he’s doing.”

Moving round the metropolis, one could see that numerous inner roads have been given facelift, even if there are questions regarding their quality. As part of activities to mark his first year in office, Mbah has commissioned 71 street roads in Enugu city, and announced that work had begun on 80 more roads, while assuring that the 260 wards in the state will also get 10km of road each.

Demolished Holy Ghost park

Speaking at Mount Street/Umuchu Road junction, Idaw River, where he performed the commissioning of Idaw River, Uwani, and Coal Camp Zones, Mbah said government had a policy to ensure that all Trunk A and Trunk B roads in the urban and rural areas were paved, while noting that he’s in government to serve the people by providing basic amenities.

“We want to ensure that you have access to every basic amenities: things like paved road, water, and electricity should be taken for granted. These are basic amenities and should be taken for granted,” he said.

One of the roads done by Mbah in Enugu

“Last year, we flagged off the construction of 71 urban roads. Today, we are commissioning those roads as a part of the interventions.
“But you haven’t seen anything yet. The 71 roads are just the phase one. We are about to embark on another 80 roads construction. Beyond that, it is also heartwarming for us to note here that we are not leaving our rural communities behind. We plan to do 10 kilometers per ward across the 260 wards.”

Some of the roads commissioned to mark his first anniversary were Broderick Street, Silver Smith Street, Asata Mine Road, Ogbete – Jamboree – Ajogwu Road, all at Coal Camp, as well as Emeka Ebila, Idaw River Secondary School Road, Umuchu Street, Omachiani Street, Iloh Franco Street, St. Charles Street, Umu Ohachie Street, and Ozoude Street, as well as Meniru Street, and Mount Street Bypass, all in Idaw River.
Others were Bishop Anyogu Street, College Road, Edeozie Street, Kenyatta Street to Timber Road under Uwani Zone and St. Peter’s Road, Odudukoko Street, the Garki flyover as well as four flyover ramps at each of Garki and Amechi Awkunanaw flyover all in Gariki Zone.

Speaking further at St. Peter’s Road, Gariki, Awkunanaw, Mbah assured residents that Awkunanaw and any part of Enugu yet to get pipe borne water that his government was equally working day and night to complete the reticulation work that would get water to them.

“Please just give us some time if you haven’t started getting running water in your houses. Water is coming,” he said.

“You will also have your streetlights mounted and all the children we have in Enugu State today must have access to the Smart School because we want to produce smart Enugu children. This is essentially what we are in government for – to ensure that governance gets to the grassroots.”

But in delivering projects, Mbah has also ruined livelihoods and businesses with his numerous demolitions, which haven’t gone down well with many, who have been affected. A large chunk of the popular Holy Ghost area, opposite Ogbete Market are in ruins, with structures pulled down and businesses destroyed to pave the way for the construction of Enugu modern bus terminal.
To build the Nsukka terminal, a large chunk of the popular Ogige Market, the largest market in Nsukka, has also been pulled down, infuriating many, who wondered why such project could not have been sited within the less built-up outskirts of the town.

“It is not a must that a bus terminal will be sited at Ogige, when they could have easily done that around Queens or even Opi Junction, where you have vacant lands,” said Tony Ezema, a shop owner at the market, whose shop was demolished.

The government says it provided an alternative location at the ‘Ultra-modern Market’, Aku Road, Nsukka ‘with over 5000 new shops,’ but Ezema says the market is not enough to accommodate those displaced by the demolition, even as he argues that many traders cannot afford to buy shops there.

“The Sunday-Sunday Market at Aku Road that they are talking about, it is not enough,” he said. “Again, shops there are expensive, even at Ikpa Market, where some people are moving, shop owners there have started hiking prices. If you manage to get a shop, it means you will no longer have money to do business.”

Road done by Mbah

The demolitions also drew the ire of Chijioke Edeoga, the governorship candidate of the Labour Party in the 2023 election, who accused the Mbah government of disobeying court orders and usurping the constitutional powers of local government areas, noting that demolishing people’s places of business without plans for alternatives would increase the suffering of the people.
In a statement recently, Edeoga also lamented the destruction of a private polytechnic belonging to a charismatic preacher and founder of Madonna University, Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ede, expressing dismay that the government went to demolish the institution of higher learning in defiance of an order of the court.
He also lamented the dislocation of businesses without prior notice, saying such actions are indicative of the insensitivity of government to the plights of the people.
“The demolition of shops, a section of the Ogige Market is also quite troubling. This is because of the dislocation of hundreds of businesses on which the livelihoods of ordinary people and their families are dependent.
“Interestingly, these businesses were forced, only a few months ago, to pay huge taxes and levies on those shops. It is curious that the Enugu State Government waited until it had collected these levies and taxes before destroying the sources of those funds.
“While it is understood that some of those areas demolished have constituted challenges of congestion and are due for some form of urban renewal, it must be recognized that no urban renewal activity has ever happened in one fell swoop.
“Development, especially as it affects urban renewal is an incremental activity that takes cognizance of impacts on persons and businesses. A government that is genuinely focused on renewal approaches such changes with the well-being of the people as its priority.
“This is why it raises serious concerns that the government of Enugu State began these activities without any form of consultation with the people and communities affected. More serious is the fact that there was no plan for relocation of those businesses to other locations before the demolition,” the statement continued.

Similarly, the All Progressives Congress (APC) in Enugu last week, threatened to sue the governor over the demolitions. Ugochukwu Agballah, the state chairman of the party, who spoke to journalists on Wednesday, said the government’s demolition of the Holy Ghost/Railway/Okpara Avenue axis, Abakpa Market, Gariki Market in Enugu, and Ogige Main Market in Nsukka was not in the interest of the Enugu people.

He alleged that the government did not provide alternative places or pay commensurate compensation to the affected people.

“The demolition of Holy Ghost/Railway/Okpara Avenue axis Enugu, Gariki Market and Abakpa Market also in Enugu and the Ogige Market in Nsukka has led to untold hardship on the affected families.

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“The government must carry out a cost-benefit analysis before embarking on demolition if, indeed, it is for the people,” Mr Agballah said.

According to him, the demolition violated the constitutional rights of the people to own property.

On the alleged multiple taxes, Mr Agballah said, “What is called a tax in Enugu state has become extortion, ranging from land rent, property tax, sales tax, income tax, rates and levies.”

The State Commissioner for Information, Aka Eze Aka, when contacted, however, claimed that the government fully compensated those affected by the demolition before the exercise.

According to Aka, the demolition was to enable the building of modern motor parks and eliminate hoodlums, who had taken over some motor parks in Enugu. He assured that, “We will not be distracted by those, who are angry, because of our numerous achievements in just one year.”

Support for the governor also came from Chime, who was governor between 2007 and 2015, and is generally regarded as the best governor the state has produced since 1999.
Speaking at a state banquet held at the Old Government Lodge, Enugu, to mark the governor’s first anniversary in office fortnight ago, Chime said Governor Mbah had literally turned Enugu into a construction site, while water was no longer a source of high blood pressure for him and most residents.

“I am thanking the governor and his team for what they have been able to do so far. Personally, in my house, I have a tanker that I use to supply water. My tanker was using 400 liters of diesel. My blood pressure used to rise each time they wanted to buy fuel that they would use to bring water. But we now have water.

“So, all these things are impactful on the lives of the people. The problem we have as a people is that we always forget where we are coming from. But I assure you that by 2027, His Excellency will not need to campaign for his second term. It happened during our time. In 2011, the people we didn’t even know people were campaigning for us and it will happen again for Mbah,” he stated.

Citing personal experience, Chime reminded the governor that criticisms would always come from political mischief makers and those, who could not imagine where he was taking the state to, but assured him that the same people would still turn round to sing his praise at the end of the day.

“You all would remember, when we were in government, the criticisms, and the shouts. Anytime we wanted to embark on development, they would start negative talks.

“When we entered Polo Park Mall to develop it, there was no kind of abuse I didn’t get. A reverend priest used my name for a mass sermon. There was nothing he didn’t call me. He said I was collecting a source of survival from the poor. Nobody knew what the government was about to do. But when it came up, the whole mouths that said bad things started saying good things about me.

“In fact, when I started seeing and hearing about demolition, I told myself that it seems like government is back; a government that wants to work is back because overseas, when we went to South Korea in 2011, government was destroying old structures and rebuilding them into something new and presentable.”

Generally, many residents of the state have only praises for the governor, whom they say have shown seriousness in his first one year, a departure from the uninspiring tenure of his predecessor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

“Mbah has started well,” said Ken Nnaji, a youth leader in Amechi, Nkanu. “Apart from physical infrastructure, he is also initiating reforms. He has blocked almost all the avenues politicians used to siphon government’s money and introduced a central and digital means of payment, among other things.”

“The governor is trying,” said Ukamaka Asogwa, a teacher based in Abakpa area of the state. “At least, we have water now, but it’s not regular. It stopped running for days before it came on again two days ago. But generally, I’ll say he’s working. He’s constructing roads. The challenge now is that dust is killing us everywhere and traffic is also a big problem because roads are blocked.”

On his campaign trail Mbah promised to resolve the acute water scarcity challenge in Enugu within his first 180 days in office, and on Saturday November 25 last year, he inaugurated 120 million litres of water supply scheme, comprising 70 million litres of water scheme in the 9th Mile area of the state, and 50 million litres at the Oji River area.

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The projects, according to the governor, had the capacity to deliver 120 million litres of water daily to the Enugu metropolis and its suburbs.

Since the commissioning, however, water remains a huge challenge in Enugu metropolis and beyond. Many parts are yet to be covered, and places covered don’t get regular supply.

Dan Nwomeh, the Senior Special Assistant on Media to the governor, explained, however, that the challenge has been that of distribution, as according to him, the pipes were busting.

“Before now, what we had was occasional 2m to 2.2m litres a day in Enugu. That was the situation we met in Enugu as at May 2023, but today, daily production levels have hit 120m litres per day,” Nwomeh said.

“However, when we generate water and transmit to reservoirs in the city, you then have to distribute. When we started distributing, we noticed that pipes were busting everywhere in Enugu. This is the challenge we’re dealing with now. Those pipes are now being excavated and replaced.

Some of these pipes were laid during the colonial era, so they are old. They are now being replaced. So, the issue we’re dealing with now is distribution, not generation or transmission.”

Economic Reforms

Unable to separate politics and governance, one of the Achilles heel of Mbah’s predecessor, Ugwuanyi, was dedicating a chunk of the state’s resources to attend to “stakeholders” of the state, but Mbah has shunned this practice and brought professionalism in governance.

“One thing I love about him is that he has sort of retired Enugu so-called stakeholders,” Nnaji said. “I heard he told them plainly that his contract is with Enugu people.

“Tax reforms have been introduced, and revenue leakages blocked.

“He blocked almost all the avenues politicians used to siphon government’s money and introduced a central and digital means of payment,” explained Nnaji.

“Korope mini bus and other commercial commuters were made to pay directly to the coffers of the state government, thereby drastically reducing the work of touts at the parks.

“I heard too that his commissioners are groaning because it’s not business as usual. All the avenues that were opened in the past for them to amass wealth have been effectively blocked.

“Workers are groaning too because he takes attendance to work, especially on Mondays, very serious. There was a month he penalised workers, who skipped work on Mondays by slashing their salary.”

But complaints about increased tax burden have grown loud. Recently, tipper drivers staged protests about the hike of their pay for a trip of sand from N500 to N1,000, even as traders have groaned about their annual taxes being hiked. But the governor’s spokesperson, Nwomeh, argues that the complaints are unfounded, noting that it’s because the people of Southeast are generally not used to paying taxes.

“It depends on how you look at it,” Nwomeh said. “Let me give an example. Shop owners, say in Ogbete Market for instance, were paying maybe N2,000 a year to government as tax, and then government raises it to N21,000, translating to N1,750 a month, and maybe that’s not up to N70 a day, and that’s what you are calling tax burden. The truth is that our people are not used to paying taxes, and when you make them to pay tax, they will start complaining.”

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Insecurity

Coming to power, insecurity was one key challenge waiting for the new helmsman. The Monday sit-at-home order enforced by a band of gunmen claiming to be loyalists of the detained leader of the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB), Nnamdi Kanu, had threatened to cripple commerce in Enugu and other states of the Southeast. In Uzo Uwani, Isi Uzo, among other places, herdsmen wreaked havoc and prevented farmers from accessing their farms.

The governor upon assuming office, declared an end to sit-at-home, and got the federal government to deploy solders across the state to forestall possible attacks by the gunmen. It achieved results.

“Something must have made him declare an end to the sit-at-home menace that had previously disrupted economic and social activities in the State because it’s on record that since he declared the end to it, the dreaded unknown gun men have not attacked anyone in the State for coming out on Mondays,” remarked Emeka Ude, a business owner at Garki.

The sit-at-home menace has, indeed, eased across the region, but attacks and abductions by herdsmen and other criminal elements continue to reoccur. Recently, the governor proposed to establish a ranch in Uzo Uwani, one of the hotbeds of the herders attacks, as a way of resolving the issue, but the move has been staunchly opposed by the people of the area, IPOB and, indeed many in Enugu and beyond, who insist that no land in the region should be ceded to herders.

Regarded as stubborn by some, Mbah has not let opposition to any policy he thinks necessary dissuade him, but the ranch proposal could be one hot topic he may have to think twice about, given the deep seated sentiments involved.

Education/Health/Community Devt

The Mbah administration has come under criticism for what many in the communities have alleged is forceful takeover of their lands. But this is mostly on account of the administration’s inability to do adequate sensitisation as it embarks on community development projects.

To enhance education, the administration says it is building 260 smart schools across the state, with each community getting one. Similarly, the administration says it is building same number of health centres in communities across the state.

But as tractors move in to clear lands for these projects, tension have risen, with communities accusing those involved of land grabbing. This, Nwomeh said is borne out of ignorance.

“Government wants to bring a smart school in your community. Government cannot just enter a community and take lands. But you know that even the Land Use Act empowers the government to take land for the overriding interest of the public,” he said.

“It is the people of your town that know your town well that will show government where they have decided that the smart school should be built, unless the community is saying that they don’t need a smart school.”

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