Agbaja Marginalization And The Sorry Fate Of 9th Mile


*Agenda For The Incoming Administration Of Peter Mbah

By SHEDDY OZOENE

In his inaugural address on May 29, 2015, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi roused the state with the promise that his tenure would be defined by the development trajectory he would diligently pursue. Of the many facets he reeled out, two stood out. The first was the promise to pay special attention to Nsukka by giving the area a face-lift befitting a university town. He also told the people that “Ninth Mile is an economic hub that we need to harness to enjoy the benefits of our newly-acquired status as a free trade zone…to create fresh economic opportunities and reduce pressure on Enugu metropolis”. For each of them there was a well-deserved applause; nobody would begrudge Nsukka the face-lift that the State’s second largest town rightly deserves. And there was no denying the fact too that 9th Mile occupies a key position in the state’s industrialization plan.

Expectations were high indeed, after-all Governor Sullivan Chime had sold the Ugwuanyi candidacy in 2015 by declaring that he could not have hoped for a better candidate to continue in what many people considered his superlative performance. So, as Gov. Ugwuanyi’s 8-year tenure winds down, it will not be out of place to interrogate that aspect of his performance. And the verdict is obvious: while he may have delivered substantially on the uplift of Nsukka, the promise to upgrade 9th Mile as the state’s major commercial centre was, to all intents and purposes, empty.

Many people believe that the slow death of 9th Mile is the collateral damage that followed the marginalization of Enugu West Senatorial zone, especially the Agbaja area. While one must admit that it did not start with Governor Ugwuanyi, it became somewhat of a state policy during his tenure. Increasingly on his watch, the concept of Triangular Equilibrium which provided a recipe for equitable sharing of political positions and distribution of development projects among the three senatorial districts in the state was observed in the breach. Appointments were made and projects sited without regard to the triangular nature of the state, but in favour of a growing concept of an Nsukka/Enugu dichotomy that relegated Enugu West, especially the Agbaja area to the background.

Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

The administration first set up the Urban Renewal Committee headed by two-time State Commissioner, Chief Chris Offor, ostensibly to recommend projects that will transform Nsukka and 9th Mile areas into urban and commercial centres, respectively. In the end, not much of the recommendations by the committee were made open. It is either Architect Offor and his committee made recommendations only for the Nsukka zone or those they made for the 9th Mile area did not find favour with the administration.

Over the years, Enugu West, especially the Agbaja area, has been relegated socially, politically and economically. The slow death of the state’s once-bustling industrial hub is evidence, just like the unfair distribution of political appointments, development projects and institutions across the state.

Within 40 kilometers square of Enugu East senatorial district for instance, one could count as many as 8 flourishing tertiary institutions owned by federal or state governments, private concerns and religious missions. While the new Enugu State University of Medicine and Applied Sciences (SUMAS) has sprung up in Igbo-Ano in addition to the existing University of Nigeria in Nsukka, the best that Enugu-West boasts is the one part of the Enugu State Polytechnic in Iwollo. While the main campus in Iwollo remains a glorified secondary school, another campus is fast developing in Ezzimo, Udenu local government area, home town of Chinedu Onu, Chairman of the institution’s governing board. Within the same period too, the State government is believed to have influenced the siting of a new federal institution, the Federal Polytechnic, Ohodo in Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area.

While a sprawling new State Secretariat Annex now adorns the landscape of Ede Oballa in Nsukka, the city also boasts a new Conference and Recreation Centre in addition to a completed 8 kilometre Opi-Nsukka dual carriageway. Also thanks to the Offor committee’s recommendation, Nsukka now boasts a new 5,000-seat capacity Township Stadium, the 31-kilometre Udenu Ring Road and the ongoing 27-kilometre Ukpabi-Nimbo-Ugbene Ajima-Eziani Road project. This is in addition to the 76 Police Mobile Force Squadron, Ekwegbe, Igbo-Etiti (constructed by the Enugu State government) and several other road, water, health and power projects in the area.

On the other hand, successive administrations in Enugu state have, by acts of omission or commission, systematically jettisoned the initial vision of 9th Mile as an industrial hub. Nothing better indicates this than the fact that all roads leading into the 9th Mile area have, for most part in the last 8 years, been impassable. Once a converging point for travellers from the North, Nigeria’s Middle Belt, Southern Igboland and Enugu state’s eastern neighbours, 9th Mile has become an isolated settlement with all the traffic now diverted to Enugu. Whether you are coming from the East, West, North and South, commuters no longer have access to the good old 9th Mile where roads from all cardinal points once converged.

Sullivan Chime

The promise of restoring the roads that will benefit 9th Mile and save Enugu metropolis the avoidable traffic build-up that Ugwuanyi spoke of at his inauguration, was not kept. At a time calls were rising for the state government to undertake the remediation of the Obollo-9th Mile federal highway, the state government famously chose to rehabilitate only the portion from Obollo Afor to Opi for what one official called ‘VIP movements’. While this effectively cut off access to 9th Mile, it funneled more vehicles into Enugu metropolis through Ekwegbe.

In the end, rather than develop an alternative road network, it was more convenient for government to undertake the construction of ‘the State’s first fly-over’ at Nike to manage the exponential build up in vehicular traffic, instead. For a project that is largely seen as cosmetic and vainglorious, only the Ebeano tunnel under the rail line at Asata has received a bigger media hype.

The systematic neglect of 9th Mile has been showing negatively in the balance sheets of the giant companies that operate in the area. As the once busy highways became quiet, drivers of articulated vehicles who have severally been promised a ‘trailer park’ that was never built, turned the roads into parking lots. Those companies that could not survive the harsh realities, including the multinational Coca-Cola, closed their factory and moved out. Ecobank, one of the first banking institutions to open office in 9th Mile, also shut down and moved out. Years earlier, Guinness Nigeria Plc that had acquired a 19-hectare land for their first Eastern brewery, decided to invest in Aba instead.

The Lion Business Park is a private concern but the state government showed more than a passing interest by packaging it as a quasi-government project. It facilitated the acquisition of over 2,000 hectares of farmland from Imezi Owa, Eke and Akama Oghe communities for the project which was promoted as an economic game-changer that would accommodate hundreds of small and medium-scale Chinese businesses. Six years down the road, apart from the controversies surrounding the land acquisition, the business park has not moved from the grandiose plan it is on paper.

Governor Ugwuanyi is not alone in this litany of woes for Agbajaland and 9th Mile. The promise to restore the Anambra Vegetable Oil Products, AVOP, in Nachi has lasted through the two preceding administrations of Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani and Mr. Sullivan Chime. The International Market that was already under construction at 9th Mile since 2005 was allowed to die, just like the Ebeano bye-pass, the dual carriageway that took off from the old toll gate on the Enugu-Onitsha highway. Flagged off in 2007 by President Olusegun Obasanjo, the by-pass which signaled a future East-North highway, was motorable for all of 3 years before it was abandoned.

Incoming Governor Peter Mbah

The Ugwuanyi administration will, however, be remembered for two projects in 9th Mile. The first is the 2 kilometer Toll Gate – Ameke Ngwo bye pass; the second is the rehabilitation of the 12-borehole water project completed during the administration of Chief Jim Nwobodo as governor of the old Anambra State. While the byepass has helped in easing traffic flow, controversy has trailed the water project since it became evident that the government did not intend to supply any drop to the host communities of Nsude and Ngwo. While arrangements are in top gear to pipe the water to Enugu metropolis, it is likely that Governor-elect Peter Mbah has factored it into the 180-day timeline he gave for taps in the state capital to come alive again. Meanwhile the giant water reservoir at Nsude and the pipes through which water was once supplied to the host and adjourning communities, will remain dry.

Is there a political dimension to what has befallen 9th Mile? Many people believe there is; what else would make a government willingly strangle a hub that was once touted as the pride of the East and the third leg of the South-East’s commercial triangle after Onitsha and Aba?

Okwesilieze Nwodo

The concept of Triangular Equilibrium arose from the history that preceded the creation of Enugu state. The people had emerged from a bruising encounter with leaders of Southern Anambra, as the Onitsha/Awka/Nnewi axis was known, and the obvious marginalization of Wawa people in the old Eastern Region, the East Central state (1967-1975) and the old Anambra State (1976-1991). They would not wish that their own kit and kin, or any part of Enugu State, suffer such marginalization.

The concept fully manifested during the short-lived administration of the State’s first governor, Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo. The fairness and balance in the sharing of political offices and siting of development projects during his tenure became, perhaps, the most distinctive feature of that era. The idea resonated with most other leaders of the state who saw in it a charter of equity. It remained a guiding rule for succeeding administrations in the state, until the outgoing administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi sacrificed it on the altar of a contrived Nsukka/Enugu dichotomy that relegates Enugu West, and especially the Agbaja area.

The sorry fate of 9th Mile is food for thought for the incoming administration of Peter Mbah. If indeed his private sector background is anything to reckon with, the place to start in his drive for industrialization and job creation is a deliberate policy to restore the once-bustling commercial centre of Enugu State.

Sheddy Ozoene writes from Nsude, Enugu State.


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