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Miliken hill: A relic comes new with fresh possibilities

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Aerial view of the Milken Hill, Enugu


In the life of any person that grew up in the old Anambra State in the 70s and 802 (at least that is the generation I very conveniently find myself), Miliken Hill was one of the legends that made it into the awe-inspiring stories told by those that were privileged to have been born in, or even visited Enugu, the capital of former Eastern Nigeria.

For some of us that did not belong to the two categories described above, Miliken Hill ranked next to the late Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe among those legends we were regaled with in the village by our privileged brothers during the infrequent pilgrimages to the villages at Christmas.

I still remember such stories about the Great Zik of Africa; how he would “transfigure” to a butterfly each time the colonial masters came to arrest him for his strong anti-colonial rhetoric; how he stunned Queen Elizabeth by showing up at a meeting in London seconds after his name was mentioned during a meeting held to assassinate him; how his knowledge of the English Language confounds even the colonial masters who’s be searching for some of his words in the dictionary while th Great man moved on to achieve more for the liberation of his people.

Nothing was more exciting than sitting were an Enugu returnee was holding court, awing his captive audience with such beautiful folklore. Those who told the stories (there are usually many versions, depending on the creativity and motivation of the teller as well as how rapt the audience were in paying attention.

Miliken Hill, or Ugwu Miriky as the less educated ones called it, had its own share of the legend. People spoke of how steep the hill was that vehicles would roll backwards while climbing it. Others would tell of some spirits that populated the area that pulled off the windy road, any vehicle whose driver ventured to look down the valley. Some would say you dared not drive through the road at high noon, especially because that was when the spirits that “owned” the place held their meetings.

I know I heard that Miliken, the man in after whom the cluster of hills was named, was a white man who had come to capture some Africans for slavery and who was overpowered by the brave Igbo people in the area who subsequently killed him and buried him there. The story had it that it was his restless spirit that hovered the lush green hugging hills and is only pacified when bottles of schnapps are thrown into surrounding greenery.

Most people in my generation would by now have forgotten these childhood “thrillers” and mysteries about this all important heritage of the people of not just Enugu State, but the entire south eastern Nigeria, until the current governor of Enugu State, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuayi, reconstructed the famous Miliken Hill road hither to abandoned to disuse since, having had to makeover since it was constructed 109 years ago.

For historians, tourists and even the people of the old eastern Nigeria, Miliken Hill presents a lot more than historical values, bearing as it is, strong emotional intangible capable of further strengthening the bond among the people while also carrying significant tourism deliverables.

That the governor, reputed to have focused on the infrastructure revamp of the state, with road constructions activated in nearly all towns and communities across the state, had the presence of mind to remember this historical road suggests a leader with farsighted interest in preserving history while also creating tourism opportunities with the same stroke.

The communities around this famous historical piece of nature have been disconnected for decades following the dilapidation of built, as history recorded, as a gateway to the site of what is arguably Nigeria’s very first exploited mineral resource. Most of them access Enugu, the state capital through very long detours. How it never occurred to all successive governments to reconstruct the road, if for nothing else, for the historical relevance of the area and the Miliken Hill road itself beats the imagination of every mind given to creativity.

Story of a Hill and its economic underbelly
The story of the pre-independence economic of the former Eastern Nigeria, comprising present day Enugu, Ebonyi, Anambra, Imo, Abia, Rivers, Bayelsa and Cross River States, the entire Nigeria, and, if you want to ebe thorough, the Southern Cameroons, will not have any foundation without factoring the values Miliken Hill brought to the table.

The Miliken Hill road tells the story of the strength and energy of the people, constructed as it was by able-bodied men from the surrounding communities who used picks, axes and other rough implements to cut through rocks, stones, trees and all the elements in the construction process.
Legend has it that a British expedition on its way to the middle belt of Nigeria from Awka, present capital of Anambra State, sighted the nestling hills at Enugu Ngwo and reported back to Lagos, especially as it has to do with the potential for mineral deposits.

Based on this report and the opportunities it could present, the colonial government in 1909, detailed a team of mining engineers to the explore the area to prospect for silver.As it turned out, the team found coal instead. The British soon arrived and settled atop a hill at Ngwo, a place now called “Hilltop” and immediately began the construction of the 4.8km long Milliken Hill Road to facilitate access to the newly found coal mines The team of engineers that constructed the road was led by a man called Miliken, hence the name, Miliken Hill.

Writing about the beautiful scenery of Miliken Hills, a tourist who visited the area five years ago, recorded at logbaby.com that, at its luscious pristine height of “100 meters above sea level, the Miliken Hills offers a beautiful standpoint for a panoramic view of Enugu metropolis, especially at dawn and dusk. The road winds through the foot of the hill bounded by a deep gully. Underneath the hills are relics of coal mines and its beautiful tunnels. A tour on the area introduces a first timer to the beautiful green nature of Enugu. I describe my experience as being on a natural roller coaster. Milliken Hill boasts of amazing views, both of itself and the city it entertains. Left almost unaffected by the rapid development of the city below it is a wonder to behold and it accents this city by allowing itself to be used as a beautiful platform from which to see the city also.”

Such is the beauty of this historic area, natures indescribable cluster of beauty that not only reflected the wonders of creation in its exterior, but also held rich economic assets in its bowels.Coal was the very first mineral to be discovered and exploited in commercial quantity in Nigeria and although the British colonialists were in search of silver, what they found in the bowels of the beautiful hills in Enugu after paving Miliken Hill road turned out more precious even when it was not a metal. After its discovery in 1909 by a British engineer, Albert Kitson, Nigeria became an exporter within three years and in 1914, the first consignment of coal made its way to the United Kingdom from the then newly created seaports at Igwe Ocha, known today as Port Harcourt.

By 1916, other coal mines in and around the Miliken are were opened and that year alone, more than 24,511 metric tonnes of the combustible stone were harvested from the milky mines of the “Miliken. It is interesting to note that the coal exports from Enugu fed the entire country until the late 1950s when oil took over, commencing the halting grind of an industry that for four decades, was an economic powerbase of the entire country and her colonial masters.

Such is the history of Miliken Hill, a nestling community of alluring beauty with hidden treasures deep underneath the roots lush green canopies that formed the thriving overgrowth.It was therefore welcome news when it became known that Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi had taken a decision revert attention to one of the most economically significant places in the history of pre-independence Nigeria. Besides providing easier access into the capital city for the people living in the many communities, the newly paved Miliken Hill road has opened the area for tourism opportunities. Its heritage the bearer of Nigeria’s first commercially exploited mineral; the coal mines al the network of tunnels leading into the mines are relics Nigerian should preserve. That is is the way it is done in other places, In Senegal for instance, the relics slavery have been well preserved in Goree Island, off the coast of Dakar, attracting tourists from all over the world and hosting one of the world’s most respected institutions for the study of freedom, The Goree Institute.

I read that Governor described the recently commissioned road as a “great infrastructural asset and rich heritage of our coal city state.”The Governor was right. Hilken Hill is full of history and creating an access road through and into a section of Nigeria that bore on its shoulders the prosperity of an entire nation and its colonial maters for more than 40 years has been long overdue.

What the government of Enugu State should begin to plan next is how to tap into the abundant tourism potentials of the natural wonders that this part of the state has been shrouding in its lush landscape waiting to be unraveled.The mines in and around Miliken Hill, from where the coal that fired Nigeria’s pre-oil economy, should be cleaned and transformed into sites for local and foreign tourists. It also presents veritable sites for academic activities and research.Standing at over 100 metres from the ground, Miliken Hills can also serve as a site for leisureand competitive sporting in mountaineering and hiking. This is an exercise hitherto alien to the local environment at present but when properly harnessed, it could be a powerful attraction that could attract hordes of people from far and near.

To fully tap into this opportunity, the state government should clear some areas around the vicinity, build parks, game areas, hotels and other hospitality and sporting attractions capable of drawing picnickers, vacationing families, corporate organizations seeking cook and pristine getaways for their company retreats.This is important, especially as the state has made clear its drive for investments, local and foreign. It has been proven that travelling abroad to pedantically attract investors has not been as potent as creating local attraction cpable of first bringing them close, building attractions that will make the visitors stay and then enabling them make independent decisions on investments based on their experiences while on the visit.

The cases of Dubai and Singapore are ready examples. These are people who first of all built great cities, marketed them to attract visitors who initially reluctantly arrived but experienced good times that made departure difficult.Victor, a hospitality and investments analyst, writes from Abuja


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