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Enugu gets makeover as urban renewal gains traction

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A payloader carrying out pre-asphalting procedure at Ngenevu, a high-density neighbourhood in Enugu.

The paradox of suburban communities – the notion that they are places politicians visit only during election campaigns – has lately experienced a paradigm shift in Enugu with some ambitious urban renewal projects launched across many such neighbourhoods by the state’s helmsman, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi.

This intervention offers a glimpse of the sort of incremental turnaround that would have occurred in blighted communities had they over the past years been given the kind of attention the Ugwuanyi administration has devoted to their upgrade.

There are a number of such neighbourhoods in Enugu metropolis and they all bear visible vestiges of decades-old neglect: a prominent locale in this infamous club is Abakpa-Nike, an urban-sprawl-gone-awry in Enugu East Local Government Area and home to an estimated 500,000 residents, roughly one-third of the capital’s entire population.

This community over the years earned a reputation which was more or less a byword for squalid living condition and it’s not difficult to see why: overcrowded buildings, deplorable state of connecting roads and scant regard for physical planning rules.

But thanks to the new resolve to give requisite attention to areas long overlooked in past development plans; Abakpa-Nike is experiencing an unusual facelift.

Potable water, which residents once accessed only via commercial vendors now flows in parts of this sprawling community. This is in addition to the series of ongoing infrastructure upgrade meant to rehabilitate and open up link roads.

The state government last year awarded contract for the construction of five roads in the area comprising Edward Nnaji Street-Ogwuagor Road; Amaetiti Street-Ugboye Abakpa-Nike Road, and Abakpa-Nike Market Road.

This drive is unlike the tokenism, which residents of fringe communities had lived with for decades. The current experience is rooted in deep planning, not the perfunctory gestures of the past that lacked conviction and were barely sustainable.

The intervention, as conceived presently, comes with a clear social and economic development plan that incorporates the state government’s immediate, short and long-term goals.

For instance, the extension of pipe-borne water into parts of Abakpa-Nike arose out of the state’s water board’s expansion of its capacity from 4,000 cubic metres to 18,000 cubic metres.

The goal is to achieve 40,000 cubic metres by year end and extend water supply to all parts of Abakpa and indeed every neighbourhood in Enugu metropolis and substantially cover other parts of the state.

The renewed vigour is consistent with Ugwuanyi’s often-stated vision to implement an even spread of infrastructural projects to give rural residents a high self-esteem, banish feelings of alienation and create new cities to reduce the current pressure on the state capital.

“We will continue to direct our policies and projects towards these locations because that is where most of our people reside,” the governor said at the flag-off of a road rehabilitation project at Ngenevu, a high-density suburb straddling the foot of hills across which lies an abandoned coal mine.

This declaration is as much driven by belief in the public good as it is by the knowledge that an improved living condition is an incentive for payment of taxes.

Such conviction is at the heart of the N5m-project-for-every-community initiative, a grassroots development programme conceived by the Ugwuanyi administration to ensure government presence in the 450 autonomous communities in the state.

“This is a special development that has never happened in Enugu State,” the chairman of the Enugu State Traditional Rulers Council, HRH Igwe Lawrence Agubuzu, had said of the programme that gives community leaders and residents the latitude to select a project to be sited in their communities and fund same with the money released by the state.

As urban renewal projects extend to more communities like Iva Valley and Ugwuaji that had long lived with similarly bitter tales, cynicism, which was once the default mode for residents, is gradually giving way to optimism and a rekindling of a new social consciousness.

This has, not surprisingly, bred a robust engagement between the government and the people whom the governor never fails to acknowledge as the “true heroes of democracy”.

So, it is in some sense an implicit affirmation of the social contract and an understanding that governments should be obligated to always act in the people’s interest.

Such mindset feeds the democratic culture. And it’s just as well that it has, along with an unrelenting commitment to an inclusive ideal, surely taking firm roots in Enugu State.

There could indeed be no better response to cynicism than good governance – a point sufficiently proven by Governor Ugwuanyi.

• Ani, formerly editor of ThisDay, The Saturday Newspaper, and later Saturday Telegraph is a senior communications aide to the Enugu State governor.


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Enuguurban renewal
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