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• Oji River-Awgu-Ndeabor-Mpu-Akaeze interstate Road under construction

The trip to Ugwueme, a small community located on top of a very high hill in Awgu, Enugu State, was not one any man would look forward to repeating in a lifetime. Even the vehicles that made the trip must have cursed their stars for choosing them for such a venture.

Slowly, they manoeuvred their way through the stony, rough and steep road and grudgingly, made it to the top of the hill. Ugwueme, as expected, was a sleepy community that had neither water nor electricity and appeared to have lost hope of such amenities. That was until their representative in the Senate and the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, remembered them. He it was that influenced the water scheme which he had come to commission. He also promised them electricity, which is nearing completion.

The journey to Ugwueme was just one of the many trips which newsmen in the state had undertaken with the deputy senate president in his continued efforts to liberate his people from poverty and underdevelopment. But like Oliver Twist, the people of Ugwueme made a passionate appeal for attention to be paid to their road that they said had been abandoned by successive governments.

In a chat with newsmen, the deputy senate president who represents Enugu West Constituency (and who also commissioned another rural road, the Holy Rosary High School Awgu Road), said there was hope for the people.

'Their hope is that you saw the one we commissioned today. That road commissioned today was worse than what you saw in Ugwueme. We have also done the one going to Amolie, the one going to Ugbo, they are all asphalted presently. They were worse than this.

'We have done roads that are worse than these and I can tell you that in the next two months we are going to commission more at Udi, Ezzeagu, Oji-River and Aninri as well. That will be our next target. As I said, the road will get into the 2012 budget and if you go there by 2013 the road will be as good as the one you saw at Awgu.

'We have about 20 of these projects in the whole of Enugu West Senatorial Zone and most of them are almost completed. So, very shortly we will be going from Awgu to Aninri, to Oji-River, and Ezzeagu to commission the ones that are ready.'

Beyond his aggressive attempts at opening up his constituency through the provision of water, good roads, electricity and general infrastructural development, Ekweremadu identified education as the bedrock of development and has initiated several programmes to educate his people.

Through his Ikeoha Foundation, he has instituted an annual quiz competition as well as bursary and scholarship awards.

At a forum, the deputy senate president disclosed that his humble beginning and background gingered his burning desire to grant his people access to education.

Said he: 'I believe that whatever I am today, education played a very important role in it. I came from a very humble background, from a remote village and for me to get to where I am today, only education could have done it. And I believe that I can give other people the same opportunity so that they can be whatever they want to be, and I am happy we are seeing results.

'We are also investing in our women and men in the villages so that they can have access to education. So what we are seeing presently today is a manifestation of a dream, which I had many years ago; a dream of getting everybody to have access to education, and having the opportunities which education provides.

'Education is an equalizer; if you are educated, whether your father or your mother or your entire village lacks money or not it does not matter because the opportunity will always be there. So, education is the best way to deal with the issue of poverty, the best way to deal with the issue of militancy, and even unemployment.'

Other programmes he has initiated through the Ikeoha Foundation include the Ikeoha Scholarship Scheme, Ikeoha Annual Quiz Competition, Ikeoha Football Competition and Ikeoha Adult Literacy Project where over 2,500 adult pupils across the five local governments have benefited. The Adult Literacy Scheme established in 2009 is currently doing very well in 22 communities. The scheme, certified by the Adult and Non-Formal Education Agency of Enugu State Ministry of Education is expected to produce its first batch of graduates sometime this year.

The Ikeoha foundation is also involved in the training for Engineering graduates, providing micro-credit to farmers, and vocational training for women. Last year 750 women drawn from the five LGAs were trained in agricultural and vocational training programme by the f doundation in liaison with the Roots Crop Research Institute Umudike.

The foundation also sponsored 250 engineering graduates from Enugu West Senatorial District, 50 from each of the five Local Government Areas in the Graduate Skill Acquisition Programme of the Science Equipment Development Institute (SEDI), Akwuke, Enugu to sharpen their skills, make them more marketable to employers of labour and also help them to be self employed.

Also last year, over 300 indigent students in various tertiary institutions in Enugu State benefited from the annual scholarship and bursary awards. The poverty alleviation programme coordinated by the Ikeoha Foundation also doled out cash and material donations to 300 widows in the state. Each of the beneficiaries of the scholarships went home with a cheque of N50, 000 while each of the indigent widows received N3000, a bag of rice and a wrapper.

Over 1, 700 persons have benefited from the scholarship scheme. The foundation has also disclosed plans to kick-start other scholarship programmes from the 2012/2013 academic session.

In the area of infrastructure, he has been credited with the provision of many road, electricity, water and erosion control projects. These include the construction of Oji-Achi-Mmaku-Ndeabo-Okpanku-Akaeze Road and bridges, rehabilitation of Ohaozara-Uburu-Ishiagu Road, construction of Obollo-Afor-Eha-Amufu-Nkalagu Road, Nenwe-Oduma Road rehabilitation, construction of solar plants and street lights in various communities in Udi, Ezzeagu, Awgu, Aninri and Oji-River.

There are also the Ugbokpala-Obeagu Erosion control, Aninri, Amagunze Irrigation projects, Ada Rice project, erosion control projects at Holy Rosary, Amoli Junction, Iso Awaa Agbudu, Amokwe, among other erosion control projects.

He has also gone far in rural electrification with such projects like the Ugo rural electrification project, feasibility and transmission project-Ugwuaji-Nenwe 13 DC lines, Ugwuaji-MPU132 KV DC line, provision of 33/0.415 KV distribution transformer at Owugbo-Okpanku, to mention just a few.

Having observed his genuine desire to liberate his people from poverty, Senator Ayogu Eze representing Enugu North Zone, said at the commissioning of some of the projects last year: 'We commend the deputy senate president for what he is doing for his people who are indeed rural people. I call upon my colleagues and other public spirited individuals that they should emulate the Ikeoha Foundation because we need to invest in education.'

Also Senator Hope Uzodinma, representing Orlu Zone, said ; 'As you can see, the owner and promoter of Ikeoha Foundations is a member of the National Assembly, and there is nothing as good as when you see a leader that is vibrant and who can be an example. I am the happiest person here today because I came, I saw the quality of competition and saw things that impact on the life of the people and I am happy to inform you that I am going to replicate this in my zone.'

Senator Sunny Ogbuoji, Ebonyi South Constituency, said he was happy to have seen things for himself. 'I want to say that I am because this senatorial district has a wonderful material in the person of Chief Ike Ekweremadu.

He is our leader. Collectively we agreed that he is qualified to lead and today I have seen one of the good reasons why he should lead. You know leadership is trust on you and he has really proved that he is qualified to be our leader in the senate. And like one of my colleagues said, we are preparing for 2015, and I think we have a material that we can present to Nigeria, in the person of Senator Ike Ekweremadu.'