Ugwuanyi: Six month on, welfare takes the centre stage

By The Rainbow
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Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the Governor of Enugu State, gave an account of his first six months of stewardship recently in which the welfare of the people is at the centre stage of his development programme. At a time in which survival of the people and their families is a daily struggle, a people centred administration such as the governor is driving, appears to rekindle confidence amid the collapsing hopes for the future in this country.

Hope is man's critical element of survival and Ugwuanyi did give fresh hopes to his people on 5th December when he announced the good news that a part of the bailout fund for offsetting outstanding emoluments of workers and retirees has reached the government's account. While one cannot be quite sure why it has to take that long for the funds to travel from the Central Bank of Nigeria to the state government's account, at least and at last it has finally arrived.

Though the main part of the fund is yet to be received, according to the governor, workers can hope for a joyful Christmas celebration with what has been received. Even if the money has to travel in the old fashioned manner – on camel backs from Abuja to Enugu, we hope that it will reach the coal city before the end of the year.

Not minding the long and tortuous journey it is taking to receive the bailout funds, the state government has taken commendable steps to ensure prompt payment of current salaries. According to Ugwuanyi, “this is in line with the interest we have in the welfare of workers”. With the commitment to the welfare of the people the state government has provided electricity, water and other ancillary services at the New Secretariat Complex, the governor told a large gathering of stakeholders as he rendered account of stewardship six months after taking oath of office.

Workers in Enugu State heard another good news from their governor during the meeting and that is about progress made in the development of Workers' Estate at Ogbeke. Ugwuanyi excited workers when he announced that construction work has reached advanced stages at the estate and that government has paid 30% equity contribution to enable interested civil servants in the state from grade levels 01 to 10 to acquire one bedroom apartments at Elim Estate, Ibagwa, near Enugu. This is a major part of government's welfare package for the people of Enugu State. Beneficiaries of the housing scheme have earlier been selected through an open lottery system.

For workers of those grade levels to suddenly become landlords in just day is a clear example of wealth redistribution or transfer to the needy. It represents a new pace that the Enugu State governor has set in housing delivery initiatives in Nigeria. Its clear advantage over other similar programmes lies is the instant handover to the owners compared to the usual practice of sales to the highest bidders.

In some other instances, government would have collected deposits from intending house owners, who will then begin to wait for years, having neither their money nor the house paid for. For people who had the least expectation of ever owning houses to have received same in a choice location, this is clearly a dividend of good governance.

The stock taking event, which is the maiden stakeholders' meeting since Ugwuanyi took over the realm of power last May 29 , took place at the Old Government Lodge, Enugu. It provided an opportunity for the stakeholders to rise in unison to embrace daring efforts made by their governor so far to place Enugu State in a pedestal of economic development and growth.

It turned out to be an expanded stakeholders meeting summoned by the governor both to acquaint them of the programmes and policies of his administration and to entrench his all inclusive style of governance for the sustenance of the prevailing peace in the state. The new government in Enugu is reckoned to be one of the few top runners on the

delivery of electoral promises to the people so far.

A key strategy that has put Uwuanyi's administration one step ahead of others is said to be his principle of 'government by consultation' in which every segment of the stakeholders is carried along in all decisions affecting the people. In this manner, government decision making process weeds out possible bickering that often snowballs into a political warfare. Ugwuanyi appreciates that the absence of peace has a cost and he isn't willing to waste the state's scarce resources in political infighting, digging political trenches and launching battles. He is desirous of deploying every available resource to meaningful ventures that will improve the lot of the people.

Uwguanyi has a great personal quality that is going for him and that is his humane disposition, which people close to him have likened to that of a Vatican bishop. In times of frayed nerves and frenzied agitations, the man at the helm of affairs in Enugu State is said to remain unprovoked – thereby applying the countercyclical responses preached by Jesus Christ to win over the opposition. This is the guiding principle for the enlarged stakeholders meeting summoned by the governor at the end of his first six months in office. It served as a welcome invitation for all to be part of his open, accessible and transparent government driven by the purpose of alleviating the suffering of his people.

The welfare of pupils and students is another area of high priority of the government of Enugu State. In order to ensure a conducive environment for learning for children and their teachers, the state government has undertaken the renovation and re-equipment of secondary and primary schools across the state, Ugwuanyi announced to the cheer of the people of the state. He assured that further support in this direction is expected from counterpart funds for ENSUBEB, which he said is in process.

Infrastructure improvement in the tertiary institutions is a key aspect of government intervention in the education sector in the state. According to the governor, the Institute of Management and Technology [IMT] Enugu will soon become a degree awarding institution and the necessary machinery to realize this objective will soon be put in place. He also intimated stakeholders of financial support his government has provided the institution to pay off salary arrears and boost staff morale.

Other decisive steps in the education sector include the repositioning and revamping of the Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo where government is pushing for the re-validation of old programmes and the accreditation of five new courses by the National Board for Technical Education. The situation at the Enugu State College of Education, Technical, is unacceptable to the state government. The school has not been able to award certificates to its graduands for nine years due to non- accreditation of its courses. Ugwuanyi assured that the State Executive Council has re-validated the approval of a substantial sum of money to enable the institution scale its accreditation hurdles and be in a position to issue certificates.

Rural and urban development is another area that has received priority attention in the development agenda in Enugu State. Ugwuanyi recalls that it was his major promise to catalyze urban and rural development and develop new cities in the state to boost economic activities. He told the people that in fulfillment of his promise, he has embarked on massive development of roads across the state. Recently, he flagged off the construction of eight major roads across the state, which are critical roads for the effective operations of both rural and urban dwellers.

The governor also announced the commencement of a number of other major infrastructure works in the state. “We are also doing drains, culverts, earthworks, and asphaltic wearing courses on the Ugwogo Nike-Ikem Road. We have completed the hitherto intractable Ogbete Market and gone far with the rehabilitation of the Airport Roundabout – Orie Emene – St. Patrick's College – Eke Obinagu Road Project, Mbanefo II, New Haven. We also directed the continuous maintenance of roads in Enugu,” he said.

On rural and agricultural development initiatives, the state government has also attained a milestone. The present government initiated the construction of a 15-kilometre Inter-Town Connection, ITC, 2.5MVA Injection Sub-Station at Ezi-Nze, Udi Local Government Area just a few days after coming into office, according to Ugwuanyi. This project is designed to supply electricity to communities in Udi, Igbo-Etiti, and Uzo-Uwani Local Government Areas. It is expected to spur business activity in these rural communities and power the Adada Dam Project as well as the Greater Nsukka Water Scheme.

The government has procured 20 tractors for hire by genuine farmers at subsidised rates. The government has also providing counterpart funds for the participation of the state in the implementation of the N2 billion Staple Crops Processing Zone, SCPZ programme by the African Development Bank in conjunction with the Federal Government of Nigeria. The fund will be channeled to the revival and expansion of the Adani Irrigation Scheme as well as the construction of feeder roads and other critical infrastructure that will catalyze agriculture in the State.

The completion of the various development projects in the state will no doubt cost money. In the face of revenue drops from federal allocations, Ugwuanyi disclosed that he has taken steps to shore up internally generated revenue. “We have set up a team to design a blueprint for the collection of revenue which we believe will help eliminate corruption and illegal collections. We are already working on the promulgation of a Property Tax Law and other revenue related laws that will regulate revenue collection in the state,” he said.

The government's internally generated revenue strategy will involve working with banks and other organizations and the governor assured that the plan to drive IGR enhancement activities will soon be unveiled. He also has plans on ground to reorganize the system of land allocation and related matters with a view to plugging the loopholes and leakages observed in the system.

A significant progress has been made in the area of industrial development, according to Ugwuanyi. All the bottlenecks militating against the take off of the Enugu State Industrial Park have been resolved, according to him. He hinted that an investors' forum has been scheduled to hold next year, which will be an investment drive by the state in partnership with Enugu Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture and the DFID.

Another area in which significant progress has been made in the state is healthcare where the government has continued to sustain free maternal health and child care programme. This is supported with the provision of medical equipment and adequate staffing of existing health institutions. According to Ugwuanyi: “We are also on the verge of completing the ultra-modern medical diagnostic centre in Enugu and have initiated the construction of three new specialists hospitals in the three senatorial zones of the state with the flag off of the scheme at Orba, Udenu Local Government Area of Enugu State.”

Other critical areas addressed by the governor include considerable progress made towards ushering in a more efficient local government administration that will eliminate corruption and the ghost worker syndrome. He is also taking bold steps to alleviate the burden on the citizens of Enugu State by enforcing disciplined behaviour. In response to the persistent complaints of the people, he has ordered an end to touting, illegal collection

of fees and undue harassment and intimidation of citizens by unscrupulous persons and others purporting to be working for government agencies in Enugu State.

The state government had earlier suspended the collection of fines for traffic offences and reinforced a ban on cash payment of rates or fees to government agencies. “I have also directed the State Ministry of Environment to stop the collection of levies for sand excavation in the State till further notice,” the governor said.

Ugwuanyi also disclosed the key importance his government attaches to human development, youth empowerment and poverty alleviation. He told the stakeholders: “We recently appointed 600 executive assistants and we are on the verge of making other major appointments and reconstituting boards for parastatals in the state. We are currently lacing their job schedules with local content to ensure enhanced and effective rural development.”

If all these achievements can happen in just six months despite the tight revenue scenario, then past governments in the country all over have a lot to explain about what they did with national resources during the peak oil revenue. What the present administration in Enugu State government has achieved with meager resources in six months clearly signals hope. Simply put, if he gets more revenue, he will surely deliver more dividends to the people.

. Ezeja, a public affairs commentator, writes from Abuja

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