By ANIEBO NWAMU —
Good governance entails satisfying the most pressing needs of the people. In Nigeria, we seem to have been obsessed with roads – the performance of a governor or president has often been measured by the length of roads he has constructed.
While roads may be important, there are other needs that our people consider equally –or even more — important. They are the several ways a government can connect with the people: through provision of food, security, education, health and employment. Provision of good roads has been the most significant for the simple reason that road is one amenity communities cannot handle on their own. In other areas, individuals and corporate organisations are encouraged to get involved, but the provision of good roads has largely remained a government problem. Considering the huge capital required for any road project and the need to ensure that it properly connects with other communities and the larger road networks across the state, it will continue to be a state priority. When government is unable, therefore, to meet this all-important need for a rural community, the fate of that community is better imagined.
In school we were taught that man’s basic needs were three: food, shelter and clothing. After satisfying these needs, our economics teacher told us in 1979, anyone who asked for more was greedy. Many religious leaders preach a similar message. The reality tells a different story, however. Even in in the rural communities of those days, few were so poor that they couldn’t find any item of clothing to put on. There were kids who played naked in village squares, but they probably did so by choice.
As to shelter, almost everyone now has a roof over their head. Nobody lives on trees or in caves. Only a few still live in huts while many urban dwellers live in shanties – not everyone lives in a magnificent house in Lagos, Enugu or Abuja.
And food? This is the most basic of the basics, and yet it’s the only one that many still truly lack. Urban communities especially are filled with starving children, women and men – up until today, near the end of the second decade of the 21st century! No irony could be greater.
I don’t know what economists think our basic needs are at this time. But what I know is that clothing and shelter are no longer on the list. Our basic needs now are food, security, health, education, electricity, employment, and perhaps companionship, in that order of importance. Is it not surprising that the governments of many nations – backward nations in fact – are still fighting a lost battle to provide these bare necessities of life for their citizens?
Only recently, 13 communities in Enugu State shared over N129million, a grant the World Bank in partnership with the state government provided for the construction or rehabilitation of markets, schools, roads, skills acquisition centres, health centres, civic centres, drilling of water boreholes, and extension of electricity, among others. Cheques were handed to the leaders of the communities, and each community was required to use its money as it desired. Although a majority of the communities in Enugu did not benefit from the initiative which is supervised by the state’s Community Social Development Project (CSDP) – its general manager Maxwell Asogwa gave out the cheques – its impact cannot be diminished.
On February 15, this year, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi and some members of the State Executive Council paid a surprise visit to one community that has yet to benefit from World Bank-assisted projects: Lejja in Nsukka LGA. Every governorship candidate since 1959 has made the 12km Nsukka-Lejja-Aku road a campaign issue. During the military era, it was awarded severally to fake contractors – obviously, the money was shared among the accomplices – or simply put in the annual budgets without anyone caring to execute it.
For Lejja, February 15 was perhaps the turning point. When, therefore, the governor went to see things for himself, the people became expectant, especially as a tourist site had just been identified in the town. Chants of “Gburugburu! Gburugburu!” rent the air as soon as young men and women discovered it was their governor and his entourage who had ploughed through the rough road from Nsukka, a distance of 8km, before entering Lejja. Their visit was significant in many ways, especially since Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, so far, has been keeping his promises.
Without prompting, the governor rightly observed that Lejja was marginalised in the scheme of things. And, like a first-time visitor to the community, he expressed surprise that a town that has in the past produced decent politicians like C. U. Opata and J. C. Nweze as well as a number of Catholic priests including Bishop Emeritus Francis Okobo was so bereft of amenities. Perhaps the most visible government presence in Lejja is a Federal Government Girls’ College.
Governor Ugwuanyi and his team left the community with a promise to tackle the road in the next few months. I have learned that he has raised the issue of that Nsukka-Lejja—Aku road in the state’s executive council meeting since then. And from indications thus far, the project will finally see the light of day. It is another promise he is likely to keep and one road that will open up a vast productive area in the zone.
A majority of our rural communities have got some of the amenities about to be chased by the lucky 13, though their priorities may be different. Lejja’s priority is that road. For another community it could be an equipped hospital. For yet another it is electricity. Indeed, judging by such initiatives of the state government, the wall separating urban and rural communities in the state seems to be collapsing fast. After all, what makes a community urban except for the availability of power, piped clean water and paved roads?
Any government striving to provide sorely needed amenities in our communities as a way of eradicating poverty and creating jobs will be fondly remembered. In actuality, lack of such opportunities is at the root of every problem afflicting the world today and that is why efforts must be intensified to connect with our communities in Enugu State.
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