Like the previous year, governors across the country are commemorating their six years in office against the grim backdrop of Covid-19. And as it was in 2020, the common thread that runs through shared narrative is the adverse effects wrought by the pandemic on public health, and how it has caused a sharp fall in their revenue both from the federation account and those generated internally.
The decline in revenue has pushed states to the brink of insolvency, with many unable to pay salaries and embracing the painful recourse to mass retrenchment, or adopting the seemingly pragmatic but no less painful option of reverting to the old minimum wage. Amid these dark clouds though, a few silver lining could still be glimpsed.
One of those stellar points is Enugu State whose governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, consistently posts a performance that belies the prevailing economic reality and the fact that Enugu ranks among the least recipients of federal allocation.
Not a few will understandably frown at the tendency to laud elected officials for performing functions that are more or less statutory, however in a clime where the performance of such duties or willingness thereof is on a perpetual decline, the propriety takes on a compelling tone.
That is not suggesting the governor is himself pleased hearing his many laudable deeds spoken of in a manner that might be deemed exhibitionist. Besides the fact he simply considers those as the raison d’être for governments where ever they exist, his unassuming outlook baulks at such.
But in this social media age defined by so much half truths and outright falsehood that make objective assessments of elected officials a near impossible task, how else can one deal with the emergent public cynicism and not be guilty of a self-serving agenda? It’s a dilemma Gov. Ugwuanyi obviously has no problem resolving. For him, there is no better response to cynicism than good governance.
That is a point he sufficiently proves on a daily basis, drawing praises across party divides for the inclusive governance he has enthroned in Enugu State. The bipartisanship bred by such governance philosophy has fostered an agreeable atmosphere, resulting in the state’s widely acknowledged reputation as one of the most secure and peaceful.
Equally remarkable is the importance that the Governor Ugwuanyi attaches to rural development. For him, the transformation of rural communities is an imperative, a point underlined in his inaugural speech when he noted that, “Enugu State under us will pay special attention to rural development because majority of our people live in the rural areas.” That expressed commitment was no lip service.
This is because Governor Ugwuanyi believes that giving attention to rural areas will speed up development, create fresh economic opportunities and reduce pressure on Enugu metropolis.
He demonstrated this last year through the construction of the 13-kilometer Nike Lake Junction-Harmony Estate-Amorji Nike-Adoration Pilgrimage Centre-Orie Emene Road, was constructed, which opened up many suburban communities long cut off from the rest of the city.
This drainage-lined road bypass with modern culverts and bridges snakes through a hitherto impregnable forest and traverses five river crossings, is an important link between Abakpa Nike and Emene’s satellite communities including the Akanu Ibiam International Airport.
Its construction has helped in mitigating the severe traffic disruption that the ongoing construction of a modern flyover bridge would have had on daily municipal life. The frenetic pace of work at the flyover site and several other project sites spread across the state further reinforces Enugu’s position as one of the top 10 states with the best Capital Budget Expenditure Performance, according to a recent data published by BudgIT, a socio-civic organization that tracks governments’ expenditure.
The opening up of these suburban communities boldly typify the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration’s determination to expand infrastructure development to rural areas.
But Governor Ugwuanyi’s rural development philosophy transcends the rehabilitation and construction of roads. It is an integrated mix that incorporates critical growth catalysts like agriculture, electricity, responsive health system, dignifying learning environment with requisite staffing, and security.
Many rural schools have, as a result, experienced wholesome upgrade, getting the lion’s share of the 1,355 projects implemented in various primary and secondary schools in the state’s 17 local government, by the Enugu State Universal Basic Education Board (ENSUBEB) and Post Primary Schools Management Board (PPSMB).
The same ratio applies to the supply of science equipment to 135 secondary schools, and computers installed in 200 secondary schools. A significant benefit of the Ugwuanyi administration’s investment in education is seen in the 2019 Nigeria Living Standards Survey data which shows that Enugu State has the least number of out-of-school children in the entire country.
The Governor Ugwuanyi administration had, in addition to recruiting 7,030 primary and secondary school teachers, procured and distributed over 48,000 classroom furniture and sundry learning tools for students and teachers. Computers have also been installed in 490 primary and secondary schools, while 151 secondary schools have had diverse range of science equipment installed in their laboratories in furtherance of the state government’s commitment to promote science and technology among the youth.
A major accomplishment of the Governor Ugwuanyi administration has been the huge boost given to small, micro and medium entrepreneurship in the state. As the effects of Covid-19 took a heavy toll on businesses last year, Governor Ugwuanyi introduced a tax-exemption policy for small businesses. This helped entrepreneurs weather the economic storm created by the pandemic, thus preserving countless jobs that will have been lost ordinarily.
The Enugu SMEs Micro Credit Lending Programme has been another important initiative that has offered a lifeline to entrepreneurs in the state. The programme was created to give entrepreneurs in the state an opportunity to access a maximum loan of N300,000 at nine percent annual interest to grow their businesses with a one month moratorium.
In March this year, the Enugu State Tech Hub and Youth Innovation Centre was inaugurated by Governor Ugwuanyi. At the launch, it was declared that the centre can create at least three thousand direct jobs in three years and contribute no less than a two-digit percent positive increase to the state’s gross domestic product. Those not familiar with the potential of ICT in the global economy might scoff at his strong optimism. But the fact is that ICT-based businesses are clearly the most profitable globally and they remain the largest employers of labour.
Ani, former editor of ThisDay – The Saturday Newspaper, and Saturday Telegraph, is a senior communications aide to the governor of Enugu State.