By Louis Amoke
On Monday, May 29, 2023, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi constitutionally transferred power to Dr. Peter Ndubuisi Mbah as Governor of Enugu State, marking the successful end of his eight-year tenure. Ugwuanyi and Mbah are both leaders of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) signifying a seamless transition from one PDP-led administration to another.
Thanks to former Governor Ugwuanyi who, amid the nation’s economic downturns, state’s limited resources, outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, EndSARS protest, the daunting effects of the Obidient Movement during the last general election, laced with betrayal, sabotage and religious influence, among other unforeseen circumstances, was able to stem the tide and hold the tempo of peace and good governance in the state till the end of his tenure.
Ugwuanyi’s eight years in the saddle was an uneasy experience that could be best appreciated from the standpoint of the things he refused to do with the enormous powers he had, even in the face of provocation, so that good governance and peace could reign in Enugu State. In all circumstances, Ugwuanyi was fast not to be shortchanged in his firm belief in peace, broad vision, brotherhood across board, equity and justice.
As governor for eight years, Ugwuanyi was godly and compassionate in managing the affairs of the state that he tolerated, persevered and sacrificed a lot to ensure that peace reigned, and that the state’s limited resources were judiciously channelled to development issues in the overall interest of the people of the state. He is one leader who is conscious of the fact that development and progress can only be achieved when there is peace.
Ugwuanyi gave the people’s welfare the utmost priority it deserved to the extent that when some of his peers were busy starving their workers and channelling their states’ lean resources to the execution of projects that had no direct impacts on their people, he chose to first pay the state’s workforce the N30,000 new minimum wage with its consequential adjustment, which took the chunk of Enugu State’s resources, leaving the state with very little to embark on infrastructural development and other sundry expenditures. He was committed to regular payment of workers’ salaries and retirees’ pensions.
In spite of the precarious situation, Ugwuanyi astutely managed the meagre resources, leaving an indelible footprint in the sands of time at the end of the day.
It is on record that Ugwuanyi’s eight-year administration in Enugu State enjoyed a harmonious working relationship with organised labour, the legislature and the judiciary to the extent that it never had any form of confrontation and industrial dispute with them. It was peace and cordiality all the way. This feat was never experienced in the past.
Significantly, Ugwuanyi entrenched enduring peace in Enugu State and maintained a peaceful relationship with his predecessors and other leaders of political, religious and traditional institutions. This scenario had its positive impact as it made the state a safe haven for investors and one of the most peaceful and safest states in Nigeria.
During the Transition Thanksgiving Mass for Ugwuanyi and his deputy, Hon. (Mrs.) Cecilia Ezeilo at Holy Ghost Cathedral, Ogui, Enugu, on the eve of the handover, Msgr. Prof. Obiora Ike spoke glowingly about Ugwuanyi’s commitment to making peace to reign in Enugu and went on to decree that history would be kind to Ugwuanyi for entrenching peace in the state when security challenges were being experienced in other states of the South East geo-political zone.
Prof. Ike extolled Ugwuanyi’s virtues as a peacemaker and unassuming leader who accommodated everybody, irrespective of political or religious differences, and went the extra mile to dialogue with people and make peace, stressing that his positive impacts would be felt greatly in the future.
The cleric pointed out that Ugwuanyi’s administration encountered so many unforeseen challenges such as the nation’s economic recession (twice), the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic, the EndSARS protest and the Obidient Movement that affected the outcome of the last general election, especially in the South East zone, stating that, despite all these setbacks, he ensured that Enugu remained peaceful and progressive in terms of development in education, health, infrastructure, workers’ welfare, security, agriculture and youth empowerment, among others.
“We shall have one day to look back and say Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi did this. We want to thank you. You said, as the bishop announced here, Enugu State is in the hands of God,” Prof. Ike added.
Besides, another pertinent aspect of Ugwuanyi’s administration that engendered peace and rapid development, which though didn’t go down well with the majority of residents of Enugu City, was its decision to concentrate massive developments in the rural areas through its peace and grassroots development initiatives.
Ordinarily, Ugwuanyi, like most chief executives, would have chosen to toe the path of his predecessors in concentrating developments in Enugu City to win the accolades of the residents who are largely non-indigenes, enlightened and exposed to the world of social media.
But, as a compassionate and God-fearing leader, he felt that the rural dwellers also deserved democracy dividends as bona fide citizens of the state and needed to be remembered and given a sense of belonging.
This display of conscience and a great sense of passion for those in the rural areas became a challenge to him as the majority of the urban dwellers, who believed that democracy dividends belonged to them alone, became pessimistic in their verdict on the former governor’s achievements, just because they were not direct beneficiaries of most projects his administration executed in the rural areas. It is easier to destroy than to build.
Nevertheless, posterity will remain kind to Ugwuanyi for grabbing the bull by the horns through his novel rural development programmes that opened up the rural areas and gave hope and instilled in the rural dwellers, the long neglected and deprived in the state, a new sense of belonging.
Ugwuanyi’s firm belief in patriotism, peace and wellbeing of the masses, especially the lowly, long neglected and deprived was exceptional, and he never pretended about that.
A just, God-fearing, humble, compassionate, visionary, peaceful and kind-hearted leader, Ugwuanyi is one person whose leadership qualities remain rare among his contemporaries in the country. A bridge-builder and ardent promoter of national unity, good governance and the principles of equity, justice and fairness, Ugwuanyi will also be remembered for his genuine interest and commitment to upholding the existing rotational zoning arrangement of the governorship position among the three senatorial districts of Enugu State.
Posterity will equally remember him for the patriotic role he played in the emergence of Dr. Mbah, from Nkanuland, as the governor of Enugu State in spite of the abuses, blackmail, betrayal, sabotage and parochial sentiments that greeted the decision.
Governor Mbah has never failed to acknowledge this fact each time he speaks before the former governor.
Stepping down early last week after handing over the baton of leadership to Mbah, it is a good time to put Ugwuanyi’s stewardship on the scale to gain some insight on how history will judge his legacies.
It is often said that a powerful vision draws in ideas, people and other resources and creates the momentum and will to make change happen. It also inspires individuals, complementary organisations and institutions to commit, to persist and to give their best.
This was what Ugwuanyi adroitly deployed with discipline and persistence to change the traditional narrative of governance. Today, Enugu State is better for it.
Notably, he rejected staying tamely at the end of received policy prescriptions but rather coveted knowledge-driven innovations, proactive engagement with stakeholders, policymakers and sure-footed action. He brought these dimensions to bear on his political and developmental leadership of Enugu State.
Ugwuanyi assumed executive leadership of the state in 2015 when Enugu’s purse grew leaner and Nigeria’s economy was in recession as federal allocations dwindled to an all-time low, a major setback his predecessor, Mr. Sullivan Chime, acknowledged during the thanksgiving Mass to commemorate the end of his administration.
Ugwuanyi’s administration was receiving less than 30 per cent of federal allocations the previous regime received due to the nation’s economic downturn occasioned by the tail-spin of oil prices in the international market.
Despite this, his administration was up-to-date in the payment of the N30,000 minimum wage and its consequential adjustment to the state civil servants, a huge burden on the state’s lean resources.
At the peak of the nation’s economic recession between 2015 and 2016, he was able to pay workers’ salaries when 27 states of the federation could not pay, let alone embark on capital projects, as governors resorted to bailout funds, unlike their predecessors who had access to crude oil funds, which enabled them to execute capital projects.
This astute governance vision explains why the people of Enugu State overwhelmingly re-elected him in 2019 with an unprecedented 95.54 per cent of the votes cast, the highest margin of victory in the nation’s electoral history.
It is now on record that Ugwuanyi was the only governor in the history of Enugu State to witness two national economic recessions within five years of his administration, and also witnessed the enervating EndSARS protests, the COVID-19 pandemic, security challenges, among others, which brought major setbacks to the actualisation of his lofty visions for the state, as contained in his well-spelt-out four-point agenda (manifesto) of seamless continuity and consolidation.
He is the first governor of Enugu State since 1999 to lead the state on the platform of a political party (Peoples Democratic Party, PDP) that is in opposition to the political party at the national level (All Progressives Congress, APC). What an obvious disadvantage, vis-à-vis setback in terms of federal government patronages and considerations.
Ugwuanyi is regarded by many as the unsung hero of infrastructure, as he continued with his aggressive execution of legacy projects – projects that impacted directly on the people till his last week in office.
Ugwuanyi’s administration covered about 850 kilometres of roads largely concentrated in the rural areas. Concerned about the health and wellbeing of the rural dwellers, Ugwuanyi renovated district hospitals and constructed healthcare facilities such as nine units of Type 3 healthcare centres in LGAs across the state, Amenity Facility within the premises of the rehabilitated Ogrute General Hospital, Enugu-Ezike, Igbo-Eze North LGA, and cottage hospitals with isolation wings in the rural areas to provide adequate and affordable healthcare services to the people.
According to BudgIT, Enugu is one of the three states in the federation that fulfilled obligations to their workers.
The immediate past governor of Enugu State is the man behind the eventual listing of Enugu as an oil producing entity – one of the lifelines for the new administration.
Taking education as another critical development arena, Ugwuanyi is the second person after Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, to bring a university to Nsukka zone, the State University of Medical and Applied Sciences (SUMAS), Igbo-Eno, Enugu State. Ugwuanyi is the founder of SUMAS and it was the venerable Zik who attracted the University of Nigeria Nsukka (UNN) to Nsukka.
The ex-governor also attracted a federal polytechnic to Nsukka Zone, in Ohodo, Igbo-Etiti Local Government Area and transformed the university town of Nsukka with a befitting State Secretariat Annex, Conference Centre, 5,000-seat Township Stadium, the 12km Opi-Nsukka dual carriageway with underground drainage system and network of roads fitted with street and traffic lights, among others.
His administration constructed the 31km Udenu Ring Road, 26.66km Ukpabi-Nimbo-Ugbene Ajima-Eziani road in Uzo-Uwani LGA (RAMP-2) and 22.443km Neke-Mbu-Ogbodu Aba-Obollo Etiti inter-community road linking Isi-Uzo and Udenu LGAs (RAMP-2), among numerous others.
The first flyover bridge to be constructed by Enugu State government, the T-Junction Flyover Bridge, Nike Lake Road, Enugu, was executed by his administration. Remarkably, Ugwuanyi’s administration reconstructed and remodelled the ancient, historic and undulating 11km Millken Hill Road, Ngwo, Enugu. His administration’s massive infrastructural interventions in the State Judiciary were unprecedented.
From rural to urban areas with a deliberate emphasis on rural Enugu State, he incepted changes that will stand the test of time. From mortar and brick projects to sophisticated socio-economic support constructions in the health, education, judiciary and road arenas, he simply touched a wide swathe of the state’s local government areas positively.
Ugwuanyi’s administration took bold step to optimise healthcare benefits of the Enugu State Medical Diagnostic Centre, Enugu for residents of the state and beyond, through the Official Transfer of the health facility to the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), a federal agency, for its rehabilitation, upgrading and re-operationalisation to a comprehensive diagnostic and oncology (cancer) treatment centre.
Under his watch, Enugu was also rated as the second most advanced state in Nigeria on the Ease of Doing Business by the World Bank Group, and among the seven states that are solvent with an impressive over 30 per cent internally generated revenue (IGR) to fund additional economic activities, among others.
Besides the foregoing, Ugwuanyi’s administration recruited over 7,030 primary and secondary school teachers and executed over 1,355 verifiable projects in various primary and secondary schools across the 17 local government areas of the state under ENSUBEB and PPSMB, in line with the administration’s vision to improve the learning condition of the students.
His administration computerised 490 secondary schools (under ENSUBEB and PPSMB) and converted 1,000 volunteer teachers to permanent staff as well as releasing all outstanding arrears of promotion to date (under PPSMB).
The massive infrastructure development and upgrade of facilities in the Institute of Management and Technology (IMT), Enugu, including construction of four massive academic buildings and other structures, to address the challenges associated with shortage of classrooms, laboratories, studios and offices should of course not be forgotten.
Thereafter, he transitioned IMT into a degree-awarding institution as well as the rehabilitation of the school’s internal roads, Administrative Block, Mass Communication Block, Engineering Blocks, among other buildings.
He ensured the consistent and timely releases of monthly subventions for smooth running of other state-owned tertiary institutions, namely the Enugu State University of Science and Technology (ESUT); Institute of Management and Technology (IMT); the Enugu State College of Education Technical (ESCET); and the Enugu State Polytechnic, Iwollo.
These institutions witnessed various degrees of interventions in the provision of infrastructure, teaching, learning, laboratory and workshop equipment for the purposes of programmes accreditation, teaching and learning.
On youth empowerment, Ugwuanyi’s administration through the Enugu Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) Centre initiated a sustained and radical transformation that ensured that Enugu youths were equipped with 21st century high income skills that provide pathways to employability and entrepreneurship development.
Against the forgoing backdrop, it was not surprising that Enugu was rated among the 1,000 cities in the world with the most impressive and vibrant startup ecosystem by StartupBlink, a Swiss-based research hub that publishes an annual global startup index.
Indisputably, the ex-governor’s worthy stewardship and unswerving commitment to the progress of Enugu State in spite of all the related governance challenges places him favorably in the court of posterity.
It is indeed worth repeating that in terms of peace, security, infrastructural development, education, health, workers’ welfare, youth empowerment etc, Ugwuanyi stands very tall. As legacies go, history will certainly remember him kindly.
• Amoke writes from Enugu