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Ugwuanyi’s Fidelity to Enugu’s Growth Seven Years On

Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi

Laurence Annie

Coinciding with a period the Independent Electoral Commission had scheduled for the conduct of party primaries, there is a strong possibility that the symbolism of May 29th – the date commemorating the inauguration of most governors – might be overshadowed by the usual shenanigans of politics. Given the attendant public scrutiny the date elicits, it may just be that many governors will consider the shuttle politicking of the primaries a happy distraction, which won’t be surprising as a common complaint in the media is that governance has been largely in abeyance in many states.

There are few exceptions though. Enugu is one such state. The governor, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, still displays as much enthusiasm for governance as he did seven years ago, fueled by the conviction that the people’s wellbeing is the reason for the existence of governments. So, even amidst the flurry of politics and jockeying over succession in 2023, there is still an unrelenting investment in sectors that enhance the people’s living condition. Just as it was in the early years of the Ugwuanyi administration, there is a continuing upgrade of primary health care, sustained investment in schools rehabilitation and narrowing the student-teacher ratio.

These interventions are a huge leap from the tokenism of previous years that unabashedly gave some facelift to the facade of hospitals and schools without a corresponding attention to staffing and equipment. The success of state policies can often be gauged from the outcome their implementation yield. With regard to Ugwuanyi’s investment in the key sectors, there are many social indicators that prove how impactful they have been. For example, the Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey carried out in 2017 by the National Bureau of Statistics in collaboration with the National Primary Health Care Development Agency shows Enugu State has one of the lowest child mortality rate in Nigeria, where the average figure is 54 deaths in 1,000 live births between the first and fifth birthdays. Although Enugu ranked fifth in the MICS report, its mortality figure (12) cannot be considered ideal. Yet, it is indicative of the progress the state would have attained in maternal and child care had previous administrations’ attention been just as robust.

Another strong validation was the NBS fourth quarter survey in 2020 (the latest as yet) which revealed that Enugu has the sixth lowest unemployment figure. Much of the employment is in the agro-allied sector where the government has devoted huge resources. The attention the sector has received reflects on the fact that Enugu is among ten states in the country with the highest proportion of enterprises in agricultural activities, as an NBS report further shows. Enugu also has one of Nigeria’s least out-of-school population, ranking sixth in the most recent federal ministry of education’s report. The impressive development scorecard of the Ugwuanyi administration is in spite of the massive decline in revenue accruing to states from the federation account.

Indeed, it is important to note that declining revenue has been a recurrent feature of the last seven years, a problem the Enugu State governor alluded to in his inaugural speech. Nigeria was, in fact, on the cusp of a recession at the time the inauguration (May 29, 2015) was held. “Let me state categorically, that while we are gearing to achieve so much, we must bear in mind that the resource flow has grown lean across the country due to the new price of oil in the international market. A political associate recently told me that this is not the best time to be governor of Enugu State but I replied that this is indeed the best time to be governor of Ndi Enugu. Importantly, I believe in the miracle of five loaves and two fish, I believe that God will give us the wisdom and courage to successfully navigate the state through the current economic crisis,” he said. His optimism from him was still however tempered with some pragmatism, as he would later add: “We must match our faith with the right decisions and good work”.

The significance of the Ugwuanyi administration’s achievements gets an added sheen by the fact that the Enugu State receives one of the least sum of the monthly federal allocation, which, ab initio, puts it at a disadvantage. So, every progress recorded in the state has been through a deft deployment of resources and sustained dismantling of factors that impede the growth of business. This has enabled businesses to flourish and helped the state to shore-up its internal revenue.

As the Enugu State governor has demonstrated, “matching faith with the right decisions and good work” means deploying funds optimally to benefit the entire populace. It means as well jettisoning the decadent practice of old where recurrent expenditure takes a disproportionately large share of budgets at the expense of capital expenditure. This budgeting philosophy is the reason the Enugu State has substantially revamped its infrastructure in the last seven years, even at the height of Covid-19 when many states scaled down their capital budgets due to the associated economic constraints of the pandemic.

Equally significant is the administration’s scrupulous budget award process. The impact is that every contract award for a capital project is sufficiently cash-backed, eliminating the risk of abandoned project. As with most of Ugwuanyi’s policies, the benefit is not a matter of conjecture. It is laid bare in statistics. As a capital budget expenditure performance survey conducted by BudgIT in 2019 shows, Enugu ranks among the top ten states with an outstanding ratio. So, even amidst this paucity of funds, a splendid array of legacy projects has either been conceived and implemented or in the process of being completed. Examples include the first state-built flyover bridge in Enugu, which would resolve the perpetually gridlocked Abakpa-Nike Lake Road intersection.

Another remarkable example is the construction and equipping of the Enugu State Infectious Disease Hospital that sits on about two acres of land with a backdrop of rolling hills. The construction of the facility is both a demonstration of the Enugu State government’s commitment to a long term Covid-19 strategy, and concrete proof that the Enugu State won’t be lulled into complacency even when the pandemic is no longer deemed a threat. The huge investment in the health sector is motivated by the goal to make quality health care affordable and largely accessible to the public even in the state’s most remote communities. It was on this premise that the Enugu State Universal Health scheme was launched. The ongoing construction of the Enugu State University of Science and Technology Teaching Hospital and College of Medicine also derives from that vision.

For Ugwuanyi, the pledge to make the people the centre-piece of government policy is not a catchphrase for the cameras. It has to be demonstrated even when it seems least convenient. His administration’s payment of the new minimum wage and its consequent adjustments in 2020 easily comes to mind. Aside from being among the earliest states to do so, the payment commenced despite the adverse effects of the coronavirus. By embracing a people-centric philosophy in all matters of state policy, Ugwuanyi has clearly won the people’s trust. Nothing best illustrates that trust than the emphatic victory (the governor had 449,935 votes while the All Progressives Congress’s candidate got 10,423 votes) secured by Ugwuanyi in the 2019 general election when he was re-elected for another term.

With the governor having barely one year left in office, his performance already puts an immense weight of expectations on his would-be successor’s shoulders. The people would expect no less.

Ani is a senior communications aid to the governor of Enugu State.

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