Former Commissioner for Information, Ogbuagu Anikwe, votes against zoning in Enugu State, but for a different reason.
Ndi-zoning of Enugu State are gladiators at each other’s throats over which local government area should produce the next Governor. Ndi-Zoning are at it again, now that a new election cycle is upon us.
My friends keep asking why I keep out of the zoning conversation. My answer is that I find disheartening what happens to my dear state at every electoral cycle. Voters are confused and induced to vote for anything but what takes them out of an unending cycle of misery.
In their campaigns, gladiators hardly address the state of our State and how to make it better. All we hear are quarrels about where the next governor should come from. At its base, these quarrels are nothing but elite conspiracy maneuvers to grab power for selfish ends.
So, there you have it. I personally find the idea of zoning gross, even as I appreciate the motive behind it. I detest the idea of zoning governorship positions because it basically says that we cannot guarantee electing an unselfish manager that will plan and execute a wholistic development agenda for our dear state. Consequently, we must rotate the position for every zone to have someone to look after its interest.
But has zoning worked well in practice? Doesn’t it rob governors of the crucial global planning outlook that jumpstarts real development? My intervention here is not about the zoning argument we hear from Enugu East.
Like the East, Enugu West is also pushing its own brand of zoning, a re-zoning arrangement if you will. Theirs may be a bit different from the restart-zoning-from-our-side argument being pushed by Enugu East. In principle, both are however about zoning.
Zoning without end?
The question for ndi-zoning of Enugu is therefore for how long? How long should zoning last? How long should we endure an agreement that sustains and guarantees lopsided development of Enugu State? Why not review the march of zoning since 1999? Such a review exposes what the state and its constituent units have gained from the practice so far.
And do not tell me that zoning has worked well. If it has, why are we having complaints from all over the place? Why is Aninri, Awgu, Enugu East, Isi-Uzo, Nkanu East, and Oji River – more than a third of Enugu local governments – complaining of marginalization and abandonment? We may hear of more when Gov. Ugwuanyi steps down and people of Enugu North feel it’s safe to complain!
An honest review is called for. This will tell us whether to continue – or to discard zoning for something else. This point bears repeating because this is the best time to do a review, now that every zone has had its turn.
The alternative is to continue with today’s brinksmanship masquerading as political gamesmanship. This is why I passionately despise the Enugu zoning charade. And I know that I’m not alone. Many concerned professionals from Enugu lament that zoning has stunted Enugu’s development efforts.
Industry and manpower Legacies
Our story is heartbreaking because the Coal City State inherited manpower and industrial assets. These assets are enough to transform her into one of the wealthiest States in Nigeria.
Enugu’s manpower assets today derive from the decision by Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe’s to plant two university campuses in the State (UNN and UNEC). Ajie Ukpabi Asika’s followed up by converting IMT into a citadel of academic excellence.
Thereafter, Chief Jim Nwobodo further boosted the efforts by establishing ASUTECH (now ESUT) as another engineering and technology institution. There was also the Federal College of Education at Eha Amufu. The institutions remained in Enugu State after assets of the defunct Eastern Region and old Anambra State were shared.
Zik and Dr. MI Okpara laid the groundwork for today’s Enugu’s industrialization. They originally carved out Emene district in Enugu as an industrial hub. Subsequently, steel rods, asbestos, cement products, oxygen and acetylene gases, among others, were manufactured in the hub. The hub was strategically located to transport whatever was produced by road, rail and air.
The Eastern rail line passes through Emene, and by the corner of Enugu International Airport. In addition, the Abakaliki-Enugu highway passes by Emene and terminates at the East-North road at 9th Mile Corner. Whatever is produced at the Emene industrial corridor therefore stand to be conveniently exported nationwide by air, rail and road.
After the Civil War, Sole Administrator Ukpabi Asika established PRODA, the engineering and technology research and development hub at Emene. In the Second Republic, Chief Jim Nwobodo approved land for the construction of a vehicle assembly plant, also at Emene. Asika also began construction of a vegetable oil refinery plant at Nachi in Oji River and on the East-North highway. The plant was completed and commissioned by Military Governor Emeka Omeruah in 1978.
Years of the locust
Today, Enugu is essentially an industrial wasteland. The Emene industrial corridor exemplifies the degradation we witnessed in our dear State. How many of the First Republic Industries are left standing? Nada. The Second Republic car assembly plant has been run aground, gobbled up and is now downgraded to a local autobody fabrication workshop. PRODA produces antiquated machineries for garri processing and such like.
Similarly, the vegetable oil refinery plant was mismanaged, privatized by Robert Akonobi, another military governor. Mismanagement, coupled with regional geopolitics, led to its eventual shut down. To add to the injury, it was deliberately set ablaze. Twice. Today, the AVOP plant is a shell of concrete and blocks sheltered by a thick forest.
Since the current republic started in 1999, the industry we grow in Enugu is an army of vulnerable urban youths composing political praise songs and raining abuses in the social media. And their destitute rural cousins celebrating their bleak future in puffs of Indian hemp and swigs of nkpuru-mmiri and ogogoro. They cannot be absorbed in any sectors because we are not developing employment-purposed sectors. Is this not food for thought for ndi-zoning of Enugu State?
An elite conspiracy
These are my concerns. And the concerns of the average voter as we watch ndi-zoning of Enugu State going at each other’s throats. The people they rouse to vote at every election season are being literally killed through their zoning arrangement. Will they ever stop to consider what Enugu needs to cater for its army of unemployed youths? For rural folks too weak to continue with backbreaking subsistence farming using ancient implements? And for educational institutions focused more on where a vice chancellor comes from than the products they churn out?
I’m unable to see how rotation enables us plan how to produce world class graduates, empower youth entrepreneurs and incentivize local industries to boost employment. How will zoning facilitate tech hubs and direct our youths to profitable careers in diverse areas such as sports, music and entertainment? What are we in Enugu State today exporting to Nigeria and the world? How do we re-educate youths currently chanting party slogans and abusing each other in the social media?
Finally, we know that there was never any intentionally planned and agreed zoning arrangement to start with. What played out from ndi-zoning of Enugu State is an elite conspiracy that has managed to produce governors from three zones. And, as former governor Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo said recently, PDP’s idea of zoning stops at the point that power goes around. In Nigeria, it hasn’t gone around yet, but it has in Enugu State. Frankly speaking, something has to give in Enugu, if you ask me.
Perhaps, what is needed is a third force that can bring ndi-zoning back to their senses. Such force connects with people who vote and persuades them to understand that, oftentimes, zoning is a mere ploy to grab power for selfish ends.