By Rudolf Unegbu
Last Thursday, I was once more privileged to witness Dr. Josef-Ken Onoh’s brevity in the restoration of the Enugu city master plan which has been over abused in different parts of the coal city. Onoh moved the Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) bulldozers and reduced to rumbles the oddity of the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) which converted the youth development center along Kenyatta Street Uwani-Enugu, allocated for the development of the youths by the administration of Michael Okpara administration of the first republic, into a complete building materials market.
What added to my attraction was Denge’s (as Onoh is fondly referred to) tutorship of the excavator operators on how to diligently execute their assignment before commencement of the demolition, after a long wait for the traders to evacuate their goods despite several years of defiance to the evacuation notices.
Few days earlier than then, I also read about Onoh’s choice of the All progressives Congress (APC) presidential candidate, Asiwaju Bola Ahmed Tinubu (BAT), against the presidential candidate of his party, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) Alhaji Atiku Abubakar and even the media centric presidential candidate of the Labour Party, Mr. Peter Obi Obi. These are tough decisions which people with rare courage take at critical times as it is presently obtained in Nigeria.
In discussing the shame brought upon by the Nigeria youths council through their conversion of the Uwani Youth centre into a naked market, Onoh himself who is a youth took the bull by the horn in sanitizing the apology of what used to be the Youth Center, created for convergence of the youths, their education, learning and recreation. I do not think that the government would have had any qualms with the center if the leaders of NYCN had erected skills acquisition infrastructure, Tennis courts or multi-purpose halls in the centre. But the disappointing youths instead chose the way of petty money more than their self-development. The youths by their acts showcased that they cannot be trusted with political power since what they did with the youth center is a pointer to what they are capable of doing if given political leadership.
The disappointing attitude of the youths however runs counter to the strong traits of Dr. Onoh who as a youth has not been found wanting or disappointing in duties assigned to him. He is likened to Governor Nasiru El’Rufai of Kaduna State who when he was the Minister of Federal Capital Territory was not liked by lawbreakers who preferred to circumvent the law in Abuja. But today, El’Rufai’s Kaduna State is adjudged to be the most resilient state in Nigeria, save the insecurity in the North-west, which is a product of many factors beyond his control.
Onoh has resolved much traffic congestions in Enugu such as at Osisatech by Enugu state library in 2020. Other areas where traffic congestion reduced include Parklane GRA, Otigba roundabout, where he restored the three drummers’ statue at Otigba junction. He installed the 1983 plane crash memorial aircraft at the entrance of Akanu Ibiam International Airport Emene. He lost his eldest sister and cousin in that fatal crash.
At All Saints Church GRA is installed high truck barricade because fuel tankers that used to play it nearly caused a disaster there. The new market street trading at Civil Defence headquarters was contained. Accidents at the EFCC junction were contained by introducing road ramps at the monkey roundabout Independence layout. There is also the same treatment at the DSS Park avenue office where road ramps were introduced.
Others are, the street trading market at ESBS junction; the 4.5km earth work into the previously intended Chinese industrial park Nchatancha-Emene, expansion of Nnamdi Azikwe and Dhamija streets in Trans Ekulu; the recovery of stolen state land at Ekulu layout, the Mbanefo three storey building blocking Mbanefo Street built and owned by General Bisalla which had a stiff resistance from the army with all democratic governors for 45 years and eventually demolished by him and finally linked Mbanefo west and east street in New haven west and east layouts.
He also saw to the sanitization of Uwani and Emene to pave way for night landing at Akanu Ibiam International Airport. He matched Architect J.J Emejulu who demolished the Akanu Ibiam International airport fence, claiming ownership of the airstrip land.
Enugu has witnessed more commercial building approvals, shopping plazas, including the first Next shopping mall in Enugu that can compete with Shoprite and Spar; hotels with high rise buildings that now compliments the Enugu coal city skyline.
He went after street traders in the coal city, he went against the high and mighty of Enugu state and tamed arrogance and pride to conform to the laws of the state. He was not the lion but the roar that made the lion great.
In one of my homecomings, I passed through Orie-Emene and the impression I got was that Onoh is a man with a firm belief in sanity and development control. The ability of the Federal government to have concluded the renovation and expansion of the Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu could not have been possible without Onoh’s intervention and resistance against a land grabber who wanted to usurp the land belonging to the airport. At Abakpa, the Timber shed sanity is a testimony of what he could have done if he had won the PDP primary election. Inside Abakpa proper, the nuisances despite Onoh’s efforts have remained because of the indigenous sabotage of money mongers who prefer collection of ground rents from the street hawkers.
The perennial traffic jam at the Ebeano Tunnel by Okpara Avenue was eased off through Onoh’s creative construction of a service lane. In the aftermath of EndSARS protest, Onoh took it upon himself to rebuild Enugu, the artifacts; bus shelters and other public utilities that were destroyed were rebuilt by him to a better standard and durability.
Further in Trans-Ekulu, Onoh has reclaimed the city to the shock and admiration of many. His magic wand still remains a puzzle and credit to the Ugwuanyi administration of Enugu State. Onoh’s performance in the Enugu Capital Territory is indicative of what he could do to the federal Capital Territory (FCDA) if given the administrator of Abuja. Earlier than the demolition of the illegal Kenyatta market, Onoh had through strength of character made the previous impassable Kenyatta Street passable through demarcation of the road fortified with gauze mesh.
All these previous street chaos that Onoh has put sanity to had all existed from the military regimes up to the democratic dispensation, yet no one had the will to achieve his feats that even previous governors could not achieve. He has certainly contributed to the raising of the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) base of the state through most of his activities in the capital territory. The relocation of the Building materials market to Ugwuaji permanent site is one which the chairman of Kenyatta market Traders Association also confirmed that the new site has shored up their revenue base as well as that of the state government.
In private life, Onoh has excelled above obviation, while in his public sphere he has done what would have posed as impossible to others. He was the Executive Director of Eastern Bottlers Company Limited, makers of Limca soft drinks owned by his father, HE late Chief C.C Onoh. The Young Onoh presently has to his credit the development of personal estates such as the Tenerife Gardens, valley estate extension that is worth over a billion Naira, keeping in line with his father’s real estate development, albeit, the popular Onoh quarters in Enugu GRA.
Tenerife Gardens at valley estate extension is Onoh’s effort at building one of the most luxurious different service apartments in the east that contains a wildlife resort, horse riding, and cinema, secluded in the Ekulu waterfront. His River lane Morehouse Hotel is about to be one of the most luxurious hotels with the Arriba Entertainment centre housing the Voodoo Lounge as one of the best entertainment outfits in Nigeria that out-passes its location in Enugu, but for his love for the coal city.
He was one of the youngest members to be elected as a member of Enugu state House of Assembly representing Enugu North state constituency in 2003 where he was Chairman house committee on finance and appropriation, As a Special Adviser on Special Projects before he was appointed as Executive Chairman, Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority, Onoh made every effort to recommence work at the abandoned International Conference Center Enugu, but was probably not given all the support to succeed.
Dr. Onoh is reputed for strict enforcement of Capital Territory regulation, even where it seemed impossible. His sense of history of the state is so impeccable that his leadership trait is not in doubt. By his image, he has exhibited zero tolerance for corruption and frivolities. His little public life has shown him as one who does not condone profiteering which is the reason why sanity in adherence to town planning regulation has returned to Enugu capital city. Certainly, Onoh was the best Governor Enugu missed to elect in the last PDP primary election.
Onoh, no doubt, needs to move up the ladder which may have informed his choice of pinching tenth with the Jagaban presidential campaign, knowing the similar administrative strength of Asiwaju as Lagos Governor and his political sagacity as a coalition builder. At a time in the south east when the traditional politicians would secretly associate with none Igbo presidential candidates, Onoh has given reasons why he is ready to call off the PDP bluff and identify with a southern candidate who has the viability of becoming the next president of Nigeria. This is the courage in leadership that I talk about and a gifted foresight of the future of Nigeria.
With Onoh’s declaration for the Asiwaju campaign, there is no doubt that other naïve politicians would henceforth summon the courage to brace up to the reality of Nigeria politics, hence the expected nationalization of the BAT presidential campaign structure.
His tough decisions do not come as a surprise to me since he is a United Kingdom born, a graduate of Psychology and a member of Institute of Hospitality Uk, with a family background of brevity and political brinkmanship. Growing up in Uwani-Enugu, the Onoh dynasty has remained a reference family to liberation struggles and defense of justice. His inability to actualize the leadership of Enugu state was a bad miss for the state because the state has never had such a firebrand, young, rich in history and lucid in his dynamism. Little wonder the Jagaban was able to attract Onoh to his campaign team. Certainly, Tinubu will not regret his capture and Ambassador in the South East.
Unegbu, a Software Engineer lives in Sant Pol de Mar Barcelona, Spain