By Dennis Agbo
Rare are men of extraordinary brevity. Brevity in decision taking at critical moments is what distinguishes a leader and separates him from the milling crowd of other posturing leaders. It’s a gift to be courageous, purposeful, daring and focused.
Focus is keeping one’s eyes on the ball while maintaining balance of good for the state and good for the individuals. Many people in leadership would prevaricate in matters of critical decision, particularly when it has to do with matters of some ‘colossus’ in the society and abuse of the society by the downtrodden.
In these instances, Dr. Josef-Ken Umunnakwe Onoh (the Denge and the Oka-ome II in Ngwo) has distinguished himself as a man who has been able to sail through murky waters and walked past landmines. He has been able to dare where the devils refrained and stirred the hornets’ nest for the purposes of asking people to keep to the tenets of social norms, other than pulling down a bridge against others simply because they have crossed it.
Such is the difficult job of an enforcement officer who has to contend with different segments of the society at a time when values for rule of law has been cast into the abyss and when people have been made to sing bellicose songs such as that ‘all is fair in war’ and that ‘the end determines the means.’ It’s obvious that some people purposefully choose to become offenders of the law, whether as a poor or rich person, believing they could easily get away with their mess, but Onoh’s three and a half years as the Chairman of Enugu Capital Territory Development Authority (ECTDA) has revealed that a ravaging tides could be contained using different approaches to tame the offensives.
Counting on his successes in the past three years would take ages, but suffice it to note that the young Onoh came into limelight after due mentorship by a father whose life was dedicated to liberation struggles and opium of his subjugated Wawa people. The late His Excellency, Chief C.C Onoh would not be forgotten in hurry for making a delicacy such as Okpa, (a bean cake) become an acceptable staple food in Igboland. Onoh was then mocked for savouring his local delicacy in public when the Ijekebes detested the rich-in-protein delicacy.
Young Josef Onoh became a parliamentarian in 2003, printing his footsteps in those sands of time. He was one of the youngest members to be elected as a member of Enugu state House of Assembly representing Enugu North state constituency where he was Chairman House of Assembly committee on Finance and Appropriation. As a Special Adviser on Special Projects to Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, he was also appointed as the Chairman Joint Task force Ministry of Environment and Capital Territory before he was appointed as Executive Chairman of ECTDA. Onoh made every effort to recommence work at the abandoned International Conference Center Enugu, but was probably not given all the support to succeed.
At the Capital Territory, he has reputedly implemented 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 state missed to elect in the last Peoples Democratic (PDP) governorship primary election.
Only recently, Onoh made news for having demolished the Kenyatta street market at Uwani-Enugu which over the years had constituted a traffic nuisance in the metropolis. The demolition came after 19 years of pleading, negotiations and pampering of the street traders for relocation to Ugwuaji International market. This is one of the exhibitions of rare courage by Onoh after several administrations before him failed to relocate the Kenyatta traders, but he was able to successfully relocate the traders before the eventual demolition.
Onoh is likened to Governor Nasiru El’Rufai of Kaduna State who when he was the Minister of Federal Capital Territory was hated by lawbreakers who preferred to offend the law in Abuja. But today, El’Rufai’s Kaduna State is adjudged to be the most resilient states 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, a high truck barricade was installed 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. 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 a man who could be trusted with more functions since compensation for good jobs are usually rewarded with more jobs.
In his private enterprise, Onoh was the Executive Director of Eastern Bottlers Company Limited, makers of Limca soft drinks owned by his late father. The Young Onoh presently has to his credit the development of personal estates such as the Tenerife Gardens, valley estate extension and hospitality and leisure outfits.
As a principled man, when PDP failed in meeting with the expectation of its members, Onoh was among the first to take sides with the southern Nigeria demand for 2023 presidency, hence he spoke out for Ashiwaju Bola Tinubu even when Tinubu’s men were reluctant to speak.
As he turns a new year today, August 31, the sky remains his limit. There is no boundary in the height God has set for him and all that we can wish for is his continued progress, to dance in the wider arena of Nigeria space and to continue to follow his destiny of shaping the society for the better.
Happy birthday Denge, Oka-ome II na’Ngwo and Aninefongwu na’Agbaja. May your light continue to shine!