Special Report

April 6, 2024

Finally, Enugu gets new taste

 Mbah appoints ESERC management board, names Okonkwo as chairman

Gov Mbah

•Mbah loud on why you may not find a house-help from the state 15 years from now

By Onochie Anibeze, Saturday Editor

Governor Peter Mbah’s eloquence in explaining his policies and programmes resonate the admirable echo of the ambitious plan he has for a state once renowned for its tasteless monotony.

When you listen to him and visit Enugu, you will appreciate why barely one year in office, Vanguard, The Sun, New Telegraph and Independent Newspapers chose Peter Mbah as Governor of the Year.

It doesn’t normally happen that a public servant is being so recognised in less than one year in office. Members of the Guild of Editors who were in Enugu for their meeting March 23 used the opportunity to tour some of the projects of the Enugu State Government came away with many  positive stories.

Fielding questions at the end of the tour at the Old Government Lodge later that day, it was no surprise that all concluded that in Enugu, ‘a Daniel had come to judgement’ as Shakespeare would put it.

Of course, it rubbed off on me. ‘Onochie, your governor is good; Onochie, your governor is ambitious; Onochie, your governor is doing great things; Onochie, your governor is building Enugu for future generations.’

Many of the editors who knew Enugu as my home state almost turned me a star, courtesy of the tremendous work Peter Mbah and his team have done in less than one year in office.

I was proud, and I walked with my shoulders towering above my head.

Since the return to democracy in 1999, I have never been more proud of Enugu State.

Take this: Trans Ekulu was a beautiful estate built at the time of Jim Nwobodo, the same period Lateef Jakande was rebuilding Lagos. However, Trans Ekulu lost it’s beauty to government neglect in the proceeding years. The government of Sullivan Chime did a little work on the road leading to Trans Ekulu but left the estate to continue to rot. So, the estate suffered neglect in 24 years of Chimaroke Nnamani, Sullivan Chime and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. As you read this, tremendous work is going on in Trans Ekulu, its environs and some other areas. As you read this, construction and reconstruction of more than 100 roads are going on in Enugu.

As you read this, pipe-borne water is running in some parts of Enugu after more than two decades of dry taps in most of Enugu.

As you read this, construction of a site for the New Enugu City is ongoing. It is a 5,000 hectare project that the Mbah administration may not complete but which it is mapping out for developers and investors to compete in developing.

‘This is massive,” Professor Chidi Onyia, Secretary to the State Government, said during the tour. He informed that it is a city that will have central drainage and sewage systems. Uche Anichukwu, media aide to the governor added that the city would have it’s own power and that residents would not need power generators.

‘Generators will not even be allowed into the city,’ he said. New Enugu City will have classic residential areas and industrial parks. This city expansion borders five Local Government Areas and it is one that would surely grow Enugu State when completed.

Enugu state is working. As you read this, people now go to work on Mondays. Traders, market men and women have returned to their businesses. I will never forget the video of Monday sit-at-home enforcers flogging market women who were selling vegetables and tomatoes, destroying their stuff and asking them why they were trading while some were fighting for their liberation from Nigeria. I have never seen liberation fighters punishing and dehumanising the people they claimed to be fighting for. It happened in the east but Mbah is putting an end to all that. Life is returning to the coal city.

Another thing that wowed the editors was the expertise of those in Mbah’s cabinet. The governor surely respected merit and professionalism in choosing many members of the cabinet.

We gathered that 80 percent of them are technocrats. Professor Onyia demonstrated that with his knowledge in many areas. His mastery and explanations in road and city constructions, water projects, education, health, personnel management impressed the visitors.

It was same with Works Commissioner, Gerald Otiji, the son of the famous Engineer Otiji who built Nitel with the likes of Chief Jonathan Ogufere in the days they were P&T before the rot started and NITEL died. When Dr Ifeanyinwa Ani-Osheku spoke on the state primary health care, which she supervises, heads were nodding pleasantly. Many wondered where Governor Peter Mbah would raise the money to fund all the projects. Just like the smart schools, she confirmed that the state would build 260 health centres in the state, with each ward benefiting from the project.

They plan to start with 600 nurses and increase the number to 3,000. Enugu is digitalising healthcare information which will help in the management of patients. Reducing maternal mortality is just one of their targets.

It is in the area of education that Governor Mbah is scoring highest points. He proudly says that he wants to fight poverty and insecurity through education. And he has begun on a high note by dedicating 33 percent of the state budget to education.

This is a record in Nigeria and perhaps in Africa. The smart schools that will be built in 260 wards of the state bear strong testament to the huge plans Mbah has for education in Enugu. ‘No child will be left out,’ the governor says of this education system that will sign on pupils from the age of 3 and upwards.

It is a compulsory but free primary education programme that will expose the kids to IT. Enugu is working and Mbah is just less than one year in office. He said a few things when yours sincerely and Eze Anaba, the editor of Vanguard presented him the letter of his award for good governance.

It is better to appreciate the governor on how he is piloting the affairs of the state in his words. Said he:

SIT-AT-HOME

We have the buying of everyone; the organized private sector, community-based organizations, the non-governmental, the CSOs. They all have come to agree that we have to kick the so-called sit-at-home thing out of our state.

For businesses, there are things you must do to attract business, you must be able to help with de-risking some of the factors like,  there are certain things that are unattractive to the businessman to invest.

INFRASTRUCTURE

So, basic infrastructure like water, electricity, transport, roads, government must provide. So, we  went again aggressively to ensure that the time frame we gave for water to be in the state would be met. We move from the production level of about 5 million litres when we came in to 120 million litres daily, which was more than our daily consumption, ‘cause we consume about 80 million  litres i.e 80,000 cubic meters every day. We could have even beaten the time but the pipes that were more than installed 50 years ago all gave way. The initial report did not give a true picture of the pipes. So, we are on a martial plan to replace those pipes. 

When you go, take a tour round the city, you see quite a lot of the pipes being replaced in different locations. The asbestos pipes being taken out, replaced with dock-tile pipes. So that’s ongoing now.

EDUCATION

Another profound thing we’ve done, which we’re very excited about, which for us is not so much talked about, but we do not think that there’s anything we have done in this government that is as profound as that is our intervention in the educational sector. When we came in, we felt that the educational sector was in crisis mode and that we needed to do something radical to change that narrative. So, we are currently building 260 smart schools in the state. 

 I didn’t say 26. I didn’t say three. So, typically what you see when people do a project of this size, they just do it per zone and they are done, and of course, it is a major achievement. But no, what we’re doing is across all the wards. So, for every child in Enugu State, they must go through that pipeline of the smart school. The smart school, we are not just excited about the infrastructure, you see a sample of it. We already have one that is operational and a whole number of them. I think before June, about 10 will be up or before the end of the year, the 260  because we have given an award of about 135. Construction is going in the 135 wards today as we talk. By the middle of this year, the balance of 125 will be awarded. So, the whole 260 will be built  this year.  

 We are the only state in the entire country that dedicated 33% of our budget to education. What that implies is for every hundred naira we spend 33 naira is going into the education project. So, it’s almost like an obsession because we recognize that the best way to fight poverty and to achieve zero poverty rate is education. If we can bridge the gap that will be great. When we did some survey as we came in, we noticed that the literacy and the numeracy skills rate here are quite poor, even  for those whom we have trained. So, we’re dealing with that but not just doing it in a catch up manner, we are leap-frogging. So, we’re not moving from kids sitting on the floor to take tuition or the teachers scribbling   on the wall where you just painted black. 

 We now have in this classroom smart boards. So, you have electronic boards  where these kids are taught. Of course we have the other whiteboard. We have provision for early child learning. We went beyond the nine years of basic education. We are now providing 12 years because you get the index child from age three.  You get that child into the pipeline of the smart school system.  So we put them through nursery, Primary one, primary two, before they get into the elementary section. 

So, from that nursery to JS3 is free and compulsory. Our plan is to make sure that we can achieve zero percent rate in our out of school children record. When you talk about early child learning, the whole thing we worry about is how do you encourage these parents to send their kids to school ?. So we have this special programme called school new plus programme where we provide one balanced diet a day. This is going to start from next year. We wanted it to be sustainable because in each smart school we have a hectare of an integrated farmland that we have provided. Of course, each smart school  also has the teachers’ quarters and the principal and head teachers’ apartments.  

So, if you go to each smart school you see those things in place. What have  we done also’,  because it’s not just the infrastructure, the content of what you deliver to those kids matters to us. Because we are talking about exposing these children to AI, to robotics, to mechatronics , to augmented and virtual lessons across all the  260 wards. So it hasn’t happened anywhere,  not even in the West.  We’re building an experiential Center for experiential learning and innovation.  

So, you can be  at the location and teach the entire smart school kids. You go to the nursery school, you  see what the nursery school looks like. And that’s what you’re going to have across the wards. We try to accommodate every child. It is not going to be just that no child will be  left behind, it’s about having access to quality learning. So there is no child who would not have access to quality learning. So quality learning is no longer an exclusive preserve of the rich. 

 We have breached that divide, disrupted it radically. Nothing like you’re not able to access quality education because of the circumstance of birth. No, not in Enugu. And the whole idea for us is 15 to 20 years from now, you should be able to produce the best of our best in the world from here; the Elon Musk, the Mark Zukerbeg. We should have them produced from here and we should no longer have an Enugu child being described as looking for an apprentices or you are looking for house help and you come to Enugu. You cannot do that any more, not 10 years from now. You can’t have a situation where our young people will view criminality as venture. 

That would not happen 10 years from now, because you are going to have kids  with skills. Kids who can offer their skill , sit here and jakpa with their skills across the world because of the schools they have been exposed to. The same radical things going on in the  health sector but I wouldn’t bore you because you’re going to do your tour so that in the evening we can shade some light on them.  I really want to appreciate you and thank Vanguard Newspapers so much for all this recognition. We do not take it for granted. The UNESCO  recommendation is to spend between 15 and 20% of your budget on education. We’re surpassing that.

Concerning our roads, we have taken full inventory of all the roads without exception. The roads in Enugu will be paved. We know the length, we know what it will cost us. We know how to find the money. So, we will do it, we are warming up.

Vanguard News