By Alfred Ajayi
Residents of communities in Awka North local government, Anambra State, have been totally forgotten by the state government and live without access to power supply, good roads, potable water supply, effective healthcare delivery and even education
According to the poverty mapping undertaken by the Anambra State government under governor Peter Obi, Awka North is one of the most backward local government areas in the state, especially in the area of infrastructure development.
Governor Willie Obiano took over from Obi with a vision anchored on four pillars of economic development which include: Agriculture, Oil and Gas, Trade and Commerce, as well as Industrialization.
But to critical minds, the development indices of this agrarian local government area and the degree of attention it has received from the present administration, especially with its status as one of the food baskets of the state, bring the commitment of the government to agriculture to question.
Notable for the production of rice, cassava, yam, plantain, garri and other crops, residents have argued that the local government area which was created in 1991 should have been opened up to make agriculture profitable for the people.
Sadly, the ten communities in Awka North share the same story of the infrastructure decay.
Achalla, the headquarters of the local government, can only be accessed through some communities in the council area, while the health post in the area operates inefficiently with only one nursing officer. The primary health care centre which was started by the community still awaits the assistance of the state government to complete.
According to Mr Obiakor Joseph, a native of the town, “Achalla is the worst of all of local government headquarters I have seen as it battles with lack of public water supply, dilapidated school infrastructure, inadequate manpower, deplorable link roads as well as poor healthcare delivery. I thank God for this rare opportunity to open up concerning the deplorable situation of that local government headquarters. For some time now, there has not been supply of electricity to Achalla”.
Mgbakwu has the first asphalted road in the local government, constructed by the administration of Governor Chinwoke Mbadinuju between 1999 and 2003. The road, which leads to critical federal and state government institutions, has failed while others are in deplorable condition, making evacuation of farm produce difficult for the people. That is coupled with health facilities not operating at their best, while government – sunk water boreholes are not working.
However, Mgbakwu has better development indices compared to others, perhaps due to its proximity to Awka, the state capital.
Like Mgbakwu, Isuaniocha equally has better development indices compared to every other community in the local government. But the Public Relations Officer of the town, Mr Hyacinth Okeke, still lamented over the development challenges facing the people.
“I can say that the development in Isuaniocha compared with other communities in Anambra State is very poor. It is an agricultural community, but there is no access road to bring our produce out to urban centre for sale. The on-going road is not (of good) quality, look at the gutter very small and flood is disturbing the road every corner. We have three primary schools and one secondary school. But the teachers there are not performing well because they are not enough.”
“In elementary 1, one teacher manages about two classes. In the secondary school, the principal is doing well, but if we can get more qualified science teachers, it will be fine. The school environment is not okay. We still have dilapidated buildings. Most have their roofs removed. In healthcare, we have a health centre and health post, we need doctor there. It has a very big compound, but water is not running. No generating set to power the facility and there is no Solar energy source. We need government to come and help us. From month to month we don’t see light. For the past six months to one year, they have not been supplying us light. We don’t have any government borehole apart from secondary school and maternity. The one of maternity is working somehow because the community repaired the borehole but the one in secondary school is not working presently. Individual boreholes are everywhere, people buy water”
In Urum, a resident, Albert Chinwuko, commended efforts of the state government in the health sector but enumerated other challenges to include out of stock syndrome in the primary health centre, non-availability of medical personnel, including resident nurses and doctors, poor link roads, lack of modern market and storage facilities as well as non-distribution of fertilizer from government as at early September, 2015.
“Urum is nowhere to be found in Anambra state as far as development is concerned. We have not been getting what we supposed to have right from the inception of Anambra State. We are relegated to be background. We have been marginalized and neglected for some years now. That is manifested in lack of road. Before you get to other villages in Urum, it is a serious challenge. The whole of Awka North is the food basket of Anambra State but there is no good road network. As far as Urum is concerned, we are still expecting that every vision of the state government which says food producing areas are his priority. We don’t have modern market, no storage facility, no access to fertilizer this year.”
“So I am still to see the impact of the four cardinal economic pillars of the state. We have not felt it at all. In terms of education, inadequate manpower, no infrastructure, some of the teachers posted here are going back because of bad road. The nomadic school built for the herdsmen had been abandoned. We want government to use it as skills acquisition centre. In health, they have made some positive steps but we don’t have resident nurses in our health centres. Our general hospital in Amanuke is not functioning well. But it is not a place to rush serious cases to. Water is mostly sourced through private borehole. No single borehole in Urum by the government. Apart from borehole, we still water from streams with its attendant health hazard. We are very co-operative to whatever the government is doing, we are appealing to the government to come to our aid.”
Although it is located within the radius of the state capital, Urum is challenged by inadequate manpower in schools, lack of equipment and rejection of posting by teachers, while water is sourced from private boreholes and streams as the community did not have any government – drilled borehole.
Mrs Patricia Enukora is also from Urum. She appealed to the government to create skills acquisition centre in the area to gainfully engage the youths who are causing social unrest across the community.
Joseph Ezebilo highlighted the problems of Amanuke to include inaccessible roads, non-functional boreholes, while also noting that the Awka North General Hospital sited in the area is not functioning well.
Chief Obi Uchenna also lamented over the situation of Amanuke.
“Children are the future of tomorrow and that is why education is key to our development. After that, we don’t have road. There is no road leading to Amanuke. From Urum where Okwute stopped constructing the road, if rain falls, we couldn’t go to Urum talk less of Ugbenu and Ugbene. We thank Governor Peter Obi for what he had done. We are now appealing to the new governor Willie Obiano to start where Peter Obi stopped. Like on our market day, our Garri is up to forty cups or more, two hundred naira due to bad road. And the people who come to buy those commodities, there is no road for them. We know that Obiano is working, we are now telling him to work harder, to come and work in our community. We don’t how Obiano is delaying to construct the road leading to Amanuke, Urum and Achalla. I don’t know what makes the delay. I know that there is a place where Obiano is working constructing roads. Road is a major thing that will help the rural area to develop”.
“The only person we have in Obiano’s cabinet is the Special Adviser to the Governor on Security. Government had already come and measured the road from Urum to Amanuke to Achalla and is the effort of that SA on Security. So we are now pleading to Governor to please construct the roads. Like in the past, we used to get fertilizer from the government free. You only paid to transport it from government to wherever you are going. But this year, there is no fertilizer, no maize. We know that this year has passed, but let him remember us for next year farming season.”
The case of Ugbenu seems worse as it combines lack of secondary school to other problems earlier enumerated in other communities.
One of the residents, who brought his son for treatment at the health centre as at the time of visit, was waiting for the arrival of the nurse to attend to him.
“I brought my son yesterday for treatment. I saw one nurse who treated him and said I should come today. But now I have come, nobody. I have gone to look for her at her residence, they said she went out”
Another resident, Felix Nwoye, noted with dismay that their children acquire secondary education from the Community Secondary School Ebenebe, a distance of at least thirty minutes.
“The problem of this community is road, electricity and school. This is the only community in Awka North where children go to school in another community. The children attend secondary school in Ebenebe and it is too far for them. Rain beat them, sun, they suffer too much. The secondary school they are building is not progressing. It had been like that for four years, nobody had come to their rescue. Those who are supposed to be helping are not helping. We are not talking about electricity which was last supplied with power. We suffer to sell what we produce. Some of the products spoil in the farm. Road is most biting of our challenges. In this community there is no good health centre. We have a health centre, but the people working there are few. When our women labour, they at times have nobody to attend to them, some die as a result. We attend hospital in Ebenebe.”
The people still make do with water borehole sunk by private individuals or the fetch water from streams around.
Similarly, in Ugbene, the zeal for acquiring formal education is dwindling with lack of a secondary school. Children attend secondary school in Ebenebe or Awba Ofemili, which take between thirty minutes and one hour.
The people, who last saw electricity from the national grid two years ago, also have pathetic story to tell about water supply.
A resident, David Okoye, recounted some cases of avoidable deaths due to lack of good healthcare facilities, even as the primary health centre is still under construction.
Another woman who lives in the community, Mrs Esther Nnenna, sheds more light on the situation at Ugbene.
“First of all, we don’t have a secondary school. We don’t have good road. Each time we do our harvesting, we don’t know where to sell and nobody will come here to buy due to bad road. We can’t eat all by ourselves because we cultivate more than we can consume. Since they mostly spoil, we struggle the following year to raise money to cultivate. We don’t have machinery to practice farming. The maternity they are building for us, we don’t know what they are doing there. We are supposed to be using it by now, but they haven’t finished. If any woman is in labour and cannot deliver the child here, they take that person to Ebenebe. We have no secondary school and our primary schools don’t have adequate manpower. In 2012, mission Anglican and catholic churches engaged some teachers they are paying”
David Okoye, an elder in the community, also bared his mind on the development challenges of the community.
“The shortest way from here to Awka is through Amanuke. I don’t know if you passed the bridge. The soldiers with the help of government had finished the Bailey bridge, but the road even though is a swampy area, it needs some amendments. Some years ago, somebody got wounded and because of excessive bleeding and lack of access road, before we could take the young man to the hospital, he died. Then two days ago, my in-law, I don’t know whether appendix, he fell sick, before the children could get motor to take him to the hospital, immediately they reached the hospital, bring the man down, he died”
For Ebenebe, the situation is not better as the people battle with epileptic power supply. Nursing officers use lamp to carry out their duties in case of power outage. According to Hon Paulinus Mbonu, the road is better now with the asphalting up to Ebenebe.
“In the past year, no government had remembered us except this one. However, we want them to construct the road from here to Mgbakwu. To go from here to Achalla our local government headquarters, you pass at least four other local government areas – Awka South, Dunukofia, Njikoka and Anambra East. All these affect our food production. Road is critical to development especially for agrarian people of Awka north. The on-going work had stopped. There has been no work on that road since this year. The boreholes provided by the government are not working but those belonging to the private individuals are functioning well. My appeal to the government is to look into all these problems and address them. We are part and parcel of the government and we voted for them in the past election”.
Amansea is the closest to Awka from that axis of Awka North and this has impacted positively on its development. It has better indices than other communities but also battles with ill-equipped health facilities, deplorable link roads and non-functional borehole.
Awba Ofemili is the farthest of all the communities in Awka North to the state capital which, perhaps, explains why it has the worst development indices. The community has never been connected to the national grid, while the only borehole meeting the water needs of residents was provided by a private company, Guinness Nigeria Plc. Apart from that, people depend largely on streams and rivers.
Despite the road under construction from Amansea to Awba-Ofemili, relief seems to be far away from these people especially given the fact that work had been suspended on the project for some time now.
The only primary health care centre in the community operates from a hall donated by the community in 1997 as revealed by the only government – employed nursing officer in the community, Mrs Nwabunne Fidelia.
“This place is not conducive for us because we have no department here. Only ward is here. No light here, the fridge we have is not good, even the plant. Another thing is that the road leading to this place is bad. From Awka to this place costs between N1,500 and N2,000 to come. It will take you up to N1,000 to move from here to other villages within Awba Ofemili. The transport by car is in the morning and their returning is in the evening. We want to relocate to the new health centre, but things are not yet in order there. It has no protection now. The doors there are not closing. We also suffer from non-availability of drug supply. Government has not supplied us drugs for several months now,” the nurse lamented.
Mr Nweke David, is one of the volunteers assisting Mr Nwabunne in the onerous task of taking care of the health needs of the people. He spoke on the sufferings of the people in carrying out their agricultural calling.
“Our people produce yam and cassava, and rice in commercial quantity. The road is bad and we cannot sell our products. Our pregnant women go to traditional birth attendants because they can’t afford the cost of coming here. We are only encouraging them to come here to enjoy some benefits. There is no light in the whole of Awba Ofemili. I want government to help us to give us light. Then we want them to put our roads in order”.
Investigations reveal that the backwardness of the local government is attributable to factors such as poor political representation as well as the quiet disposition of the people to government affairs and unfair treatment in terms of political appointments among others.
The other factors are lack of financial autonomy for the local government and operation of a joint account, which concentrate all the resources of the councils in the hands of the state governor, who spends the money according to his whims and caprices.
The people argue that in the present situation, any local government not in the good books of the state government is doomed to be starved of its dues, which may impact negatively on development.
Sunday Nnalue, a Reverend gentleman from Ugbenu lamented that Awka North local government had suffered neglect for a long time.
“It seems that the government abandoned us. But glory be to God that this administration, Willie Obiano is trying to remember us. Inasmuch as it was the past administration of Peter Obi that awarded the road, he didn’t abandon the road, the bridge delaying work had been completed and now, whoever wants to come to our place can do that. But formerly, you cannot talk of that, if it is a rainy time, you cannot come to our place. It is about leadership. Had it been that we have people who have so much interest in our development as a town or local government, they would be moving to government with our requests and if government releases anything, they will make sure it gets to the people,” he stated.
However, Mr Albert Chinwuko from Urum held the people responsible for their backwardness.
“I will say that why Awka North is in this mess is that we are the problems of ourselves, we Awka North indigenes. In the sense that the attitude of the people is too bad that nobody is ready to go and talk or plead our case. I believe that it is only when you come out and tell the government what you need that government will now come to your aid. Part of Awka North land especially in Amansea is being used by the government but where are not getting anything from it”.
The Obi – led administration awarded a contract to construct the Amansea-Ebenebe-Ugbenu-Ugbene-Awba Ofemili road to Brecco Nigeria Limited at the cost of N2.5 billion (two billion, five hundred million naira) but it was later revised to N7,816,193,590 (seven billion, eight hundred and sixteen million, one hundred and ninety three thousand, five hundred and ninety naira).
The 32 kilometre road was awarded on April 11, 2007 and flagged off on July 2, same year with a completion period of fifteen month. Though work started immediately on the project, the work on the main bridge on Esu River took about four years, a situation which hampered the socio economic life in the affected communities.
Building projects stopped in the affected communities because the people were making use of paddled boats to cross to either side of the river.
However, the Anambra State Road Reconstruction Programme Report released by the state Ministry of Works as at 30th November, 2013, towards the twilight of the Obi’s administration indicated that only 12.31 kilometres had been asphalted with N3,309,349,475 (three billion, three hundred and nine million, three hundred and forty eight thousand, four hundred and seventy five naira) paid to the contractor.
The balance to be paid to the contractor is N4,506,845,115 (four billion, five hundred and six million, eight hundred and forty five thousand, one hundred and fifteen naira).
It therefore worries the people, especially those of Ugbenu, Ugbene, and Awba Ofemili, that eight years after, the road construction has not progressed beyond Ebenebe, a situation which had made them to go through untold hardship.
Also, eleven months to the end of the Obi – led administration in 2013, the award of a contract for the construction of the 15.9 kilometre Okpuno-Urum-Amanuke-Achalla road was announced by the then commissioner for Information, Joe-martin Uzodike, alongside three other projects in the other parts of the state, at the cost of N1,604,29,466 (one billion, six hundred and four million, two hundred and ninety one thousand, four hundred and sixty six naira) with a completion period of twelve months.
The project, awarded to Grand Star Limited, was supposed to be delivered in April 2014. But a visit to the area revealed that work stopped on the road in August, 2015 while the contractor had left the site.
Although the road had been asphalted up to Urum, people of the benefitting communities wonder when the project would be finally delivered to give them the desired relief.
The Commissioner for Works, Lawrence Chinwuba, in a telephone interview reacted to the stoppage of work on the two road projects, which he blamed on the rainy season.
“Are you not in Nigeria? Listen, rain fell even up till yesterday. It started drizzling this morning. Most of the contractors have demobilized because of heavy rains. Whenever rain is falling, it slows down the pace of road construction. As soon as this rain stops, we shall resume construction of those roads. We had a meeting with the governor concerning the state of those roads. You don’t tell me about the food producing prowess of the people of Awka North because I am part of “Adagbe”.
“Apart from the resolve to complete the ongoing roads, government plans to do other roads to open up agricultural and investment areas including Awka North, in order to make sure that those who produce food have access roads to evacuate their products for sale in urban centres as well as make good profit from their sweat,” the commissioner stated.
Another critical factor identified as responsible for the present condition of Awka North is what the people called “lopsided budgeting”, which gives much to the local government but spends nothing appreciable there.
The chairman, Community Empowerment Network in Awka North, Mr Albert Chinwuko, speaks further on that.
“The 2014 and 2015 budgets, if you look at them, you discover that Awka North is rated so high in budget allocation, but when you come to implementation, you see that nothing is being implemented. Our code is being used in other locations in Awka South and other places. For instance, a road leading from Awka to Achalla was awarded in the 2014 budget for seven times, with different names and amounts allocated to them. So we believe that government is marginalizing us because we don’t have somebody to come and talk for us. Even our political representatives, they are careless about it. They don’t even do anything about it. It is too bad of them. So I am saying that the problem is from the government as well,” he said.
When this revelation was made during a town hall meeting in 2014, the President General of Mgbakwu, Abel Anazo, his Isuaniocha counterpart, Alfred Nkwonta, and another community leader from Urum, Nnacheta David Obineche, condemned it in strong terms and called on the government to reverse the trend which they described as fraudulent and false representation of realities of budgeting in the state.
In an interview, an international and community development consultant, Greg Anyaegbudike, while commending the Anambra State Government for keying into the International Public Sector Accounting Standard, (IPSAS), in its 2014 and 2015 budget, described as deceptive the lumping of billions of naira under the code of Awka North while almost all the money were meant to be spent outside the local government area.
“Budget is key to development and there is no development project that is not budgeted for. I have had opportunity of looking at 2014 budget and the draft for 2015. From 2014, Anambra State keyed into the implementation of IPSAS, the state government is commended for that. But what I have found out is that budgets are being lumped under one code, which implies that there is lack of full compliance in the state. For instance, if I am from Awka North and I pick up the budget for 2014, if I see N92 billion (ninety two billion) as the amount budgeted for Awka North, I will say yes we are okay, God had finally answered our prayer that government is really interested in the development of Awka North. But when you now look deeper, you see that there are many projects that are coded under Awka North that are not supposed to be there.”
“Again from my experience and moving around in the communities in the state, I could find out that most of the projects that are said to be existing in Awka North don’t exist there. So they exist there on paper. You see them talk about provision of water reticulation in parts of the state and they come and code it under Awka North, Awka North is not parts of the state. So I think it is either the planning officers are not fully aware of the use of IPSAS or that somebody is deceiving somebody somewhere.”
“The way the IPSAS is being implemented now in relation to Awka North, it is deceit, it is confusion and it is a lot of underdevelopment coming to a people that thought that development is coming to them. I think it behoves the representatives of the people of Awka North, the local government chairman, the House of Assembly member, the House of Representatives member and the senator representing them to actually look inwards and try to at least let government say we are going to bring N100 million (one hundred million) into the local government instead of N100 billion (one hundred billion) with nothing to show for it.”
The Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget, Umeobi Andrew Ubinwa, explained that no reasonable government would intentionally short-change any section in its jurisdiction.
“Poverty and backwardness are dependent on a number of factors. What government had done for the people, what the people have done for themselves. If you look at Anambra State, you find some communities and LGAs that have developed due to the activities of their people. Awka North is described as backward in the poverty map because of certain indicators such as: availability of health facilities, education, water and, of course, infrastructure.”
“And one of the follow ups to that survey was the award of contracts to refurbish health facilities, facilities in the education sector, boreholes are sunk, and drugs are supplied to their health facilities among other measures. The road projects in the local government are still on despite some constraints that government has. Government had been trying to see what it can do to complete those projects. Government will always intervene to provide environment to enable individuals, communities LGAs to move on. But not all LGAs can move at the same pace. Government is there for the people and in Anambra State we had decided to distribute projects across the Local government areas”.
The Permanent Secretary also reacted to the alleged lop-sidedness of 2014 and 2015 budgets.
“The way budget is designed is to capture the essential projects in all the local governments. I am not sure that any government even this present government to deliberately leave out any of its sections. There are certain projects that traverse two or more LGAs. It is difficult to say that the code of Awka North is used for projects in other LGA. But no local government would be short-changed. If you talk of MDGs, it touched the inner parts of Awka North. They have a good number of MDGs projects.”
“People are concerned about road infrastructure. Government cannot cater for all the needs of the people at the same time. What you do is to take them one after the other. If you look at IPSAS, it is a medium term measure, over a period of three four years, that is the term of an administration. So you use annual budget to captures activities and programmes in each year. The hope is that over those years, you must touch and meet the needs of various communities. If you have evidence show me that money allocated to Awka North is spent elsewhere.”
“However, one of the basic problems we have with budgeting which I must agree is that we have some budget heads that had been there over some years. But why it is not yet implemented is that certain conditions are not met. What government of Anambra State is doing is to create enabling environment to enable private sector to come in as well as communities and individual to contribute their quota to the development of various communities. If the people of Awka North are enterprising, what they will do is to pressurize the government to provide certain infrastructure to enable them on their own move on – the self-help approach.
“We source money from Federal Account and Internally Generated Revenue, FAC is dwindling and government is trying to raise the IGR profile to keep itself afloat. I am just taking time to tell you this so that you can understand, because it is easy to criticize and do some faulty analysis of certain documents. But you look inward to see what challenges we have in executing those budgets. We just started IPSAS in 2014 and 2015, we shall look at implementation of the two previous years and correct any identified inadequacies. I should be able to understand what you are talking about when I look at them. If there are areas, they shall all be corrected”.
Since political representation is one major issue people complained about, the reporter also sought audience with the political representatives of the people on their efforts to transform the local government area.
The chairman of Awka North local government, Cosmas Okonkwo, denied the allegation of poor political representation, stating that the major problem with the local government area is its topography, which had scared successive administrations from embarking on development projects, particularly road infrastructure.
“I don’t think it is so. The politicians that have served Awka North in the past, to the best of my knowledge, had done their best. The problem of Awka North mainly comes from the topography of the local government. If you check the story of Awka North, it is the same thing that happened in the Niger Delta that is happening here. In the Niger Delta, to construct a road will cost ten times of what will be used to construct a road in the states of the north. And to construct a road in Awka North will cost government about four times what they will use to construct a road in Agbenu areas. Why they call them Agbenu is because there is no water there. In Awka North, there is no particular road you can construct without bridges and they are not small bridges. So I think this a major factor that scares the state government from embarking on road projects in the area. But thank God that the (head of the) present administration is from Anambra north and has started tackling the problems of the northern people.”
“The backwardness of Awka North, is not peculiar to Awka North alone, it affects all the local government in Anambra North. Governments in the past had been neglecting the northern part. The northern part had not been lucky to have one of their own as the governor of Anambra State. But God blesses us this time with a Northern Governor and he has started making in-roads into those areas. One of the longest roads being constructed by the present administration, leading from Otuocha to the oil rig area has three main bridges. In the past, the people from the other part of Anambra State would not venture into it. They would say it is a waste of money. But the governor being from this part knows the necessity of that particular road. The same way, he is trying to open up Awka North to link up Anyamelum, in another side to link up with Anambra East, through Nando. And if you look at the rate of development coming into Awka North now, especially in Isuaniocha, Mgbakwu and Amansea, you will find out that in the next three to five year, Awka North will measure up with any other local government or look like a local government within the state capital.”
“In my discussion with the capital development board, they showed me the master plan of Anambra State and the capital. And I discovered that the governor has very great plan for the capital and Awka North is at the centre of the whole thing. So, Awka North will very soon become a local government area to visit”.
The chairman, who also decried the duplication of the construction of Awka Achalla road, said measures are being taken to address the problem of lop-sidedness of the 2014 and 2015 budgets.
“We have held series of town hall meetings on that. We have been meeting with JDPC and we have been sensitizing our people. Leaders of thought of Awka North have also been meeting. We are packaging all these things to let the authorities know because the governor might not even know just like I told you they broke a single road into many parts making him believe that they are many. We are trying to draw the attention of the Governor to all these things and he is a practical man. As soon as he discovers it, he will correct the anomaly,” he stated.
Boniface Okonkwo, who represents Awka North constituency in the Anambra State House of Assembly declined to comment. He said he would be disposed to speak at the end of the month (November) for reasons best known to him.
Going forward, some citizens of the local government said their representatives must play down on selfish ends and serve the people selflessly.
Since government can’t meet all the needs of the people, Anyaegbudike and the Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Economic Planning and Budget, Andrew Obinwa, challenged the people of Awka North to take their destiny in their hands. And embark on self-help projects to drive development in the area. This, they believe, will encourage the state government to do more for them.
It is pretty clear that addressing the development problems of Awka North is not just in interest of the people alone. While the potential of the people would be better harnessed for greater prosperity of the state, their economy too would be further boosted. It will also lend a great boost to the food security programme of the state government.
*This investigation by Alfred Ajayi was packaged for Purity FM Radio, Awka, Anambra State with support from Ford Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.