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Gov. Mbah’s First Year in Office: In Press Statement, Frank Nweke II Frowns at ‘Demolitions, Increase in Taxation’
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Gov. Mbah’s First Year in Office: In Press Statement, Frank Nweke II Frowns at ‘Demolitions, Increase in Taxation’

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…Commends improvements in infrastructure, regular payments of pension, salaries

In commemoration of the first anniversary of Dr. Peter Mbah, the Executive Governor of Enugu State, a former Minister of Information, Frank Nweke II has frowned at what he described as the “destruction of properties and livelihoods and the ‘disruptive’ creation of unprecedented poverty and emotional distress on account of reckless disregard for the rights of citizens” in Enugu State. 

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In a lengthy press statement titled “Enugu State: One Year After: A Government in Need of a Human Face”, the former Director General, Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG), noted that while some obvious infrastructural improvements have been recorded, there was a need for the state government to consider the economic situation in the country while taking decisions. 

The full statement is below:

Enugu State: One Year After: A Government in Need of a Human Face.

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Frank Nweke II –  May 29, 2024

As we mark the first anniversary of the current administration in Enugu State, an appraisal of our social and economic realities is important in our efforts to keep the government accountable for its responsibilities.

Whilst we note some improvement in the provision of infrastructure in the state, it is difficult to disregard the habitual destruction of properties and livelihoods and the ‘disruptive’ creation of unprecedented poverty and emotional distress on account of reckless disregard for the rights of citizens.

Our economy has become worse in the past year, the cost of commodities has tripled and quadrupled in some cases, yet income has remained stagnant or reduced. Dozens of people have been killed in several parts of the state, and scores have been kidnapped, with some still in captivity. I commiserate with families who have lost loved ones or properties due to insecurity and the poor personal economy.

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The continued decline in economic fortunes may be a reflection of the nation’s macroeconomic conditions, however, the State government must take full responsibility to ameliorate the effects in every way possible. A time like this requires the government to be more thoughtful about policy interventions in both the monetary and fiscal spaces with an emphasis on programs and initiatives that will bring relief and succour to the cost of living crisis faced by citizens.

A few days ago, the ENSG hosted a media parley to report its activities of the past year. Glowing as the remarks were, the reality pales in comparison. It was also curious to see the administration’s preference for national media instead of local practitioners who can properly contextualize the issues in the State and share honest feedback with the government.

Communication and Stakeholder Engagement

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The media in Enugu seem to have been relegated to disseminating information from the government, instead of working as partners in development for engaging and receiving feedback from citizens. The seeming disregard for proper stakeholder engagement at the local level has been evident throughout the year, and its negative effect can be seen in the reaction of residents to policies implemented without their consent or awareness, in some cases. From the protests that erupted as a consequence of the handling of the sit-at-home ban to the new lawsuit lodged by the traders of the demolished Ogige market, adequate engagement would have diffused the tensions and opposition to the policies.

Our people say: “Ewopu nkita akpirhi ma egosighi ya, o’ chee na itulu ya mbo.” (When you remove a tick from a dog’s body, you show the dog the tick, or else it may assume that you pinched it.)

Policy communication and stakeholder engagement have to take priority over political rhetoric and media posturing. It is only respectful that leaders and government work in partnership with citizens.

Noteworthy activities

There have no doubt been marked improvements in the areas of waste management, although densely populated areas such as Emene and Abakpa, as well as the satellite towns of Nsukka and Awgu, still require urgent attention. As I shared in the past, working with neighbourhood and market associations across the state will go a long way in sustaining the desired hygiene within communities.

There are also noticeable efforts at repairing some pothole-infested roads in the Enugu metropolis. While there is a need for improvement in the repair turnaround time, this approach to maintenance should be intensified and replicated across the state. Most importantly, attention must be paid to the quality and durability of these roads.

The payments of pension and salaries have also been reported to be regular, albeit, inadequate to cover basic expenses in the current economy.

However, the policy direction and areas of focus of the administration remain disturbing.

Demolitions, Displacements, and the Obsession with Land Acquisition

The spate of demolitions in the state is extremely distressing. Within the past month, several properties including a Motherless Babies Home belonging to the Nigerian Red Cross Society, in Enugu; Our Saviour Institute of Science and Technology (OSISATECH), belonging to Rev. Fr. Emmanuel Ede; sections of the Ogige Market, Nsukka, Ogbete main Market along Holy Ghost Park in Enugu City; and a motor park in Gariki, Awkunanaw, Enugu have been reduced to ruins. Traders who barely eke out a living from the markets have suddenly lost their means of livelihood with unfulfilled promises of compensation. The alternative location provided for the orphanage home is reportedly not conducive to the purpose. The vulnerable continually bear the brunt of the government’s whims.

Earlier in the year, there were controversies surrounding demolitions and ownership tussles in Centenary City and the sale of portions of Hotel Presidential. I will always respect the government’s responsibility and prerogative to implement urban planning and the maintenance of law and order. However, the government must curtail its obsession with the acquisition of lands, staying within the ambit of the law and morality. Governance must be done with consideration, empathy, and adequate communication of intent with the citizens whose interests they represent.

The 72-hour notice to the traders and residents is inadequate for individuals who have made a living at that location for decades. There needs to be longer engagement and sufficient plans for compensation. Simply directing them to a new location under the control of thugs is not a viable method of leadership. The disrespect for human rights and dignity must be curbed now to avoid incurring more debilitating consequences.

Social Implications of the demolitions

We cannot dismiss the social and economic implications of these demolitions and displacements. There were reports of looting and sadly, rape and even the loss of lives due to the demolition exercises. Increased criminality is bound to be a consequence of increasing unemployment as a result of traders losing their businesses. Recently, a relative of mine was a victim of a robbery, losing his phone and other valuables while on a bus in Enugu City.

We can expect the creation of new slum areas in and outside the city, throwing more people into less than humane living conditions. The implications for public health and safety will also be dire.

Increased Taxation

The disruption of businesses of local traders across the state has also been accompanied by reports of increased taxation. Payment of taxation is a civic duty that citizens must be encouraged to fulfil voluntarily through improved service delivery, and not through straining businesses and means of livelihood by closing up shops and issuing threats. 

Our people are largely itinerant traders who depend on their day-to-day sales for survival. Given the hardship in the country, it will be pragmatic for the government to wear a decidedly human face as it discharges its responsibility of catering to the welfare and well-being of society. 

This is not the time for excessive and multiple taxations. This is not the time to extort, bully or humiliate citizens, especially the youth, who are already down and out in large numbers. This is not the time to confiscate the wares of poor men and women, several of them are aged, and struggling to make ends meet. This is not the time to destroy capital, however small, belonging to the poor, mostly acquired through credit, thereby plunging them into debt and compounding their already precarious plight.

Governments must uphold and enforce the law, but this must be done by following due process in a compassionate and non-discriminatory manner, the focus being to correct and protect not to humiliate or oppress. 

Water in Enugu State

The frantic attempts to make good on the promise of providing pipe-borne water into the homes of Enugu citizens have also not gone unnoticed. While ameliorative measures were deployed in the form of public taps and tanks, water galleries are in no way the hallmark of modern society. The water crisis in the state is far from over and providing potable water requires a more robust and innovative approach that involves critical systemic changes as I have shared in the past.

It is also interesting to note that my home in Enugu recently received a bill from the Water Corporation when in reality, we have not seen a drop of water from the mains in the past 9 years. Before that, we had potable water during the previous administration under Sullivan Chime. History also shows us that this water scarcity has not always persisted.

It is therefore pertinent that the ENSG reevaluates its overall strategy, focusing on sustainable solutions as against short-term efforts to score political points with the media.

Restoring Security

From many indications, there is a change in the approach to security from the previous administration under Ifeanyi Ugwanyi and this administration.  an improvement in the security architecture within the city. However, the activities of petty criminals arising from economic hardships must also be curbed. On the other hand, the reports from the hinterlands remain distressing. News of kidnappings in several parts of the state and attacks in farming communities continue to claim lives and reduce the production capacity of the state. The recent engagement of the affected communities in Uzo Uwani and Isi-Uzo is commendable. But they must be followed by resolute actions. The ENSG must pursue a robust partnership on security with the federal government, which has statutory oversight for security across the country. They must support the security agencies within the state and provide resources to aid their activities. The governor must work closely with the local government and other local authorities, such as the town council, faith-based institutions, and traditional rulers. This is critical for intelligence gathering and building trust with the people. The local government leadership must also be held accountable for deploying agreed security measures in partnership with the statutory agencies.

There can be no meaningful development without security, and the harmful effects of constant trepidation on the psyche of our people are unquantifiable. Farms have been abandoned and the current food insecurity is a direct consequence of the lag in farming activities. The government must deploy every resource required to ensure a quick and sustainable solution to insecurity in these affected communities.

It is also critical that the government explore the opportunities that technology provides for improving the security architecture of the state.

The Public Ranch Bill

Of great concern to me is the reported passing of the ‘Public Ranch Bill’ by the Enugu State House of Assembly. On its merit, the regulation of ranching activities is reasonable for both economic and social reasons. However, the context within which this law will be implemented must be considered. Sensitivities such as fear and mistrust within the communities of interest must be taken into consideration. Restoring the sense of security and trust in the government’s ability to protect lives and properties must take precedence over the creation of ranches to accommodate the same people who have been accused of grievous crimes. I hope that the government will take great care to engage the communities extensively and prioritise their security and well-being.

In conclusion, I hope that this administration can retrace its steps where necessary and keep the people at the centre of its policy formulation and implementation, prioritising pro-poor policies, holistic solutions, and empathetic governance. 

To reiterate my key points:

Governance must be delivered with empathy, compassion, and pragmatism.

Governance decisions must be made to accommodate both the urgency of the existing concerns and the longevity of the solutions.

Communication and stakeholder engagement in public governance are critical tools for the success of any administration and society. 

The government has made some progress with waste management and road rehabilitation in the city. This must be maintained and expanded into densely populated cities and towns, ensuring quality and attention to detail.

Restoring security and earning the trust of the people must be a priority for the government even as they implement policies for economic progress.

The success of Enugu State is for the good of all. I also encourage continuous engagement by the citizens. I have often said, “Leadership and followership are a shared responsibility.” We must all participate in the governance of our state with the abiding interest of ensuring the welfare and well-being of all citizens.

In the past year, I have issued several advisories on the issues of insecurity, the economy, and the approach to demolitions of properties across the state. I have also begun the Enugu Budget Watch Series in an attempt to help citizens analyse the budget and understand its viability given the state’s revenue and debt profiles.

We must cultivate political literacy amongst our citizens and demand good governance and excellent service from our public servants. As citizens, we must consistently remain curious about the management of our affairs in the state, ask questions, and be active partners in the development of Enugu State.

Frank Nweke II.

May 29, 2024.


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