By Edwin Ugwuanyi
Midas was the not-so-smart king of Phrygia. When presented with the same offer made to King Solomon, instead of asking for wisdom, King Midas requested the powers to turn anything he touches to gold. Before long Midas realized his stupidity because he could neither eat nor drink as those too turned to gold. Such great folly.
Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the governor of Enugu State, appears to be caught in a similar folly. Like King Midas, he has insatiable avarice to usurp anything of value he can see. But unlike Midas, it appears the gods have gifted him with an opposite anointing. Everything he touches turns to dust. He has an anti-Midas touch.
There is shared concensus that Ugwuanyi has the wiles and native trickery required to be successful in politics. There is also shared consensus that he is out of his depth when compared to his predecessors: Michael Okpara, Jim Nwobodo, C.C. Onoh, Chimaroke Nnamani, and Sullivan Chime. Like the servant in the biblical Parable of the Talents, Ugwuanyi has been unable to invest nor maintain the assets he inherited from his prior administrations. For instance, in 2014, Enugu was selected by Rockefeller Foundation as part of the “100 Resilient Cities Network (100RC)” alongside Barcelona, London, Paris, Singapore, etc. The only African cities in 100RC were Kigali, Accra and Arusha. Enugu was chosen from over 350 applicants because of its “unique vision for resilience”. With this recognition, Enugu could access a $100 million commitment by Rockefeller Foundation. Fastforward to today, Enugu is no longer part of the network. Why would it be when there are no proper taxis in the city; no traffic light works, refuse collection is done with rickety, open-back lorries, none of the refuse compactors inherited from the previous administrations works, etc. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, Enugu State is turning to dust.
Enugu was considered to have one of the most conducive business environments; indeed, a cumulation of the efforts of the previous governors from Michael Okpara to Sullivan Chime. Today, many of the businesses, small and large, are closing down or exiting the state for a myriad reason including the multiple taxes levied by King Ugwuanyi. For instance, in 2019, Coca Cola, that had been at 9th Mile Corner since the early 1970s, fired 10,000 staff and moved to Edo state. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, businesses are turning to dust.
Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, who is unable to attract investors, has perfected the art of chasing out the existing ones. For instance, Sullivan Chime, in his efforts to rebuild Hotel Presidential, in 2014 concessioned it to a team of investors for 35 years. Primeview Hotels Limited commenced fundraising and a redesign of the hotel. However, upon his ascension to the throne, Ugwuanyi used security agents to forcefully take over the hotel which, unfortunately, has been left to rot. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, Hotel Presidential has turned to dust.
Another sorry case is the Centenary City that was conceived as a way to position Enugu as the gateway for investments into the South East. The city, which has won numerous awards, was to be the base from where illustrious Ndigbo will make other investments in the region. Situated on 1,000 hectares of land, the city was designed and is currently being developed by a South African firm and their Nigerian investors in partnership with Enugu State government. It is already attracting investors. The Opus Dei, a Catholic organisation, has set up a secondary school that will become the “Loyola Jesuits” of the South East. Genesys Tech Hub, the leading tech incubation hub in the South East, has located in the city and placed Enugu on the global technology map. Such is its position that Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, Vice President of Nigeria, visited the hub to see for himself. Sufficiently impressed, the Vice President invited the owners of the hub to join him on an investment promotion drive to Silicon Valley in the United States. Genesys has trained thousands of young Nigerians; many of whom are already running their tech companies. In November 2019, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi cancelled the agreement with the South African company and forcefully moved in to take over the project. As with Coca Cola and Hotel Presidential, it is clear what will happen to this city that holds a lot of promise for Ndigbo. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, Centenary City will turn to dust.
The drop in crude oil prices is expected to reduce state allocations from the Federal Government. However, instead of focusing on how to develop Enugu, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is busy campaigning to become the Vice Presidential candidate in 2023. His plan is, at the right time, to abadon his party and crossover to the All Progressives Party (APC). In one of his recent moves, his government take out full-page adverts in major national newspapers to congratulate Festus Keyamo, an APC chieftain, on his 50th birthday celebration. This is the same government that is locked in a battle with the labour unions for its inability to pay retiree pensions and salary arrears. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, old, and poor pensioners should be sacrificed on the bloody altar of his Vice Presidency ambition.
The people of Enugu State are suffering. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is unable to sustain the commercial taxi scheme introduced by Sullivan Chime nor has been able to introduce his own solution. The people have had to resort to Keke tricycle taxis and dilapidated minibuses. According to the National Bureau of Statistics, bus fares within Enugu increased by over 155 percent between January 2016 and December 2019. This is a double-whammy for those who are losing their jobs and have to contend with asronomical costs of living. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, Enugu, which was handed to him on a platter of gold, is rusting.
How will the quality of life of Ndi Enugu improve if the businesses that are supposed to deliver the jobs are all leaving the city? According to the recent data released by the National Bureau of Statistics, the worst incidents of poverty in the South East is in Enugu and Ebonyi states. Imagine the number of jobs that would have been created if the investors in Hotel Presidential were allowed to restore the hotel to its former glory. Imagine the number of jobs that would be lost if Ugwuanyi is allowed to kill Centenary City and all of his other anti-business antics. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, dreams of sufficient jobs for the young in Enugu are fast dissipating.
Beyond placing Enugu in the “hands of God”, what are Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi’s plans for developing the state? Five years in, one is challenged to identify what he has achieved besides creating a personal portfolio of real estate assets: WTC Estate, Diamond Estate, Industrial Park at 9th Mile, HELIU Estate (an acronym for His Excellency Lawrence Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi), Akwata market, and many others. The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission claims that over 80 percent of the petitions it receives in its Enugu Zonal Office are land-related. Other law enforcement agencies are inundated by similar land-related conflicts and cases of flagrant abuse of extant court orders. Under King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas anointing, Enugu, that once sane and peaceful city, is becoming a turf for landgrabbers.
Ndigbo has perfected the act of blaming the Hausa-Fulani for every mosquito bite while refusing to admit that the enemy is within. More damage has been done to Ndi Igbo by their state governors (Rochas Okorocha, Orji Uzor Kalu, T.A. Uzor and Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi) than ten generations of Hausa-Fulani can ever do. Enugu was the great hope for Ndi Igbo. It was to become that cosmopolitan city that Ndigbo, irrespective of state of origin, can proudly call their own. That hope is dissipating under the leprous anti-Midas hands of King Ugwuanyi. Maybe Abakaliki will be the place. At least, Umahi is using the same quantum of funds Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi is receiving to transform Abakaliki into some sort of mini-European city.
Businesses and investors in Enugu should not allow King Ugwuanyi to run them out of town. Concerned Umu Igbo, irrespective of state of origin, should not keep quiet while this destruction is being perpetuated. This generation of Ndi Igbo must be as bold as their fathers to stand up and fight the leprous politicians epitomized by Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. You must speak up to defend the many struggling traders in Akwata, Ogbete, Artisan, Coal Camp who may not be able to fight for themselves. You must resist the crooked politicians to defend the future of the many youths in Enugu state who will remain jobless because the government has failed to attract businesses that should create jobs. This is what it means to be Igbo. It is the ability to look injustice in the eyes and say “enough is enough”. King Ugwuanyi’s anti-Midas rubbish must stop.
Edwin Ugwuanyi is a policy analyst and writes from Abuja