Today, Enugu State is thirty-one years old. It is a milestone. It is going to be a momentous occasion. We are going to witness those in authority, those who hold the levers of power in Enugu State, to roll out drums in celebration. They are going to bring together people of their kind, their friends, to make merriments with them, to cut the birthday cake, and to toast to the health of Enugu State @ 31.
They are going to congratulate themselves on what they had done. They are going to pop up champagne. They are going to eat, drink, and dance. They are going to entertain themselves with varieties of dance groups. They will make themselves happy and thumb their chests that they had done wonders.
Created on August 27, 1991 by the General Ibrahim Bababgida military administration, Enugu State is the outcome of sixty-five years’ struggle for freedom and for better life for Wawa people (as indigenes of the present Enugu and Ebonyi States were derisively called), which started on May 29, 1926, by some forward looking individuals who bonded themselves into an association called Enugu Aborigines Improvement Union.
The Wawa people were in a pitiable condition. The discovery of coal in commercial quantities in Enugu, in 1909, had attracted people to the area from both far and wide. But the indigenes of the area were made strangers in their own land: they were denied participation in the affairs of both the coal industry and the Enugu Township. These were systematically cornered by people who came from outside to the discomfort of the indigenes.
That apart, the people were derided and called all sorts of derogatry names. They were referred to as Wawa people, as primitive people, or bushmen. They were scorned, treated as non-beings, uneducated, and as people without intelligence, or of low mental faculty, people incapable of performing any cognitive activity.
Over the years, these epithets were ingrained into the subconscious of Wawa people, which made many of them begin to hate themselves and to adopt the attitude of inferiority complex. A good number of the people also shied away from their rights, from their duties and responsibilities.
The Enugu Aborigines Improvement Union came out to challenge this state of affair. They rejected the categorization of their people as inferior human beings, as bushmen or primitive people, and asserted that the Wawa man is mentally and physiologically not inferior to any homo sapiens, only that he saw the White Man’s education later than those who called him bushman, or person without cognitive reasoning.
The Aborigines Union launched vigorous wars against social injustice, against man’s inhumanity to man, and inequitable distribution of resources. They fought against economic exploitation, political discrimination and marginalization of Wawa people in the scheme of things. They fought against a system where some few privileged individuals cornered the resources of the land, swam in ocean of opulence, while millions of other people were left in abject poverty.
The Aborigines Union fought for access to education for their children and wards, and for a society where everybody would order his activities without let or hindrance. They envisioned an el dorado, a society where every good things of life would abound, a society free of unemployment, and with excellent infrastructural facilities, such as healthcare facilities, portable water supply, good road networks, electricity supply, etc.
For 65 years, generations of Wawa people fought for a better society for their people, anchored on social justice, liberty for all, and equal access to social and economic resources of the land. Some of them died in the struggle, some went to prison, while some others were kicked out from their various governmental positions. Still, many of the people remained resolute, and refused to surrender. They fought ferociously until August 27, 1991, when Enugu State was created. The people heaved a sigh of relief, and very many of them believed it to be the end of their suffering: the realization of the Wawa Dream.
Looking back, however, 31 years after the creation of Enugu State, what has really changed? Has the quality of life of the average Wawa man improved more than it was before the creation of the state? Does the Wawa man now has better access to education, social and infrastructural facilities, than he had under the old system?
What about equal participation in governance, and the attitude of those in government, in relation to ordinary citizens? How about corruption in public offices, services to ordinary citizens by those in government offices, etc? What have we really gained by having a new state of our own?
In the same vein, are the Wawa people now more united than they were when they were fighting for the creation of Enugu State? Do the people now believe, or have more confidence in their government than before the creation of Enugu State? These are some of the questions begging for answers.
Out there, a lot of things are on the negative trend. All the public primary schools in the state have been under lock and key for the past one month, because teachers in these schools have not been paid the N30,000 national minimum wage approved over two years ago, and nobody is doing anything. While we celebrate one or two individuals who made mark at the West African Examination Council, we left out the foundation level of education, the primary school level, largely unattended to.
Those who served Enugu State meritoriously and hung their boots, the retired civil servants, have been abandoned, forgotten, and their pensions and gratuities unattended to. The youths who we say are the leaders of tomorrow have been ignored, no work, and their future mortgaged. They roam the streets without aim. Some of them are now into armed robbery, prostitution, yahoo yahoo, cultism, banditry, kidnapping, etc.
Productivity is very low in Enugu State. All the state government owned industrial and commercial establishments are in comatose, dead. None of them is working. Agriculture has been abandoned. Every month, we travel to Abuja, cap in hand, to beg for federal allocation, without which we will not pay our civil servants and run the admnistration.
Virtually all the social and physical infrastructures in the state have collapsed – no road, no water, no electricity, no healthcare facilities, etc. There is hunger in the land, while poverty is spreading like wildfire. People are dying in droves, everyday.
Presently, there seems to be a very big gap between the Wawa Dream of our forefathers, and the reality currently on the ground. There seems to be a betrayal, a derailment from the path. So, instead of popping up champagne, making merriments, eating and drinking, rejoicing that Enugu State has clocked 31 years, there should have been introspection, inward thinking of what really had gone wrong, and how to fall into the track. But this is no longer for the present administration, which is already on its way out. It is for the incoming administration, the Obidient Movement.