On January 7, I was at Neni at the invitation of the Martina Chinyere Enidom Foundation. The foundation, led by Paul Enidom, Chairman of Paul B Construction Ltd, organised its 3rd lecture series, and I chaired the occasion. The lecture titled Government and Community Partnership in Development Initiative: The Neni Example was eye-opening.
Neni community, like most communities in Anambra, boast of eminent business people, scholars and entrepreneurs. My back of the envelope calculation shows a combined net worth of between 700 million to 1 billion dollars of Neni indigenes. It is the town of the owner of the Young Shall Grow Transport and Rockview Hotels, the owner of Chelsea Hotels and the late owner of Tonimas Group, amongst others.
Some years ago, Paul B approached some of the town’s rich men and proposed an internal road drainage and asphalt construction at cost using his expertise. He started with a road paid for by him. After initial scepticism, Chief Anthony Enukeme (Tonimas) joined the initiative with others.
Today, Ndi Neni have constructed 24km, and the Anambra State government, in a rare show of support, constructed 2.7km of asphalt road. These are internal roads within Neni town. To understand the impact of 24km of asphalt road, consider that Anambra State is the second smallest state in Nigeria after Lagos; most towns in Anambra are no more than 25sq KM. Neni is probably the town with the best stock of internal roads in Nigeria.
To ensure sustainability, the Neni community, under the umbrella of the Neni Town Union, approved the setting up of its road maintenance agency; Neni Road maintenance Agency, NERMA. The Agency’s mandate is not limited to the roads constructed by the town but includes other state roads crossing the town.
In what I consider a significant departure from typical attitudes in our environment, the town documented a maintenance protocol articulating standards. The road maintenance handbook contains guidelines, which they plan to harmonise with State and LGA standards, if they exist.
Success begets success; now, the town is focused on rebuilding and retooling the schools in the community. There are seven primary schools and a secondary school in Neni. The state government had handed over six primary schools to both the Catholic and Anglican churches, with only one primary school and the secondary school under state control. Initial studies reveal a sad state of affairs at the schools. The schools are crying for upgrades, and the quality of instruction has declined progressively.
The Neni community, from its experience with the roads, is set to intervene. The community has set up the Neni Development Initiative Group(NDIG) to raise funds for the immediate reconstruction of all the schools. Already, about N25million was raised this Christmas towards this plan.
The NDIG is also handling the upgrade of the three health care centres in Neni. The plan is to provide quality health care for residents at affordable rates while sustaining infrastructure and operations cost through the NDIG.
Last December, Dr Christopher & Mrs Victoria Anago, under their NGO, Lifecare Coalition Outreach in California, deployed over 100 medical personnel to Neni for free medical outreach valued at over 500 million Naira. Dr and Mrs Anago plan to intervene in their community Neni to provide health care services to the underprivileged and people from neighbouring communities.
The story of the Neni community is a profound expression of the idea of Unlock Naija. It is an example of community-based governance that Igbo communities and Nigeria should emulate.
The idea of coming together to delink from the moribund Nigerian state where the government has become the obstacle to unlocking our potentials is the path to the future.
For Ndi Igbo and Nigerians in general, I have preached the message of applying Uche, Uchu na Egwu Chukwu as the triple virtues that will unlock our capabilities and lead us on a sustainable path to development.
Speaking at Neni, I called on those who want to move to Naija Nation, that space where we do not wait for restructuring, secession or constitutional amendment to unlock our potentials, to come together now. We, in Unlock Naija Movement, believe in the fierce urgency of now, like the Neni community.
To achieve this pivoting from the gridlock of Nigeria, we must eschew the triple evil rearing its head in our society. The first is Nkali, the superiority syndrome where we all want to display our superiority over others through flaunting our wealth and the emerging income discrimination in our society.
The second is Nkpali, a disrespectful and abusive disorder growing like a stage four cancerous tumour. To disrespect and abuse elders and those we consider beneath us is now described as courage; we must excise it now.
The last is Mmegbu, that urge to oppress and suppress. Oppressing the poor and those beneath us is now a sign of success. The powerful and noveau rich identified by our convoys and retinue of hangers-on do not obey traffic or any rules. We have figured how to use state apparatus for our personal end. I will describe these vices in another post soon.
For our communities to thrive and our society renewed, we must eschew Nkali, Nkpali na Mmegbu. To shun these vices is critical in the effort to make the wealthy come together and deploy their resources for communal benefit and not impose their will on the community using their unfettered powers made possible by a corrupt and moribund Nigerian state.
Neni is an example to follow.
Osita Chidoka is a former Minister of Aviation
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