25th November, 2014
By Raymond Ekeji
Ordinarily, Enugu State is populated by a humane, humble, peaceable, most hospitable, and easy-going people who prefer to be called Wawa people. Apart from far and in-between minor communal brawls, it is that part of the country where you never hear about riots or serious protests.
Their capacity to forebear comes to light in the event of highly provocative events in the state, especially of recent. From the chicken impeachment to the N11 billion loan, the N13 billion naira New State Secretariat Complex, the furnishing of the said Secretariat and New Governor’s Office to the tune of billions of naira in spite of biting emergencies, you could easily see provocations that would have set other climes on fire. But thank God for the land of my mother.
It is also for this reason that I find the recent attack on Senator Ike Ekweremadu’s Ikeoha Foundation Free Eye Treatment Project mission by thugs allegedly led by two Development Area Administrators (Chairmen) of Ezeagu North and Ezeagu South Development Areas, most disturbing.
Media reports had it that the annual project, which was projected to benefit over 10,000 people in each of the five local government areas of the Enugu West Senatorial Zone in terms of free eye treatment, free drugs, free eye glasses and free eye surgeries had commenced on November 17 in partnership with Community Eye Savers. It started well on its third day at the St. Theresa’s Secondary School, Oghe in Ezeagu LGA when hoodlums suspected to be political thugs stormed the venue to unleash mayhem.
Narrating the incident to newsmen, the Executive Director of the Ikeoha Foundation, Mrs. Cindy Ezeugwu said: “We had successfully carried out the 2014 edition of the project in Udi, Oji River, and Awgu local government areas. So, Ezeagu was slated for today. We had set up the venue with canopies and chairs as well as our facilities as usual. We had accredited over 600 people and attended to two elders and Igwe Sylvester Ozoekwem, the traditional ruler of Umumba Ndiuno that morning. The turnout was massive.
“Everything was going on smoothly until over ten thugs led by the Administrator of Ezeagu North Development Area, Hon. Okwudili Onuora popularly called Ayaya and the Administrator of Ezeagu South Development Area, Hon. Chukwudi Ezinwa Ezeagu who is also known as Commodore stormed the venue, a catholic school within a Catholic Church premises, and commanded us to stop attending to the people. They said we should pack our things. While we were trying to explain, even as the people were protesting, they descended on us and the venue, destroying the canopies, drugs, breaking the chairs, some on people’s heads. They inflicted very deep wounds and gashes on my people. They destroyed some equipment and confiscated our video and still cameras, tapes, and memory cards. Our Fundraising Manager, Obiora Obasi and Cameraman, Ogoo Chinedu, for instance, sustained deep cuts. Ogoo’s nose was broken and he fainted. The commotion and mayhem was just too much”.
Asked if she read any political meanings to the incident, knowing that the Development Area Administrators were political appointees of the Sullivan Chime administration, Mrs. Ezeugwu explained: “All I know is that the Ikeoha Foundation has so far strictly stayed out of politics; even when this year schools were barred from participating in the Ikeoha Quiz Competition where winning schools and runners up usually take home educational equipment, while the students themselves get N500,000 each once they gained admission into the university, we refused to go public about it. When we procured 20,000 units of anti-malarial drugs from a highly reputable international pharmaceutical company for distribution to health facilities in the senatorial district to curb the high incidences of malaria-related sickness and death and it was sabotaged, we refused to talk, just to stay out of politics.
“This particular programme was well publicised and it is something the Foundation has been into over the years to help our people. So, I don’t know why anybody in his or her right senses would conceive the idea of attacking us, our partners and medical team working for the good of the poor masses. It is so unfortunate.”
According to an account by a Programme Officer at the Foundation, Mr. Uzo Michael, he left the venue to Enugu with the Divisional Police Officer, DPO for Aguobuowa, Ezeagu, Mr. Donald Okafor to see the State Commissioner of Police earlier that morning on account of a petition by the Chairman of the Local Government claiming that members of the medical team were coming to demonstrate and cause trouble, hence should be stopped. He said the Police Commissioner after listening to him was satisfied that it was a noble cause and asked him to return to Oghe to continue with the programme. But he said that on return, he “saw the whole place so riotous like a war zone.”
There were also reports last year of how the contractor handling the construction of a National Youth Development Centre directed to Ezeagu LGA by Senator Ekweremadu was initially prevented by the Council Chairman from commencing, causing unnecessary delay.
Beyond the legal matters here, which border on criminality, I believe the issue at hand is also a moral one. The core essence of political power is to serve, to bring greater good, better life, improved welfare to the greater number.
It is true that no little bird dances on the roadside without someone drumming for it from the nearby bush, but it is a serious indictment on the part of the council bosses that the programme succeeded in the three previous LGAs, but was torpedoed in Ezeagu by them to please the powers that be at the expense of their own people.
While I agree that all has not been well with the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the state, now clearly divided between actors loyal to Governor Sullivan Chime and the Deputy President of the Senate, I thought that even in wars, humanitarian workers are conventionally never subjects of aggression.
Although the Ikeoha Foundation was founded by Senator Ekweremadu and used for development interventions over the years, it is not exactly the same as Ike Ekweremadu seeking re-election to the Senate. It is a humanitarian and corporate entity, even if its numerous works rub off positively on his person and political career. Thus, an attack on the Foundation or its legitimate activities is therefore highly condemnable. The real loser is not Ekweremadu whom am sure can afford the best medical care for himself and family members anywhere in the world, but the masses of Ezeagu who have been denied the 2014 edition of this free medical services.
It is not enough for the Police Commissioner to give the age-long refrain: “we will leave no stone unturned to ensure that the perpetrators are brought to book”, as he has already done, we want to see the perpetrators in jail in a matter of months. As our people say, it is only when the big vulture with the Ozo chieftaincy rope around his ankle is apprehended that we can indeed know those who conferred the Ozo chieftaincy title on him.
Importantly, the war we want in Enugu is the war of ideas, not of political brigandage and ego.
•Ekeji writes from Enugu