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Nkerefi, tears of Enugu’s most neglected community

IMG_20150113_143803The community of Nkerefi is a border town between Enugu and Ebonyi
States, in the Eastern part of South Nigeria. According to analysts,
Nkerefi is one of the most important and strategic communities in
Nkanu East Local Government Area, sharing common boundary with
Ohaozara LGA of Ebonyi State.

Nkerefi traces its origin from Ezzakuna (Ezeoke-Una) the founder of
Ezza, whose father Una Okpoto Okumeze came from Afikpo group of the
Igbo history. These people have been organized into something like a
vassal state by their possession of a common dialect and culture, but
in reality, there is no Nkerefi state or trace. The word ‘Nkerefi’
refers more to the dialect and occupation than the people.

It lies within latitude 6.8N and 7.65E. It also lies wholly within the
tropics and stretches far beyond the Ovu River in the north, the Aesu
River in the south and east and the Okobo River in the West. An
agrarian community and a major food basket of the state, the community
is famed for production of garri, palm oil and other staple food, with
which it helps in feeding a great number of South-East and South East
states.

With its crop of healthy men and women, it is one of the largest and
most populous communities in the Local Government and indeed the whole
of Enugu State.

According to Barrister Obinna Onu, an Abuja based lawyer from the
community, “The 2006 Census put the population of the community about
150,000 people; this is despite the fact that the enumerators did not
penetrate into the interiors. The community has four autonomous
communities, 25 villages and has registered voters of about 12,000
strong”.
IMG_20150113_090322But the people of Nkerefi are not happy people. This is because they
have remained one of the most backward community in terms of
infrastructural development that comes with political leadership.
Ordinarily, it will take 25 to 30 minutes to travel from Enugu city,
capital of Enugu state to the community. But that journey these days
will cost travelers between two and three hours due to the terrible
road network.

When Quick News Africa visited the town, our reporter met major
impediments on a road that ordinarily would be smooth. Ovu bridge,
bordering Ugbawka town and Nara, as well as Ojoruwa, between Nara and
Nkerefi are very narrow bridges that only one vehicle can pass at a
time.

According to His Royal Highness, Igwe Peter Ani Onuoha, the Ezedinachi
1 of Ishienu Amofu, Nkerefi, the bridges were so bad in 2013 and the
early 2014 that no one was able to pass it. The consequences were so
great that farmn produce could not be transported outside the
community and economic activities were brought to an abrupt stop. The
people were completely cut off from the rest of the world: “We have no
road from Nara down to this place. Between that place in Nara to the
boundaries between Enugu and Ebonyi State, there is no road. Yet, as
soon as you enter Ebonyi, you meet good roads. During the rains, some
people pass through Ebonyi to get home. Some others resort to using
okada while many people don’t even bother to come home during the
rainy season just because of the bad nature of our roads. We are
completely cut off, as you have seen that people can’t even reach you
on the phone. Our bridge cut off at a point. We called the local
government and they said that the bridge belongs to the state. We
called the state government, we called the federal. It was after then
that FERMA came and fixed the bridge. The bridge was built by the
military, and they built it back in 1971.
But the government of Jim Nwobodo built roads which didn’t last too
long. Only recently, the community decided that they were going to
bring Caterpillars to grade the road, but I said ‘no’. if you grade
the road now, nobody will use the road in the rainy season. So I am
begging he Nigerian government to come and help us, to rescue us from
this kind of problem”.

He also lamented that in the political circle, budding young
politicians of Nkerefi origin are also outsmarted off key offices
where they could attract development to the community. Hear him:
“Except for councillors, we don’t have anybody from our town. We have
people who have tried, but somehow, they get schemed out of the
political equation. This is Nigeria. We have never produced anything,
except way back in 1965. That was the last time Nkerefi produced a
chairman of local government. None of them came forth for these key
positions. If you go for primaries, they will say that you are not
qualified. Sometimes, I feel like shedding tears over this. I am not a
government person, and cannot start reeling out all the promises they
have made to us. We have people who are supposed to have been voted
into power to represent our interests. We have governors, senators,
House of Representatives members. But you people are eye witnesses
that the reasons why they were elected into office are yet to be met”.
IMG_20150113_100413He further lamented: “We are cut off in government representation, we
are cut off in government roads, we are cut off in all kind of
government projects. We are even negotiating with individuals and
companies to come and situate their companies here in our lands, so
that they may assist us with developments”.

The traditional ruler is not the only one who is unhappy in the community.
In the wake of the February elections, politicians have been visiting
the community for campaigns, but Quick News Africa had met a group of
angry young men, protesting, who complained that all politicians do is
campaign without doing anything for citizenry: Chief Joseph Nkpume,
the town Union president, Ishienu Amofu spoke to our correspondent:
“You have seen that we don’t have roads. People are finding it very
difficult to come to Nkerefi, and even our people are finding it
difficult to go outside. And we don’t know whether we are still in
Enugu State. The government does not even remember us.
Nkerefi people are saying that whoever is coming here to seek our
votes must give us assurance that they will give us good roads, and
they must give us light. Ishienu Amofu, our own community does not
have a health centre, and there is no water. We are suffering. The
only problem is that they keep saying that whether you cast a vote or
not,
they will still win”.

“In the past, we have been making concerted efforts to draw the
attention of the government. But there are no good responses. We have
made several documented appeals to these governments without a proper
response. We are appealing to the incoming government to remember
Nkerefi. We also appeal to the Federal Government to remember that
Nkerefi is part of this country, and has been grossly neglected”.

On his part, Rtd ASP Samuel Nwamba, the president general of Ihuakpu
General Assembly also spoke to Quick News Africa: “our four autonomous
communities have been neglected. Since the government of Jim Nwobodo,
no Nkerefi person have been appointed to any position of leadership.
That is why we are asking whether we still belong to Enugu State. If
we don’t belong to Enugu State, they should tell us. There are House
of Reps members and senators and even House of Assembly members. But
none of them have even visited our community. The man representing us
is from Nara, but he has never one day visited us to know the way we are doing. Hon Peace Nnaji who is representing us at Abuja only came here when she
wanted to run for the position. She has gone to Abuja now but has
never come to visit us”.

An English teacher spoke to our correspondent at Comprehensive
Secondary School Enuogu Nkerefi, one of the many schools Quick News Africa met in a state of disrepair.
“As you can see, the bock was built but they are not been used. It has
been like this for about five years. Using a place like this for the
students is a great risk for the students. There is no government
presence here. There are no books, and we have
been managing to cope. We have just one teacher here taking English,
and a Youth Corper. We have between 40 and 35 students per class, and
only one person teaches all these students English”.
IMG_20150113_103630Hon Joel Nwegbo, an Abuja-based businessman, and a native of Nkerefi
also told Quick News Africa tales of their predicaments: “the school was
built about seven years ago, and the building was built then-2009. You
can see that the building is down, and you can see that the materials
used for it are substandard. Due to the substandard nature of these
materials the students had no option than to start leaving the class.
Some parents have also withdrawn their kids to other schools”.

On the road, he said: “The patches of ashphalt road that you still see
here was constructed
during the time of Jim Nwobodo, in the Shehu Shagari government.
Thereafter, during the Chimaroke Nnamani regime, they came for
political reasons and graded the road. That is what you will see
between Nkerefi and Nara. They promised to do it, when they were
preparing for the local government elections. That was what they
promised the community. So after grading the road, that was the end.
The way this road is now, during the rainy season that motor vehicles
come to Nkerefi. When they get to Ojoruwa bridge, motor bikes will
then convey you down to our community. Nkerefi people are farmers. We
farm cassava in large quantity. We produce garri. Had it been its
tomorrow during Eke market, there will be a traffic congestion as
traders mill here to buy our products. But
since the road is bad, our mothers and fathers farm, harvest, fry it
in the hot fire, and after all these people will not come to buy at
Eke market. So it affects the economy. Another thing that we produce
in large quantity is palm oil. Our oil is the best. If you approach a
compound where they are making oil, you don’t need to put it in your
soup to know how good it is. This road has been affecting our economy.
People are already beginning to lose hope. It has affected the economy
and our young people are all migrating out of our community”.

He also revealed that the community lacks potable water: “Another
problem is that we do not have water at all. Fulani herdsmen take
their cattles to the Avuna River which we use. Even if you chase them,
they will still return when there is nobody there and pollute the
whole place. Our people have no option than to still go and fetch the
same water. The other time they came, they built some mechanism
boreholes. But none of the boreholes have been functional. You can go
and see the river, and also the boreholes”.

Igwebuike Primary School, Imeoha Nkerefi is a stretch of old building
which was initially built to be a staff quarters. But when the Imeoha
community agitated for a secondary school, the state government had
created a secondary school, without providing land or buildings for
its take off. The primary school had been reverted to secondary
school, and the primary had been moved to an abandoned teachers’
quarters, consisting of a dilapidated old building. Mrs Felicia
Ogbuefi, its head teacher spoke about the challenges she has had to go
through since her transfer to the school: “I was posted to this school
in 2012. I met this building in this condition, and since then I have
written, I have informed, I have met with the Igwe of this community,
and other stakeholders, telling them of the condition of the school.
The school have no classroom blocks. The one that the children are
managing is the staff quarters. The children
were moved from their school when it was raised to the status of a
secondary school. And they were brought here. The school is suffering,
and the issues include lack of classroom blocks, lack of teachers,
lack of desks. But I thank the Parents Association of this school.
When I came, the children were sitting on the ground, and it’s not
even concrete but dust floor. They had no desks”.IMG_20150113_103950“So I liased with them, and these desks were made. But you can see
that the desks are not enough. There are also no teachers’ tables, no
teachers’ desks. But our major problem is lack of classroom blocks. I
met this broken down building like this when I
came. I have tried to get the attention of the stakeholders, but
nothing has been done to fix it. Originally I had five teachers, now,
there is a recent transfer which affected the school greatly. I had
six teachers. Five were transferred, but only three were transferred
in. out of these three, one is seriously ill, so I can only boast of
three teachers handling nine classes, from ECC1(Early Child Care) to
Primary 1. We have about 200 plus children in the school”.

“For now, one teacher teaches ECC 1 to 3, and Primary 1, another takes
Primary 2 and 3, the other mans Primary 4 while the other takes Primary
6. I also hold chalk on board and combine it with my main work. I am
appealing to the government to come and assist us in so many ways we
need infrastructure- classroom blocks, as you can see, the place we
use have very low roof. When the sun shines, it affects us as it
heats up the children’s heads. You can’t have conducive learning in
such an environment our other problem is that of staffing. We have
insufficient staff”.IMG_20150113_134350IMG_20150113_134350

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