Ezzagu community in Ishielu Local Government Area of Ebonyi State had some opportunities to change its narrative. But it does appear the opportunities were not utilised, leaving the area in deplorable state and dearth of amenities, reports UCHENNA INYA
The people, roads to Ezzagu
Ezzagu, which is part of Ezza clan in Ebonyi State, is an Administrative District with three major communities; Azuinyaba, Ezzagu and Ezekuna. Two major tribes of the Ezza clan inhabit Ezzagu. They are Nkomoro and Ogboji and each of the tribes has her kindred and lineages.
Ezzagu, as a geographical entity, shares boundaries with Amagunze in Enugu State, Nara Unateze also in Enugu State, Isu/Mgbalaukwu/Obeagu in Onicha Local Government Area of Ebonyi State, Agba in the state, Okpoto, and Iyionu also in Ebonyi State. Roads and bridges link and connect these communities, towns, and the people.
Ezzagu can be accessed from Enugu State through Ozalla–Agbani–Akpugo–Ihuokpara– Amagunze–Ezzagu–Isu Onicha Road. This road traverses the New and Old Afor Ezza Market in Ezzagu town. The highway was last constructed by the old Anambra State government under the then Governor Jim Nwobodo’s administration. The road is now a death trap and has remained impassible for years. It is largely deserted, unused with the Isu axis of it is overgrown with bushes.
From Imo and Abia states, one can follow Okigwe-Afikpo Highway, Amasiri-Abakaliki Highway, Ntezi Rest House-General Hospital and Maternity Agba-Eguhuo Ebonyi Bridge and enter Ezzagu.
Alternatively, from Enugu–Afor Ezillo Market–Azuinyaba–Onunweke Ezzagu to Onunwankwo Ekechi Awoke. From Onueke–Ekka–T-Junction Afor Nkomoro Market–Agba General Hospital and Maternity, Ezzagu can also be accessed.
Unfortunately, none of the roads is accessible or motorable except a few coal-tarred kilometres from Agba Hospital and Maternity-Eguhuo-Eguotu Ezzagu.
Ezzagu has two major rivers – Ebonyi and Inyaba Rivers. There are other small trajectories of streams like Okpi, Mkpi, Ogbudele, Nwovu, Nwofiaokwa, among others. Ebonyi Bridge, which was constructed by the colonial masters, was removed during the Nigerian-Biafran War in 1968.
Through the efforts of the late Rev. Fr. Raymond Ezeonu, a Bailey bridge was constructed across the Ebonyi River in March 1977 to connect villages in the community. Successive parish priests of St. Joseph Ezzagu through the assistance of the community have been repairing the bridge each time it broke down.
The people heaved a sigh of relief in 2007 when the second administration of former Governor Martin Elechi initiated the second Ebonyi Unity Bridge to link various communities in the state and started constructing the Ebonyi Bridge in the Ezzagu community.
However, their joy was short-lived as the bridge was abandoned after the initiation.
Governor Dave Umahi came in in 2015 and completed the bridge in June last year. With this, accessing Ezzagu on leg became very easy for the people and their constant drowning in the Ebonyi River was averted.
Politically lucky, blessed by nature, lacking infrastructure
Ezzagu and the Ishielu Local Government Area, in general, can be likened to Ikwo, Ohaozara, Ivo and Afikpo South local government areas by having great political chances. Most of these four local governments utilised their own chances as evident in the availability of good road networks and other amenities, which make life meaningful.
The Ivo Local Government Area produced a Senate President and Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) in the person of Senator Anyim Pius Anyim. It also produced another senator, Anyim Ude, who was the chairman of the Senate Committee on Aviation.
The local government also produced the current House of Representatives member representing the Ohaozara, Onicha and Ivo Federal Constituency.
Under Anyim Pius as Senate President and SGF, Ivo witnessed some levels of development with the construction of federal and internal roads before the present administration in the state came on board and constructed more roads and bridges, which have changed the status of the local government.
The same thing played out in Ohaozara Local Government Area where the state governor hails from. The local government, under the present administration, has witnessed rapid development with the construction of both federal and internal roads as well as provision of other social amenities.
The government also constructed the roads that connect the neighbouring local governments of Onicha and Ezza South. In the Ezza South Local Government Area, almost all the internal roads in Onueke Urban have been constructed by the government.
In Afikpo south local government, the situation is also the same having produced a Senator for eight years in the person of Sonni Ogbuoji who represented Ebonyi South zone. The local government also produced another senator currently representing the zone during the 2019 general elections. Ama Nnachi was elected during the election. It had produced House of Representatives members before producing senators.
Like Ivo and Ohaozara, Afikpo South also witnessed rapid development through construction of many internal roads by the state government, Ogbuoji and immediate past Chairman of the local government, Dr. Eni Uduma Chima.
But in Ikwo Local Government Area, the situation is almost the same with Ishielu which is lacking some basic infrastructure but for the Umahi administration in the state which constructed some internal roads and is still constructing others in the area.
Ikwo, which is the largest local government in the state, produced a two-term governor, Chief Martin Elechi, and the current Deputy Governor of the state, Dr. Kelechi Igwe, who is serving a second term as deputy governor. The local government also produced ministers, ambassadors and other top positions at the federal level before producing the current member representing Ezza South/Ikwo Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon. Chinedu Ogah.
In infrastructure, the local government is challenged by a bad road network. Almost all the roads in the area were impassable before the present administration came on board in 2015 and reconstructed some of them.
Politically, the Ezzagu community and Ishielu Local Government, in general, have also been very lucky, producing various leaders at both state and national levels but lacking in infrastructure. The community has held Senate and House of Assembly positions for 20 years. It has also held local government and other political positions.
A two-term senator, Julius Ali Ucha, hails from the community. Ucha, who was the chairman, Senate Committee on Works, was the pioneer Speaker of Ebonyi State House of Assembly.
Also, the community has produced a two-term House of Assembly member, Julius Nwokpor. Ezzagu has equally produced many local government chairmen and development centre coordinators as well as other political appointees.
Ishielu as a local government is currently occupying senatorial position at the National Assembly for Ebonyi Central Zone. Senator Obinna Ogba was elected to represent Ebonyi Central Zone in the Senate in 2015 and was re-elected in 2019. He is from the Nkalagu axis of the local government.
The local government has also produced a House of Representatives member in the person of Peter Edeh. Edeh hails from Agba, Ezzagu neighbouring community.
In terms of longevity, Ezzagu is also blessed. The oldest man in the entire Ezza clan, Nze Johnpaul Ngwuta Nwali, hails from Ogboji centre of the community. He is 135 years old. He is the Traditional Prime Minister of Ezza Ezekuna.
Despite being blessed in all aspects, the Ezzagu community has continued to lack amenities which make life worth living. Roads linking the community, which collapsed many years ago, have become death traps. The only good road that connects the community is Ntezi-Agba Road, which was also in a deplorable state before it was reconstructed by Governor Dave Umahi with concrete. Drainages were also constructed on the two sides of the road for proper water channelization. The road links Ezzagu directly. The construction of the road stopped at the Agba axis of the Ezzagu Road.
Umahi also completed the Agba-Ezzagu Unity Bridge abandoned by the previous administration of Chief Martin Elechi to save the people from constant drowning in Ebonyi River.
The governor also constructed Nkalagu-Umahuali Road in Ishielu Local Government Area which links the popular Nigeria Cement Company (NIGERCEM). The road was in a deplorable state before the reconstruction.
But Ezzagu, which has four federal wards – Ezzagu I, Ezzagu II, Azuinyaba A and Azuinyaba B – with a voting strength of over 200,000, appears to have been cut off from the rest of the world as a result of a bad road network despite being blessed with, among other things, a massive arable land which favours the cultivation of cash and food crops.
Markets in the community where the people and their counterparts from the neighbouring communities in Enugu and Abia states transact businesses, have become an eyesore. The roads leading to the markets are deplorable and impassable.
Ezzagu has Afor Ezza Market where people from the five states in the South-East come to buy foodstuffs and other commodities. It is an inter-state market and used to be the largest market in the South-East before its present deplorable condition. The market has become dilapidated. The entrance to the market and the entire premises have become impassible in this rainy season.
The people of the area produce every related palm product, maize, okro, rice, cassava, yam and other crops in large quantities without good roads and markets to move the crops out of farms and sell to consumers who come from far and near to buy. Food is relatively cheap in the community. A measure of rice, which is sold between N9,000 and N10,500 in Abakaliki, the state capital, is sold between N6,000 and N7,000 in Ezzagu.
Ezzagu’s Belly Bridge
A Catholic Priest, Msgr PatrickMary Mmuo who served in the community many years ago, narrated his experience while in Ezzagu.
Mmuo also revealed how the community was able to get its first bridge called the Belly Bridge through his soldier friend in the 70s to prevent the people from further drowning.
He said: “In October 1974, the Bishop transferred me to St. Joseph’s Parish, Ezzagu. I arrived there on November 1, 1974, on All Saints Day. It was very difficult to get into Ezzagu at the time. The road from Abakaliki went through Izo Imoha (Umuezeokoha). There was no bridge on Ebonyi River at Agba and the forest along the river banks was thick and fearsome. The road through Ntezi and Agba was not passable. The Catholic women fetched us water from Ebonyi River during the dry season. Only pedestrians and cyclists could ply the road from Ebonyi River to Afor Ezzagu Market by 1974.
“At Advent Season that year, when the Timid Child had become Parish Priest of St. Joseph’s Parish, Ezzagu, he decided to open the road to vehicles as a response to the Advent call to make all roads level and straight.
“The Local Government Council objected to this difficult project but the Timid Child insisted to do it with the labour of the Parish faithful. This project of building six culverts over six miles of road was completed with wood cut from the forests around, in one day. The lorry of the local government chairman was the first to ply the road to transport the chairman’s timber which had been abandoned in Ebonyi forest for some years, for sale in Enugu.
“Many of the out-stations of St. Joseph’s Parish, Ezzagu, were remote and difficult to reach. Trekking or riding the motorcycle was the means of access to them. No car could come into the area from any direction, at the time. Twice I fell off the motorcycle at the banks of Ebonyi River, while trying to get the motorcycle across the river. On one occasion the exhaust pipe of the motorcycle burnt off the whole length of skin on the inner side of my right leg. I still had to cross the river on foot after this burn. It was terrible! Gregory Okafor, my little boy and companion on this journey, was the one who encouraged me to wade across the river before darkness would keep us there at the mercy of snakes and crocodiles. I quickly obeyed him and did the odious task. But I was sick and in pain for a long time after that.
“On another occasion, I almost got drowned in Ebonyi River trying to cross it with my cook and motorcycle, in an overloaded canoe. But fortunately, by the time the canoe was sinking, we had reached shallow water. This was how the Lord saved us! My cook had earlier fallen off the tilting canoe, into the river, but he managed to grasp the canoe’s edge before he would drown. The canoe tilted towards the other side until my motorcycle began to fall towards the other side. I instinctively pulled it backwards, and this caused the canoe to begin to tilt towards the other side where my cook held it. Now, before the canoe got to the sinking point, we had reached shallow waters, the good swimmers jumped into the river, and I alone was not too heavy for the canoe to carry.
“In August 1975, the Bishop, Rt. Rev. Thomas McGettrick, summoned me to report at the Pontifical Urban University in Rome, in September, to begin a doctoral course in Canon Law. This was very sudden and urgent. So I had to hurry out of Ezzagu. I took some of the local boys and girls whom I planned to help, by organising their education or training in crafts, with the help of my relatives and friends.
“Rev. Fr. Raymond Ezeonu was sent to replace me at St. Joseph Ezzagu. When he came, he was able to put a bridge across the Ebonyi River connecting Agba and Ezzagu communities. How this happened was that fortunately for him, he had a friend who was an Army officer in charge of the Abakaliki Battalion. It happened the bridge at Ezillo had a problem. They wanted to replace it. Fr. Ezeonu had to beg his soldier friend to carry that Bridge to Ezzagu. That was how Ezzagu got a bridge through Fr. Ezeonu’s intervention. While staying in Ezzagu, Fr. Ezeonu got to know that twins were being killed secretly. They were covered in earthen pots and thrown away into the evil forests called Ikirikpo. He wondered then why he had never met twins in Ezzagu. Then he was told the story. Actually, while I was in Ezzagu I knew Ikirikpo was a dreaded place where the corpses of evil people were thrown but I never knew that twins were also thrown away there. When Fr. Ezeonu noticed that he began his twins’ saving apostolate. He would search for twins and their mothers and gather them in the Mission House. This was a very delicate apostolate because some traditional fanatics insisted their customs were being trampled upon or jeopardised. Through his dogged spirit, he was able to bring about a positive change of attitude toward the twins in Ezzagu. Today twins are no longer killed by the people. The twins are there as living testimonies of Fr. Ezeonu’s love for humanity.
“Apart from the twins’ apostolate, Fr. Ezeonu was a great instrument of evangelism in Ezzagu. It must be noted that most of the church buildings in the outstations of St. Joseph Parish were erected by Fr. Ezeonu, except the one at the central, which is at Eguhuo. He was a very energetic and tireless man responsible for the huge success recorded in Ezzagu in terms of conversion of souls. People saw his good works and got converted. Eventually, he was transferred to another parish in 1986, I think St. Mary’s Afikpo. He equally stayed for quite a long time there.”