“We need help! Over 51 years of neglect is unjustifiable. A change of heart is required. Enough is enough!” That was the chorus from delegates to the extraordinary general meeting of Mbala Town Development Union (MTDU), which held at Nkwo Mbala, Isuochi, in the Umunneochi Local Government Area of Abia State last weekend.
Mbala Community is unanimous in their call for the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Anambra-Imo River Basin & Rural Development Authority to urgently execute abandoned Mmam Bridge and Mbala-Achi Road projects as these will not only reintegrate the Mbala community with the rest of the world but also restore the economic life of the people.
The President General of Mbala Town Development Union, Ogbuehi Engr. Ndubuisi Ikeh who addressed journalists at the end of the marathon meeting, which held in Mbala recalled that the Mmam bridge, which was built by oil giants, Shell BP in 1955, was created as an alternative route to Enugu following an incident of gas flaring that occurred at Ugwu Oba-Enugu road which resulted in accessing to Enugu city being cut off.
The bridge, according to him, instantly became the gateway for motorists and commuters alike traveling to Enugu, Onitsha, and northern Nigeria. It also opened the way for inter-community marriages to take place between Isuochi and Oji River people. Market men and women moved freely from their Community in the opposite direction as means of transportation were readily available. Economic and social activities boomed.
He stated further that Isuochi people living in such areas as Enugu, Onitsha, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, Jos, Zaria, and other parts of Western and Northern Nigeria usually passed through the Achi-Awlaw-Mmam Bridge route. Similarly, Achi, Inyi, and Awlaw people residing in cities in present-day Imo and Abia States, as well as South-South states, usually made use of the same route to get to their ancestral homes.
Engr. Ikeh noted that 13 years after the construction of the Mmam bridge, and on the heat of the Nigeria Civil War, soldiers loyal to the Nigerian government desperate to advance and launch their attack on Okigwe, bombed the bridge to gain entrance.
“The joy brought to the people of the Old Okigwe Division as well as Oji River people following the construction of the Mmam Bridge, was cut short on September 15, 1968, when Nigerian troops bombed the bridge to facilitate their advancement towards Okigwe during the Nigerian Civil War.
“After the destruction, the people had to endure painfully, with the hope that one day a sensitive government would rehabilitate the bridge. But 51 years after, the situation has remained hopeless, and the endless hope for reconstruction, elusive,” Engr. Ikeh said.
The President General lamented that the damaged bridge has forcefully rendered Mbala a closet at best while also observing that successive governments’ neglect of the damaged bridge has dealt a significant blow on the economic, social, and cultural lives of Mbala people and her neighbours across the bridge as well as hindering socio-economic development of the areas.
“Over five decades now, we have continued to suffer untold hardship on the hands of successive governments from the old Imo and Anambra States to the present day Abia and Enugu States. Successive governments have roundly neglected us. And that is why the road leading to the bridge is in very deplorable condition,” Engr. Ikeh lamented.
Another community leader, Engr. Oluchukwu Uzor outlined a few reasons why the government should urgently come to the rescue of the border community by prioritizing the reconstruction of the damaged Mmam Bridge and the road leading to the bridge:
According to him, “The abandoned Mmam Bridge and the road are a constant reminder of the negative impacts of the civil war, 49 years after. The belly bride there was destroyed by the Federal troop. Ever since, Mbala people have remained cut off from the neighboring States of Enugu and Anambra through that route, in addition to access to agricultural land with the result that there is hardly any economic activity in Mbala town, and the negative impacts are evident and visible.
“An impressive achievement of the former premier of the defunct Eastern Region, late Dr. Michael Okpara, was the establishment of Mbala Cashew Plantation, which still thrives today. The plantation contributes a significant amount of the estimated Cashew production figure of 45,000 metric tonnes per year that Abia State produces. In the contemporary Nigeria of today, it should not be in doubt what a plantation of the magnitude in Mbala can contribute to the economy of Abia State in terms of job creation opportunities. Yet, the road to this vital agricultural cash cow has been neglected for over 51 years.
“Mbala Community, a border Community with Achi LGA in Enugu State, has witnessed unprecedented neglect from successive governments in the last 51 years. Government agencies and politicians had politicized the bridge and the road leading to it, playing on the psyche and sensibilities of the people with reckless abandon. Is it also not an irony that despite the vast quantities of cashew nuts produced from the Mbala Cashew Plantation, Abia State Government has not thought it wise to establish a cashew processing plant in the Community?
“Our people have been crying in the last 51 years, begging for the government’s attention to save the people of Mbala from the continued socio-economic blockade. Maybe it is now an official crime for this border community like Mbala to statutorily enjoy all necessary amenities in life, including essential roads, bridges, other infrastructures, and security. If not, why has Mbala been neglected in this manner?”
Engr. Uzor who stated that the renewed plea for the government’s urgent intervention stems from the frustration suffered by the Community over the years wondered what the Ministries of Agriculture and Industries exist for if they have neglected to tap into the cashew production potential of Mbala land.
According to Engr. Uzor: “It will not be wrong to say that we are a people bottled up, boxed to a corner and in darkness. The implication of this continued neglect and abandonment is that we might begin to seek solace elsewhere; where we can be treated as human beings and our tears wiped away. This is achievable by fixing the bridge that was damaged during the civil war and opening up the road that leads to the bridge.
“The question is, when can Mbala get a respite? Thank God we have Hon Nkeiru Onyejeocha in the Federal House of Representatives and Dr. Orji Uzor Kalu in the Senate and Mbala is in their constituency. These are people who have both the political and financial muscles at the Federal level to make that Mmam Bridge and the road a reality and put the sufferings of Mbala people that had been there for over 50 years to eternal death.
“We are therefore, calling on the senators representing the two border local governments of Umunneochi and Oji River- Senators Orji Uzor Kalu and Ike Ekweremadu; their House of Representatives and House of Assembly counterparts to urgently intervene in this matter and ensure that work commences on the fixing of the bridge and construction of the road leading to it. This is the only way we can feel that sense of belonging.
“It might interest you to know gentlemen of the press that before the construction of the Port Harcourt – Enugu Expressway, highly placed government officials like late M. I. Okpara, the Aligwekwes, Iwuagwus, Iwuekes, the S.U. Offors, and the S.O. Acharas were using the Isuochi-Mmam bridge-Achi road to attend sittings at the Eastern House of Assembly, Enugu. The opportunity still exists for the current and emerging government officials and businesses. The Mmam bridge and the road need urgent attention”.
“Furthermore, we are also pleading with the Abia State Government, the NDDC, and even the Anambra-Imo River Basin & Rural Development Authority or to whomever it may concern, to come to our help, being a part of the State called Abia. This is the Community hosting the Abia Cashew Plantation, one of the largest cashew plantations in the country. Yet, we’ve been abandoned in this manner for this long,” Engr. Uzor stated.