AUTHOR: Sam Ugochukwu, an Abia-based public affairs analyst.
The struggle by Sen. Orji Uzor Kalu, popularly called OUK, to draw Federal Government’s attention to the huge infrastructure needs of the people of the South-East did not start in this dispensation.
Sen. Orji is representing Abia North Senatorial District and occupies a principal office as the Chief Whip of the Senate.
He actually began to demonstrate his discomfort with the state of infrastructure in the zone during his membership of the House of Representives in the shortlived Third Republic between 1992 and 1993.
His emergence as the first Executive Governor of Abia State during Nigeria’s return to democratic rule in 1999, appeared to have afforded him another opportunity he clearly yearned for to continue his agitation from where he stopped.
So, over time, after painfully watching the continued neglect and marginalisation of the zone under the former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Kalu resolved to throw down the gauntlet, even at the risk of his office, life and comfort. He braced up the challenge and persistently cried out to other Nigerians and the rest of the world about the obvious neglect of the southeast by Obasanjo’s administration
Sen. Kalu’s agitation was mainly about the huge infrastructure deficit and dilapidated state of the existing ones in the zone, especially the roads, which became death traps, leading to loss of human lives and valuable property. Foremost of all was the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, which traversed a large area of Abia, leading to Port Harcourt.
On many sad occasions, Kalu had to breach protocol as governor, when he had to stop his motorcade on the expressway to assist in the rescue of accident victims.
The degree of marginalisation and his persistent calls for attention to the zone without luck brought him into loggerheads with Obasanjo and the strongman of his administration, the late Tony Anenih, known then as Mr Fix it.
The situation became so awry and evidently threatened the polity, hence Kalu became compelled to decamp from Obasanjo-led Peoples Democratic Party ( PDP) to form the Progressive Peoples Alliance on which platform he contested the 2007 Presidential poll and made a significant impact.
His desire to govern Nigeria was borne out of his passion to promote justice and equity in the distribution of Nigeria’s common wealth for the common good and overall development of the country, irrespective of tribe and religion.
Without mincing words, the huge deficit in physical infrastructure in the southeast was apparent in all spheres, ranging from power to rail, roads, bridges and airports, amongst others.
The situation assumed a more alarming dimension over the years, as successive administrations in the country merely paid lipservice to the infrastructure needs of the people of the zone.
Fortunately, Kalu’s strident cry over the years, appears to have attracted the attention of the All Progressives Congress (APC)-led Federal Government.
Looking around the area today, one can safely say that there has been a gradual but steady redirection of government’s focus toward infrastructure transformation in the zone. Great thanks to the efforts of President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to change the narrative.
Without the fear of contradiction, Buhari’s government has demonstrated greater sincerity and commitment in dealing with the issues of infrastructure in the southeast than previous administrations since 1999.
For instance, former Presidents Olusegun Obasanjo and Goodluck Jonathan, both of PDP, only played political gimmicks with the second Niger Bridge, making empty promises on the project every election year until they both ruled and left office after 14 cumulative years.
Today, main work on the N206 billion second Niger Bridge, which was awarded by the present administration to engineering giants, Julius Berger Construction Company, in November 2018, is nearing completion. And the president has given assurance that it would