Thirty-five years old Ikenna Aniagolu was a student of the College of Immaculate Conception (CIC), Enugu, in the early 1990s. He was then a day student, and had lived with his parents at Abagana Street in the Coal Camp area of the town.
As a student in CIC, Ikenna narrated how he and many of his other fellow students used to steal out to go to Ngenevu, a notorious hide out for criminals, to have some funs. According to him, Ngenevu then had lacked even the minutest basic social infrastructure. He recalled that his parents used to beat hell out of him each time they learned that he visited Ngenevu.
At the end of his secondary school career, Ikenna got admission to read Political Science at the University of Lagos. He graduated in 1998 and stayed back in Lagos hoping to get something meaningful to do. Having tried without success to make it in Lagos, he decided to come back to Enugu to try his luck. He came back early this year.
Ikenna said he was extremely surprised at the great transformation of Enugu Coal City. He confessed that he could hardly trace his way to many places he used to know before in Enugu, because of the dramatic changes he had witnessed. Apart from the magnificent houses springing up here and there, there are also excellent road networks criss-crossing the city.
Ikenna particularly singled out Ngenevu, which he said, used to be a big slum and a notorious rendezvous for criminals, and said that the place has changed significantly with beautiful roads and houses in the area. He commended the present administration in Enugu State led by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi for the facelift he is giving many areas of the Coal City and said that he never believed that government knew that a place like Ngenevu exists, much more turning it around now.
Ikenna may not have been the only person who knew Enugu before and who is seeing it differently now. Places with large population concentration like Ugbo Oghe and Ugwuagor in Abakpa Nike area, Emene, Ogui New Layout, Ogui Township, New Haven, New Era in Achara Layout area, Coal Camp, Asata, Idaw River, etc., not to talk of some high brow places like Independence Layout and the Government Reservation Area (GRA), have equally witnessed good road networks in the last couple of years, courtesy of this present administration.
Enugu is increasing by the day, both in size and in population, and outside these traditional areas of settlement, newly built up housing estates, served with modern facilities like well paved tarred roads, street lights, etc., have sprung up to take care of this increasing population. Among these new housing estates are WTC Estate, Heritage Estate, Centenary Estate, Valley Estate, etc.
Night clubs and other places of social relaxation are equally springing up by the day in Enugu. Coupled with street lights around the town, many people now take the advantage to stay outstide late in the night to enjoy themselves.
A number of reasons have been attributed to the increasing surge of population in Enugu. Number one is peace and security. Enugu is one of the most secure and peaceful cities in Nigeria. This is not only because of the peaceful disposition of the people of the area, but also because the present administration of Enugu State deliberately pursues and promotes the policy of peaceful coexistence among all residents of the state. As such, a lot of people who fled some troubled spots in the country have found it convenient to settle in Enugu with their families.
Secondly, education in Enugu is virtually free. Many parents pay through their nose to keep their children and wards in school in places like Abuja and Lagos. But in Enugu, what people pay is just a peanut, even with better quality education than they could have been given anywhere.
Enugu is no longer a “civil servants’ town” that it used be known for, as every street corner, every frontage, every available space, etc., has been converted into some commercial or business centres. At the same time, plazas and shopping malls are found all over the place.
Ironically, the increasing population of Enugu has pushed up house rents in the area to nearing even that of Abuja, notwithstanding the numerous housing estates in the city.
Founded in 1909 by a team of geological explorers led by Sir Albert Kitson, Enugu was just like one of those “evil forests”, or at best, a farmland used by surrounding villages. It was the discovery of coal on top of Udi escarpment that attracted residents to the area.
Enugu or Enu-ugwu, which consists of two Igbo words – Enu (Top) and Ugwu (Hill), meaning ” Top of the Hill” or “Hill Top”, derived its name from a little village east of Ngwo Town, situated at the top of Udi Hills, where coal was discovered in 1909. It was then called ” Enu–ugwu Ngwo“. However, much of the European “Enugu”, which we all know today, lies at the foot of Udi-Awgu-Nsukka hills, surrounded by a stretched low hills, and sits at an altitude of 240 miles above sea level.
The main indigenous people of Enugu are Ogui Nike, who live in areas around Hotel Presidential, Obiagu, Ama-Igbo, Ihewuzi and Onu-Asata areas. Other groups include Awkunanaw people, who live mainly in Achara Layout and Uwani areas as well as the Enugwu Ngwo people who live on the hilltop, with their farmlands sprawling all over the valley. The discovery of coal deposit in their land gave rise to settlements around the foot of the hills, and as the population grew, the city expanded into the areas of other indigenous inhabitants. It was then called Enugwu-Ngwo, before it was changed to just Enugu.
The first immigrant settlers in Enugu was an exploitation team of coalminers under a British mining engineer named William John Leck. The team was accompanied by a gang of labourers led by Alfred Inoma from Onitsha. They all came in 1915. They were later joined by prisoners who were brought down from Udi to the coalmine. The prisoners built their own prison yard and set out to work in the mine.
While William Leck and the White men who came with him settled at Hill Top, Alfred Inoma and his group settled at a place known after him, called Ugwu Alfred. Alfred Inoma died very early, but William Leck lived in Enugu until his retirement in 1942.
It was the discovery of coal in Enugu in 1909 that led to the founding of the city of Port Harcourt in 1912, which was to serve as an outlet for the shipment of coal overseas. The town was named after a one-time British Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. Lewis Viscount Harcourt.
Soon after the opening of the coalmine in 1915, the Colliery Management embarked on massive recruitment of labourers to work the coalfields. It was also the same year that the first shipment of coal from Enugu to the United Kingdom was made.
The influx of workers in Enugu to work the coalfields led to the establishment of “Colliery Villages” to give shelter to these immigrants. That was how places like Coal Camp and Iva Valley came into existence.
In 1917, Enugu was declared a Second Class Township under the Colonial Order in Council No. 19 of 1917, along with Udi, which was declared a Third Class Township. Accordingly, a Township Advisory Board (TAB), consisting of Mr. J G Lawson, acting District Officer; Mr. J S Hayes, Colliery Manager; Mr. A B Milliken, Assistant Engineer; Mr. E C Braithwaite, Medical Officer; and Mr. W Reeder, Senior Superintendent of Prisons, was set up to take care of the political administration of the town.
In 1929, the Colonial Government gave approval that the administrative headquarters of Southern Provinces of Nigeria which then comprised of Onitsha, Ogoja, Owerri, Calabar, Ijebu, Oyo, Abeokuta, Ondo, Benin, Warri, as well as the Mandated of the Cameroon, be moved from Lagos to Enugu.
Enugu remained the Capital of Southern Provinces until 1939, when the Secretary of State for the Colonies, Mr. W G A Ormsby-Gore, in a memo dated September 17, 1937, approved the splitting of Southern Provinces into Eastern and Western Provinces with capitals at Enugu and Ibadan respectively.
Enugu was also capital of Eastern Region, capital of the sovereign Republic of Biafra, capital of East Central State, capital of Anambra State, and now, capital of Enugu State.
Among those who held forte in Enugu and from there presided over the affairs of the people entrusted into their care were Professor Eyo Ita, Leader of Government Business (1952 to 1954); Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, Premier (1954 to 1959); Dr. Michael Okpara and Dr. Francis Akanu Ibiam, Premier and Governor respectively, (1959 to 1966); Colonel/General Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu, Military Governor, Eastern Region/Republic of Biafra (1966 to 1970).
Others were Mr. Mr. Anthony Ukpabi Asika, Administrator, (1967 to 1975); Colonel Anthony Aboki Ochefu, Military Governor, (July 1975 to October 1975); Colonel John Atom Kpera, Military Governor, (1975 to 1978); Colonel Datti Sadiq Abubakar, Military Governor, (1978 to 1979); Chief Jim Nwobodo, Governor, 1979 to 1983); and Chief Christian Onoh, Governor, (October 1983 to December 1983).
There were also Navy Captain Allison Madueke, Military Governor, (1984 to 1985); Group Captain Emeka Omeruah, (1985 to 1987); Colonel Robert Akonobi, Military Governor, (1987 to 1990); Colonel Herbert Obi Eze, Military Governor, (1990 to 1992); Dr. Okwesilieze Nwodo, Governor, (1992 to 1993); Navy Captain Temison Ejoor, Military Governor, (1993 to 1994); Colonel Lucky Mike Torey, Military Governor, (1994 to 1996); Colonel Sule Ahman, Military Governor, (1996 to 1998); and Navy Captain Benson Agbaje (1998 to 1999).
The rest were Dr. Chimaroke Nnamani, Governor, (1999 to 2007); Barrister Sullivan Chime, Governor, (2007 to 2015): and Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, Governor, (2015 to date). Each and everyone of them had contributed one way or the other in changing the face of Enugu.