Growing up as child in the village, I always cherished the dream of going to Enugu to celebrate Christmas and New Year. Only very few people in the village celebrated these festivals, and these were those who attended the White man’s Church. The school calendar ran from January to December, and we were always told that unless we passed the promotion examination to enter the next class, we would not go to Enugu for the Christmas and New Year celebrations. This had made us to study hard so as not to miss that opportunity.

Going to Enugu for these festivals would afford us the opportunity of eating rice and other delicacies, which we hardly ate in the village. It would equally enable us to feast our eyes with different masquerades, such as Ulaga, Ojionu, Okwonma, Agaba,  etc., which were part of the Christmas fun. These were some of the things that spurred us for wishing to go to Enugu as soon as we were on holidays.

The only commercial vehicle that took passengers to the Coal City at that time was either Austin or Bedford lorry, where one would be backing his destination, and it was not readily available. One could spend endless hours before the vehicle finally arrived, and everybody would begin to struggle to clamber on to it. Some people would secure seat at the Second Class Coach, others at the Third Class, and the rest near the tailboard, each of which carried different prices.

What gave us serious concern, at that time, when we thought about going to Enugu, was how to pass through the fearful, dreaded and ever meandering Milliken Hill, with its about twenty-two sharp bends. Each time we would be going down the hill, or climbing up, we would be told to keep our mouths shut and to maintain absolute silence, else the Mammy Water that lived there heard our voice and pulled our vehicle down its bottomless pit, so we had thought the place to be.

They would tell us stories about how some thickheaded people who failed to listen to the advice had had their vehicles upturned and pulled down the Milliken Hill valley, and all the passengers perished. Both at the foot and at the top of the Milliken Hill, stood two big billboards which read: “Better Be Late Than The Late,” which was a warning to drivers to be careful while climbing or descending the hill.

Fearful and risky as the Milliken Hill appeared to be at that time, it was nevertheless a beautiful sight to behold. Apart from the snake-like feature of the road, trees were allowed to grow, or planted at both ends, down the valley, and up the hill. This made the place very spectacular and attractive, and it resembled the route to Obudu Cattle Ranch in Cross River State. These trees helped to hold the soil from denudation, and prevented erosion from eating up the road. It was indeed a delightful sight.

Now, the scenery of the great Milliken Hill has changed. The big trees on both sides are fast disappearing, felled by loggers who indiscriminately cut down every tree on sight. Different kinds of buildings are springing up down the valley, which previously we thought to be a bottomless pit, while all kinds of farming activities are going on up the hills. The Milliken Hill is now exposed, demystified. It is no longer dreadful and fearful. Every place is now very open, porous. Very soon we would begin to witness landslides, while some portions of the hill would cave in, and that would be the end of the Milliken Hill, a colonial legacy.

Apart from being the only access to Enugu Coal City at the moment, following the abandonment of the Enugu-Onitsha Express Way by the federal government, the Milliken Hill is also supposed to be a tourist destination. Enugu no longer has any place where one could feast his eyes, or where one could lead visitors on sight-seeing. We have destroyed Enugu Zoological Garden, killed all the animals inside it, and erected gigantic buildings there. We have defaced Polo Amusement Park, and set up a market there. The Enugu Coal Mines are no longer accessible. Now, the Milliken Hill is on the way for destruction.

At first, we had thought the state government to have a hand in the destruction of the Milliken Hill through the indiscriminate felling of trees and construction of houses down the valley. But the government has now come out clean to say that they had no hand in the illicit activities. According to the State Commissioner for Information, Nnanyelugo Chidi Aroh, neither the State Ministry of Environment, nor Enugu State Capital Development Authority, was involved, nor gave approval to such activities.

The Commissioner while announcing the vacation order by the State government for immediate stoppage of construction works and indiscriminate felling of trees at the Milliken Hill, said it could result “to the destruction of its enviable landscape and exposing the entire environment to risk of degradation and erosion”.

In his words, “the perpetrators of this illegal act are hereby ordered to stop all construction and development activities on the Milliken Hill forthwith and vacate the place, as the full wrath of the law will be visited on anyone found violating this order,” adding that the state government was irrevocably committed to the protection of the natural ecosystem, biodiversity and environment of Milliken Hill.

The Milliken Hill was named after Mr. A.B. Milliken, an assistant engineer with the colonial civil service, who led the team that constructed the road through forced labour. Mr. Milliken was also a member of the Enugu Township Advisory Board when the City was declared a Second Class Township by the colonial government in 1926.

Up till the early 1980s, the Milliken Hill was the only route to Enugu, capital of the then Eastern Region, for people coming from both the western and the northern parts of the country, through the Ninth Mile Corner. It was a very busy road. During Christmas period, long queues of vehicles going up and down the hill were witnessed, and once there was any little obstruction, or breakdown of vehicle, there would be serious gridlocks on the road. 

With the construction of Enugu-Onitsha Express Way, which was started by the Obasanjo military government in the late 1970s, and completed by the Shehu Shagari administration, many people, including the government, abandoned the Milliken Hill road. This led to its lack of maintenance, while erosion began to eat deep into the two sides of the road. Those who must necessarily pass through the road, saw a lot of hell.

When the federal government later abandoned Enugu-Onitsha Express Way, and the road became seriously dilapidated, in particular, the Ugwu Onyeama end, many people reverted to the Milliken Hill road. By then, it was in a pitiable situation. That was when the Enugu State Government, led by Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, took up the gauntlet and fixed the Milliken Hill road, without which nobody would have been coming into the Coal City, particularly those from the western and northern parts of the country.

That rehabilitation of the Milliken Hill road by the State government has two main imports. One, it created an alternative route in and out of Enugu, and significantly reduced the suffering encountered by commuters as a result of the criminal neglect of Enugu-Onitsha Express Way by the federal government. Two, it restored the colonial legacy of the Milliken Hill as an important tourist attraction, which some people are now trying to destroy.

Dr. Dons Eze, KSJI

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