… Governor Obiano promises the emergence of “a smart city” in Awka
… Project developer says Phase 1 funding secured and timeline assured
… State government agencies are actively engaged as legacy edifice
By Ella Okonkwo and Chudi Okoye
In the frenzied wasteland of social media, the wags have already written off Awka Millennium City. By their lights, this is another white-elephant project initiated by the Anambra State government, soon to be abandoned by a state governor known for his numerous project announcements, many of which never see the light of day. The doubters point, among other spectacular failures, to the proposed Three Arms Zone development in the so-called Greenwood Estate in Awka, capital of Anambra State. This is the much-mentioned site to which the Anambra State Government House, the Governor’s Lodge, the Judiciary, House of Assembly and the Banquet Hall were supposed to have been relocated. Governor Willie Obiano had laid the foundation stone for that project in his heady first 100 days, way back in June 2014, promising that the development would be completed within one year. His Commissioner for Housing at the time, Lawrence Chinwuba, whilst acknowledging the magnitude of the undertaking, also promised that the project would be delivered on schedule.
That was five years ago. And yet the Three Arms Zone project has barely started, even as Willie Obiano lurches towards the lame-duck phase of his governorship tenure.
Awka Millennium City is a massive, master-planned, gated-community housing and multipurpose development designed as a public private partnership initiative. It is springing up in the very vicinity of the ghostly Three Arms Zone. And it is not without a heavy dose of skepticism that opposition politicians and sundry social media prognosticators are viewing the project. However, judging by the earnest attendance and fervent commitments at the groundbreaking ceremony held on December 19, 2019, the Awka Millennium City project may likely prove an exception to a sordid rule.
The masses turned out in respectable numbers at the groundbreaking event. Invited dignitaries showed up in their splendid glory, the royal fathers especially sparkling in rich, chiefly raiment. By contrast, though, the Anambra State governor, Willie Obiano, and all the officials connected with project execution were rather spartan and business-like. It was as if they carried the burden of previous promises and meant to convey a message that this particular project will not fall by the wayside.
Mr Clem Nwogbo, CEO of M-P Infrastructure Ltd., the private partner which is handling and funding a chunk of the project, seemed equally determined. Wearing a workman’s slacks, an austere corporate top and a gritty ‘sport mode’ look, Nwogbo mounted the dais at the groundbreaking event and addressed the gathered assembly as if he was staking his stellar reputation on this project. He said that his firm has an unquestioned reputation for project delivery, pointing to its successful footprint in road construction, telecommunications and agriculture in many parts of Nigeria, and elsewhere in Africa.
▲ Mr Clem Nwogbo, CEO of M-P Infrastructure, addressing the audience at the Awka Millennium City project groundbreaking event
He noted in particular his subsisting partnership venture with the Anambra State government, named Lynden Integrated Farms Limited. This is a thriving, ultra-modern poultry production and processing farm situated on seventy-five hectares of land in Igbariam, Anambra State, kicked off with a $61m Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) signed with the state government on 29th April 2015. Today, Nwogbo said, the poultry farm plant is humming and it is delivering as projected.
“We bring our professional [knowhow], financial capacity and competence to all we do,” Nwogbo declared. “We are stakeholders in the Anambra and Nigeria projects, and we believe in the long term development of our state. Ndi Anambra should look at what we did at our Lynden Farms project at Igbariam to understand what our Group is all about. We mean business.”
Nwogbo pointed to the work already going on at the Awka Millennium City site to emphasize his point. A site inspection showed that a 600-meter access road is under construction, with drains and street lights being installed. The project site looks very much like a functional construction yard, littered with personnel and heavy-duty equipment. An ultramodern, concrete casting factory has been erected, a monument gate is already under construction, and a perimeter fence is already going up. There is no question that work has commenced in earnest at Awka Millennium City.
▲ Awka Millennium City construction set-up
▲ Construction building at Awka Millennium City site
“What you see here is the work of the last 50 days,” Mr Nwogbo told the gathered audience, “and it is our intention to continue to work at this pace throughout the dry season to ensure we deliver the Phase 1 of this project within a record time, having sequestered the funding for it.”
It seemed from his announcement that Nwogbo’s firm may have overcome the issue of funding paucity which seemingly scuttled many a project previously announced by the Anambra State government. M-P Infrastructure is putting up ₦10.4 billion for the first development phase, representing 75% of the required capital. Awka Times followed up on this issue with the CEO of M-P Infrastructure, and he confirmed that indeed full funding has been secured for the first phase. This phase covers the development of 25% of the 100 hectares of land earmarked for the Millennium City project, and it comprises roads, drains, utilities, perimeter fencing, among other structures.
According to M-P Infrastructure, the Awka Millennium City is envisioned as a large-scale mixed-use urban development intended for residential, commercial and recreational purposes. The developer claims that the estate will feature road networks built to global standards, modern drainage, paving, sewage systems, underground fibre optic cables, regular power supply, street lighting, CCTV surveillance, access control, water treatment, landscaping and estate maintenance. It will also, the developer insists, offer amenities such as schools, swimming pools, sporting facilities, leisure and entertainment centres, parks and playgrounds, as well as sidewalks for jogging, among others.
It is by any standard an exceptional vision, especially for the Awka environ. Doubt lingers in some quarters as to whether this can be delivered, perhaps not only because of earlier false starts by the Obiano administration but likely due to the uniqueness of such a project in the Awka urban landscape.
Aside from doubtful whispers about project viability heard on the fringes of social media, there have been as well media-reported grumbles from activist “experts in built environment” asking why such a highbrow project should be sucking up development funds that could be appropriated for more democratic social spending.
Perhaps to quell these rumbles, Mr. Clem Nwogbo said at the groundbreaking ceremony that his firm was determined to win the trust of Anambra people: “This project is one of the shared aspirations of the Anambra people to create a nucleus of a befitting capital city out of the Millennium dream. We are committed, with the dynamic leadership of His Excellency, to deliver on our promise and to justify the massive support and trust so far shown by our brothers and sisters.”
Governor Willie Obiano, rendering his remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony, was evidently relieved with the return of activity to a site that had proved an embarrassing albatross.
“I want to tell you that this city is a smart city,” he enthused. “It is going to be different from the cities you’ve seen anywhere [including] the seven other ones we have tried in Anambra State. This city is going to be different. To start with, you are not going to see fences that make us look as if we are in a war zone. There will be lots of fresh air and the kind of space you see in the United States of America. I have directed the developers not to tamper with the vegetation; most of the trees will remain except for the ones they absolutely need to pull out to be able to do the road or the houses.”
▲ Governor Willie Obiano unveiling a plaque at the site at the Awka Millennium City groundbreaking ceremony
▲ Governor Willie Obiano addressing the audience at the Awka Millennium City groundbreaking ceremony
The governor pointed to the natural beauty of the Millennium City environment and once again called on Anambrarians, especially those in diaspora, to support his Aku Luo Uno homeward investment initiative.
“This is the place they will appreciate immensely,” he said in reference to diasporans. “Everything is going to be here. That’s why I called it a smart city. So all the people in the diaspora who have been clamoring for land to invest and live like they are still in the United States of America, this is the place.”
Governor Obiano had special praise for the CEO of M-P Infrastructure. Mr. Clem Nwogbo, he said, is “a very honest, hardworking and influential man. We tried him first in agriculture with Lynden Farms. Go and see what he is doing at Igbariam. He now has the largest day-old chickens factory in the South East [of Nigeria].”
The governor ended his remarks by reassuring the Anambra people about the success of this project. He said that he is very happy that “a very serious-minded and strong individual is behind this project.”
The MD of the Anambra State Investment Promotion and Protection Agency (ANSIPPA), Mr. Jide Ikeakor, was equally confident in the ability of M-P Infrastructure to deliver the Awka Millennium City project.
“When we chose M-P Infrastructure as our partner, we were fully committed and fully convinced of their ability to perform,” Mr Ikeakor said. He argued that the new city will help to transform Awka into a deserving Capital Territory.
The ANSIPPA chieftain also touted the job creation and broader economic impact of the project. According to him, the Awka Millennium City project will, by the time it is completed, have created 200 direct and 3,000 indirect jobs, with 75% of the job opportunities preserved for Anambra people. The ripple effect in the broader economy, especially in the neighborhood ecosystem, is yet to be estimated but may be in the pipeline.
▲ Obi of Awka, Eze Uzu II Gibson Nwosu, offering prayers at the groundbreaking event
▲ Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, being welcomed at the groundbreaking event by Mr Clem Nwogbo
▲ A cross-section of traditional rulers at the groundbreaking event
The economic, social and symbolic importance of the project was evinced in the luminary attendance of the groundbreaking ceremony. A parade of traditional rulers attended the event, including the Chairman of the Anambra State Traditional Rulers Council and trustee of the National Traditional Rulers Council, Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe, the Obi of Onitsha. The royal host of the day, Obi Gibson Nwosu, Eze Uzu II of Awka, had arrived early at the event to be on hand to welcome other distinguished arrivals. His traditional prime minister, Chief Ben Okoye who also attended the event, told Awka Times that the attendance of so many traditional rulers meant that “the project has acceptance from all parts of Anambra State and beyond.”
Resplendent in chiefly habiliments, perhaps chosen specially for the occasion, Eze Uzu Gibson Nwosu affirmed to Awka Times that he was very proud of the emerging development.
“For every occasion that involves development,” he told Awka Times in an exclusive interview, “I feel very proud. I feel proud of the Government and I feel proud of whoever introduced that development. For this particular one, I feel very very proud, overly proud because the person behind the whole thing is my own son, Clem Nwogbo.”
Obi Gibson Nwosu said that he was particularly happy that Mr. Nwogbo has come home to invest on this scale. “He has established a lot of developmental projects in different parts of Nigeria but this is one of the biggest ones [and] he is establishing [it] in his own town. I am very proud and happy,” he thrilled.
Eze Uzu II also said that he wanted, through Awka Times, to call on Awka men and women dispersed around the world to come back home and invest in Awka Millennium City or to pursue their own personal investments, assuring that Awka provides a secure environment for investment undertakings of any scale.
“We are calling on anybody who wants to invest in Awka,” the royal father urged. “Awka is safe. Anambra as a whole is safe. Anambra is developing and has attracted investors from different parts of the world.” He said that any prospective investor looking for a safe berth should consider Awka town, and advised such prospects to hurry up because land is becoming an increasingly scarce commodity in Awka, given the spate of development. He said this was a most opportune time for any smart investor to come into Awka.
A senior politician at the event, Honorable Nnamdi Okafor, the affable and gregarious pharmacist who represents Awka South constituency and is majority leader in Anambra State House of Assembly, also told Awka Times that he was thrilled by the development shaping up at Awka Millennium City.
“I feel great and so happy to see what is going on here,” he said in an exclusive chat. “Awka Millennium City is the United States of America and London of Awka because I could see from the highway coming to this place the vision and plan they have for this area and I can tell you that it will be the best place to reside in Anambra State, if not the whole of South East Nigeria,” he enthused.
▲ Eze Uzu Gibson Nwosu chatting with Hon Nnamdi Okafor at the event
The majority leader went further to urge Awka men and women with financial wherewithal to participate in developing Awka city in order to give it the facelift befitting a state capital. Like the Eze Uzu, he also offered assurances about investment security in the Awka environment.
“Awka is the capital city of Anambra State and we happen to be from Awka. We [all] need to play our part,” he said, “to make sure that Awka is developed. I am urging and pleading with Awka people in diaspora to think home, to come home to invest, to come home and help to build Awka.” Hon Okafor said the state governor has made security a priority in order to protect lives and property and also to spur economic development. “By that, I am saying that Awka is now very safe and as a matter of fact, Anambra State is the safest state in Nigeria. The Governor has provided that as part of the enabling environment plus other infrastructural development he has been [pursuing] in Awka and environs. So, my brothers and sisters, wherever you are, please come home to invest and develop Awka,” he pleaded.
The current Anambra State Honorable Commissioner for Housing and Urban Development, Architect Michael Okonkwo, speaking exclusively to Awka Times at the groundbreaking event, also expressed his excitement about the Awka Millennium City project which, he said, would be the new face of Awka city and Anambra State in general.
Commissioner Okonkwo dismissed the swirling social media whispers about the viability of the Awka Millennium City project, telling Awka Times that prospective investors already are making inquiries and that interest in this estate development surpasses any generated elsewhere in Anambra State.
“People have expressed a lot of interest in this initiative of Awka Millennium City estate,” he claimed. “What distinguishes the Awka Millennium City estate from the rest of the estates within the Capital Territory is that we, the current administration, insisted that infrastructure must be in place, that we are not interested in just selling lands in the bush. There must be infrastructures so that people will see the type of lands where they will even buy into.”
▲ Hon Commissioner for Housing, Michael Okonkwo, speaking at the event
Mr Okonkwo explained that the government’s plan is for the developer, M-P Infrastructure, to produce prototypes of houses on the estate as showcase for the style and quality of construction expected of individual home owners purchasing land in the area. He said that this is necessary because government intends to ensure high standards of construction and infrastructural provision in the estate. The developer is to build the prototypes whilst laying down estate infrastructure and amenities, he said.
“You can see that we already have access roads and even with street lights. We have a water board company coming in. We have technology also, so we have that distinction between this particular [estate] and other [estates]. [That’s why] people are coming.”
With project funding apparently in place, with a reputable developer and a “son of the soil” driving it, with government agencies actively engaged, and with a terminal governor seeking one last edifice before his exit, it seems that the constellation of factors does favour some cautious optimism about the Awka Millennium City development, although this is not likely to quell the swelling legion of social media skeptics.
- ATM editor, Emeka Ral, contributed to the reporting for this story