n Friday the second of August I sat alone in my living room watching the Tonight Show by Jay Leno. My phone rang, and I looked, it was my daughter Ashley calling from the United States.
"How are you daddy?" She asked excitedly.
"I'm alright darling."
"Surprise, you are still up this late."
"Yeah, I wanted to catch up on Jay's monologue on the Tonight Show before I go to bed."
In the middle of our conversation my daughter told me that she was planning to see "Great Gatsby" that evening, a movie that was just released a few days earlier. I told her that I remember the story, that I had read the novel by F. Scot Fitzgerald and seen a much earlier version of the movie in New York some twenty years ago. After the conversation I immediately checked on my phone the website of Genesis Deluxe Cinema operating at the Polo Park Shoprite mall here in Enugu. It turned out that the movie was a worldwide release, and also showing here in Enugu.
The next day I went to the mall, bought my ticket, popcorn and soda, and enjoyed the movie. When I left the cinema it was already late, about 9:45PM, and it was drizzling. As I drove out from Polo Park Mall through the well-lit dualized Abakaliki Road that led to Ogui junction, Chime Avenue junction, and ultimately into Bisala Road that leads to the Independence Layout section of town. I rarely go out at night, even when I go to the movies I try to catch an early showing in order to be home by nine o'clock. On that Saturday night, I noticed how clean and well-lit these vast networks of well-constructed roads in Enugu really are. I was so enchanted that I decided to drive around town that night and see more. I was astonished at how much this quiet sleepy Coal City has suddenly developed into a modern metropolis.
I drove through the GRA to Trans Ekulu, from Abakpa to New Heaven, then to Coal Camp. From there I drove to Achara Layout, then to Uwani, and Ogui and Asata before returning to Independence Layout. One thing I noticed is that most of the major roads were all dualized and well-lit. Even the bus stops were all ultra modern, with solar powered lights that glows through the night. On my way back, somewhere around Presidential Road, it was still drizzling, and I noticed a police car parked around the WAEC junction, its roof lights flickering in their many bright colors, and two police officers in their trench coats standing next to the car, examining a motorist's document. For a split second I thought I was somewhere in Amsterdam, or London. I had to remind myself that I was actually still here in Enugu.
It was not as if all these happened overnight, not quite, I had witnessed most of these transformations as they came, but this singular experience has made me to take stock in the city where I now call home. I must confess that I'm rather pleasantly surprised at how much Enugu has changed for the better. Though just one of the five state capitals in the Southeast, Enugu has for long been regarded as the headquarters of Igbo land. Perhaps this was as a result of its role as the former capital of the Eastern region. Whatever the reason, most Igbo heavyweights still make their homes here even if they are based in Abuja or Lagos. Nine out of ten of all Igbo big men, from Ekwueme to Ojukwu, from Iwuanyanwu to Arthur Eze, from Soludo to Ekweremadu and so forth all have a home here.
I have often wondered why they feel compelled to own a home here even when they are now practically spending most of their times in Abuja or Lagos. Some come down for occasional weekends, others keep their families here and visit every weekend. And there is yet another class of Igbos who make Enugu their permanent home, and only travel from here to Abuja for contracts and Lagos for business. Lately, there is a new awakening that seems to be making this otherwise quiet city home for many businesses. The Shoprite Mall, the largest of its kind in Nigeria, has now opened at Polo Park for more than two years. A monorail project that is supposed to link people from the airport, through town and beyond had since been awarded to a Canadian company. But I understand that sourcing funding for the project remains a handicap. And in the last month, the Enugu international airport is finally up and running with Ethiopian Airline as the first to start operations with Emirates and others to follow.
The city is very clean and the Inspector General of Police said that Enugu has the lowest crime rate in Nigeria according to their records. I don't want to give you any false impression; there are still some kidnappings around town though much smaller when compared to the neighboring Anambra State. Homes are very affordable; you can still rent a duplex (single family house) in an affluent part of town for less than a quarter of what it would cost you to rent a flat in a comparable neighborhood in Abuja or Lagos. Sometime ago, out of curiosity I put a high-end property in the market just to know what I could get. About eight thousand square meters in the best part of town and probably the best constructed home anywhere in the southeast. The best offer I got was half a billion naira. I quickly took it off the market. Similar properties in Ikoyi or Maitama would easily go for upwards of two billion naira. Ironically I know a few Igbo boys who would rather buy a luxury flat in Banana Island with more than half a billion naira than own a solid home in Enugu. The point I'm trying to make here is that properties are comparatively very cheap though they are now creeping up gradually.
For the record, I am not from Enugu State in case you think I'm promoting my hometown. My home town of Awka, also a capital, has become more commercialized, rather like Onitsha or Nnewi. Governor Sullivan Chime has done an incredible job of transforming Enugu even though the man is not even from this town. I wish that Peter Obi and all his predecessors have made an attempt at developing Awka. Each time I visit my hometown I'm busy avoiding potholes and kidnappers, and can't wait to return to Enugu. My beautiful home in Awka is now largely abandoned as there is no expectation that tranquility or security let alone good roads will come anytime soon. It is sad indeed, especially given that Enugu state gets a whole lot less revenue than Anambra state. Enugu remains unique in its features and civilization, far greater than any other Igbo town, and in my opinion represents a little bit of sanity in an otherwise crazy world of Nigeria.