By Ofonime UMANAH
It has emerged that 45 years after it was created by the late Gen, Murtala Muhammed, Ukanafun Local Government does not have a bank. There is also no public hospital, even though a health centre in the area was recently converted to a cottage.
Ukanafun, was carved out from Abak and Opobo divisions of the then Cross River State. The Nigerian civil war depopulated the area and slowed economic activities of the people.
But even local governments that were created many years after Ukanafun have grown faster and attracted both the attention of the state government and the private sector, including banks.
Many years ago, the defunct Mercantile Bank birthed in Ukanafun. Its establishment was greeted with so much fanfare. But the bank died and had since been buried with everything it came with.
The only thing that remains of the dead bank is the road-Mercantile Bank Road-which was named then after the bank.
Those who wish to transact with any of the commercial banks have no choice than to travel to Abak, except they wish to patronise POS dealers who are spreading fast in the local government.
The situation of underdevelopment and lack of state government’ s presence in the local government attracted the ire of a foremost journalist and former president of the Newspapers Proprietors of Nigeria, Mr. Ray Ekpu, at the first Ukanafun Economic Summit.
Ekpu, an indigene of Ukanafun had said that “Ukanafun Local Government is 45 years old. It doesn’t look it, if you want to assess it in development terms. Its growth is stunted. It wears a frown on its face. It walks like a cripple. If you compare Ukanafun to a temple, it will not be hard for you to conclude that this is a desecrated temple.”
Successive political leaders do not seem to be interested in attracting development projects to the area. Of course, the chairmen do not reside in the local government. Most of them operate from Uyo, the state capital and visit when it becomes convenient.
However, the member representing Ukanafun/Oruk Anam Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Mr Unyime Idem says he initiated efforts to attract two banks to Ukanafun before the cult war that ravaged the area between 2017 and late 2018.
He said over the telephone that “I am still working very hard to see how I can include an Ukanafun General Hospital in the federal budget as a constituency project, even though I know that it will not be an easy battle and very huge in terms of funding. Otherwise, there is nothing else I can do.
“I know that health is much more important than any other thing. It is one of the cardinal projects I have, that before the end of my tenure, I will work hard to attract a general hospital, while still appealing to the state government to try and resolve the pending issues concerning the general hospital because I hear that the contractor for the hospital project the government wanted to build for us is having issues with the government and the matter is in court.
“So, we are still at ways that the matter can be resolved so that the contractor can go back to site and commence work. That is another stuff that we are looking and hoping that we can have a general hospital in Ukanafun, apart from the fact that I am working hard to see how I can also attract one from the federal level.
Idem, himself a banker and communications investor, also spoke on the dearth of banks in the local government. He said he had discussions with two banks which were at the verge of getting locations for construction work that would have marked the beginning of banking activities in the local government before cultists went on the rampage in the area, forcing people to flee.
The legislator said: “Prior to the advent of the crisis that rocked the area, I made frantic efforts to make sure that banks come to Ukanafun and they were ready. They even asked me to source for lands for them, and I did. I contacted a land donor, with whom they even started negotiations.
“I think it was two months after that, the banks, having heard of the crisis, they felt frightened and they could not come again. So, now that the crisis is over, kudos to the governor for bringing peace back to Ukanafun, I have gone back to the people; the last time I met with them was in June this year and I them that Ukanafun was quite safe and that they could come back for that business proposal.
“So, they said they would be looking at it during their subsequent branch openings. I will still pursue it to make sure that we have the banks. If not for the crisis, by now, we would have got the banks.
“People that were close to that plan saw the site that we acquired along the Barracks Road. There are people from Ukanafun that were present when the banks visited the sites. The crisis came and took away all the plans we had. We are begging them to come back. I want to believe that since the land is still there, they will come whenever they consider opening new branches. I will not relent until we have a bank in Ukanafun.”