Inside Enugu’s Unity Park

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By Laurence Ani

The absence of green spaces in most Nigerian cities often makes them no more than concrete jungles. Green spaces, of which parks are an essential part, enhance a city’s liveability, and represent a vital escape from the madding crowd. In their absence, a city loses its soul. Sitting amid the humdrum of traffic and straddling about nine hectares of land, the Enugu Unity Park is a welcome development to this urban decay noticeable in many cities.

But it might have as well succumbed to the kind of municipal pressures that led to the unwholesome conversion of green belts in the first place, particularly given the early pre-eminence of Enugu owing to the discovery of coal deposits under its soil in 1909. The governor of the state, Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, made allusion to this during the formal launch of Enugu Unity Park on Saturday, May 29. “The early colliery activity, growth in population and other commercial activities thus put pressure on land and housing in the city. The efforts of successive administrations to increase the housing stock in the city led to the de-zoning of most of the residual open spaces, green spaces and recreational areas,” he said.

These mindless conversions carried out in the past blighted the city’s ambiance and left its tourism potential sub-optimized. For a city steeped in such remarkable history, the residents yearned for a change. The governor’s approval of the development of the Unity Park, Enugu, in October 2019, was response to that yearning. The park’s location, formerly a motley of wooded land strewn with eucalyptus trees, originally served as eco protection for the openness of Okpara Square. Its greenery is an eco-friendly contrast to the concrete behemoths in Enugu’s three-arm zone comprising the house of assembly, high courts, the Government House, and sundry business organizations.

A major highlight of every visit to the Unity Park is a majestic sculpture of a roaring lion measuring 42ft high, 72ft long and 24ft wide. Remarkably, the lion sculpture wasn’t conceived simply as an artistic object. Its purpose is multifunctional, as the design includes an air-conditioned cavernous interior that can sit about 50 persons.

Designed by Dr. Okey Ikenegbu, a former director of school of art, design and print technology at the Institute of Management and Technology, the left frontal limb of the lion sculpture has a spiral stairway that visitors could use to ascend the hall and also descend. There is as well an emergency exit ladder and a void on the right frontal limb for possible installation of an elevator for the physically-challenged and the elderly. Ikenegbu who was assisted by 12 student-sculptors from IMT also drew on the expertise of professionals in fields such as architecture, engineering and quantity surveyor.

“It is widely believed that this masterpiece currently interrogates existing world record in lion sculpture, and we would apply to the World Records Organization to review this and allocate to us our rightful place in world history,” the governor said.

The Unity Park also features a 1.9km pedestrian walk, large, four feet-deep water pond with area of about 1500sq.m, deep enough to offer the hydro-dynamics for boat rides. Other features include sheltered relaxation areas, children’s play area with swings and sand dunes. In the night, the park is illuminated with 400 lamps powered by both the national grid and solar energy sources, further adding to its allure. There are, as well, well-kept lavatories for park users’ convenience, and perimeter fencing with a modern gatehouse.

So, it’s not an indulgent self-praise when Governor Ugwuanyi noted that the serene ambiance of the Unity Park is like no other, because few places offer a serene getaway from the hustle and bustle of municipal life as does the park. “It conduces to relaxation, deep reflection, and critical thinking. We’re glad to offer the people of Enugu State an opportunity to relive the past,” the governor said.

Indeed, there is hardly anyone who has not been bowled over by the Unity Park’s beauty. A Facebook post by Bianca Odumegwu Ojukwu, Nigeria’s former ambassador to Spain and widow of Eze Igbo Gburugburu, Chukwuemeka Odumegwu Ojukwu, offers a glimpse: “Enugu now has a new and picturesque tourist attraction. I can’t wait to visit! Kudos to the visionary Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, for saving this landmark stretch, in pursuance of his urban renewal drive. With this dexterous move, the forest reserve is secure and preserved for the people, and Enugu metropolis is better for it.”

The state’s culture and tourism commissioner, Ugonna Ibe, is just as excited. Beyond the park’s aesthetic splendour, however, he sees the potential economic benefits that its activities will have on the state’s income.

“Tourism is a veritable source of revenue to governments. It is estimated that globally in 2019, before the pandemic, the sector accounted for about 10.4% of world GDP, amounting to $2.9 trillion, while at the same period it employed about 334 million people globally directly or indirectly. It has the potential of creating other multiplier benefits in the economic and social life of the people,” he said at the park’s opening.

But for the many visitors who throng the park daily, the simple desire is to take a walk under a canopy of trees, feel the rustle of leaves under their feet, and experience the calm that comes from being lost in nature’s embrace.

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Ani, former editor of ThisDay – The Saturday Newspaper, and Saturday Telegraph, is a senior communications aide to the governor of Enugu State.

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