Milliken Hill, one of the better-known landmarks of Enugu City. remains a visitors’ delight any day, writes OGBUAGU ANIKWE.
It is a forest reserve on a hill, carved out by British colonial authorities who came to prospect for minerals. The migrants found coal in commercial quantities. They also found something else. Being nature enthusiasts, they were enchanted by the allure of a hill that gave them a vantage position. From the top, they could look down and observe locals bustling about in the new township they were developing from a thick forest.
They subsequently made their abode on top of the hill.
‘Delightful but a bit dangerous’
The road carved through this hill curls like a long snake in repose. It winds up a hilly landscape that grows luxuriant vegetation on both sides. The road perches dangerously on a steep incline, challenging motorists driving from Enugu to the north or west of Nigeria.
Motorists approaching into Enugu on this road are confronted by a delightful but intimidating panorama. On the left is a bank that drops sharply into a slippery slope. Any vehicle unfortunate enough to lose its grip will tip over. And then begin an endless somersault into the yawning canyon of Iva Valley at the Foot of the Hill. Unless it is lucky to be wedged on of the thick trees planted by the departing colonists. The trees also help to hold the soil from denudation and prevented erosion from eating up the road.
Also, on the right side is a steep incline that only professional mountaineers can summon the courage to climb. Going out of Enugu, it straightens at the hilltop to greet the town of Ngwo, Enugu’s northern neighbor.
Milliken Hill Road is a sight to behold. It is a two-lane road that nevertheless presents a delightful, albeit frightful ambience to Enugu visitors. The road has about 28 curves, hewn out of the rocks by a creative colonial engineer named AB Milliken. Vsitors and tourists are fascinated by the creativity and audacity employed to carve out a road from this dangerous incline.
For half a century, Milliken Road was the lone approach route into Enugu from the north and west of Nigeria. It was only in the 1980s that federal authorities constructed an alternative route out of Enugu. This alternative is the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, aka Route A232.
How Milliken Hill got its name
According to Dr. Dons Eze, a local historian of the Coal City, “the Milliken Hill was named after Mr. A.B. Milliken, an assistant engineer with the colonial civil service.” AB Milliken led the team of colonial engineers that constructed the road through forced labour. This was during the reign of Lord Lugard as the Administrator of Southern Protectorate in Nigeria.
Dr. Eze described the engineer Milliken as a member of the Enugu Township Advisory Board when the City was declared a Second-Class Township by the colonial government in 1926.
Apart from creating an access road that connected Enugu to the northern and western ends of the country, the colonial authorities had one more reason to hew a pathway through the hill. Managers who organized the exploitation of Coal built their lodge on top of the hill. From here, they had a breathtaking view of the city they were developing from scratch out of a thick forest.
The coal miners at the foot of the hill will always describe the location of the White Man’s lodge as “Enu Ugwu” – top of the hill (or Hilltop).
The Colonial Authorities were fascinated by this name. They not only named their lodge “Hilltop” but also christened the township below as “Enu-Ugwu” – which they anglicized to “Enugu” since they found it challenging to pronounce the Igbo inflexion “gw.” The authorities subsequently pronounced the forest hill as a reserve and declared it off limits to local Ngwo builders and loggers.
All of this combined to transform the Forest Reserve into a tourist destination named after AB Milliken who supervised both the construction of the road and the Colonial Lodge.
Milliken Hill Road abandoned, for a while
Two things happened to degrade the beauty and attraction of Milliken Hill. After the Nigerian Civil War (1967 – 1970) fought in the Igbo heartland, authorities allowed the damaged road to slide into a complete state of degradation. Second, motorists naturally abandoned the dangerous incline for the alternative, straighter and smoother dual carriageway, the Route A232, out of Enugu.
Unlike the dual lane Milliken, the alternative Enugu-Onitsha Expressway was an expansive, four-lane highway. It skirted the Milliken on the left but nevertheless nestled in the trough between it and Onyeama Hill (Ugwu Onyeama).
Lack of maintenance coupled with erosion which nibbled at both sides of the road, transformed Milliken Hill from a tourism delight to an environmental disaster. It became a veritable deathtrap for motorists. Unfortunately, the alternative Route A232 also suffered similar maintenance neglect. Going out of Enugu subsequently became a dreaded prospect.
Mercifully, Milliken Hill Road was reconstructed during the administration of Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi. People praised the effort which they hoped would restore the hill to its pristine state – and position it once again as a tourist attraction.
Encroachers bombard from the Hilltop
But unknown to many, encroachers had descended on the landscape, stealing in from the Ngwo side at the top of the hill to farm, log and build new homes. Their combined activities led to a failure of the newly constructed road, much to the dismay of motorists, tourists and environmental rights activists.
The Enugu State Government continues to issue several ineffectual warnings to the loggers, farmers and builders who are attacking the landscape as they bore into the reserve. The warnings have thus far fallen on deaf ears.
In July 2021, the State Government issued what it called a final warning and directed security agencies to patrol the forest to arrest and prosecute anyone found to be logging, farming or building on the land.
Milliken is still worth a visit
As at today, July 2021, the Milliken Hill in Enugu City has been restored as a tourism destination and is therefore worth visiting if you are flying into Enugu. Route A232 is still in a state of disrepair. Therefore, you are likely to behold the wonder of Milliken Hill Road as you approach Enugu by road from either the northern or the western part of Nigeria..
Welcome to the Coal City, the hidden gem of Eastern Nigeria.