New twist on East-West Road repair
By Chris Ezeonoh, Port Harcourt
Even as the 10 kilometer Eleme junction to Trailer Park stretch of the East-West road has badly deteriorated following return of the rains, the repair program enunciated by the federal government remains hazy.
Following agitation by stakeholders within the Eleme-Ogoni axis who are regular users of the road which culminated in the blockage of the road in protest for about one week in 2021, the federal government through the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs had moved to repair the road and commissioned Reynolds Construction Company, (RCC) as contractors to take up the project.
But after a while that the RCC mobilized to site, the company pulled out unceremoniously. However, the then Minister of Niger Delta Ministry, Senator Godswill Akpabio later said that the magnitude of the project which cost he put at about N85 billion was too heavy for the ministry to carry, explaining that the Federal Ministry of Works had taken over the project and listed it to be funded from the Federal Infrastructure Development Fund Program.
But last Friday, the Managing Director of Nigeria Ports Authority, (NPA), Mohammed Bello Koko said that NPA was interfacing with the new minister of Niger Delta ministry, Umanah Okon Umanah with a view to exploring ways to fix the road from Oil Mill to Trailer Park.
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Bello Koko who disclosed this in an interactive forum with stakeholders of Onne Port at the port complex conference hall assured that government would do everything possible to ensure that the Ease of Doing Business policy of the federal government impact positively on the operations at the port.
The MD’s attention had been drawn to the deplorable state of the road by one of the stakeholders at the meeting who urged the NPA authority to drive the repair of the road since it is the main gateway to the port and impacting very negatively on the business of stakeholders at the port.
If the revelation by the MD that he was interfacing with the new minister of Niger Delta ministry for the repair of the road is to be taken seriously as it should, then what becomes of the take-over of the road by the Federal ministry of Works which had also acknowledged that it would be funded from the Infrastructure Development program?
Is it the case of inter agency rivalry or dupli- cation of functions to get some private pockets well padded? Some analysts have been alleging that the same portion of the East-West Road has become a piece of cake for some unscrupulous government officials. Almost every year, one form of patchwork or the other takes place on the road, sometimes by companies that can hardly boast of modern tools for a road of such importance to the socio-economic well being of the nation.
Now the question begging for answers is at what point was the take- over by the ministry of works reversed, and has the Niger Delta ministry suddenly become so buoyant that it can now afford a whopping N85 billion needed to put the road into shape which it had earlier said it could not afford? Or was Akpabio being economical with the truth about the ministry not having the financial muscle to do the road? Analysts are also wondering whether this is another befuddling rigmarole by the Buhari administration to keep passing the buck until it exits power next year.
The stories surrounding the road repair are strange as they are heart breaking. One of the stories making the rounds currently is that the arrow heads of the agitation last year who caused the road to be blocked for one week have been ‘settled’ to abandon the struggle.
This may not be far from the truth if the body language and reaction of some of the dramatis personae now are anything to go by. When the action (road block) was on, one would say from the seeming uncompromising stance of the people that nothing could make them yield to any lure of the lucre, more so given the hardship people go though daily on the road.
What is baffling also is that the Executive Chairman of Eleme Local Government Council, Chief Obarilormate Ollor who championed the struggle by providing logistics for the protesters throughout the duration of the protest has suddenly gone dumb and dodging interviews. He would not respond to calls nor react to whatsapp messages where the reasons for the calls were explicitly stated for him to even say something without any physical contact.
With the passion the chairman spoke last year about the hardship people, particularly his subjects in the local government area go through on the road, one would think and believe that he would not hesitate to remobilize the protesters to occupy the road once again as he had hinted then.
Hear the chairman, “Immediately I was sworn in as chairman, I made a press conference where I complained bitterly of what has been happening, even before I was sworn in as chairman where there have been series of protests against the Federal Government by our people, youth groups, different political groups, women organizations so many times for the past 10 years concerning this road and its deplorable state.
“All of you know that what we have on this road is completely reprehensible. So what happened was that I had to give a 14 day ultimatum to the Federal Government. The 14 days expired on the 2nd of July, 2021. After that, we gave another 2 weeks of grace and the youths kept prevailing on me to shut down the entire stretch of this road.
“I had no option than to allow that action take place last Monday, 25th of July, 2021. A lot of persons have died, business owners have lost their businesses, containers and trucks have collapsed, investment is threatened in our LGA which is supposed to be an investment destination. So the action pleased all those who are investors.
We have been here for 7 days.” That was excerpts from the chairman’s speech while announcing the suspension of the road blockade last year following assurances by federal government through then minister of Niger Delta, Senator Godswill Akpabio that the road would be constructed.
Apparently enraged by the failure of government to fulfill the pledge to commence work on the road, the chairman at a meeting with critical stakeholders in the transportation sector early this year informed them that another action on the road was imminent and gave till end of February for FG to commence construction work on the road or face the wrath of the people.
“We cannot watch our people suffer continuously as a result of the insincerity and irresponsibility of the Federal Government and its agencies. It is very clear that as we get closer to the electioneering period, the Federal Government would shift attention from infrastructural development and focus on campaigns.
Therefore they have to fix the road as they promised before election or nobody will have access to that road”, the council chairman threatened. This is August and in September campaigns would commence to confirm the fears of the chairman that the campaign and electioneering would overshadow every other program of government.
Yet not even a whimper can be heard from him again. On the aspect of the youths, hear Legborsi Yamaabana, President Ogoni Youths Federation, (OYF) who was one of the arrow head of the protest. “The Ogoni axis of the East West road is the only link to the Port Harcourt Refining Company, Indorama Petrochemicals, Nigerian Ports Authority Onne, Oil and Gas Free Zone Onne and about 300 multinational companies.
“Despite the aforesaid, and the huge economic value of the road, the Federal Government has refused to fix it, thereby inflicting hardship on our people and commuters. We have suffered for too long. Enough is enough! History is on our side; God is on our side,” he bellowed while justifying the protest and why the youths blocked the road.
Amidst all the red eyed threats, one year after, the condition of the road has degenerated with most commuters abandoning the road and seeking recourse through community roads adjacent to the dilapidated road. All the people and groups who threatened fire and brimstone if the road was not done have strangely kept mute, suggesting that there might have been some ‘oiling’ of palm to take the pressure off the government.
But the reality is that the anguish on the road has gone out of hand as commuters are now forced to abandon the vehicles they boarded and trek long distances to escape the frustrating, long labyrin- thine traffic jams that have become a daily feature on the road particularly near the Indorama junction and going beyond the archaic bridge linking Eleme-Ogoni axis to the port Harcourt city.
“You can imagine what would be the fate of anyone being rushed to the hospital on medical emergency with this kind of situation on this road. Wouldn’t the person die here?, one the persons trapped on the road was heard asking a colleague seated with him in a car.
As it appears, everyone seems to have resigned to fate, wishing and hoping that government will graciously turn its eyes to the all important road and do the needful. Will they?