Showdown looms over abandoned N85b EastWest road project

By Chris Ezeonoh

There are indications that stakeholders who barricaded the ever-busy 18-kilometer Eleme axis of the popular East-West Road in Rivers State in July last year are planning a fresh showdown over the failure of the Federal Government to fulfill the pledge to construct the expressway which is in a terrible state of disrepair.

The road which leads to the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, and the Nigeria Ports Authority, all in Onne equally service heavy-duty trucks lift- ing petroleum products from the Port Harcourt refinery, Alesa, Eleme and those lifting fertilizer from Notore and Indorama-Eleme Petrochemical and Fertilizer Company, among others.

Experts say an estimated 10, 000 vehicles, mostly heavy duty, ply the road every hour, a situation they say accounts for the regular collapse of the road.

A youth leader who was one of the arrowheads of the protest last year hinted that plans were afoot for the stakeholders to return to the action suspended last year following assurances by the then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Chief Godswill Akpabio that government had awarded the contract for the reconstruction of the road to Reynolds Construction Company, (RCC).

“I can assure you that we are mobilizing internally and talking to ourselves because this time it is going to be massive. We have seen that this government does not take the life of our people as anything. You can see the road yourself how it has degenerated since the rains started pounding on it.

We have no option left than to go back to the road and occupy it till we see concrete action being taken to put the road in a good shape”, he said.

The youth leader who would not want to be mentioned further said they were waiting for the chairman of Eleme Local Government Council, Hon. Obarilomate Ollor who championed the action last year to conclude his consulta- tions for a hitch-free action.

The Trumpet recalls that following the deplorable condition of the 18 kilometer section of the road spanning from Trailer Park to Eleme Junction, linking Port Harcourt –Aba express road and the consequent series of fatal accidents and frustrating traffic jam on the ever busy road without redress, stakeholders made up of Ogoni and Eleme youths, civil society groups and representatives of some of the companies operating within the Eleme industrial hub occupied the Akpajo Junction of the road for one week, using heavy duty trucks that the tires were deflated to create a barricade both at the Akpajo and refinery junctions.

The action which took place July last year paralyzed social and economic activities and brought untold hardship to people. Importers and clearing agents using the Onne water channel to bring and clear their goods and other multinational companies operating at Onne were worst hit by the action as they counted their losses.

However, The Trumpet learnt that the Federal Government responded by sending the Perma- nent Secretary in the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, representing the minister, Godswill Akpabio who came and dialogued with the protesters, with an assurance that government was sourcing the sum of N85 billion to fund the project after securing N2.5 billion for the contractors, Reyn- olds Construction Company, (RCC) as mobilization fee to begin work immediately on the road. It was gathered that RCC actually mobilized to site and started clearing and soil testing, but after a while disappeared unceremoniously.

A community source in Eleme however told our correspondent that officials from the Federal Ministry of Works came to the community and informed them that the project had been taken over by the ministry and listed it to be funded from the Federal Infrastructure Development Fund Program.

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The Trumpet learnt that what is fuelling anxiety among the stakeholders is that the rains are coming heavily and washing away the remedial restoration work RCC had done before pulling out of site, yet the ministry of works is not forthcoming on their own side with the intervention from Federal Infrastructure Development Fund.

Checks at the Federal Ministry of Works, federal secretariat, Port Harcourt confirmed the take- over of the road project from the Niger Delta Ministry, but a source in the office said the necessary paper work were yet to be concluded.

When our correspondent visited the road, vehicles were moving on snail speed and at the same time making dangerous detours as they meander around large potholes and gullies, while commuters usually have their hearts in their mouth until they escape the 18 kilometer stretch as they journey on the road. “The anguish on the road is terrifying”, says a staff of one of the companies in Onne who plies the road daily while going to work.

“I have never been diagnosed of having high blood pressure, but since I was transferred to our branch at Onne, I have been on BP drug occasioned by the anxiety of passing through this road.

“You can imagine the prospect of coming face to face with a container laden truck meandering and dodging the potholes littered on the road on a single lane since the other lane has been completely abandoned. It is terrifying to say the least”, he crooned. Dr. Okey Okoro, Chairman Onne Seaport chapter of the National Association of Freight Forwarders lamented the challenges members of the association are facing as a result of the dilapidated road. He told The Trumpet: “The dangers we face are uncountable.

The colossal loss cannot be quantified. We have cases and cases again where entire container get wasted. “Land freight insurance com panies don’t touch containers on that road.

If you insist on doing land insurance, the premium is very prohibitive. The level of insecurity has increased.

Hardly does any month pass without the news of our member being kidnapped or robbed on that road because vehicles move very slowly”, Okoro explained. According to him, the condition of the road has scaled down the level of business coming to Onne port as people now seek alternative to Lagos or Port Harcourt ports.

Added to this he said is the rising cost of haulage bills. “Before now, it was N150,000 we used to pay for a truck to Onitsha, but it is now N400,000. Port Harcourt was 75,000, it is now, N250,000. The wear and tear of the vehicles we use on the road have also worsened”, he pointed out. He wondered why the government would not rise to the occasion and fix the road given its economic importance to the nation.

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