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*Nigeria: Bridging The Gaps in Niger Delta
By Ifeatu Agbu
It was just 9.30 am. Ogaga Akpomena, a commercial vehicle driver, has just arrived Warri motor station from Port Harcourt. Sharing a bottle of “ogogoro” with his friends, he was full of joy as the “agboros”[touts] strutted up and down the vicinity of the garage to entice passengers to his bus for a return journey to the Rivers State capital. To Ogaga, driving from Port Harcourt to Warri in less than three hours was worthy of celebration. The reason, according to him, is that until recently, he was spending between four and six hours on the same road because it was ridden with pot-holes. He said: “I thank Setraco, the contractor handling the dual carriageway for the work they are doing. More importantly, I thank the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, for repairing most of the bad and dangerous spots, which were responsible for several accidents and armed robberies on the road.”
Thanking God for the improved condition of the Port Harcourt-Warri road is of special significance to Johnson Umeh. About one year ago, he lost his three-month old Toyota Corolla to the deep gullies between Mbiama and Kaiama. He narrowly escaped with his life. For this reason, he avoided the road like a plague for some time. So, he was pleasantly surprised when circumstances forced him to use the road recently. “I was impressed by the tremendous improvement on the road. I saw the signboards of the NDDC on several repaired spots, which I think is a commendable effort. Although a lot still needs to be done, the risk of plying the East/West Road is now drastically reduced.”
The NDDC, has taken up the challenge and is currently undertaking emergency rehabilitation and remedial works on the East/West Road, the main artery across the region. The commission’s rehabilitation works are quite evident in the hitherto very bad sections between Ahoada and Mbiama, Mbiama- Kaima, Kaima-Patani, Patani-Ughelli and Ughelli-Warri. Many of them have been repaired while work is ongoing in others. Similarly, remedial works have been done on other roads in the region. They include, Aba-Ikot Ekpene-Uyo Road in Akwa Ibom, as well as the Itu-Calabar highway in Cross River. The commission is also rehabilitating the Yenogoa-Kolo-Creek-Imiringi-Otueke Road, in Bayelsa state, among others. ( Continues below..... )
Photo Above: Map of Nigeria's Niger Delta Region showing Port Harcourt
Mr. Lucky Akorodudu, a commuter who said he uses the East/West Road regularly, was full of praises for the NDDC and Setraco for “coming to the rescue of travelers.” According to him, a few weeks ago, the road between Agbaro and Ughelli was virtually impassable. “The road was so bad that some motorists coming from Warri usually diverted to Out-Jeremi/Olumu bridge to Ughelli, which is about double the usual distance.”
The role of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) in the face of the deplorable condition of the roads was called to question. Okorodudu, wanted to know if they are sleeping. Perhaps, their lethargy could be explained by the fact that they are supervised by the Federal Ministry of Works, which is often caught in the web of bureaucracy. Fortunately, the NDDC does not suffer from such encumbrances. In fact, in the last couple of years, it has now become a tradition for the commission to come to the rescue of road users in the Niger Delta whenever the roads are crumbling.
In 2008, the entire stretch of the Federal highway between Warri and Port Harcourt virtually collapsed and was impassable. Travelers were spending over 10 hours on a journey that should normally take less than three hours. Promptly, the NDDC waded in. Within a few weeks, it carried out the necessary repairs. It took similar actions on the notorious Ore-Benin Road some years back to alleviate the suffering of commuters, who were not just sleeping on the road but were also susceptible to attacks by robbers and rapists.
Mr. Benson Uwaifo, a driver with one of the transport companies that regularly plies the Port Harcourt-Warri-Benin route, said that if not for the involvement of the NDDC, they would have long abandoned the road. "We suffer a lot on the pothole-ridden road, which takes a heavy toll on human lives and vehicles. But thanks to the intervention of the NDDC," he said.
As for Asoquo Coco Bassey, a Port Harcourt-based journalist, who frequently visits Calabar through the Itu-Calabar highway, the NDDC has once again made travelling on the road pleasurable and stress-free. “The NDDC has saved us from the nightmare that we used to go through on this road. In fact, motorists using this road are very happy with the commission. It used to take travellers about six hours to commute from Port Harcourt to Calabar, a journey that should normally take about three hours.” ( Continues below..... )
Even as the NDDC provides the palliatives as an interim measure, it has continued to push for a comprehensive transformation of the Niger Delta. Towards the end of last year, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved N179.13 billion for the execution of 44 projects by the commission.
Ridding on this, the Board of the NDDC rose from its first meeting this year with an order to contractors handling the newly awarded mega projects of the commission to mobilize to their sites immediately. The Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of NDDC, Mr. Chibuzor Ugwoha, said that since most of the contractors had been paid mobilisation fees, there was no justification for them to be pussy-footing on the projects. He warned that the commission would no longer tolerate further delays from the contractors, more so when the rains are about to set in.
As part of its mandate to fast-track the development of the Niger delta, the commission has given due attention to the task of opening virgin forests to link up communities that were otherwise cut off by rivers, creeks and swamps. In this category, the 18-kilometre Odi-Trofani Road in Kolokuma-Opokuma council of Bayelsa state stands out. The first day that the NDDC automobiles rolled into Trofani, the people, particularly the children, were overwhelmed with joy. "Moto bodo! Moto bodo!" (Motor has come! Motor has come!), they rejoiced. Priye Adokeme, who hails from the town said: “Before this road was constructed, none of us could come home with our cars. That was very painful. Now Trofani’s sons and daughters can drive home in their vehicles and that has changed the socio-economic life of our people.”
Elder Godsday Orubebe, the Minister of State, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, said he was impressed by the performance of the NDDC, in tackling people-oriented projects. Orubebe said that it was important for him to be at the commissioning of phase one of the Bomadi-Tuomo Road and the flag-off of the second phase of the Bomadi-Tuomo-Tamigbe Road because it is one of the key arteries that would link up the Ijaws in Delta, Bayelsa and Edo states.
“What the NDDC has done with the completion of the Bomadi-Tuomo Road phase one and the flag-off of the second phase that will connect Tuomo with Tamigbe is typical of what the Federal Government desires for the Niger Delta Region, no matter how difficult the terrain is,” He called on other stakeholders not to abandon the task of developing the region entirely to the NDDC, stressing that with partnership and collaboration, development would be comprehensive.
Chief Edwin Clark, a highly respected Ijaw leader, told the gathering that the NDDC has by this landmark corrected the impression that what the Ijaws desire is only river and water transportation.” I am glad this is happening in my lifetime, the world can see that roads are possible in the most difficult terrain of the Niger Delta Region.”
In Rivers State, the commission came to the rescue of the people of Omuma Local Government Area who were for long separated from their brothers in the neighbouring Etche Local Government Area by a river. The 12-kilometer Okehi-Eberi-Omuma Road with a 120-metre bridge, constructed by the NDDC did the magic. The community Development Committee Chairman, Mr. Ernest Nwosu captured the mood of the people thus: “We have gone through pains and difficult moments because of access road. Previously, the villagers taxed themselves to raise funds for the road project, but this did not succeed. Now, here we are with a fantastic road and bridge. Our people are full of gratitude for what the NDDC has done for them.”
Two brotherly Ohuhu communities in Imo and Abia states share a similar story. The Ekeoba-Umudibia Road links the two next-door neighbours in Abia and Imo states for the first time in history. Before this, the Imo River divided them. Nneoma Uwadirioha, whose farm is on the banks of the river, said that there was celebration in both communities the day the road/ bridge was commissioned. Seventy-year-old Ichie Friday Okeke said that, before the road, "we used wooden canoe to paddle across the Imo River and trek to Eke Ikpa and other places to interact with our kith and kin. Others used canoes to reach their farm lands across the river."
In Akwa Ibom State, relief would soon come for the Ibeno people, who are waiting for the completion of Iko-Atabrikong-Ikot-Ewang-Okoroutip-Iwuuo Achang road, the first link road in the area. It connects more than 20 villages.Elder Sunday Benson-Akpan, who is already using his pick-up van on the finished part said: "I'm very happy. We are enjoying the road built by the NDDC. It is helping us to move our farm produce to Uyo and Eket".
The head of Corporate Affairs of the NDDC, Dr. Christy Atako said that so far, the commission has undertaken about 4,000 kilometres of road projects in its determined efforts to open up the rural areas of the oil-rich region.
Mr. Ifeatu Agbu ( firstname.lastname@example.org ) writes from Port Harcourt, Nigeria.
*Tags: Nigerians, Niger Delta, Abuja, Lagos, Yar’Adua, Jobs, Africa, Masterweb
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