Wednesday, 22 May 2013
Orubebe And The East-West Road By Obodoekwe Styvn
The East-West road that connects the Niger Delta states to the other parts of the country and on which thousands of people travel every day has become a death trap of sorts, if the number of accidents taking place on it is any indication. The road, particularly between rivers and delta states are dotted with ditches and potholes. One cannot travel smoothly without feeling that he/she has embarked on a suicide mission. Sights of shattered vehicles, vehicles that somersaulted, remains of burnt vehicles, broken down vehicles, etc dot the road as one travels along it. It is indeed a pathetic sight.
Recently, a bishop begged Jonathan to save road users from avoidable deaths on the road by fixing it. He narrated how he and several others narrowly escaped being consumed by an accident on the road as they were trying to avoid ditches and potholes. Unfortunately, a few days after the request, a fuel tanker fell over at the Mbiama section of the road, going up in flames. Two persons were confirmed dead and many others injured.
The road has always been sited as evidence of neglect and marginalization of the region. When, in 2006, a contract of about N211bn for the expansion of the road was awarded by the federal government, people of the area heaved a sigh of relief thinking that the end of the nightmares on the road was in sight. And the work was supposed to be completed by December 2010.
4 contracting firms: Julius Berger, SETRACO, RCC and Gitto Construzuoli Generali (GCG), were awarded the contract to handle different sections of the road, which was divided into 4 sections. Julius Berger was later forced to withdraw from the project due to series of attacks on the workers suspected to be organized by mafia contractors who wanted to take over from them.
And as of July 2012, the road which ought to have become revamped by 2010 has become even worse than it was in 2006 when the contract was first awarded. This is in spite of the increase of the contract value to about N349.8 billion.
It has remained victim to bad politics; which makes it an avenue for enriching some conscienceless hawks who pose as contractors as well as their collaborators in government.
Sometimes, we see equipment pretending to be working; but at the end of their public shows, the road is left to remain what it has turned into due to years of neglect and bad politics: a death trap.
The road is turning out to be a gauge or yardstick to measure Jonathan’s performances and most importantly his interest in developing the Niger Delta where he comes from. To many Niger Delta people, if the road is not fixed, the government will remain a colossal failure no matter how wonderfully it performs in other sectors.
Travelers who find themselves on the road in the recent times wish they never plied the road again. At some sections, they are trapped in traffic congestions for hours.
The road network, which runs through Delta-Rivers-Bayelsa-Akwa Ibom states, terminating at Lagos, is the artery into the Niger Delta region and development of the region would be fast tracked if the road is speedily completed.
I am beginning to suspect that there is a conspiracy between the Niger Delta ministry and the ministry of works on one side and the enemies of Jonathan’s presidency on the other to rubbish Jonathan among his people, using the east west road as a major launching pad. Or how else can one explain the criminal neglect of the road despite repeated prayers for the government to salvage the ugly situation. It may be recalled that it was the governments desire to answer these prayers and attend to the needs of the region that led to the establishment of the ministry and other development agencies. The people have continued remind the government that its failure to fix the road will continue to be counted to Jonathan as an evidence of his insensitivity to the plights of his region and his people.
“Even we his own people are seriously dissatisfied with the way things are going and may be left with no option than to withdraw our support for his government if things don’t change in the best interest of Nigerians”, said 2 ex-militant leaders, Ateke Tom and Boyloaf recently in a widely circulated press statement.
I suspect that Orubebe is being used by enemies of Jonathan to cause maximum disaffection between him and the Niger Delta region, his major support base. Of course, the cry of the Niger Delta people seems no to bother to the Niger Delta minister whose primary responsibility is to drive the development of the region. Instead, he seems to be more interested in amassing wealth for himself and living like a king. Sometime last year, orubebe was under fire and was subjected to probes by house of representatives over allegation of receiving bribe in form of multi billion naira mansion from one of the non-performing contractors, SETRACO handling the road. No wonder that it has remained hard for him to call the contractors to order.
I am therefore constrained to suggest that Jonathan should immediately sack Orubebe for incompetence and colossal failure and replace him with another minister who will help remove the cross bone called East West road from his throat before it causes irreparable damages.
There is no doubt that fixing the road will not only restore the soiled relationship between Jonathan and the region, but will also fast-track developments in several sectors including business investments, agriculture, tourism,
Niger delta is in dire need of development. The region accounts for over 80% of revenue base of the country derivable from the huge oil deposits in the region. This makes it the engine of Nigeria’s economy and a very important region in the country.
Unfortunately, the Niger delta has continued to suffer neglect in terms of development. The only road linking the region and the west as well as the north is the east west road. That road, which came into existence in the 1970s, has become a death trap and a nightmare to those that ply it. It is indeed terrifying, frustrating and stressful plying the road. For the communities that are around the road, life has become nightmarish as they now live in fear.
Sometimes people wake up to see part of their community being consumed by raging flames caused by petrol tankers that looses control and falls over while trying to avoid potholes on the road. It happened in July last year at Okogbe, Ahoada west section of the road. On that fateful day, a fuel tanker fell down at Okogbe, Ahoada section of the road and went up in huge flames that consumed over 200 persons, including women and children. The community and its environs were thrown into great mourning.
And few months later, in January, 2013, another fuel tanker went up in flames at the Mbiama section of the road, burning down over 20 houses, and stores, vehicles and motorcycles and injuring about 20 persons.
Obodoekwe Styvn is the Director of Programmes, Centre for Environment, Human Rights and Development, CEHRD, Eleme and protem chairman, UAD, Rivers state branch.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of SaharaReporters