East-West road still abandoned, hellish 17 years on
The neglect of Eleme-Onne axis of East-West Road, networking over 300 oil and gas companies and generating over N500 billion yearly, is a metaphor of how not to nest the goose that lays the golden eggs, ANN GODWIN writes.
Almost two decades after the contract for dualisation of the 338-kilometre East-West Road was awarded in four sections to four different contractors under the President Olusegun Obasanjo administration, each subsequent administration has turned the Eleme-Onne axis section of the road to a burlesque.
Successive administrations from Obasanjo to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to Goodluck Jonathan and the immediate past Muhammadu Buhari have left deep-seated anger on the road users, with blank assurances that corroborate no action.
As one road user puts it: “The sincerity of the Federal Government in fixing the road in Eleme-Onne axis is doubtful, having failed severally to match its words with action.”
Though Jonathan reviewed the contract sum upwardly, that was not enough to break the jinx; it was just the same story, more money, no job. The road stretches from Warri in Delta State to Oron and Eket in Akwa Ibom State through Kaima in Bayelsa State and Ahoada, Port Harcourt to Ogoni in Rivers State. Sections I and II, covering Warri to Kaima and Onne Port Junction to Eket township have been completed, but Section IIIA, covering Port Harcourt/Eleme Junction to Onne Port Junction, which is just about 15 kilometres, has been neglected, despite lofty promises by the Federal Government through their ministers of Works and Niger Delta Affairs.
Paradoxically, the neglected sections are one of the most significant, in terms of social-economical activities in the country. It plays host to over 300 oil and gas companies, making it a huge industrial hub that generates wealth and resources for the federal and state governments.
The Eleme-Onne axis of the road leads to the Onne oil and gas free zone, which houses over 200 oil and gas companies, including the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), Orleans Invest Africa Limited, Total Premier Services, as well as several other key federal government’s operations, involving the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Indorama, Port Harcourt Refinery, etc.
Findings by The Guardian showed that the Federal Government, through the NCS alone, generates over N200 billion yearly from the ports at Onne. The Onne Port alone recorded N242 billion in export revenue in 2022 and N54 billion so far in the first quarter of this year.
Also, the Rivers State government generates over N15 billion yearly in taxes and dividends from Indorama Petrochemicals and Fertiliser. In fact, the Nigerian National Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited recently entered into a historic $7 billion gas supply Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Indorama to solidify their commitment to advancing the utilisation of natural gas by large-scale companies.
But the huge oil and gas activities in the section of the road, as well as other activities involving heavy-duty trucks plying the road daily have worsened the deplorable state, making the road a nightmare to commuters.
Several lives have also been lost, with residents and road users often sleeping along the road due to its impassibility. A journey of less than 30 minutes now takes about seven to 10 hours or even more.
Unable to bear the excruciating pains from the road, indigenes of Ogoni ethnic extraction, including youths, senators, and members of the House of Representatives from the area had staged a protest and raised motions to attract attention to the Federal Government’s budget and execution, but nothing has happened afterward.
During the protests in 2020 and 2021, the then minister of Niger Delta Affairs and former governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, disclosed that N10 billion was approved by Buhari to fix the Eleme axis. Regrettably, the money has not been reflected in the construction of the road, even after some portions of the popular Aleato Bridge, the only bridge that leads to the above-mentioned companies, collapsed.
Nothing tangible was done. The only minor remedial work was carried out on the orders of Akpabio and didn’t last up to three months, as the area has returned to its usual nightmare.
A journalist, Mr Emmanuel Obe, who lives in Eleme described the feeling of living in such an area as “scandalised and disappointing.” He said: “Our roads are left to deteriorate to the point where they are today when what it would have cost to address the problem is nothing compared to what the government and even the companies spend in other areas and other issues.
“The people and businesses in the area are suffering. People have died while trapped in logjams and we almost lost a child, who was convulsing on the road some time ago.”
Similar stories of robberies, accidents, and destruction of imported goods on the road abound. He stated: “Hopes were raised when RCC (Reynolds Construction Company Limited) appointed the contractors, but so far, execution has not taken place, because government proclamations have not been supported with financial backing.
Spokesman of the Ijaw National Congress (INC), Ezenobi Oyakemeaagbegha, said the state of the road is quite saddening, considering its socio-economic importance to the Niger Delta region and the country at large.
“A lot of lives have been lost, as well as man hours because a journey of 30 minutes now takes a whole day. It is really disheartening and something urgent must be done,” he noted.
President General of Ogoni Youth Federation, Legborsi Yamaabana, said Ogoni youths have not relented in their efforts to ensure that the road is fixed, adding that they have engaged in constructive dialogue with relevant stakeholders to find a lasting solution.
“It is disheartening that our region contributes significantly to the country’s economy, yet the Federal Government has repeatedly failed to match its promises with actions regarding road infrastructure.
“We call on the government to demonstrate sincerity in addressing this long-standing problem, which hinders economic growth and development in our area,” he stated.
HOWEVER, Rivers State Governor, Siminalayi Fubara, has relentlessly cried out on the road, calling on the Federal Government to consider the enormous resources it generates from the area and give priority attention to the road.
The road was top on the agenda during the governor’s visit with other stakeholders from the state to President Bola Tinubu early this month. Even when the Senate Adhoc Committee on the road visited the state in August, Fubara voiced out the frustration of the people over the road, urging the committee to urgently intervene to end the intractable sufferings experienced by commuters.
Addressing the committee during its courtesy call on him, Fubara wondered why despite years of deductions from the Federal Account Allocation Committee (FAAC) by the Federal Government to fund critical national projects, the East-West Road was never captured and funded, even when it leads to locations where essential national economic assets are located.
But Obe stressed the need for the state government to understand the politics behind the road, saying: “It is not enough to say the roads are federal roads and leave them to decay, if the Rivers State Government cannot get the Federal Government to reconstruct the East-West Road, it can do it or open up alternative routes to promote activities in the zone, boost revenues and improve the living conditions of people that use the roads.
Can Umahi re-write history?
THE new Minister of Works, Dave Umahi, an engineer, whose expertise in road construction dates back to the 1990s, has raised the hope that he will fix the deplorable axis of the road.
During a visit to some federal roads in Rivers State on September 20, this year, Umahi spoke with audacity and expertise, his determination to get the roads fixed.
However, despite his display, residents, who have seen similar displays and heard promises from his predecessors, appeared not convinced. Instead, they are waiting to see the minister’s words matched with actions.
Speaking at the site, the minister told a representative of the contractor: “Section of the road from Kaima has failed, it is appalling and you are still on site. Let us know what is wrong and redesign the road.
“One, the road from here to Onne Port, the Rivers State governor led a delegation to see the President, and the President directed that I should immediately come here and ensure that work is started on it.”
Umahi disclosed Tinubu’s release of N33 billion for the contractor to commence work immediately, adding: “This project was designed on concrete and others not designed on concrete. I will come back next week so that the governor will flag it off.”
However, Obe urged the minister to replicate the success story he recorded as governor of Ebonyi State on the Eleme-Onne road, noting:
“As a young engineer in the 1990s, he had a construction company that participated in the Bonny Export Terminal project, which constructed a pipeline to link Port Harcourt Refinery at Alesa Eleme to Bonny Island.
“We expected so much from Akpabio when he was Niger Delta minister, but he failed. We hope Umahi will not disappoint us.” On his part, the Ogoni youth president implored the minister to prioritise the rehabilitation and expansion of the Eleme-Onne axis of the road by ensuring that government commitments are translated into tangible actions that will benefit the community and improve the overall infrastructure in the region.
The INC spokesman added: “We have seen the antecedents of Umahi and we believe he is someone that has the interest and concern of the South-South and the country at heart. He has made strong comments and commitments to do something differently, so we look forward to seeing him demonstrate his desperation in fixing the road.”
ON his part, the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Abubakar Momoh, also an engineer described the deplorable state of Aleto (Elelenwo section and Eleme Junction) of the road as an eyesore and a disappointment.
Momoh stated that after a comprehensive inspection of the road, he could not hide his dismay at the deplorable state of the road, particularly with its importance as a connection to the petrochemical industry.
He promised to collaborate closely with Umahi to expedite action towards the completion of the project. Residents, road users, and indeed Nigerians are watching and hoping that Umahi and Momoh will walk their talk and do something differently from their predecessors.
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