Glitz As Uduaghan Connects Umeh Community With Road
IT was with a dismissive wave of the hand that the locals at Umeh, Isoko South Local Council of Delta State greeted the arrival of bulldozers and earthmovers in 2011. To them, the government was just trying to bamboozle them as nothing could ever be done on the road which evoked the imagery of once forgotten Koma, Adamawa State.
The terrain was mind boggling. A mere glance at the sorry state of the road was enough to discourage anybody from attempting to construct it considering the treacherous landscape. It was only the stone hearted that could contemplate conquering the community which was deep in the mangrove swamps and surrounded by a tributary of the River Niger.
Some of the villagers swore that the road project was going to be abandoned midway due to the forbidden ground and the exorbitant amount that will be needed to tame it. Even then, the road which is just off the busy East-West Road that connects the oil city of Warri with Ughelli, Patani and Port Harcourt is only seven kilometers away. So close but so far, as they say.
Rustic Umeh is so close to the busy East-West expressway but yet so far away from civilization as a result of marginalization. The people’s persistent pleadings for government’s attention were like that of one wailing in the wilderness. The echoes never reverberated outside the backwater.
The agrarian community is situated just some seven kilometers from the Bomadi Junction– Patani axis of the highway, ironically this pristine community couldn’t be farther from civilization as it is a case study of neglect.
The locals seem to have given up and resigned to fate as successive governments refused to asphalt the road. The usual excuse was that the land is marshy and ringed by creeks that crisscross farmlands and homes. Even then, all who visited the village are agreed that the land though rough is beautiful and naturally fertile with plants which thrive and give out bountiful harvests even with minimal efforts by farmers. Catfish and others aquatic animals thrive in the muddy ponds and streams that traverse the land.
As a food basket, plantain, palm oil, okra, cassava and other crops are grew abundantly, but ironically evacuating these farm produce is a huge task to the local farmers due to the lack of access roads to and from the community. Middle men who brave the hostile paths to the community pay the farmers pittance for products as a result of the prohibitive cost of transportation.
That age long neglect however became history last Saturday, February 14, when Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan led a team of top government officials and traditional rulers from across the state to inaugurate the 7.1km road he built to link the community to the East-West Highway and by extension, other parts of the state.
Almost four years on after the commencement of the road project, Uduaghan finally commissioned it on that day. Against all odds, he kept his promise.
It was a carnival-like celebration at Umeh when the governor visited to formally declare the road and local Secondary School opened, ending decades of neglect of the community by successive governments.
The joy in the people was palpable and infectious as the governor joined the crowd of people which was made up of traditional rulers, ululating women, youths and top government officials to celebrate the dividends of democracy in the community on Valentine’s Day.
Overwhelmed by the enthusiasm and massive turn out of people, Uduaghan recalled that he first heard about the road through the social media (Umeh Need Road site on Facebook) and had to visit the community out of curiosity to verify the true state of the road.
One could have a pin drop as Uduaghan narrated the interesting story surrounding the road construction, saying that the road is neither the longest nor most expensive road project embarked upon by his administration, yet it ranked as very significant and was very dear to his bosom.
He said it connotes what youths could achieve if they channel their time and energy into meaningful engagements.
He told the crowd that a young indigene of the community, Mr Duncan Afahokor drew his attention to the pathetic state of the road through a Facebook page which he christened the ‘Umeh Needs Road’ campaign.
He said that the story by Afahokor where he wrote that the community could be the food basket of not just the state, but the region and beyond if the road was asphalted was the decider.
He confessed: “When I read that I was attracted and when I came into the forum, so many other people came on and we engaged in discussion until about 3am.”
He was almost broken into two going by the sad state of the road. Umeh people were cut off from the rest of the world as it was practically impossible to access the community. What was supposed to be a road was waterlogged all the way from the East-West Road to the village, declaring:
“What I saw was terrible. I drove a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV) but we did not get up to one kilometer because of the condition. So I came down and we walked for up to five kilometers before we got to the first farm house.”
Frightened by the unusual and sudden appearance of the big man (the governor) and his security details, the owner of the farm house, a pregnant woman, promptly abandoned the pot of soup on the fire and fled into the bush. She was sitting in front of her house when the unknown visitors came.
Uduaghan testified: “She had a pot of banga (palm oil) soup on the fire; she had made eba and was waiting for the soup to get done when she fled. So we sat by the fire and helped her cook the food. As we were doing that her son (a child of barely three years) came and joined us. That was the day I had a spiritual connection with the road and I was determined to complete it.”
The determination of the governor to complete the road was put to test after the paper work were completed and the contractor mobilized to sight. All seems to be moving on mechanically until the flash flood of 2012 washed everything way. The contractor had gone far with the construction when the flood came and erased all that they had been done. The stone base and other construction work were washed away along with a big culvert built over one of the streams.
The situation was mind blowing but the governor was determined to soldier on, no matter the cost. Instead of being discouraged, his resolve was strengthened as the government not only went ahead, but redesigned and increased the scope of work.
Uduaghan declared: “It was through the Umeh Need Road group on Facebook that I knew about Umeh road and we engaged ourselves on Facebook. During one of my inspection visits to the community, I visited the school and it was not befitting for studying and so we awarded the contract for the construction of the school. The traditional ruler, youths and the entire people of this community are very appreciative and supportive of the government as well as protective of public projects … Umeh youths, we appreciate you, Umeh women, we appreciate you, Umeh people, we appreciate you.”
Besides, Uduaghan explained that the Umeh road caught his attention when he got to know that the people were great farmers and have the potential to feed the country if the environment was conducive.
This, he said, tallied with his Delta Beyond Oil programme as the road will help diversify the State’s economy away from oil by re-focusing the peoples’ attention on agriculture.
“Today is a day of love, Valentine’s Day, you have expressed that love to me and we appreciate that love. For the beneficiaries of the micro-credit scheme, you have to grow your businesses to enable you establish cottage industries. We have started micro-credit here and we believe that in the next two or three years, the beneficiaries of this micro-credit would have grown to own small-scale businesses.”
An elated Afahokor said the forum was informed by the governor’s programme and policies, particularly the Delta Beyond Oil initiative, which places emphasis on agriculture.
He said in view of the community’s huge agriculture potential in the area, he decided to draw the attention of the governor to his community, adding: “We keyed into it and here we are.”
He said the road would encourage the locals to contribute to government policies and commended the governor for bringing government closer to the people.
Beaming with smile, he declared: “This experience taught me that if people constantly engage, it will produce positive result.”
Already, he disclosed that over 300 members of cooperative societies are benefiting from the state microcredit scheme. The beneficiaries had earlier been challenged by Uduaghan to expand their businesses and grow their yields, assuring of firm commitment and support.
Afahokor particularly commended the governor for the transparent way the project was executed, noting that every process from the bid to mobilization and payments to the contractor were disclosed to the community through the UNR forum.
The openness, he said, enabled all stakeholders to get actively involved in the supervision and monitoring of the project from the day the first equipment reached the site to the completion.
In his testimony, the Commissioner for Works, Mr. Funkekeme Solomon under whose watch the road was built said the project was one of the four key programmes of the ministry under the current administration.
He disclosed that the administration had constructed over 3,000 kilometers of road as part of its Rural-Urban Renewal, Access to Farm and Integrated Rural development programmes.
Solomon added: “What you are seeing is the result of responsive governance. The contract was awarded in 2011 but the flood of 2012 washed off everything. We were not deterred but started from beginning; contract was re-approved and reviewed upward.”
Another local, Mr. Festus Edoreh said that the road has for sure given the villagers the right tools to empower themselves and be prosperous.
Edoreh recalled that a few years back when he came to bury the remains of his father, it was practically impossible to drive to Umeh because there was no road.
The civil servant said: “We had to park far away and make the long journey with my friends and sympathizers on motorcycle and other means to the burial site. It was hell.”
For his shinning example, Uduaghan did not go unrewarded as the traditional ruler of the community; His Royal Highness Odiri Ambrose Oweh conferred the chieftaincy title, Ovielo (King of Light) of Umeh on the governor.