Tough Journey Through Owerri-Port Harcourt Expressway

roads, Niger State,Port Harcourt, an oil city, usually gets the attention of young Nigerians in the east and even in other states, with many considering it as an oil money city.

A journey to the state through Imo State in the east use to be an excitement in the minds of whoever decides to travel, but this joy and excitement are gradually fading and turning into sadness, as a journey to the oil city through Imo State now leaves commuters exhausted.

What use to be an exciting journey has now left residents of Umuapu in Ohaji Egbema Local Government Area of Imo State as well as commuters in lamentation, with a passionate appeal to the Federal Government to make their journey exciting once again.

Work had been abandoned for over four years, with the road now in ruins.

The users are asking the government to mobilise the contractors and ask them to return to the road and resume work.

At a time that the Nigerian government is pushing economic diversification, with so much focus on agriculture as the way out of the economic recession, residents in the area are finding it had to move their farm produce to cities where they can sell them.

The condition of the road is causing untold hardship for us, as it is now difficult for us to transport our farm produce to consumers, residents of the area said.

While farmers lament the hardship, commuters, who ply the road daily, said the bad state of the road had made it easier for criminals to perpetrate their evil acts on the road such as kidnapping, car snatching and armed robbery.

They called on President Muhammadu Buhari-led Federal Government to come to their aid and fix the road for the good of the people.

Over Four Hours Journey

The Owerri-Port Harcourt federal highway is one of the important highways in the southern region of Nigeria, as it connects Imo State to other South South states like Rivers, Cross River and Bayelsa.

During its good days, which is about five years ago, travelling from Owerri to Port-Harcourt takes less than an hour.

Sadly, the once motorable federal road has now become a nightmare and death trap on the Imo end of the road. One of such spots is the Umuapu community in Ohaji Egbema, about four kilometres to the Rivers State boundary. To get to Port Harcourt, it now takes over four hours with heavy traffic.

A private car owner, Mr Derrick Nnamdi, told Channels Television that “ordinarily, though, I drive fast, it takes me approximately 45 to 50 minutes between Owerri and Port Harcourt, but now it takes over two hours to get to Port Harcourt.

“Sometimes if the community here have their market, you may spend about 50 minutes’ stand still in this community before you can pass.

“After the boundary, to Port Harcourt, it is a pretty smooth drive”.

A public bus driver, who plies the roads on a daily basis said: “We need road. No road for us. Every time we are suffering, especially on this federal road. They told us that within eight years this project will be completed when they started, but since that time and now there is no difference and we are still suffering. Rain or no rain, every day we suffer.

“If we buy car parts today after two days we go back to get new ones, but before now when the road was good at least our shaft use to last between four to five months before we get new ones but now only two months we buy new shaft.

“So, we need help. They should help us. From Port Harcourt the road is nice but once you enter Imo State, it is bad”.

According to reports, the road was said to be awarded in 2009 by the Goodluck Jonathan’s administration through the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to Arab Contractors at the rate of 23.1 billion Naira.

The people of the area claimed to have only seen Arab Contractors working on few kilometres of the road from Owerri to Umuagwo, a neighbouring community, where they stopped work. While the residents of the area continue to wait for the contractors to resume work on the remaining portion of the road, their wait has been to no avail.

An Indigene of Umuapu Community, Andrew Enyinnaya, gave his own side of the story.

“Infact we have been dying not even suffer for this road. Arab Contractors have been working on it. Two years ago, they stopped by three to four poles away from here. And since they stopped work, we have been dying not suffer. Even though the old road we use for by-pass is bad, trailer and big lorries have spoilt everything. There is no road, no way, no nothing. So, we have been suffering much”

“Please, you people should come and rescue us from this bad road and many things come from here, food, garri, Akpu, cassava, everything but no road to bring it to town. We are not receiving anything from the government. I am telling you the fact. Without being told you can see for yourself,” Eyinnaya said.

Other commuters appealed to the Federal Government to resume work on the road especially as the yuletide season is drawing closer so people can travel freely to enjoy their Christmas and new year season with their families.

In a quest to know what could be the challenges holding the execution of the project, Channels Television visited the office of the contracting firm handling the project but could not get any useful information, as the public spokesman for Arab Contractors in the state, Mr Mark Eke, refused to speak, maintaining that he had no authority to speak on the matter.

Fortunately, the crew stumbled on the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Usani Uguru Usani, at a workshop he attended in Owerri the Imo State and he said that paucity of funds due to the dwindling nature nation’s resources has hampered the commencement of work on the road.

The minister said: “The development of infrastructure is not a moral responsibility, it is a responsibility and duty anchored on variables which cannot be assessed in casual terms. So, when I talk about budget and development in building and construction, as a journalist, you do not expect me to begin to give you time lines. You know our budgetary allocation, It is in the website of budget and planning. So, we are dispensing resources according to what is available and according to certain laid down criteria. If we have all the money, we will give to all the contractors but even the Federal Government doesn’t have all the money to sponsor all the projects that is why they are ongoing projects.

“So, we are assigning resources as we receive. knowing fully well that you cannot carry out anything beyond the budget line. All I can say is that money given to us to work we will continue to apply it. We should also be able to appeal to contractors sometimes to be able to execute according to what they get, because sometimes the work is under-performed relative to resources received.”

“The situation about each road in Nigeria is not in isolation. It is the fate of collapse of infrastructure in the country. So, that this project is under the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is only by assignment of responsibility.

“But it is not in any way different from what is happening about infrastructure in the entire country. You know for more than seven years the total infrastructure collapse has been there and you can see that the government has made tremendous effort beginning from budget appropriation to give 30% to infrastructure, rehabilitation and development.

“,So our situation is just the same but handicapped as you know our work is determinable by availability of resources or lack of same” the minister said.

When asked if there was any appeal the Federal Government had for the commuters who have been complaining of the hardship experienced on the road, the minister said: “Complaining about the Federal Government’s inefficiency in working on the road is loss of sense of history. How long do you expect the road that has been dilapidated for 10 years to be taken to repairs. Meanwhile, you know that the resource base of the nation has dwindled for over many months, therefore it is difficult to expect that the hen will lay eggs for the goose, each animal species will lay its own egg, so if the public is quarrelling it is because you the journalists are telling them to quarrel”.

If there is anything to go by with what the minister has just revealed, surely there seems to be no end in sight to the sufferings and hardship of commuters plying the Owerri-Port Harcourt expressway, as they will need to wait for a longer time before this road receives attention of the Federal Government.

Oil Producing Communities Propose Petroleum Industry Tribunal

Crude-oil-theft-Nigeria-Delta-NigeriaOil producing communities in Nigeria’s Niger delta are requesting that the Federal government establish a Petroleum Industry Tribunal to settle disputes arising from oil and gas activities in the region.

They believe that the establishment of a Tribunal would address conflicts between host communities and the oil companies.

The chairman of the Association of Community Leaders representing nine oil producing states in the region, Mr Ishmael Oputu, made the request in Abuja on Monday during a visit to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Uguru Usani.

The group is also seeking Federal Government’s intervention to clean up oil spill in the region.

A member of the association, Susan Eyoka, said the recent acts of pipeline vandalism were political.

While welcoming the proposal, the Minister asked that the intentions should be of mutual benefits to both the communities and the oil companies.

On the issues of environmental pollution in the area, Mr Usani said that the impact of the government’s efforts would be felt if the problems were not complicated by vandals.

The establishment of the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is one step that the Federal Government has taken to help address the problems of the region.

Problems Surfacing At The National Conference Had Been Foretold- Legal Practitioner

AkiriA legal practitioner and Chairman of the National Newspapers Editorial Board, Mr Chris Akiri said some Nigerians are not surprised by goings-on at the National Conference, noting that “even before the conference began, it had been foretold”.

Speaking as a guest on Channels Television’s Award-winning breakfast programme, Sunrise Daily, Mr Akiri said “what is going on was foretold before they started. The meeting was going to be characterised by dissensions and fruitless arguments because of the disparate nature of the delegates and where they come from” adding that “some of us are not surprised that the thing is going this way”.

He noted that the smooth sailing hitherto enjoyed by the delegates was sacked by the realisation that all the things discussed and voted for by delegates at the conference will favour some parts of the country.

“From time to time, their constituents continue to advise them either for or against some of the decisions already reached. So they now say so this is going to favour that part more than us, are you subscribing to this?” adding that “I will not be surprised if this argument goes beyond this”.

He also faulted the adoption of 70 per cent as the consensus benchmark for decisions taken by delegates at the conference noting that “all over the world, and in our country (Nigeria) in particular, if you want to change, adopt, alter, review anything, as far as the constitution is concerned, it is two thirds (2/3) not three quarters (3/4).

“So for you to look for ¾ consensus, you are saying that so many decisions will not be adopted” he said.

Mr Akiri also said some delegates from the same region with a high number can scuttle the chances of any recommendation if it doesn’t favour their region.

He however praised all the recommendations that have been adopted by the delegates but was quick to add that “it was by voice votes, without regard to whether it is 70 or 75 per cent consensus”, wondering why they “now want to bring the issue of 70 per cent consensus, which is different from what they have been doing” adding that “that is the problem; they are now at the final stage and they want to bring in percentage vote”.

He called on Nigerians to be reasonable on the percentage of the resource control of states due to different ecological systems of the regions the state are situated “to avoid problems in the country”.

He cited the provision of the 1999 Constitution which stipulates that at least 13 per cent be given to the south south states before the National Assembly settles down to review the percentage that will be due the region arguing that “you cannot say the National Assembly has not settled down 15 years after| return to democracy in 1999.

Despite the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to alleviate poverty and take proper care of the needs of Niger Deltans, Mr Akiri described their activities as “a mere flea bite on the charnel of problems in the Niger Delta”.

He accused the Ministry of Niger Delta of doing nothing because the ministry is not manned by indigenes of the region, describing the NDDC as a “catastrophe”, insisting that “it does nothing” to change the fortunes of the indigenes.

Mr Akiri made these statements while reacting to goings-on in the National Conference and the recommendations of leaders of the six geo-political zones.

The leaders of the six geo-political zones at the National Conference that deliberated on resource control and power devolution had recommended that the 13 percent resource control be increased to 18 percent, while another five percent be reserved for the development of solid minerals in Nigeria.

They also recommended that five percent be reserved for the rehabilitation of the northeast, northwest and north central zones of the country.

NDDC, Ex-Agitators Partner For Peace In Niger Delta

nddcIn furtherance of the Presidential Amnesty Programme for ex-agitators in Nigeria’s oil-producing communities, the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, has initiated a partnership with key stakeholders to work out strategies for enduring peace in the region.

Speaking at a meeting with about 65 ex-agitators at the Hotel Presidential, Port Harcourt, the NDDC Managing Director, Barrister Bassey Dan-Abia, said that the quest for peace was in line with a critical component of the transformation agenda of the Federal Government, which underlines peace as a necessary condition for the success of its development programmes.

He noted that the possible development of the region could only be, if there was peace. Hence, the commission would not develop if they had to battle with kidnapping, sea piracy, pipeline vandalism and other similar vices.

He stressed that the time had come for all to sit down as one family, look inwards and open a new chapter for the development of the Niger Delta region.

Flanked by other board members, Dan-Abia applauded the ex-agitators for what he called their heroic efforts at drawing attention to the problems of the Niger Delta which informed the rapid development in the area.

The NDDC MD said that the commission had over the years been committed to so many programmes and projects, many of which were still on-going. Consequently, he said, the commission was now reviewing its strategy to ensure that on-going projects were completed on schedule as directed by President Goodluck Jonathan.

“I salute you as the leaders of the struggle and thank you for your courage and patriotism, which has drawn attention to the challenges of the region. Indeed, we at NDDC appreciate all your sacrifices that have put the Niger Delta in the front burner”, he said.

Making his contribution at the meeting, the leader of the Niger Delta Salvation Force, Asari Dokubo, noted that that the NDDC was set up basically to bring rapid development to the Niger Delta.

He stated, however, that development was not only about roads and bridges but should also take into account the building of human capacity.

Thanking the NDDC for bringing the ex-agitators together to map out plans for peace and progress, he called on the commission to strengthen its programmes for empowerment and capacity building in agriculture and skill acquisition in the technical sector.

He said: “We must develop the economic capacity of our people. We should not allow our people to be beggars in the midst of plenty. We need to produce the Dantatas and Dangotes of the Niger Delta”, he

Asari Dokubo also warned northerners who were suggesting that the NDDC should be scrapped to perish the thought, as they would not succeed.

He was apparently referring to a position paper being canvassed by some northern delegates at the on-going National Conference, calling for the scrapping of the amnesty programme, Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs and the NDDC.

Also speaking at the meeting, the leader of the Peace and Development Initiative, Mr. Reuben Wilson, a.k.a General Pastor, assured the NDDC of the support of the former agitators, noting that the meeting was recognition of their role in the liberation of the Niger Delta.

Niger Delta Security Is My Priority – Jonathan

President Goodluck Jonathan has said that the current security situation in the Niger Delta region is a top priority of his administration as they are working to deepen the foundations of durable and mutually beneficial peace.

President Jonathan who was represented by Vice President Namadi Sambo made this known at the Inauguration of the National Council on Niger Delta, held at Uyo, the Akwa Ibom State Capital.

The Vice President was present at the Stakeholders’ first National Council on Niger Delta which was organised by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.

Pertinent issues bothering on the security and development challenges facing the Niger Delta were discussed at the event which was attended by experts, technocrats, traditional rulers, the Civil Society.

Governors Olusegun Mimiko of Ondo state and his Delta state counterpart, Emmanuel Uduaghan as well as the Secretary to the Cross River State government, Mike Aniah were present at the ceremony.

Top on the deliberations was the consideration of implementation of the Niger Delta Action Plan, by the administration of President Jonathan, to compliment the specific commitments contained in the Amnesty Programme.

The president said he believes that the action plan will be of great relevance and will serve as a coherent programme for investments in the social and infrastructure sectors of the various communities of the region, thereby encouraging participation.

He went on to call for active support and collaboration of major stakeholders in the oil and gas industry, development partners, states, communities and specialized interest groups partner the region for a new reinforced phase of effective development in the Niger Delta.

Speaking at the event, Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio disclosed that, the people of the Niger Delta region have in the past being relegated to the background in terms of development in the midst of abundant human and natural resources.

He advocated for the non-inclusion of the Niger Delta Development Commission as a parastatal under the Ministry, noting that the region deserves an agency solely headed by its people.