Many Nigerians, especially those in the Niger Delta axis have expressed deep concern over the inability of the Niger-Delta Ministry to make appreciable progress on the East-West Coastal Road . Various groups and individuals, including political and traditional rulers have also lent their voices to the call for radical changes to the process of getting the road completed on time, writes Omon-Julius Onabu
Beside his obvious commitment to the Rule-of-Law, one feature that clearly stood the administration of the late President Umaru Yar’Adua out in bold relief as a purposeful leader of Africa ’s most populous country was the concerted effort to address and redress the protracted injustice especially against the people of the Niger Delta. Although, the area has supplied the country’s economic mainstay for over half a century, poverty has remained endemic at more than 70 per cent and underdevelopment pervasive. The government’s policy initiative culminated in the now famous Amnesty Programme designed to end the pervasive violent agitation in the oil-rich region. Ultimately, the objective of the amnesty scheme was to restore peace in the beleaguered environment through the reintegration of thousands of warlike agitators, comprising mainly youths that made oil exploitation in the region a nightmare.
Capacity building for thousands of youths from the region was one way the Niger-Delta ministry was expected to empower young people in the region in particular. More significantly, the onus for opening up the area and establishing a firm foundation for economic prosperity of the people rested squarely on the young ministry. The East-West Coastal Road , initially designed in 2008 by the NDDC with the original contract awarded in 2006, was to constitute part and parcel of the superstructure for the envisaged massive development of the Niger Delta region. It must be noted that the whole idea of the road had been, nonetheless, mooted even before the inception of former President Olusegun Obasanjo government in 1999, though the plan had been toyed with by successive regimes for several decades before then.
However, the execution of the all-important road project was subsequently transferred from the Federal Ministry of Works by Yar’Adua to the Niger Delta Ministry in 2009. However, three years down the line the East-West Coastal Road is far from being completed despite the series of promises from the Minister of the Niger Delta affairs, Mr. Godsday Orubebe. Thus, the expectation that the East-West, which should effectively connect Lagos with Calabar through nine states, would serve as a integration and development catalyst particularly for the region has practically remained in its embryonic stage. The road has, therefore, engaged much discussion in recent time, albeit profuse expression of worry about the slow pace of construction work and, indeed, the fate of the entire project.
Delta State Governor, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan and his Rivers State counterpart, Mr. Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi as well as the Senate are among those who have expressed deep concern over the inability of the Niger-Delta Ministry to make appreciable progress on the East-West Coastal Road . Various groups and individuals, including political and traditional rulers have also lent their voices to the call for radical changes to the process of getting the road completed on time. Uduaghan came short of saying that the snail-speed progress of work on the road has become a source of embarrassment to the governors of the South-South geo-political zone of the country.
The Delta State Governor harped on the need for all the stakeholders to combine efforts to save the situation, especially as what was on ground did not inspire any enthusiasm despite Orubebe’s assurances that the East-West Road would be delivered by the end of 2014. Uduaghan, who spoke when members of the Senate Committee on the Niger Delta called on him in his office in Warri, said what was not in doubt was that the road or the ministry in charge of constructing would do with some decisive intervention.
He stressed that the reputation of all state governors particularly in the South-South geo-political zone and the entire Niger-Delta region was very much on the line particularly concerning the timely completion of the East-West Road. “The East-West Road has become a source of worry; and, if it is not completed by 2015, it will be a big problem for all of us including the governors”, he noted, adding, “It is the aspiration and desire of the people of the South-South to get the road completed.”
It was apparent, from the way he spoke that the non-completion of the contentious road could well make nonsense of the regional socio-economic ambition of the governors of the region as espoused via the BRACED (Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta states) summit group of the South-South. He nonetheless expressed his readiness to collaborate with the Federal Government in order to generate the funds needed to complete the road project.
Similarly, the Senate committee on the Niger-Delta region, led by Senator James Manager who represents Delta South zone in the National Assembly, also condemned the slow pace of work at the East-West Road . After inspecting the level of reconstruction, especially of the stretch between Warri in Delta State and Bayelsa State as part of the Senate’s oversight functions, the lawmakers were alarmed that the project might never see the light of day even in the next five years; notwithstanding Orubebe’s 2013 timeline for its completion.
Manager explained the mission of his committee to Uduaghan and conveyed the impression of the Senate committee thus: “I was present at the summit of the South-South states hosted by your humble self, where the Minister of Niger Delta said that the East-West road will be completed and delivered to road users by the grace of God by 2013. I was there, but now we are worried; we have seen things for ourselves. Going by what we have seen of that road, it is not possible to deliver even in the next five years. So, we are summoning the Niger Delta Minister to appear before us unfailingly. We want to know from him (Orubebe) what is happening.”
Yet, Amaechi’s dissatisfaction with the execution of the nationally strategic road constitutes another dimension, quite aside from the general displeasure at the slow pace of work on the road. The River State governor recently took his protest over the systematic exclusion of parts of his state from the road project to the office of the minister in Abuja , demanding the inclusion of the areas in question. Amaechi, who spoke through his deputy, Mr. Tele Ikuru, lamented the apparent exclusion of places like Onne, Alode and Eleme fly-over area from the East-West Coastal Road reconstruction by the ministry. The governor said, “We have noticed a change of plan on the road as Onne, Alode and Eleme fly-over axis have been left out of the current rehabilitation work on the East-West Road and they are now in deplorable situation. So, we have come to appeal for justice and to see that the issue is given desirable attention by your ministry.”
Furthermore, much of the East-West Road has become both a death trap and a haven for highway criminals that often take advantage of the deplorable condition of the road to attack and rob commuters on the route. The highpoint of avoidable loss of lives and property on the road, especially between Ughelli in Delta and Port-Harcourt, was perhaps the Thursday, July 12, 2012 killing in a fuel tanker fire of scores of people. Reports said that over 100 persons who attempted to scoop premium motor spirit (PMS) or petrol from a tanker vehicle that crashed at one of the particularly bad portions of the road.
The paramount ruler of Beinmogbene, Odimodi community in Burutu council area of Delta State, Chief Brawaide Ogokeme, is one of the President Goodluck Jonathan’s Ijaw kinsmen that have appealed to Orubebe to help Mr. President translate his much-talked-about peace and development agenda into reality through transparent and committed delivery on contracts and projects including the East-West Road .
Nonetheless, allegations of fraudulent practices have also dogged the East-West Road project including the alleged sharp practices in the contract awards as well as skyrocketing of compensation claims. Specifically, concerns were raised in some quarters over the N40.5billion variation on Section One and Section Four of the project, whose completion date was initially fixed for 2010 but shifted to early in 2014. It was observed by the House of Representatives that Section One, initially awarded at N35.6billion, was later reviewed upward with N31billion added while Section Four originally awarded for N26 billion had N9.5billion added. Similarly, questions were also raised over the increment in compensation claims, which shot up astronomically from N250million to N7billion. There had also been considerable bickering between the NDDC and Niger Delta Ministry. For instance, the December 2010 argument over (apparently duplicated) engineering designs of portions of the road.
From the foregoing, it would appear the East-West Road is generally being perceived as a fading dream of national and environmental integration of the country’s economically strategic coastal areas spanning the states of Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. It is therefore hardly surprising that not a few individuals and groups, including travelers who often have tales of woe on the road, have called for the termination of the contracts of construction companies handling various sections of the road. A school of thought on the issue has even stretched the argument by saying that the creation of a ministry specifically for Niger-Delta affairs and assigning to it the responsibility of handling the contentious road project was at least a misadventure.
The Presidential Adviser and Chairman of the Amnesty Programme, Mr. Kingsley Kuku has also warned against taken for granted the prevailing atmosphere of peace especially in the Niger-Delta, on account of the remarkable success recorded by the amnesty, re-orientation and re-integration programme of the Federal Government. The tempo of development of infrastructure such as roads and provision of amenities as well as increased capacity building for the teeming population of people and youths in area ought to be stepped up rather than diminished, Kuku told THISDAY in Warri through his media aide, Mr. Dan Alabrah.
However, the minister blamed some of the problems on inappropriate evaluation of the various contracts before the birth of the Niger Delta Ministry due to the eagerness then to restore peace to the Niger-Delta. For example, Orubebe placed the blame for the omissions noticed in respect of parts of Rivers State at the doorstep of the Federal Ministry of Works. He maintains that at least N194 billion is needed by his ministry towards the completion of the about 340 kilometer stretch of the road traversing the Niger-Delta states.
Nevertheless, while the ecological peculiarity of the coastal area of the country includes the marshy terrain and mangrove forests, with the existence of at least 60 water bodies requiring bridges, the numerous long-term economic and socio-cultural benefits envisioned in the conception of the East-West Coastal Road makes continued jaded disposition towards the rehabilitation or possible abandonment of the project inconceivable. It is, indeed, gratifying that the stakeholders, including the governors, community an opinion leaders as well as different levels of the legislature, have pledged their support towards the successful completion of the road without further, avoidable delay.