Six Decades After, Its Uhuru for Nigerian Coastal Road

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Imagine a road that was conceptualised over 65 years ago just taking off now? Segun James takes a journey on the Nigerian Coastal Road that is designed to bring the coastal regions of the nation closer

Imagine going from Lagos to Warri in two hours; and cruising a road along the the Atlantic Shoreline and among the mangrove forest that dots the coast of the Bight of Benin? Sound far-fetched? Not anymore.

If the first Nigerian Coastal Road project from Koko in Warri North Local Government Area of Delta state to Lekki in Lagos State now being built by the Niger Delta Development (NDDC) comes to fruition, it will be a dream come true. The original plan was for a road from the Bakassi Peninsula in the East to Lagos in the West.

For 65 years, soon after oil was first found in commercial quantity in the Niger Delta area, the Nigerian Coastal Road has been on the drawing board. But work on the strategic Nigerian Road Project has finally begun now. Although the contract for the project was signed and sealed in 2010 between the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and Levant Construction Company, a multinational engineering company, the project only took on a fast pace recently after the completion of the engineering designs.

For the Itsekiri people of Warri, who along with their neighbours, the Ijaw and the Ilaje of the Ilaje-Ese-Odo area of Ondo state, the commencement of work on the road is a long road to walk. Although neighbours, it takes several hours of boat rides along the snaky waterways to get from one community to the other.

The Coastal Road project has been a strategic project of the Federal Government of Nigeria right from the colonial days. As the oil industry became the mainstay of the nation’s economy, the need to construct the road took an urgent turn. The government had realised the need to link the two most strategic regions (the oil producing areas of the Niger Delta and Lagos, the financial powerhouse of the country) together.

Spanning a little over 200 kilometers, the Coastal Road will, in the first phase, begin from Koko in Delta State passing through Okiti-Pupa in Ondo to Ijebu Waterside in Ogun State before terminating at Epe/Lekki corridor in Lagos state. According to experts, this is the shortest route between the two economic heart beats of the nation.

Since the oil industry is the mainstay of the nation’s economic lifeline and Lagos, the financial soul, bringing the two regions closer is of most urgent importance.

So what has hindered the construction of the road? According to Prince Yemi Emiko, a retired oil industry senior executive, it is the lack of political will on the part of successive federal governments that is responsible for the lack on interest on the project.

Emiko said that although the project was awarded in 2010 under the Goodluck Jonathan-led federal government, but work on the project which is now at full pace took an urgent turn under President Muhammadu Buhari.

According to him, former Governor of Delta State, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan pushed for, not only the award of the contract, but the state government actually began work on the construction and spurred the federal government on, before the NDDC to over.

This was confirmed by the Managing Director of the Levant Construction, Mr. Eli Thanos who disclosed that already, 15.4 kilometer of the road has been constructed up to Ureju town. He said the project is now at a point where a bridge will be constructed to cross the Ologbo river as the project moves west.

With Koko and the Escravos oil producing areas being the main feed point for Africa’s largest refinery under construction, the Dangote Refinery in Lakki, the road is considered as very important by the federal government, hence, the urgency on the construction.

The Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli while on an inspection tour of the project expressed delight on the pace of work going on even as he urged the federal government to expedite work on the project.

The Royal Father who was accompanied on the inspection by the member of the House of Representatives representing Warri Federal Constituency and Vice Chairman of the House Committee on the NDDC, Chief Thomas Ereyitomi, said he is happy with project even as he asked the federal government to terminate the contract on the Koko shore protect project, another strategic aspect of the road project.

But the time the project is completed, Koko, the second largest Itsekiri community will be the toast of the new development of the oil producing communities belt. Koko is a fast developing town that now houses a number of oil tank farms, a modular refinery which is under construction and a university which would be dedicated to the oil and gas industry and research with a focus on engineering and marine technology, the two vital industry that feeds the region.

For the now fast developing community, the last decade has been innovative and development oriented. This has led to the building of a proposed university and other petro-allied operations. Today the oil industry is changing fast and the shift to secondary cities is obvious and logical. The nation’s major oil producing hubs are increasingly overcrowded, over polluted and over saturated.

The history of the Coastal Road has been long and uneventful. By 1955, it was clear that the Niger Delta had serious problem. The vast region was the least developed part of the southern Nigeria even though it contributes substantially to the nation’s economy.

Before oil was found in its bowels, it was known as the Oil River Area by the British. It as from the region that country sources most of its timber trees. It was also responsible for all the rubbers that the country produces. But the region was abandoned despite the wealth that comes from the bowels of the people’s land.

Today, the people have soldiered on. The are now one of the most educated people in the country and highly skilled too. According to Mr. Anthony Eguando, the backbone of Warri’s talent pool is the highly educated youth; and with the proposed Warri University which will be a mainly research institution, the people are looking beyond the near future.

Eguando insists that today, the Warri North axis of Delta state is opening its gates to blue-collar workers from all over the country and internationally. An unprecedented relaxation of rules in an area where most jobs outside professional and high skill ones are reserved only for indigenes.

On the role of government in developing the coastal areas of the country, Eguando said: “well, personally I felt that if the government is serious about developing koko, as part of the first national rolling plan this road was designed in 1955. And our forefathers the founders of this nation were very objective in their design approach because from Koko Port here, if all vehicles take off from Apapa, Lagos, Port Harcourt, Warri, Calabar to the north the one from Koko will get there first…

“Then number two, the Benin River you are seeing here is the deepest natural sea port in Nigeria. And the distance from here to Epe In Lagos State reduce the travel hours by several hour. This corridor is an alternative route to the Lagos end. This road is not going to be beneficial just to the Ishekiris but to the Ondo State Ilaje communities and in less than three hours you can get to Lagos.

“I have taken a boat from here to Lagos which is approximately three hours. So we are talking on the impact on Rivers State, those coming from Rivers, Bayelsa, Owerri, Akwa Ibom, they don’t have business going through the popular Lagos-Ibadan expressway. Maybe when you were coming into the town you saw Total Producing Company. Total has been here for close to 50 years, they have an integrated facility here. If the expatriate community or investors can take advantage of such a corridor, I am wondering what is really wrong with our government. On this corridor, you have Oghara, you have Sapele, if you have time we will go through the waterways to see what we are talking about.

“This is the next corridor, the gateway, so for me it is not enough, government should go beyond the rhetoric, both state and federal government. Unfortunately Delta State is a natural hub for development in the oil sector. So there is no excuse for the reckless abandoned projects for a corridor that generate wealth and could generate more if thee required infrastructure are in place.”

On the road project, Eguando admitted that NDDC is actually on the project “but unfortunately you know the rot that is called NDDC. I am not a government contractor, I don’t do anything with them but my concern is this area. Look at the shore protection. I ply my trade from supervising projects in the oil and gas industry but with what we have there, the contractor that handled this project is currently a seating governor in this country.

“To the best of my knowledge he wants to go and do road in his state, he has engaged Julius Berger, is that not wickedness? So for me like the Olu Of Warri has rightly said the contract should be cancelled. He commended Levant for a job well done. I am not totally happy because I am a victim of this corrupt system. About few weeks ago my crane sank in a road leading to my yard here on a road constructed and commissioned NDDC. So that was one of the things that motivated me and I said the Olu Of Warri must come here. And we are not going to stop at this we are taking it to the next level,” Eguando insisted.

This was also concurred with by the President of Itsekiri Youth Association, Mr. Agbateyiniro Weyinmi Isaac, who said “it is still surprising that the coastal road called Koko-Ogheye-lagos road was part of the first Nigeria national developmental plan initiated by chief Festus Okotiebo,the first finance minister of Nigeria. In that master plan,it was intended to be part of the road network that was to convey goods and services to and fro the koko sea port.

“Since the first republic when this road was conceptualised and inserted into the first Nigerian national developmental plan, only the part that connected Benin from the Ologbo end with the Ologbo bridge to koko junction and then, koko town was the part constructed while the relevant authorities saddled with the responsibility to construct this road deliberately abandoned the larger part of the road till date.

“When you imagine how many kilometres of road constructed in Nigeria from then till date with money generated uninterruptedly from our oil and gas, you can imagine how very angry and agitated the entire Itsekiri nation is today.

“That our responsibility is to continue to produce and use what we produce to develop other areas without a corresponding return can be very provocative. There is hardly any generation of government or agency of government in Nigeria that has not inherited this project and now finally, it is NDDC who inherited this same project from OMPADEC.

“During this NDDC regime and with all the money that has been pumped into NDDC and the volume of attendant corruption, only nine kilometer of the road has been constructed by NDDC for the past 10 years since NDDC took over the road. No wonder some forensic auditors and experts have rightly opined that if you want to ascertain the level of corruption in NDDC, use the koko-ogheye-lagos road.

“Ten good years that NDDC has inserted this project into their budget and with all the money pumped into NDDC, not up to a kilometre of that road has been constructed in a year. Isn’t this a monumental embarrassment? This ofcouse is not more that three per cent of the total road length,” Agbateyiniro concluded.

To the Olu of Warri, Ogiame Ikenwoli, the past 65 years has been a bumpy ride for an area that has contributed so much to the economy of the country. Within this period, he lamented, the Koko Port which is the largest inland port in the country no longer sees ship coming.

According to Prince Yemi Emiko, the economic downturn of the port began when an Italian company dumped toxic nuclear waste at Koko. The action of the company was the first impediment that stunted the development of the port city which is less than 20 minutes to Edo State and just about two hours to Kogi State and a little over three hours from Abuja, the Federal Capital Territory.

Sustainability is fast becoming an increasingly important topic in Nigeria’s economy. With a project such as this, when completed, it will open a new vista of economic development for the nation.