For over a decade, the people of Ubulu-Uku Community in Aniocha South Local Government, Delta State, have been crying to both the state and federal governments to help them repair the only access road, Ubulu-Uku/Onicha-Ugbo Road that leads to other communities.
The road has been destroyed by erosion and is impassable to the extent that walking through what is left of the track is like passing through the shadow of death. Only strong youths can summon courage to pass through the road, and they oftentimes end up in traditional bonesetters homes. Old people and schoolchildren are locked down at home.
Following the community’s discovery that the contract for the road project was awarded to a prominent son of the state by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), the community sent a save-our-souls (SOS) to President Muhammadu Buhari, Minister of Niger Delta, Chief Godswill Akpobio, Speaker of the House of Representatives, Femi Gbajabiamila and other well-meaning Nigerians to come to their rescue.
Ubulu-Uku people at home and in the Diaspora appealed to Buhari to declare a state of emergency on the road. The people also made a passionate appeal to the World Bank to assist in the road repairs while investigation into the contract award is on.
Mr Pius Monye, who spoke from the United States of America, wanted Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to quickly intervene: “My governor, the contract of this road has been awarded many times to a prominent son of the state, the last being in 2015, and till date the job is not done. All we have there is abandoned equipment and serious threats to my people.
“Each time we make noise about the road, the man would send a few workers who would grade the road and leave it in a worse condition, as he did last November. The road is in a more terrible condition than it was before he came to grade it.
“My people are living in fear because of his threats to deal with anyone who dared to report him to the authorities. My people are helpless. Your Excellency, my people voted for you and we believe in your leadership; so, it will be appreciated if you can take care of the Ubulu-Uku/Onicha-Ugbo Road.
“Use your good offices to ask why the person the road contract was awarded to is against the good people of Ubulu-Uku and what he stands to gain with all the threats to deal with my people. We are aware that the road contract has been awarded many times to someone. He is not ready to do the road, as he is just using the road as a conduit pipe to syphon money from the NDDC.
“Now that there is a panel of investigation into the NDDC, we implore the Speaker of the House of Representatives and Minister of Niger Delta to look into the records of the contract award and see who the contract was awarded to. The last contract was awarded in 2015, we have the documents to tender as evidence when we are called.”
Rights activist and convener of #Saveubuluroads, Esther Nwogwonuwe, spoke from the United Kingdom: “We all know that the contract was awarded about four times to a prominent politician who has been looting Delta State. He has been looting the Federal Government through the NDDC projects. But what shall it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul?
The politician, who we gave our 100 per cent support, has looted the whole Niger Delta. The most painful thing is that he abandoned all the projects in communities that gave him massive votes. Ubulu-Uku, for example, is PDP and loyal to delivering PDP aspirants in every election.
“Why has PDP Delta State decided to pay Ubulu-Uku with evil and wickedness? The politician has bitten the fingers that fed him by abandoning such a multibillion-naira project. The entire Ubulu-Uku/Onicha-Ugbo communities will never forget such criminality and wickedness.
“We, the people of Ubulu-Uku in the Diaspora, can no longer travel home; we love our rich culture and heritage. We love our annual festivals, we used to return home annually, if not for the festivals but for Christmas and New Year celebrations.
“Now this is no longer possible. What is the essence, when we can’t access the roads to our homes? What is the essence of returning home only to break our limbs and end up in bonesetters’ homes? Even my people in Nigeria who are not based at home don’t bother to come back.
“Some of our relatives who lose their loved ones outside Ubulu-Uku, living along the road, do not bother to bring the deceased home for burial. Traditional weddings have been done outside the community. What is the essence of coming home with friends and colleagues only to be embarrassed by not arriving home?
“We are calling on the presidential panel investigating NDDC projects to look into the issues raised on Ubulu-Uku/Onicha-Ugbo Road. I also call on my people to place curses every day on those who the road was awarded to and those who partook in one way or the other in sharing the loot. We also appeal to Governor Okowa to wade into the matter.”
Madam Grace Kolu, 90, also appealed to government to urgently fix the road before she joins her ancestors: “My fear is that when the Lord calls me, there is no way for sympathizers to pass to come and give me a befitting burial. I have been confined at home, I can’t go out. Even though I am old, God gave me strength and I was physically strong. I used to trek to visit people, but now I am down and weak because I can’t go out for exercise.
“The worst of it all is that the Reverend Father who used to bring communion to old people has stopped coming here because the road is impassable. He nearly broke his legs the last time he came.
“When we heard the road was being repaired before Christmas last year, we rejoiced and prayed for whoever was bringing joy to us, because the road became passable and our children came home. But after Christmas, the road was abandoned again.
“During the first rain, erosion swept away all the repairs on the road and dug gullies in it. It became worse. I am on my knees begging my son, Okowa, to do something about the road.”
When contacted, a government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity, as he was not supposed to speak with the press, said: “Calling Governor Okowa or Director-General of Delta State Capital Territory Development Agency (DSCTDA), Mrs Amaechi Mrakpor, is a waste of time, because they know that the road has been awarded about six times to someone by the NDDC.
“How do you think that Okowa will use the money for the repairs of other roads that fall within his responsibility to repair a road that someone has eaten the money meant for the repairs many times? The last contract to do the road as at 2015 was N245 million, not for the entire road, but about some kilometres, because he has been collecting money in bits. The document is with us.
“The man who the road contract was awarded to has embezzled the money and there is no way he can refund it or source for money, as the game is up. The only people that can assist are the World Bank and the Federal Government. Except they intervene, your community will be totally exterminated. I feel for you people. ”
A farmer, Monday (other name withheld) said: “We rely on our farms for a living, because we are predominantly farmers. The only access road to our farmland has been totally destroyed. We cannot take our farm produce to the market.
“Foodstuffs are wasting away in the farm; no vehicle, motorcycle or wheelbarrow can pass through the road. How do we carry our produce when we are afraid of breaking our limbs? It is a terrible thing to pass through the gully.
“The painful thing is that, between September and November last year, we rolled out the drums to celebrate when we saw one of our brothers who came with tractors and workers and started grading the road. We thanked the workers and we were supplying them palm wine and other things to make them happy. We were so grateful that, after many years, the NDDC, through our senator, had finally answered our prayers.
“They left after two weeks, promising that work would resume by January 2020. We took photographs of the road, which we sent to our people outside the community, and a lot of people returned home for Christmas and New Year celebrations.
“We sold our farm produce very well and we were so grateful, but the workers have failed to come back and resume work. When the first rain came, it was as if we were blaming God for sending down the rain. It destroyed the road more than how it was before the grading. We used to patch a part to enable the courageous ones to pass. With the state of the road now, it is far beyond what community efforts can do.
“Except the government intervenes, we are doomed. On behalf of Ubulu-Uku youths, I am begging the World Bank to intervene. There was a time when the bank came to inspect the road, but we now think that because the World Bank discovered that the road contract had been awarded to someone, it decided not to do the road anymore.
“Please, World Bank, come to our rescue. We also plead with government to prevail on the politician to refund the money for the road project to the NDDC and punish him for embezzling our money.”