From Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The old and narrow Oha Bridge in Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State is one of the surviving relics of the colonial masters. The about six feet wide bridge, which can take only one vehicle at a time, is overgrown with weeds at the moment.
The over 100-year-old bridge was said to have been constructed by the colonial masters to facilitate their movement into the hinterland of the Niger Delta from the commercial city of Warri, a development that led to the Effurun-Oha-Orerokpe-Oviorie-Eku road project.
The road and the bridge, which opened up several communities at the time, are now in deplorable state, bringing untold hardship to natives while trying to convey their produce to the cities for sales.
However, in 1987 the military administration of the then Bendel State headed by Col. John Mark Inienger expanded on that colonial venture by constructing the Effurun-Eku highway now currently an abandoned dualisation project of the Delta State government.
This is in spite of the heavy traffic ever present on that route, which connects the university town of Abraka, Agbor and towards Onistha on the one hand and Uromi, Edo State en-route northern Nigeria on the other.
Investigation revealed that the Oha-Oreokpe-Oviorie route attracted some attention in 2000 as the civilian administration of former governor, James Onanefe Ibori, awarded the eight-kilometre stretch from the Oha to Oviorie junction on the Effurun-Eku highway for rehabilitation.
The project included expansion of the road and construction of side drains as well as reconstruction of the narrow old Oha Bridge. Execution of the project which ran through the heart of Oreokpe town, headquarters of Okpe Local Government Area, was shoddy as the indigenous contracting firm was said to have undermined the benevolence of the administration to deliver a poor job.
Mr. Patrick Ekokoruwe who claimed to be a community leader in the area, said “the narrow old Oha Bridge was never touched,” during the intervention by the Ibori administration.
He appealed to the present administration of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa to come to the aid of the communities by rehabilitating the entire stretch of the road including the colonial bridge.
“The only sign of activity in and around the old bridge was the excavation of the eastern and western approaches to it which created a bumpy session of about 200 feet on both ends making usage of the colonial bridge both difficult and dangerous.
“In fact, the place became a death trap as countless motorists tumble over into the nearby ditches and into the stream bed especially at night as they thought there was a smooth passage.”
He said the death toll on the bridge swell uncontrollably as multiple accidents involving commercial motorcyclists has become rampant.
“In a bid to reduce the carnage, the community executive once convinced authorities of Okpe council and the police to establish a curfew for motorcyclists on the route from dusk to dawn to avoid the frequent okada accidents and consequent loss of lives.
“The community also constructed bumps at several points on the road before the damaged sections at both the eastern and western approaches to the colonial bridge to reduce speed of motor vehicles before getting to the dangerous sections preceding the bridge on both ends.”
He lamented that the eight-year tenure of immediate past governor of the state, Dr. Emmanuel Uduaghan did not bring any significant development to the area particularly the abandoned road project despite the high rate of carnage.
Investigation revealed that the Uduaghan administration, however, embarked on the dualisation of the Effurun-Eku highway which did not pass through the heart of the communities. The road saw the construction of a new well elevated bridge across the same stream to serve the new lane just as various culverts dotted the full stretch of the road.
But the old Oha Bridge still in use till date was never touched or reconstructed as proposed as part of that road rehabilitation project, while the new bridge at Oha town on the abandoned Effurun-Eku road dualisation project has never been used by motorists.
When the incumbent governor, Dr. Okowa was sworn-in in 2015, there was hope for the seemingly abandoned people of the neglected communities as they earnestly hoped that the road would receive attention in line with the transformed environment agenda of the government.
A native of Orerokpe town, Josiah Idighri said: “We were confident that Dr. Okowa would accommodate the development of our road. He convinced us that much during his consultations and campaigns leading to victory in 2015.
“The man appeared very humble, focused, competent and possessed adept managerial skills that endeared us to him. His activities during the trying early days in office assured us that we made the right choice.”
The confidence of the people got a major boost late 2016 when the State Executive Council announced the award of contract for the expansion and rehabilitation of the Oha-Orerokpe-Oviorie road including reconstruction of the old Oha Bridge.
“The whole world was informed that the project was part of measures to provide needed social amenities to accommodate the influx of people into the area from the Warri metropolis, which was becoming too compacted, overpopulated with overstretched social infrastructure,” Idighri said.
He, however, appealed to Governor Okowa to revisit the issue of the Oha Bridge during his second term.
A community leader in the Oviorie axis, Pa. James Okoro, said the award of the contract for the road rehabilitation and expansion including the reconstruction of the old Oha Bridge, was a reward for their belief in Dr. Okowa and their patience with the government.
“What a governor from Delta Central and Delta South could not do for us is what Dr. Okowa from Delta Igbo is set to do for us. We believe he will do it as virtually everyone in Delta politics are saying this man is a different specie. We trust him.”
The road project along with the bridge reconstruction were scheduled for commissioning in April 2017 but that was not to be. Apart from minor drainage works from the Oviorie end and some diversionary road shoulder excavations at Oha town, there is no sign of life or work on site. The terrible conditions of the two approaches to the old narrow Oha bridge remained.
Avoidable accidents continue to occur. More and more deaths are being recorded as the abandonment of the projects continues to dash the hopes of the people.
To further confirm the abandonment alongside the old Oha Bridge project, which has not even commenced, the state government decided to rehabilitate street roads linking Orerokpe town to the abandoned Effurun-Eku road dualisation project.
The implication, locals said, is that only the brave now pass through Oha to Orerokpe day or night as they risked their lives at the old Oha.
Mr. Okoro said commercial vehicles no longer pass through that route “creating difficulty for the people in Oha town and about the first one and half kilometres into Orerokpe from the Oha end as they would have to seek alternative transportation to move their goods to the local market or to Warri and even to get back home when returning from business night or day.
“Those of us who trumpeted him as our road Messiah now bow our heads in shame as we have become objects of mockery.
“It is left to be seen what Okowa will do about this road project and the old bridge as he maps out strategies for more infrastructural transformation in his second tenure.
“But as it is now, the hope of execution of the abandoned old Oha-Orerokpe-Oviorie road including reconstruction of the old narrow bridge hangs in the balance,” Akpughe said.