Paul Osuyi, Asaba
The decision of the Federal Government to dredge the Escravos-Chanomi/Ogbe-Ijoh down to Warri Port in Delta State is raising fresh agitations among locals in the riverine communities within the affected areas.
The over 50 Ijaw, Ilaje and Itsekiri communities in the Chanomi creeks and those who reside along and around Ogbe-Ijoh axis claimed they would be badly impacted by the proposed dredging of the river.
At the moment, there is apprehension residents over possible fear of not only losing their means of livelihood but also displacement from their ancestral homes.
Anxiety among the beleaguered riverine dwellers is further heightened as they are yet to recover from the hardship, pandemic poverty and sad memories of what they experienced in the 1980s when a similar dredging was carried out.
Consequently, they want the Federal Government to carry them along and do the needful without any bias, political bigotry, manipulation, ethnic sentiment, intimidation of any kind, hatred or any act that will further put them in pains.
In a petition to the Minister of Transport, Rotimi Amaech, the solicitor and coordinator of the communities, Dr. Clarkson Aribogha said the affected communities should be notified of the modalities to be applied.
He said the people criticised the survey, mapping and the sounding activities, which they said was done secretly without their notice, demanding that they ought to be in the know when the Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) activity was being carried out. While soliciting for the extension of dredging works to Gbaramatu Kingdom, Aribogba noted that Escravos River to Chanomi Creek are under the administrative domain of Gbaramatu Kingdom, just as Chanomi Creek to Warri OgbIjoh and Nigerian Port Authority is under the administrative headship of Ogbe-Ijoh.
“We urged the Federal Government to pay compensation to the communities that will be affected during and after the dredging because their source of livelihood such as fish ponds, forest, swamp, fish migration, fish gear damages and many others are not going to be spared,” he stated.
Explaining the extent of damage the affected communities would experience, Dr. Aribogha pleaded with government to provide an unbiased, fair and equitable mutual relationship with the various communities by paying them adequate compensation due to negative effect of the dredging.
He admonished the Federal Government consultants and contractors to be aware of their corporate social responsibilities to the host communities in the course of carrying out the dredging operations, adding that the communities impacted through the current tidal river wave carries the debris to creeks, creeklet and streams are yet to be listed out.
“Since the last dredging by the Federal Government from Escravos-Chanomi-Warri Ogbe-Ijoh River in the 80s no such event has taken place till now, thus resulting in the tiltation of the river channels, creeks, creek lets, preventing bigger vessels from penetrating into Warri Port from commercial activities,” Aribogha added in his petition.
He lamented the poor situation of Warri Port, which he said has been dormant over the years and thereby denying the Federal Government the much needed revenue generated till date, adding that “the approval of the dredging of the port is a welcomed and well deserved development which beside other benefit it will derive also provide job for the teeming jobless youths.”
Meanwhile, Governor Ifeanyi Okowa has assured that all interest groups will be accommodated to ensure that the dredging operation was not truncated due to agitations by community stakeholders.
“We are aware that there maybe some agitations here and there but processes are being put in place to get everybody involved particularly the youths. We will try to let them know that it is in the best interest of all of us in the Niger Delta area particularly in Delta State that the dredging is taking place is for the good of all.
“Besides the Warri Port, there are other benefits that will come from the dredging of the Escravos Bar. So I do not hope any youth will go and truncate the process but as at today plans are in place to engage all the youths and that engagement has started.
“When there is a clear understanding that the project is in the best interest of the people, I am sure that they will not stop the job,” the governor said.