From Tony John, Port Harcourt
Barely two days after Ogoni Youth Federation (OYF) staged a warning protest on the Aleto Bridge Eleme, Ogoni section of the East-West Road, and gave the Federal Government a two-week ultimatum to mobilize contractors handling the road to site to reconstruct the entire stretch of the road or face “mother of all protests”, a section of the bridge has collapsed.
Since the section of the bridge collapsed, road users, particularly Ogoni people, have been angry and have vowed to shut the Ogoni section of the East-West road.
The road links to Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), the Federal Ocean Terminal (FOT) and Federal Light Terminal (FLT); the big fertilizer plant, Indorama Petrochemical, Notore Onne, Port Harcourt Refinery, Petroleum Products Marketing Company (PPMC) and other federal investments.
On Tuesday, June 15, youths from Ogoni ethnic nationality blocked the Eleme axis of the East-West Road in protest in solidarity with members of the Ijaw Youth Council (IYC) on their agitation against Federal Government’s delay in constituting a substantive board of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).
During the protest, members of OYF did not only ask for the construction of Port Harcourt Refinery road, president of the Ogoni group, Legborsi Yamabana, who addressed newsmen at the scene of the protest, issued a 14-day utimatium to the Federal Government to fix the roads, including the Aleto Bridge within Eleme axis, which the youths alleged had claimed the lives of Ogoni people.
Yamabana, insisting that Ogoni youths supported the position of the IYC led by Timothy Peter-Igbifa on the constitution of the NDDC board, threatened that they would shut down the road and economic activities in the area, if government failed to heed their demands.
He lamented the sufferings of the people on account of the poor state of roads and warned that continuous delay could be dangerous.
It took the intervention of security agents, who pleaded with the protesting youths, before they cleared the road. Already, motorists had spent hours in gridlock.
However, the president-general of OYF, who visited the collapsed section of the bridge, said the Ogoni axis of the East-West Road, where the bridge was located, was a major route to the economic hub of the nation.
He regretted that the road had remained in a deplorable state and had become a death trap terminating the lives of Ogoni people and other commuters.
Yamabana used the ugly incident to reiterate the subsisting 14-day ultimatum that the Ogoni youths gave the Federal Government to mobilize contractors to the road to completely reconstruct it. He noted that, if government failed to heed the call after the ultimatum, OYF would be left with no option but to mobilize Ogoni people and friends of Ogoni across the Niger Delta and “embark on mother of all protests, such that all economic activities in the area will be shut down.”
Also, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, has urged the Federal Government to expeditiously complete the abandoned East-West Road because of its economic importance.
He said the neglect of the East-West Road, particularly the Eleme axis, where the Oil and Gas Free Trade Zone, Port Harcourt Refinery and Onne seaport were situated, was unacceptable.
Wike made the appeal during the inauguration of Community Secondary School, Eteo, Eleme, and Community Secondary School, Obeakpu-Ndoki, Oyigbo, respectively last Friday.
He lamented that: “It is unfortunate; look at the East-West Road. This part of it (referring to Aleto Bridge) has almost collapsed. The money comes from where? The money comes from us. Can you see this part of the road anywhere in this country?
“They are taking us for granted because we have nobody. God, in His infinite mercy, will give us somebody. The kind of treatment we are receiving from this Federal Government is unacceptable”.
The governor charged the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to visit the Eleme section of the East-West Road to appreciate the agony of the people of the area.
Reacting, the Independent Petroleum Marketers Association of Nigeria (IPMAN) said the development would affect supply of petroleum products soon.
Executive chairman of IPMAN, Rivers State, Joseph Obele, expressed these fears shortly after he visited the Aleto Bridge to confirm the condition of the road.
Obele said, with the deplorable state of the road and bridge, he could not guarantee regular supply of petroleum products in Port Harcourt and its environs.
He disclosed that it would be dangerous for tankers to ply the road with millions of naira worth of products on a single lane with the daily gridlock along the Eleme Petrochemical Road.
Obele said: “As it is now, we are at the scene. We have seen and confirmed that the critical part of the bridge has collapsed. And motorists are using just one lane, thus causing a serious traffic along this very way.
“We want to say we cannot guarantee steady supply of refined petroleum products anymore. The reason is because this very bridge is one of the most critical, active and busy roads in Nigeria.
“The road is linking two NPAs, the FOT and FLT, the big fertilizer plant, Indorama, Notore Onne, Port Harcourt Refinery, PPMC and others.
“We will not allow our petroleum products and facilities, a truck of product of N8 million to N9 million, we cannot take that risk with this kind of road”.
The IPMAN chairman called on the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Akpabio, to release funds to the contractor handling the Eleme axis of the East-West road, to save life and property and improve the economy.
He said: “We are calling on the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio, to release funds to the contractor. We are aware that part of the funds have been released to the contractor, RCC. We are hereby calling that they should do the needful to start the project in earnest in order to save lives, and also in order to make movement and life meaningful to the people of Eleme, Rivers State and Nigeria”.