Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
Four teenagers, Gift, Azipabu, Nelson and Godbless, aged 15, 14, 13 and 15 years, respectively, were at the foot of the Elebele Bridge in Ogbia Local Government Area, Bayelsa State. They stood two at either side with ropes tied to a wooden boat they used to pull it to their side whenever there were passengers that wanted to debark on either side.
Their happy faces indicated they were enthusiastic about the services they were rendering, with Azipabu saying, “I am happy to help my community at this period.”
They were called to duty since the afternoon of Thursday, September 5, 2019, when the bridge collapsed from the weight of a truck. They did it with joy. But they were not alone. At the left side of the bridge, Otazi and ThankGod used paddled two canoes. Those who could not wait for the quartet patronised Otazi and ThankGod to cross to the other side of Elebele community.
“Yes we are happy to give this service to our community to ease the suffering the people are going through” said 23-year-old ThankGod.
In Elebele community many have been the pains the people of the community have had to contend with to since the unfortunate event cut off the community from Yenagoa, the state capital, by the shortest and best route. Elebele is not the only community affected by the collapsed bridge. The whole of Ogbia Kingdom has also been affected, as commuters can no longer access Emeyal, Otuoke, Kolo, Otakeme and Ogbia Town from Elebele.
Also, people going to Nembe and those going to Brass now have difficultly going through the shorter route of Elebele. The Elebele Bridge was first built by the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC), in 1986, 33 years ago. Ten years later, while major repairs were going on, it was partly destroyed but was completed in 1997, before the recent collapse.
Youth president of Elebele community, Okala Azibola Zico, said: “The collapse of the bridge has affected life and business activities, especially movement of goods and services in Elebele community. Now you would see people using canoes to cross the river. And I know the risks involved in using canoes, especially those not familiar with water. Those with heavy goods have great difficulty in crossing.
“The alternative route from Yenagoa to Elebele is far and strenuous because the road is very bad. So, for people to bring things into Elebele now is difficult. Restaurants operating on the other side have low patronage since the incident as people can’t cross to the other side because of the inconvenience.”
The strategic importance of the Elebele Bridge cannot be downplayed. Mr. Markson Arikparo Sunday, the secretary of Elebele Community Development Committee, said: “This is a sad incident for the whole community. We never expected it to happen at this period. It is so bad because this is the bridge that connects Ogbia Kingdom to Yenagoa. People from Brass, Nembe also use it. We are looking for help from government, corporate organisations and public spirited individuals to come to our help.”
Basil, a tricycle operator, and Faith, a petty trader, lamented the pains the collapsed bridge inflicted on them: “I am standing since morning. No passengers. Business is bad. Passengers from Emeyal 1 and 2 no longer come. The collapse of this bridge is causing untold hardship for the people especially the children. The government should come to our aid.”
Beyond the lamentations of pains caused by the collapsed bridge is the issue of utter neglect of oil-producing areas, where Elebele community belongs. Elebele is one of the prominent communities in Ogbia LG that host operations of SPDC.
But sadly there is nothing to write home about the living condition of the people. To the people of the community the Federal and the Bayelsa State governments have failed the people.
Zico captured the mood of the people: “Elebele community is an oil-producing community and we are one of the communities that contribute to the development of this country. But you look at our community. We are so underdeveloped. There is no light in the community. We are suffering.
“From 2012 till date, we have no light. It is saddening that as a community that produces oil would be in this kind of situation. We also don’t have water. We depend on rivers and private borehole water. There is water tank built by Shell but it is faulty. So we are suffering from power; water and bad roads couple with the collapse of bridge.
“Our problems are too numerous and government needs to come to our aid. I have travelled far and wide and I have seen youths of other communities that have oil like enjoy dividends of democracy. I want to see same replicated here in Elebele community. We do not want to adopt a violent approach but if they fail we might be forced to explore other strategy.”
Sunday said: “Thank God for Mr. David Lyon who brought two boats to help the community. He also promised to construct a temporary small monkey bridge. But we are expecting help from the government, Shell and even NDDC.
“Now we need concrete Bridge and not this hanging bridge again. This bridge has been there for 31 years.
“Elebele is an oil-producing community. It is a sad situation that we have found ourselves in Elebele community. It was Shell that built this bridge and constructed the road; we have not had anything from government. We did not even want to worry Shell because they have been trying. Even if we go to them they would complain that percentage they give to government is too much for them to come and be doing bridges again in the community.
“We therefore use this opportunity to appeal to the federal and state governments to come and help. Now we are moving into a period of election, the only way people of Nembe and Brass would pass through to their area is through Elebele so this bridge is very strategic.”
Diabo Rusty Orugaye who confirmed he witnessed the bridge going down said: “Now is the time those who have been professing love for Ogbia people should come to the aid of the community. Before now a lot of people have been coming here to promise, now it is when we need help.
“Governments and IOCs should help us. We are finding it difficult to live without the bridge. We are finding it difficult to do the crossing. This collapsed bridge is not only affecting Elebele community, it is affecting the entire Ogbia Kingdom, Nembe and Brass. I appeal to government and Shell to speedily come and repair this bridge for us.”
Nothing has been done to remove the truck and commence repairs on the collapsed bridge. The situation in Elebele community is dire and intervention of government is expected as soon as possible.