Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
The serene and rustic Emakalakala community in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State is a shadow of itself former. The community that produced the first civilian governor of old Rivers State, Chief Melford Okilo, is in dire need of a face-lift in terms of infrastructure and basic social amenities.
Between 1979 and 1983, Emakalakala had all things going well for it: A well lit community, standard hospital, good secondary and primary school, good network of roads and a people looking to the future with high hopes. All that has since disappeared, as Emakalakala’s glory left it with the death of Okilo in 2008.
“Where we are is Emakalaka General Hospital, built by the Okilo administration. Over time, the hospital has dilapidated to this level. In fact, since Okilo died and was buried, nothing has happened in this community. Apart from the initial renovation of the school and the hospital, the two projects have been abandoned,” said Dr. Aranye Okilo, first medical doctor from the community and nephew of the late governor.
“The contract for the hospital was awarded but was not executed. The contractor claimed that government was not paying it money so it was abandoned. The irony was that, upon the award of the contract about 20 years ago, the hospital, which was functional, was closed down, which was unusual. The staffers were transferred to other hospitals. When the government could not still pay the contractors, it was abandoned. That is what you are seeing now.”
He said the lack of a functional hospital, coupled with lack of potable water, has done the community great harm in terms of looking after the sick, especially pregnant women. He lamented that all efforts for government and even individuals to see to the plight of the people have been futile: “This has become a problem for this community. This is a small community that has no water and (electricity), except for when Okilo was governor. The water system has broken down. Water-borne diseases are quite common; people are dying. The nearest hospital is at Otuabagi, which is still not functioning.
“The only functional hospital is at Kolo, and you can imagine the distance. How can a patient with emergency get to such places? We are worried about it. We have made several attempts to draw government’s attention, like when we had Okilo’s anniversary. Governor Seriake Dickson told his Commissioner for Health to assess the hospital and give him feedback. After that, nothing was forthcoming. We have made all efforts to reach government and even individuals but nothing is working out.
“It is unfortunate that, after giving so much for the people of the Niger Delta, Melford Okilo would be treated this way. It is very unfortunate. If it is that they don’t like the community or because there is nobody to talk for us, they should have sympathy for Melford Okilo. I feel so bad about this. This is my appeal to government to consider Melford Okilo, who sacrificed so much of his life for the Ijaw people. We need better treatment than what we are seeing now.
“We have not had any organisation coming to see Emakalakala since Okilo died. Even if they want to renovate the hospital why can’t it be done in phases, why close it down? This is the first time in my years of medical practice that I would see a hospital closed and left to dilapidate to that level, and nobody cares.
“We hope, by your visit, government would consider us because, for now, we have no voice to speak for us. Imagine somebody with cholera that needs treatment, since there are no vehicles, taking such person on motorcycle to Kolo. It is not an easy ride, and that is what we are experiencing. The number of deaths in a year from this community is unbelievable.”
Mrs. Catherine Amos lamented the plight of pregnant women: “As women, we suffer a lot. Before, we used our hospital but now, for years, it is no longer possible. Our women, before they rush them to other hospitals to deliver, the woman or the child would have died. We really need healthcare. We are begging government to help. We don’t have standard schools, no water.”
Chairman of the Emakalakala Community Development Committee, Elder Sunday Jacob Ebiri, said: “Our community is in bad shape. The buildings are dilapidated. We need government to intervene. Since Okilo died, we have not seen any government presence in Emakalakala.
“The school buildings need renovation. When you talk of the hospital, it is a sad situation. If you see the hospital, you would know that Emakalakala is suffering. Pregnant women suffer a lot. Before they are rushed to the hospital, both mother and child die or one would survive.
“The hospital Okilo built for his people has been abandoned. We are suffering. There is no government presence here, no hospital, no water, no light, even security, there is none. Our suffering is too much.”
An environmentalist, Mr. Morris Alagoa, who visited Emakalakala, lamented what has become of infrastructure in the community. He said: “First of all, I blame those laying claim to the Okilo political dynasty simply because they are from Ogbia. The Ogbia Local Government should also share in this blame for not only the abandonment of this general hospital now enveloped by wild grasses and shrubs, but for not considering Melford Okilo.
“Bayelsa State Government, especially the Dickson-led restoration administration that has spent seven years and eight months in office, should take the heaviest blame for this. It is not enough to say Dickson has broken the jinx of second tenure as governor.
“Okilo spent just four years as governor and the General Muhammadu Buhari-led military coup cut short his second tenure just won. Bayelsa State was just three local government areas of the old Rivers State. And it was rural in all sense of the word rural. Yet, Chief Melford Okilo’s footprints could be felt in over 80 per cent of the communities then, especially his rural electrification drive.
“Understanding the unique deltaic terrain, Okilo dredged and sand-filled some communities, including Keme-Ebiama in Southern Ijaw, Brass, Nembe. He did shoreline protection at Otuokpoti, Sagbama, Emakalakala and other places. Before even the gas turbine project, Okilo provided giant generators to communities in this present Bayelsa State; the generator houses are visible even in Yenagoa.
“What could be the possible reason for this abandonment when Bayelsans are graduating every year in Medicine, Nursing, Laboratory Sciences, Pharmacy, etc, and our communities/people need related services? Will the incoming governor take this up and revive the Emakalakala General Hospital?”