Femi Folaranmi, Yenagoa
In 2006, when the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo awarded the contract for the construction of the East- West road for N211 billion, there was joy in the region that at last succour would come the way of the inhabitants of the region who had endured the agony and borne the pain of terribly bad road where fatal crashes occur virtually every week, claiming several lives.
The Umar Yar’Adua administration inherited the project and actually moved to fast-track its construction as part of the deal with the people of the region after it offered the Niger Delta militants presidential amnesty.
Unfortunately, Yar’Adua died in office and Goodluck Jonathan from Bayelsa State took over as president. His assumption of the highest office in the land gave renewed hope that the East-West road would be completed. But while the stretch of the road from Edo to Delta up to Patani is relatively in good shape with double lanes, the Bayelsa section of the road from Adagbabiri to Mbiama, a border community between Rivers and Bayelsa states is nothing to write home about.
In December 2017, the then Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Pastor Uguru Usani lamented what he described as a deliberate design for the East-West road to fail. “I have said that the East-West road was designed to fail and we are doing everything to correct that concept. We have spent N300billion on the East-West road and yet the project has not made much progress,” Usani told State House Correspondents in an interview shortly after the weekly Federal Executive Council meeting. “I am doing a review of the entire contract for the East-West road because without that nothing will ever happen on that road not to talk of completion. If you have spent N300billion then the design, negotiations and everything with the contract is wrong,” he added.
Three years after that disclosure, Bayelsans are still waiting for action to see their own section of the road turn out like that of Edo, Delta, Rivers and Akwa-Ibom. For travellers and drivers plying the road every Tuesday, which is Mbiama community market day and on Friday, which is Zarama Market day, the road is hellish as it is tortuous.
The situation has been made worse with the rains as the road has almost become impassable with a long queue of trailers blocking it, leaving travellers stranded and forced to spend the night by the roadside. This made many Bayelsans to cry out to their representatives at the National Assembly to rise up to the occasion and draw the attention of the Federal Government to the deplorable condition of the road.
In response to the outcry, Hon. Steve Aziaki, representing Yenagoa/ Kolokuma/ Opokuma Federal Consistency, in collaboration with his colleagues from Bayelsa across political divides, including Hon. Israel Sunny- Goli (Nembe/Brass Federal Constituency), Hon. Fredrick Agbedi(Ekeremor/ Sagbama Federal Constituency), Hon. Preye Oseke (Southern Ijaw Federal Constituency), Fred Obua (Ogbia Federal Constituency) and 16 other federal lawmakers from Edo, Delta, Akwa Ibom, Rivers and Benue states, moved a motion for urgent repairs of the road.
In the motion, the lawmakers drew attention to the fact that the East-West is one of the most important roads in the country, which immensely contributes to the economy and development of the country.
It is worthy to note that East/West Road traverses five states, namely, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. This road is in the heart of the oil-rich Niger Delta, where the country’s oil revenue is derived and hence very vital. They said the deplorable condition of the road makes traffic very heavy, all the year round.
Incidentally, in recognition of the strategic nature of the road, former President Olusegun Obasanjo approved the construction of a second carriageway and the rehabilitation of the existing one. Sadly, this road is yet to be completed.
Suffice it to say that greater portion of the road running through the aforementioned states failed. SETRACO, the contractor awarded the contract for the road project has abandoned it. The road has become a death trap thereby causing nightmare to commuters who unavoidably have to pass through it.
The lawmakers then made this plea in the motion: “We believe that there is the need to urgently repair these failing, sinking sections of the road to avert more loss of lives, property and ameliorate the hardship experienced by road users and ensure that the entire road is completed.
“We urge the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to direct the contractor, Messrs SETRACO, and any other contractors to immediately return to site and do the needful.
“Ensure that Niger Delta Affairs Ministry and SETRACO rehabilitate immediately the most threatened sections in Rivers/Bayelsa and Bayelsa/Delta axis to avoid the cut-off of these portions of the road.”
Few days after the House of Representatives passed the resolution, STERACO moved to the project site with their equipment to fix the bad spots. However, Bayelsans are not impressed as they are convinced that mere repair of bad spots is not what is needed, but the completion of the road itself.
A visit to the road by Sunday Sun showed why the people of the region have lost faith in the commitment of the government to complete the road. For instance, the sum of N19.67billion which the Federal Government said that President Buhari had approved for the continuation of construction work on the road is yet to be paid to the construction company. A staff of the Federal Ministry of Works, who spoke with Sunday Sun on the condition of anonymity said: “As we are here to supervise the work, we don’t know when this work would end. I know that the money has not been released to the company, but it has just moved to the site to start work.”
An angry commuter, Enoch Ayeibatari, lamented that the suffering which Bayelsans have been subjected to due to the bad road is unpardonable. He blamed it on the Buhari administration’s lack of vision, concern, commitment and political will to tackle issues of underdevelopment in the Niger Delta region.
Also Steve Egbuson, a commercial driver, who operates from Bayelsa to Warri in Delta State, while drawing attention to the bad state of the road that leads into Yenagoa, the Bayelsa State capital, through the Gloryland Drive, fumed that there is no seriousness on the part of government to complete the road.
According to him, a serious government would not even wait for the federal lawmakers from the area to cry out before it would take action considering the number of long period of time construction work was first started on the road project.
“Look at the entrance of the road to Bayelsa, an oil-producing state, and tell me if this is not sad. A serious government would do all that it takes to complete this all-important road. I believe the government is not serious,” Egbuson said.
The Chairman of Civil Liberties Organisation (CLO) in Bayelsa, Chief Nengi James, said that the road has become a campaign tool for political leaders to use in continuing their deceit of the Niger Delta people.
His words: “The East-West road project has become an issue that some politicians and the Federal Government use for their campaign, to deceive the people in this downtrodden area of Bayelsa State. For me, it is surprising and touching that the East-West road started by former President Obasanjo spanned the administrations of Yar’Adua, Goodluck Jonathan to Buhari and yet it has not been finished, especially the stretch from Patani Bridge through Bayelsa communities to Mbiama Bridge covering Bayelsa axis. It is as if there is a conscious decision that the Bayelsa axis should not be constructed. The Federal Government has not stopped to collect revenue from our oil and gas, but to give us the necessary entitlements in terms of infrastructural development, especially roads, is a problem. It is funny that times without number they sit in the Federal Executive Council chamber in Aso Rock and award road contracts they would construct with revenue from our resources, but they don’t deem it necessary to give us development. It is worrisome that the road has been abandoned.”
He added that the condition of the East-West road paints the picture of how the Federal Government has been treating Bayelsans since inception. “Look around, what has the Federal Government done for Bayelsa? The communication is abandoned, the housing project is abandoned, the Yenegwe-Nembe has been stopped and it is going the way of the East-West road. It is gross marginalization of the people of Bayelsa State. If they don’t want to construct roads for us they should leave our money so that we construct it by ourselves. What we are saying is that the refusal to finish that road is a ploy by the political leaders to continue to use it as a campaign tool and it is undermining us. We are tired of protesting and talking.”
The activist who has been in the forefront of the struggle by Ijaw youths commended the federal lawmakers for their motion, noting, however, that Bayelsans, and by extension Niger Deltans, do not want repairs of bad spots, but full completion of the road. “Federal lawmakers from South-south co-sponsored a motion on the road, they have tried their best. But what they are doing now is rehabilitating bad spots to make it passable not the actual construction. We are expecting double lane, even one lane has not been completed in Bayelsa. Motion is not law, we need action. Motion is not what we are looking for. The lawmakers have done their part, we Bayelsans and the government need to back them up.”
The Chairman, National Transition and Implementation Committee, Kennedy Olorogun, while fully agreeing with the submissions of James, urged the Federal Government and the construction company to be transparent about the East-West road project. He also advised the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio to pay more attention to the completion of the road.
“For me it is obvious that it is a deliberate plot by the Federal Government to marginalise our people. Every day you hear stories that some amount of money has been released, yet nothing is happening on that road. My greatest worry is that Akpabio, should channel all the energy he is investing in NDDC towards completion of that road, which is one of the priorities of his ministry. SETRACO should also be bold to disclose the actual amount the Federal Government has given for that road,” he said.
The Secretary of the Road Transport Employers Association of Nigeria (RTEAN), Anengimo Jonah, in an interview with Sunday Sun said that members of the association and commuters have suffered because of the bad road.
“Honestly the bad state of the East-West road has affected our members so much, such that most of our members are not willing to ply the road because of its terrible state. Most times you pray that the petrol tanker does not fall. The resultant effect of the bad road is that it has affected the fares because most drivers hike prices to factor in the maintenance of the vehicle. Commuters bear the brunt. We are finding it more difficult to ply that road,” Jonah lamented.
On the deplorable state of the Bayelsa section of the road, Jonah said: “That it is only the Bayelsa section that is very bad is a question for the political leaders to answer. They determine what happens and direct implementation; it is now for our political leaders and representatives to ask questions. The Delta axis is okay, the Rivers axis is over so what is wrong with the Bayelsa axis. Our leaders should help, they should unite and attract infrastructure to our area this is why they cannot fight for that road.”