Last weekend, Governor Nyesom Wike made headlines. Like in the past, it was for good reason. He signed a N15.8bn contract for the contruction of a fifth flyover and other roads in the state. The projects are to be executed by construction giant, Julius Berger.
The new move, expectedly, has thrown residents of Rivers into wild celebration. This is coming just a month after the governor flaged off the construction of the fourth flyover, to be sited at GRA Junction, Port Harcourt/Aba Expressway, in addition to the three ongoing flyovers at Rumuogba, Okoro-nu-Odo, Rebisi and also expand the Rumuola flyover. At that time, the wailers and naysayers went to town with their usual perennial criticisms.
Ranging from the now overflogged line that the governor was using Rivers money to develop only Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor local government areas at the expense of other areas, to not creating jobs for the youths, some even made snide and sarcastic allusions to the N78.9 billion refund. No doubt, the critics have had a field day in the court of public opinion.
But the pragmatic governor has taken all in his calm, unperturbed style and continued with stoic commitment and unwavering resolve to deliver on his promise to Rivers people.
He had already fixed his compass on the future of Rivers State, with Port Harcourt and the capital territory as the epicenter of any planning.
The need to reconfigure infrastructural facilities to accommodate futuristic calculations was both urgent and expedient, especially against the backdrop of making the state an investors’ haven.
Modern urbanization has made flyovers inevitable infrastructural development components because they are built over man-made structures such as roads and intersections to prevent congestion and provide a more convenient way to navigate through traffic. They are also built to provide safe and convenient passage for pedestrians, help to streamline the traffic control system by reducing traffic gridlock and minimise the risk of off-road crashes, among other advantages.
One of the key pledges Governor Wike made to Rivers people when he assumed office in 2015 was to embark on comprehensive urban renewal as well as actualize the age-long yearnings of the indigenes and residents of the local government areas to connect and access the rest of the state by tarred roads and durable bridges.
Five years into his tenure, the urban renewal programme in the capital city and indeed the interconnectivity across the length and breadth of the state is progressing amazingly.
The capital territory of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor is undergoing massive construction as restoration works, including underground drains, sidewalks, green areas and streetlights on most of the roads in the old and new government reservation areas are all at very advanced stages of completion. This is in addition to the three flyovers that are progressing simultaneously and expected to beat the deadline of February 2021.
The construction of the fourth flyover bridge across GRA Junction and accompanying dualization of Ezimgbu Road and the dualization of Tombia Extension GRA to link Ikwerre will all be delivered on schedule.
And for those who accuse Governor Wike of only developing the capital territory of Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor, complementary construction work, including the dualization of Kira-Sapkenwa-Bori-Kono road, straddling three LGAs in Ogoni heartland, has almost been completed and the construction of Oyigbo (Mbano Camp) to Iriebe, linking Oyigbo and Obio/Akpor LGAs of the state, has already been completed and would have been inaugurated if not for the outbreak of COVID-19.
Also completed virtually are Alesa-Agbonchia-Oyigbo road, linking Eleme and Oyigbo LGAs, and the Rumuakunde and Isioudu community roads in Emohua area of the state.
Similarly, the second phase of Isiokpo community internal roads in Ikwerre LGA has been completed and the construction works on the 16.85 kilometres Rumuji-Ibaa-Isiokpo road in Emohua and Ikwerre LGAs have passed the 90 per cent level, while the dualization of the 23 kilometres Omoku-Egbema road in Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni LGA has progressed beyond 50 per cent.
In Etche LGA, the 21.3 kilometres Odufor/Akpoku/Umuoye road has since crossed 70 per cent construction level, while the Aker-base road in Obio/Akpor LGA, the Ula Ehuda-Odioku-Anwunugboko-Ubeta-Ihuechi-Odiereke road, the Odiokwu internal road network in Ahoada West Area, as well as the Abonnema ring road in Akuku Toru LGA, the Umuma road in Omuma LGA, and the Sime-Eteo-Nonwa road connecting Tai and Eleme LGAs are all virtually ready for inauguration once the coronavirus threat is successfully mitigated to allow for such activities.
By a combination of unshakable commitment and a visionary drive to ensure the delivery of excellent and legacy infrastructures, the Governor Wike administration has vigourosly pursued the accomplishment of its promise to complete the long-abandoned roads to the coastal communities of Opobo and Andoni in Opobo/Nkoro and Andoni LGAs of the state and the Ogoni-Andoni-Opobo (Unity) road. In fact, citizens of Opobo Ancient Kingdom drove home for the first time in centuries only last year.
The infrastructural development of Rivers State is inclusively holistic and, contrary to the notions and misleading opinions of critics, who have not traversed the state to actually see and confirm for themselves, the transformational and aesthetic metamorphosis that is not just taking place all over the state but opening up and interconnecting the entire state into one cohesive entity.
Lagos State has often served as a reference index in developmental analysis, but many will agree that, despite the impressive strides it has achieved, there is still the excruciating hardship and suffering of endless and frustrating traffick gridlock, because of the absence of well-structured roads and bridges, thus leading to uncontrollable congestion on the few alternative outlets out of the city.
This is exactly what the Rivers State government, already conscious of the traffic build-up that overwhelms critical points of the city even now, is taking concrete and proactive measures to address and resolve in future, with the construction of flyovers.
In addition to easing the traffic tension, the projects are also mainstreaming youth empowerment and skill acquisition for indigenous engineers, apart from generating employment and empowering local contractors.
For instance, 20 indigenous engineers would be trained by Julius Berger Nigeria PLC during the contract period, as part of government’s policy on youth empowerment and skill acquisition, and that is just the initial projection. The prospects had been more expansive and comprehensively favourable, if not for the coronavirus outbreak that has drastically impeded robust operations and activities.
There is definitely no doubt that Governor Wike is building for the future. The capital territory is expanding rapidly and population explosion with its attendant challenges in a burgeoning commercial hub, which almost every part of the state is gradually transforming into with the brilliant economic module of strategically concessioning major government-owned assets to willing and capable private investors, is a critical futuristic component that must be addressed today.
Governor Wike is a promise-keeper and he has kept his promises, worked hard and achieved so much more with far less resources, provided first-class socio-economic infrastructure and kept the state and businesses safe and secure, despite the unexpected outbreak of COVID-19 and the contrived attempts to frustrate and create diversionary situations, both by internal and external forces. Indeed, the administration has remained firm and focused on this progressive trajectory with a pledge to recommit to work harder and deliver greater development to Rivers people.
Like Governor Wike himself said in his first year, second term address to Rivers people on May 29, 2020: “We know it is not going to be easy, given the very poor state of the national economy and the spinoff effects on ours. But tough times like this call for unity of thought, unity of purpose and unity of actions; believing in ourselves and in our ability to overcome all the challenges that confront us as a state and as a people.”
•Nsirim is Commissioner for Information and Communications, Rivers State