The Politics Of East – West Road
Nigerian politicians have consistently exerted the penchant to adopt anything that is foreign. The country’s democratic federalism is an adoption of American model but a British Westminster (a winner takes it all system) in practice.
From Germany, they also adopt a bit of Adolf Hitler’s invidious theory that “a promise was meant to be broken” formula. This simply implies why every tongue-coated promise or vow made during campaigns are always broken with utmost recklessness thereby leaving the masses to wonder if they actually made the right choice of voting them to power.
In July 2006 when the idea of rebuilding the east/west road was mooted by the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, no Nigerian could ever envisaged that the project would drag on as long as eight years irrespective of the resources that had been injected into it.
Obasanjo had awarded the 388km of road stretching from Warri in Delta state to Oron Town in Akwa Ibom state at a cost of about N340billion. The construction giant, Julius Berger which showed interest to handle the project because of its peculiar terrain made it clear that some part of the project would need to be seriously piled because of the soil texture.
The project ought to consist of the construction of a second carriageway and the rehabilitation of the existing carriageway.
And the total length of each carriageway of the road is 188 Km, with 29 river bridges of variable lengths ranging from 31m to 260m, and 2 box girder bridges with lengths of 700m and 850m, according to available statistics.
Though Obasanjo did not put a time frame for the completion of the project, he was roundly accused of starving the contract with the much needed fund. Throughout his tenure, it is on record that the former President allegedly made a paltry N1.5 billion available for the job.
Irrespective of the fact that a Niger Delta person, Chief Tony Anenih was Obasanjo’s minister of Works at the time, the much that could happen then was the kidnap of Julius Berger’s staff by gunmen which in turn prompted the company to pull out of the project. And this marked the beginning of the slow pace of work on the road.
The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua had assured Nigerians during his stint in power that he would commit more energy and resources of government under his watch to completing the project as a basic way of ending militancy and youth restiveness in the Niger Delta. The content of that promise was shattered when dead came knocking on the former President.
When Goodluck Jonathan stepped into the vacant shoes of Yar’Adua as president, the joy of the Niger Delta people knew no bound considering the fact that he is from the region. Jonathan’s unpressured promises of fixing the completion date of the construction work on the road and shifting the goal post at will, was unimaginable.
First, the making of Elder Godsday Orubebe the minister of the Niger Delta Affairs and the attendant ineptitude to handle the job infuriated all reasonable minds. No right thinking Nigerian would believe that funding was a major impediment for the smooth sail of the project.
In 2013 Orubebe said that N140 billion was required to complete the remaining 35 percent work on the East-West road with 65 percent of it already completed and that the project would be commissioned by President Jonathan before he leaves office in 2015.
Meanwhile, while Nigerians were eagerly waiting for the fulfillment of this heart-warming promise, natives of Okekpe community in Ahoada West local government area of Rivers state were still fuming with brimming anger over the loss of over 215 people who were burnt up as a result of an accident that occurred there by a 36000 capacity loaded fuel tanker. The worst of such deadly incident in recorded history.
Orubebe said the Jonathan administration took over the project when it was just 10 per cent completed and without a design.
“Today we stand at over 65 percent completion and as we stand, over N209 billion has been spent on that road and what is needed to complete that road is about N140 billion”.
He promised that funding for the project was no longer going to be a worry given financial framework worked out with the President and other stakeholders upon which N50 billion was obtained from the African Development Bank. He also said funding for the project was being derived from SURE-P and the annual budget of the Federal Government.
“Based on the pressures from us and the understanding of Mr. President, we have been able to put a financial framework that is geared for us to complete the road and we believe that in the way forward, that finance may not be a serious problem again.
“We are making arrangements with the African Development Bank and we have been able to get about N50 billion from the African Development Bank and of course, the SURE-P fund is also there as support for the East-West Road and besides that, the annual budget.
“So with these three areas put together we are on course to say that the road is completed by December 2014”. Another promise that was shattered.
Before he left office as minister of the Niger Delta in charge of the construction of the road, Orubebe must have supervised the spending of not less than N259billion or more for the completion of the road with nothing to write home about.
With the above billions of naira injected into a project as economically viable and important as the east/west road, one begins to wonder aloud why it could not then be completed at a recorded time given the fact also that its poor state has led to lose of innocent lives over the years!
The most critically worsen part of the road that has denuded the lies of government’s promises is the portion of Eleme that connects the most important economic strength of the country. The Eleme road in Rivers state links up the Petrochemical industry, the Refinery and the Oil and Gas free zone at Onne.
This portion of the road was so bad that even when the then President Jonathan buried his mother in-law, late Mrs. Charity Fyneface Oba in 2013 at Okrika, it did not occur to him that there was a need to put the road in shape for the sake of the dignitaries expected to grace the occasion from all walks of live within and outside the country.
What shocked many observers during the burial was the fact that hundreds of petroleum tankers that used to adorn the road to the refinery on both sides of the road, just suddenly disappeared. Even those ones that had broken down were immediately and temporarily evacuated to a distance from where they used to be.
Feelers from sources close to the first family then hinted that millions of naira was released to “appease” the tanker owners to temporarily relocate their trucks away from the access road to the burial ground to ease off traffic. Jonathan and his very important dignitaries did not undergo the stress of passing through the road any way. They used choppers.
The Eleme part of the east/west road has been such a dead trap that when a tanker falls off its track, it causes a gridlock traffic that is capable of keeping travelers on the road for hours, in some cases days.
Not minding that it is a federal government project, the Rivers state governor, Nyesom Wike understanding the necessity of the road to economic life of Nigeria and the state, took it upon himself to ensure that the Eleme portion of the east/west was passable.
He said that his administration was working to improve the lives of the people not just in Rivers state but the Niger Delta, noting that he derived his inspiration from the joy of the ordinary man on the street.
Wike made it clear that the completion of on-going road project not just the Eleme east/west road but those within the state capital would improved small, medium and large scale businesses across the state as clients could now access business centers.
“My inspiration flows from what makes people happy. That is why we are working hard to execute several projects in line with the promises I made to the people.
“We decided to complete ongoing projects because they are important to the well being of the people. The immediate past administration could not complete these projects in eight years, but we have been able to complete them through dedicated funding and strict supervision.
“You can see the spontaneous joy and celebration everywhere we went on tour of projects. The people are happy with what we are doing to improve their lives and that is what drives this administration.”
The governor said that while he expects the opposition to always find fault with actions of government, he will never be distracted as his development blueprint was focused on the greater good of Rivers State and the overall revival of the state following the decay he inherited.
He said that his administration will continue to deliver on all fronts, stating that the era of abandoned projects are over.
Just as he promised, Wike, commenced the rehabilitation of a section of the East-West Road project valued at N3 billion without waiting for the government of President Mohammadu Buhari for a bailout fund.
Rivers Government To The Rescue
The maintenance of the dilapidated portion on both lanes of the East-west Road from Eleme Junction to Onne Exit point which is about eight kilometers is presently being done by the Rivers State Government and six companies operating within this catchment area.
The companies involved in this agreement include Integrated Logistics Limited (Intels), Indorama Petrochemicals Limited, West African Container Terminal Limited, Port Harcourt Refining Company Limited, Nigerian Ports Authority, and Oil and Gas Free Zone, Onne. Reynolds Construction Company (RCC), which is currently working on parts of that section of the East-west Road, is to handle the maintenance work and complete same in two months.
At the signing of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) among the companies and Rivers State Government, Governor Wike, warned companies operating in the area that he would not hesitate to stop their operations if they failed to honor the agreement reached on the rehabilitation of the road.
“If you don’t pay your contribution, I will not allow you to operate. We must do something to show that we have agreed on the rehabilitation of the road,” he said.
He explained that according to the MoU, the stakeholders would pay the first installment of N1.5 billion directly to RCC and pay the balance after the company had attained 80 per cent completion of the road.
However, the expectation of the people of the Niger Delta region is that President Buhari must forgo politics and prevail on the contractors handling the road project to speed up its completion. Buhari knows the importance of the east/west road to the economy of the country. He knows that the oil and gas which form the bulk of the nation’s monolithic economy comes from that bad road.
Nevertheless, people of the Niger Delta are still very skeptical about the sincerity of the President giving the import of his recent statement at the international arena.
In his first trip to the United States after election, Buhari who responded to questions on how he intended to deal with issues in the Niger Delta region, particularly Amnesty, bunkering and development, was quoted as saying that “constituencies that gave me 97% (vote) cannot in all honesty be treated, on some issues, with constituencies that gave me 5%”. Here lies the dilemma of the Niger Delta people.
This fear explains why former President Jonathan, Godsday Orubebe and Chief Tony Anenih should be blamed for their sluggishness and deliberate public display of complacency in ensuring that the all-important road was not completed on record time despite being indigenes of the region where the road connects.
In the eyes of right thinking Niger Delta people therefore and in view of the on-going gale of probe, these men have no reason not to explain what they did with the billions in their custody to properly execute the road project with Olusegun Obasanjo being a principal culprit.