By Samuel OYADONGHA
Yenagoa – WHEN the contract for the Yenagoa-Oporoma-Ukubie road project was awarded to construction giant, Julius Berger by the Chief Timipre Sylva administration in 2008, expectations were high that it would transform the fortunes of the oil and gas rich but neglected communities of Southern Ijaw local government area of Bayelsa State, but today the project hangs in a balance.
Southern Ijaw which can only be accessed by water, is one of the biggest local government areas in Nigeria, has some of the biggest crude oil clusters in the Delta and is home to oil majors like Shell Petroleum Development Company [SPDC], Nigerian Agip Oil Company [NAOC] and Chevron Nigeria Limited [CNL].
Many Bayelsans, especially indigenes of the area had hailed the road project as a bold step by Government that would boost efforts to diversify the state’s mono product economy.
The project, they argued would not only trigger massive infrastructural development in the hinterland, improve the security situation in the far flung communities currently being exploited by pipeline vandals and crude oil thieves, but also boost commerce as the peasant farmers could easily convey their produce to the big market in Yenagoa and neighbouring Warri and Port Harcourt as against the current practice where wealthy traders come down to buy their harvest at ridiculous price only to return to the cities to make huge profit.
Interestingly, the Yenagoa-Oporoma-Ukubie road is one of the three senatorial roads designed to open up the hinterland of the state said to have been on the Federal Government drawing board since the sixties,but nothing tangible was done until the first civilian governor of old Rivers State, Melford Okilo now deceased, mustered the political will and began the sand filling of the road before the Second Republic was terminated by a coup in 1983.
The other two roads are, the Sagbama-Ekeremor-Agge road, designed to open the far flung communities in the West Senatorial district and the Ogbia-Nembe road, to accelerate development in the East Senatorial district.
It was only after the establishment of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), that work began on the construction of the Sagbama-Ekeremor-Agge Road.
Though the project has since been abandoned due to allege lack of funding by the Federal Government, that of the Ogbia-Nembe being handled by NDDC and the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development Company is ongoing, but at snail speed while, the 42km Nembe-Brass which was awarded at N42bn, though cleared, had been abandoned.
It was therefore a thing of joy for the people of this rich oil and gas, but undeveloped council, when the Goodluck Jonathan administration revived the project by starting the construction of a bridge across the Ekoli Creek as a first step towards the actualization of the road project linking the Central Senatorial district to mainland Yenagoa.
The hope of the people of having to drive to their communities in a record short time, received a boost, when the Timipre Sylva administration awarded a N38 billion contract for the construction of the Yenagoa-Oporoma-Ukubie road to Julius Berger.
Chief Sylva had while awarding the contract reiterated the determination of his administration to leave behind a legacy every Bayelsan and the entire Ijaw nation would be proud of.
He assured that greater attention would be accorded road construction in the state, stressing that when the multi billion naira project was completed, it would impact positively on the socio-economic well-being of people in the hinterland and improve the security situation in the area.
But four years after, the project has turned out to be a “tall dream. The construction company, Julius Berger was forced to pull out of the Niger Delta and by extension the state at the height of youth militancy and death of their expatriate staff.
The sand filled portion of the road to Ayama is already giving way due to erosion and the swampy nature of the terrain.