By Samuel Oyadongha, Yenagoa
Ogbia Kingdom in Bayelsa East could best be described as a paradox of a resource-rich enclave yet pervasively poor.
It was in this relatively unknown backwater of the Niger Delta that the black gold, which launched the country into the club of petro dollar economy, was first struck in commercial quantity in June 1956 at Otuabagi in then-Oloibiri district.
While the discovery of precious resources in the countryside of the industrialised world helped to transform such settlements into modern and well planned cities, the reverse has been the case in Nigeria.
Sunday Vanguard’s trip to the area revealed the inherent contradictions in the nation’s oil industry.
Today, the Ogbia enclave is like an abandoned fishing port after the anglers had left with their catch.
Road, which is taken for granted in some parts of the country, is a luxury to locals in this oil and gas rich kingdom.
The roads within Ogbia corridor are in a terrible state of disrepair.
Interestingly, most of the roads and steel bridges were constructed by the Anglo-Dutch oil giant, Shell Petroleum Development (SPDC), a company with vast interest in the predominantly fishing and farming community to enable their personnel access their many oilfields dotting the landscape.
Though two vehicles cannot pass through the bridges side-by-side due to their narrow nature, they had, nonetheless, lightened the pain of the locals.
Sadly, one of the link bridges sited at the strategic town of Elebele, a transit point for those travelling to Nembe from the Opolo end of Yenagoa, the state capital, recently collapsed when a haulage truck laden with granite violated the warning sign that vehicles and other equipment above 50 ton should not pass the bridge.
Sunday Vanguard findings revealed that another bridge within the vicinity, which is the quickest corridor to the Federal Government Girls College, Imiringi through Elebele community, could best be described as a waiting disaster.
Already, a part of the bridge head has caved in forcing motorists to abandon the once busy route, a development that has impacted negatively on the locals who are predominantly farmers and need the ailing structure to evacuate their farm produce.
“What we are facing here is a sad commentary. Who will believe that this area is blessed with enormous oil and gas resources and yet this backwardness? How much will it cost the government to construct concrete bridges in the place of the steel structures erected by Shell several decades ago to access their facilities?
Another bridge is on the verge of collapsing if nothing is done to fix it. The sordid state of the roads in Ogbia ought to prick the conscience of the nation,” lamented Temple John, a concerned resident.
Another native, Okala Azibola, appealed to the various tiers of government to come to the aid of the community, saying government had abandoned the people for several years.
He said: “This is the second time this bridge is collapsing. Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, built the bridge in the late 80s. The collapse of this bridge is making life difficult for our people because transportation fare to Yenagoa from Elebele has doubled.
“As a matter of fact, Elebele community lacks these basic social amenities. As an oil-producing community, which has contributed immensely to the growth of this nation, we are not supposed to lack these basic social amenities in this modern age and time.
“I also want to appeal to the multi-national oil companies operating in this area, especially SPDC and Agip, to come to our aid. I am also using this medium to appeal to the Managing Director, Niger Delta Development Commission to look into our sad story.”
The situation is not different at neighbouring Imiringi community, another oil and gas rich settlement which is host to SPDC Field Logistics base, where a connecting bridge to the community built some four decades ago when the area was then part of the Brass local Government Area of Rivers State was destroyed in the 2012 flood and, seven years after, the state government is yet to complete the construction of the new concrete bridge it started in the area.
The natives are now compelled to make do with the narrow steel bridge far away from the community centre also built by Shell for its personnel to access its location in the area.
“The flood season is here again and our people are force to make do with the uncompleted bridge by erecting wood to link the bridge head though a risky venture. We could have been cut off from the rest of the state but for the steel bridge sited at the extreme of the community close to Shell oil location in the forest,” said Tony.
Also the Edepie-Imiringi road which connects several communities in Ogbia council area is being eroded and is now a source of grave concern to residents and motorists plying the route.
Described as the busiest and quickest route to the oil-rich enclave of Bayelsa East for commuters coming from the university town of Amassoma in Southern Ijaw council and communities in the Gbarain-Ekpetiama axis of Bayelsa Central, the road may again be cut into two as a result of erosion.
Interestingly, this road, which links many of the nation’s critical assets (crude oil and gas facilities) in the oil-rich Ogbia Kingdom, also serves several educational institutions in the area, including the Federal University, Otuoke, extension of Federal Medical Centre, Federal Government Girls College, Imiringi and the state-owned College of Health Technology, Otuogidi.
The road was completely cut off during the 2012 flood, which ravaged the entire state, before it was rehabilitated in 2014 by the Federal Road Maintenance Agency FERMA.
FERMA’s intervention was, however, an emergency replacement of the collapsed bridge as well as the rehabilitation of 1- km approaches on either side on Edepie-Imiringi-Otuasega road linking Mbiama-Yenagoa.
Findings have shown that deep craters have again formed on the hitherto smooth road, while some sections of the edge have started collapsing due to erosion. The development, if not urgently addressed, could spell doom for road users, especially haulage truckers and petrol tankers whose drivers are not conversant with the snaky route.
“This erosion menace will continue to rear its ugly head since the road is lying on a vast stretch of sand-filled swampy land, which is susceptible to erosion occasioned by perennial flooding,” said a concerned engineer working with one of the oil servicing companies in the area, Pereowei Roberts.
“Roads in this type of terrain calls for constant maintenance due to the influence of the elements on infrastructures or better still a suspended bridge is constructed across the swampy stretch of land to ensure free movement of water underneath,” he added.
An indigene of Imiringi, who spoke anonymously, said: “Driving through this windy road at night could be risky due to the several failed portions. Some sections of the road shoulder have caved in, but are covered by grasses. It is a waiting disaster for unsuspecting road users if nothing tangible is done to address the situation.
“This is a busy route used by many, including oil workers, academic staff and students,” a taxi driver, Sunny, told Sunday Vanguard and solicited the intervention of the authorities with a view to saving the road from being cut off.”
Though FERMA had, in the past, carried out maintenance work on a section of the troubled road, it is again being ravaged by erosion, thereby reinforcing the clamour for the construction of a hanging bridge across the stretch of swamp.
“This is one problem the Federal Government should take up the challenge to address given the unquantifiable contribution of Ogbia Kingdom to the economy of the nation as an area where crude oil was first discovered in commercial quantity”, Sunny said.
“We deserve a fair deal. Abuja had no single drop of oil, yet it was oil from the bowel of our land, the Niger Delta, that was used in transforming the rocky land into a beautiful city with some of the best road networks in Africa”.
Lamenting the deplorable state of the roads in the kingdom, Mr. Gibson Gbalimore, spokesman for the Palace of the Obanobhan of Ogbia Kingdom, HRM King Dumaro Charles Owaba, called on the Federal Government to come to the aid of the kingdom by revisiting the construction of and dualization of the Yenagoa-Kolo-Ogbia Road.
He said: “Let me on behalf of the Palace of the Obanobhan of Ogbia Kingdom, HRM King Dumaro Charles Owaba, appeal to the Federal Government under President Muhammadu Buhari to direct the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, NDDC and oil companies operating in Ogbia Kingdom to carry out reconstruction and dualization of Yenagoa/Kolo/ Ogbia Road where the first oil well was struck 1956 in commercial quantity.
“The Ogbia Kingdom has remained without any good road and the peaceful disposition of the people should not be taken for granted. The Palace of the Ogbia Monarch is confident on the ability of Mr. President to do the magi through various interventions in the area.”
Also speaking, Comrade Alagoa Morris, Head, Environment Rights Action/Friends of the Earth in Bayelsa, lamented the fate of Ogbia Kingdom and called on the elected representatives of the people to wake up and come to the aid of the communities.
He pleaded with the Ministry of the Niger Delta, NDDC, and Rivers/Bayelsa State governments to take steps to upgrade the roads in the area.
“It was indeed unfortunate that the federal and state governments had to wait for these bridges to collapse before attention could be given to them,” he said.