By Samuel Oyadongha
THE enchantment among residents of over 100 isolated riverine communities in the deep swamp of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, over recommencement of construction work on the Central Senatorial District road linking the council’s headquarters, Oporoma to mainland Yenagoa, the state capital, at the moment, is unspeakable.
On drawing board for 60 years
But the villagers are circumspect in their celebration despite increased pace of work on the road that has been on the drawing board for 60 years by the returnee contractor, China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC, which earlier abandoned the site.
One of the residents told NDV: “The project had been on the federal drawing board since the early 60s and was resuscitated by the Chief Timipre Sylva administration, who is presently Minister of State (Petroleum). The contract was awarded to Julius Berger but the project suffered a setback following the withdrawal of the latter from the Niger-Delta at the height of youth militancy.
“It was again resuscitated by the immediate past administration of Senator Seriake Dickson but abandoned in the wake of the sharp drop in the state’s allocation from the Federation Accounts, dashing the hope of the people.
“Fascinatingly, the Governor Douye Diri-led administration has again renewed the hope that Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Council Area and its adjoining communities would be accessible by road in no distant time by re-mobilising to site the contractor handling the road project.
“You can see both our joy and dilemma, we are happy but we do not know what will happen next. There is a jinx over this road, many governors have abandoned it in the past, we do not want that to happen again,” he added.
Southern Ijaw is the largest council in the state and is host to some of the biggest crude oil clusters in the region operated by the oil majors, namely:
Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, Nigerian Agip Oil Company, NAOC and Chevron Nigeria Limited, CNL. It is also host to several other oil servicing firms.
However, road taken for granted in some parts of the country is an extravagance to dwellers in the backwaters whose ancestral homes can only be accessed through water.
Diri vows to halt hard luck
Commenting on the project delivery, Governor Diri charged the contractor to speed up work on the bridge at Aguobiri community, noting that his government’s target was to ensure that the road was taken to Aguobiri and bridge across the river completed this year, adding that once the bridge crosses the Aguobiri River, government would ensure that it gets to Angiama and Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw Council.
He thanked Southern Ijaw people for taking ownership of the Yenagoa-Oporoma road project and protecting it, as against the practice where people in other areas stopped construction work due to selfish demands.
“Under this government, we must break that jinx of Oporoma being a local government headquarters that is not accessible by road. Breaking that jinx means we must construct the bridge to Oporoma,” he said.
The governor assured that funds would not be a problem to complete the project given its importance not just to the people of Southern-Ijaw, but to the state at large, saying the company should keep its side of the bargain as the state was in hurry to develop.
Southern Ijaw leaders hail Diri
Leaders from the area, including former Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Hon. Monday Obolo and former chairman, State Civil Service Commission, Prof. Francis Sikoki, have expressed gratitude to Governor Diri for what they described as his bold steps to complete the long-abandoned road project which had been on the drawing board for over 60 years.
“We are excited about the pace of work on the road, which shows the governor’s zeal to deliver on his campaign promises,” said Ebiowei Tubor, a resident of area.
Also, renowned environmentalist, Alagoa Morris, who is an indigene of Southern Ijaw, said: “Actually, the significance of the Yenagoa-Oporoma (Bayelsa Central Senatorial road), like those of East and West senatorial zones cannot be overemphasized. Besides being the largest local government area in the state, Southern Ijaw Local Government Area is also producing more in terms of oil and gas.
Reduction in sea pirates’ attacks
His words: “The area is grossly lacking in terms of infrastructural development. Most communities in the local government spend as if they are travelling to Lagos, Benin, Onitsha or other cities just to travel from their communities to Yenagoa, the state capital. So, both in terms of reducing travel distances and cost, the road is of essence.
“It is hoped that when completed, it would also reduce the threat posed by sea pirates and the rivers and creeks would become safer for our farmers and fisher folks going about their means of livelihood. The prayer is, the project should follow specification and in line with environmental impact assessment.
If an EIA was not done, it would be a big surprise. There is need to take care of environmental and ecological challenges in our common interest. Supervisors from the state government should be alive to their responsibility too,” he added.
Another indigene of the council area, Surveyor Furoebi Akene, said: “The recommencement of construction work on the road is highly commendable and I pray that it will get to Oporoma before the next gubernatorial campaigns.
However, I strongly advise that the requirements of a standard road construction in a wetland environment should not be compromised.
“Also, the rising flood levels in recent years should be considered in taking the formation levels (final surface levels) of the road. In the same vein, the economic importance of the rivers and creeks is an important factor in determining the invert levels of the bridges across them. May God grant the governor and his team the political will to complete it and not to abandon it,” he asserted.