UNITY ROAD: THE PEOPLE AS VICTIMS ON THE GOVERNOR’S CHESSBOARD WITH HIS ALLY (Part One): If you genuinely want to know a little bit more about the Ogoni-Andoni-Opobo Unity Road, you might have to calm down and read this.
Former governor Peter Odili it was who awarded the contract for this unique project and work commenced under his administration though slow. When Amaechi came to power, greater funding and attention was given to the project.
Following the passionate appeal by Opobo people through their respected monarch, King Dandeson Jaja, for a spur to be introduced into the original plan of landing the road at Opobo after going through the lengthy Andoni axis, a spur was created linking Nkoro and Opobo at a substantial additional cost to the entire project. That spur alone (Nkoro to Opobo) had five (5) bridges which jacked up the overall cost of the project.
By the time Amaechi’s tenure came to an end on May 29, 2015 four (4) out of the five (5) bridges on the Nkoro-Opobo spur had been completed and the road taken beyond Kalaibiama, Opobo. Government being a continuum, no one was surprised that the new government of governor Nyesom Wike committed to completing the project as its importance to the good people of the area cannot be overemphasized.
However, the sudden cancellation of the original contract for the project with Rivigo Ltd and immediate re-award to Raffoul Ltd reportedly chaired by a PDP stalwart was adjudged by many cursory observers as curious. But even more curious was the upward review of the contract sum and immediate release of N2bn to the new contractor. It was widely rumoured that the entire episode was a scheme between the governor and his party close ally whom he used the money to get him elected into his current national position in their party.
With no attempt to date to disown what is now public knowledge of the collaboration between the governor and his man Friday, discerning minds knew immediately that that job will suffer for two reasons. Firstly, the project will suffer experience deficit considering the extremely challenging terrain of the area typical of most saline riverine environment. Secondly, any disagreement between the governor and his man through whom billions of naira are being funnelled out in the name of the project for other unrelated purposes, the ultimate victims will be the good people of the area.
In any case, as work paced at snail speed, our fears started manifesting. Soon, work was reduced to ‘shovel and head pan’ status at the Opobo axis. Our Nkoro brethren were lucky to have had their portion of the road fully completed by the Amaechi administration. It became obvious that Opobo people were in for ‘a long thing.’ This fear heightened when the new contractor, on instruction from the government, did a remedial work on the old track road linking Opobo Town for what many thought would be for a temporary use. But I personally concluded that the Opobo end of the project was up for some form of abandonment. You be the judge!
It is worthy of note to state that between May 29, 2020 Gov. Wike took over as governor and promised to complete the road, to date (6 years after), his contractor is still struggling with the only bridge into Opobo that he inherited. Four out of the five bridges on the Nkoro-Opobo spur were built and delivered by the Amaechi administration. Gov. Wike’s contractor, Raffoul Ltd. Is still growing grey hairs on how to deliver that single inherited bridge.
In November, 2019 the monarch of Opobo Kingdom led his chiefs to serve a subtle reminder to the governor about the need to change gear on the slow pace (if not full work stoppage) observed on the project. Responding, the governor promised to complete the Opobo end of the project and commission it to mark his first one year in office in his second term as governor on May 29, 2020. Many of his party faithful swore it will be done. But some of us who understand the underlying dynamics of things concerning this project were sceptical. We were right.
Nothing has happened except a few workers lounging around the road fiddling with a drainage not fit for even the smallest street in a Port Harcourt suburb. There is no question that the contraption being installed as drainage can never contain 10 minutes of torrential rainfall in an area known to experience very heavy rainfall per annum. With that gutter you need not be an engineer to know that the road will easily wash away just in one season of rainfall except it is not asphalt.
Yesterday, the governor embarked on an inspection of the entire Unity Road after which he declared that his government has made over 80% payment of the total contract sum to the contractor.
Gov. Wike said, “We have paid over 80 percent of the contract sum and we expect that at least the Opobo axis of the road ought to have been completed.
“I am not also happy with the level of work at the Andoni axis of the road which links Ngo and Ikuru Towns.
“On our part, we are committed to complete the long abandoned project to enable the people of Opobo and Andoni travel to their homes by road.
“Let me appeal to the contractor to expedite work on the road .I can assure you that funding will not be a hindrance to the completion of the project.
“We cannot run away from our responsibility. We must make sure that the people of Opobo and Andoni drive home by road.
“There is quite a lot to be done because of the terrain, but that should not be an excuse on the side of the contractor.
“The contractor has assured us that by December this year, the Opobo axis of the road will be completed while the Andoni axis which will link Ngo and Ikuru Towns will be completed in March next year.
“I will not accept any further excuses. That is why the contractor must expedite work and mobilize more resources to ensure that the project is delivered.
“Government is willing to pay the outstanding amount so that the people can drive to their homes,” he stated.
Beyond the above statements made to deceive the gullible public through the media, discerning minds know he wouldn’t tell us the whole story between him and the contractor. Na dem dem! Our only concern is that the road project should be completed to alleviate the suffering of our people. We should not be made innocent victims on the chessboard of a governor and his political and business partner (simply put).
Senibo Chris Finebone