Activities at the Onne Port – the busiest seaport outside the Lagos area – have remained redundant for the fifth day running as protesters barricades East-West Road.
East-West Road is a Federal Government trunk ‘A’ road as well as the only link road connecting Onne Port and the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone with major towns and cities in the south east and south south regions. It also connects the Port Harcourt Refinery located at Eleme.
The Eleme, Rivers State section of the road collapsed more than seven years ago subjecting in turn, residents and commuters in the area to untold hardship. The collapsed section of the road has also affected port terminal operators and other companies operating in the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone.
The protesters, mostly youths, blocked the road on Monday, demanding prompt government action for its repairs. The protesters insisted that they would not leave the busy road until the Minister of Niger Delta, Godswill Akpabio and the Federal Government showed commitment to repairing the death trap.
The protesting youths from communities in Elele and Ogoni said it was unacceptable that the section of the road that leads to the Onne Port and the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, which generates billions of naira into government coffers, will be left in such a sorry state.They accused Akpabio of not showing seriousness about fixing the road.
The leader of the protesters, Prince Okeke, said, “The issue we have here today is a total neglect because Eleme feeds the nation. Eleme is contributing 98 per cent to federal growth, but we have been neglected. This road has caused a lot of damage, insecurity and hardship.
“Yet, a lot of promises have been made from a distance and we have ran out of patience. We can no longer tolerate that because Nigeria belongs to all of us.”
A protester, Celestine Akpobari who described the protest as peacefull said: “I have made it a point of duty to always be here to prevent the young people from taking the law into their hands by harassing innocent people and vandalising vehicles.
“The demands still remain that contractors should be mobilised to site. The money from this place is used in servicing states of the federation, including Abuja. We will no longer be subjected to what we are going through.”
Akpobari said the minister sent a letter to them demanding date and time for dialogue.
He said, “The Permanent Secretary to the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs has been here to meet with Ogoni leaders and they have discussed.
“I think what we are waiting for is to meet with the minister. As soon as he comes, we will know what to do, hence the protest continues.”
Another protester, Darlington Doobie, said, “I am in total support of the continuity of the protest. Two years ago, my uncle died on this road. A container fell on the vehicle he was in and everyone in the vehicle lost their lives.
“On Saturday, when I was returning from Bori, a tanker, while trying to meander through the bad road, fell. The vehicles in front and behind the tanker were lucky because of the space between them. This caused gridlock.
“If the Federal Government puts the road in a good shape, casualties will be reduced to the barest minimum. Sadly, the bridge collapses every month. It is only patched, making the bridge a death trap.
“The government should come to our aid, as this is one of the roads in Rivers State that produce billions of naira. In Eleme alone there are over 200 companies and their vehicles run to and fro on the road daily.”
Meawhile, the Federal Government has released the sum of N2.5 billion for compensation to pave ways for remedial works to be carried out on the deplorable Eleme-One Section of the East West road.
The Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who made this known after a meeting with the management of RCC, the construction firm handling the projects directed the firm to start work by Friday.
He, therefore, appealed to protesting Niger Delta youths to vacate Section 3 of the road to enable contractors commence work.
“The essence of this protest is to draw the attention of the government to the road. Now we are here, allow us to commence work,” he said.
Akpabio acknowledged that the youths were right to stage a protest over the poor state of the road.
He said the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) has also budgeted another N35 billion to support the project, adding that the ministry has channeled funds meant for over 304 projects into the East-West road repair.
He further disclosed that the Ministry has proposed an extra-budgetary intervention for inclusion of the East-West Road Sections I-IV in the 2020 SUKUK Issuance Programme of the Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning and the Debt Management Office.
This according to him is part of the efforts made by the Ministry to access adequate funding for the completion of the East-West road project.
The Minister explained that the initial contracts for dualization of the 338km road linking Warri to Oron through Kaima, Ahoada, Port Harcourt, Ogoni and Eket Townships (Section I-IV) was initially awarded in four sections to four different contractors in 2006.
“It is well known that Section I (Warri-Kaima covering Ch. 0+000-Ch. 87+400 and Section III) and Section III (Onne Port Junction – Eket covering Ch. 15 + 000 – Ch. 99 + 000) have been duly completed by Messrs Setraco Nigeria Limited and Messrs. RCC Nigeria Limited respectively,” he said.
He maintained that the section IIIA (Port Harcourt Onne Road Junction, covering Ch. 0 + 000 – Ch. 15 + 000 was not part of the contract initially awarded in 2006 because it was in good condition having been dualized earlier, noting that “over time, the Port Harcourt – Onne Port Junction portion had progressively deteriorated as a result of heavy axle loading, flooding and is no longer serviceable for the current traffic volumes.
”Therefore, the ministry had to award the contract for additional works to Messrs RCC Nigeria Limited to upgrade the Port Harcourt Onne Port Junction,” he said.
He further stated that due to poor annual budgetary provisions, the contract for upgrading of Section IIIA awarded in 2014 could not commence until the ministry paid the contractors the full mobilization advance in 2020.
“The condition of the road deteriorated during the period of delay and there has been serious encroachment on the right-of-way initially delineated for the road.
“With the review of the initial contract scope of works and contract unit rates imperative, specific measures for addressing the contingent site conditions militating against the progress of work were scheduled by the Ministry.
He said these include the initial design for interchange bridges at Onne Junction which is to be substituted with a flyover bridge, but due to space constraints caused by the newly constructed Power Sub-Station which cannot be relocated due to higher cost implication.
The minister said a new flyover bridge has also been designed to replace the interchange bridge initially designed for Refinery Junction, amongst others.
Akpabio reiterated the commitment of the present administration to complete the East West highway dualisation project by 2022.