In Nigeria, Oil Curse Cuts-off Abia, Akwa Ibom, Rivers Communities

539 views | Akanimo Sampson | July 13, 2020

The oil and gas sector has continued to play a significant role in the economy of Nigeria, and accounts for 65% of total revenue to the government. According to the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), the country has near 40 billion barrels of proven oil reserve.   

With a maximum crude oil production capacity of 2.5 million barrels per day, Nigeria is Africa’s largest producer of oil, and the 13th largest oil-producing country in the world.

The country has faced significant challenges in managing the sector such as the unaccountable use of revenues and corruption. Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) has been effective in strengthening public debate and promoting policy options around signature bonuses, unpaid royalties, crude oil and refined products theft. It has identified $9.8 billion owed to the Federal Government, of which $2.4 billion has been recovered through NEITI’s efforts.

Nigeria’s oil and gas sector represents about 65% of government revenues. The total revenue flow to the Federation, other tiers of government and sub-national entities from all sources (including crude oil sales, taxes, royalties and other incomes) came to $32.6 billion 2018. There was an increase of 55.45% in the total financial flow in 2018 when compared to 2017 ($20.9 billion).

The revenues reported by the government from the solid minerals sector in 2018 amounted to N69.47 billion compared to N52.7 billion in 2017. Total government receipts increased in 2018 by 31.63% compared to 2017 receipts.

In spite of these huge resources, citizens from the oil-bearing communities are not enjoying the blessings of oil. For a greater majority of them, it’s been oil curse for decades. At the moment, some one million citizens from communities along the 50 kilometres Obehie-Akwete-Azumini-Ukanafun Highway that connects Abia, Akwa-Ibom and some parts of Rivers State have been abandoned by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration.

The neglect of this essential road has divided all the agrarian communities in Abia from their neighbouring Akwa-Ibom and practically made lives unbearable for commuters who try to access Port Harcourt, the oil and gas capital of Nigeria, and Aba, an expanding commercial city.

Commuters and residents of communities along the highway are suffering as a result of the deplorable condition of the road which has practically cut them off from each other and carved serious barriers between them and major urban commercial hubs around them.

Most residents say the condition of the eye-sore highway has become extremely provocative. They say they do not understand why a people naturally blessed by God in all ramifications should deliberately be made wretchedly unhappy and uncomfortable by both the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs, and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

From the Ukanafun axis, heading towards Abia, the road terminates at the Obehie Junction which is barely some minutes drive between Aba and Port Harcourt. It also has another alternative route to Aba through the Opobo-Azumini-Aba road that is also deplorable.

The N34 billion contract for the dualisation of the highway was awarded by the Ministry of Niger-Delta Affairs, to Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company, (CCECC) Nig. Limited in 2010. It has two sections awarded separately to CCECC.

The first section, from Obehie Junction, starting from the Aba-Port Harcourt highway to Akwete, covers 20 kilometres, while the second section covering Azumini to Ukanafun in Akwa-Ibom is 30 kilometres.

The first section was awarded at the cost of N12, 257,556,596, in March 2010, while the second section was awarded in November 2010 in the sum of N20, 972,763,132. The Obehie-Akwete section in Abia State is as bad as abandoned. It is filled with life-threatening and vehicle damaging potholes down to Ohambele community in Ukwa East Local Government Area.

Entrance to Ukwa West Local Government Area Secretariat in Okeikpe is currently looking like an abandoned zoo, as that portion of the road is currently a death trap where professional drivers practice all manner of gymnastics and acrobatics while negotiating towards their destinations. The road leads to the main agricultural hub of both Abia and Akwa-Ibom, as all the communities covered by the road are agrarian communities.

A federal legislator representing Ukwa East/ and Ukwa West Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Uzoma Abonta, says the road qualifies as a regional road and should be taken over and completed by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC).

“That road was awarded many years ago, through the Federal Executive Council. It is not a state road. It was actually initiated by me and the contract was awarded to a Chinese Company.

“And they were waiting for compensation and all that on the road. I’ve written to the Ministry of Niger Delta to please pay the Chinese company who claimed they’re being owed to continue and complete the road.

“The federal constituency is an oil-producing area. Till now, the people have been subjected to unbearable hardship, because of the nature of that road.

“In the rainy season, we’re cut off. I’ve made several appeals to the Ministry of Niger Delta. We’ve also called on the NDDC, who continues to provide palliatives on that road.

“Our argument is that NDDC should take it fully and pay the Chinese company to do the needful, because what we’re getting now from the palliatives cannot put the road in order.

“From Azumini to Opobo Junction is very bad, while Obehie axis is a death trap, thereby cutting off people of Ukwa from the rest of the country, despite our contribution to nation’s development.

“We’ve written to the NDDC to please come and assume the road since their parent body, the Ministry of Niger Delta is also involved. They should assume that road as a regional project”, he says.

Continuing, Abonta said, “the road moves from Aba to Akwa-Ibom and Rivers State, if you move right. It’s qualified as a regional project therefore NDDC should take over.

“I have written, Senator Enyinnaya Abaribe has also written to the Ministry, but they kept on saying they’ll put it on their budget and when the budget comes, they’ll vote very little amount.

“The last time they provided N200 million. What will that amount do on that road? We argued and said, make it N1.00 billion so that the company can come back, but it flew on deaf ears. But we’ll not relent. We’ll keep doing the right thing.

“The road has economic viability. It leads to Akwa-Ibom and people coming from Rivers State and Abia use the same road. If people must move agricultural produce out, that road must be in good shape.”

Former Chairman of Akwete Joint Council of Chiefs, Chief Onyema Olujie, says the condition of the road is a reason for every Ukwa person to weep. He added his voice and called for urgent action on the road.

According to him, Akwete community has totally been cut off, by the deplorable condition of the road, as his people now find it difficult to access either Aba or Port Harcourt for their daily businesses.

“Our communities are agrarian, our constituency is oil-producing, we have every natural gift that can make us rich. In fact, we’re rich by nature, but we have no roads at all. Majority of our people can’t even access Aba or Port Harcourt again to go and buy something needed for a household or farm. They can’t even go to sell. Our people are suffering terribly.

“The road in question is supposed to be part of the Niger Delta road network. Unfortunately, all the Ministers of Niger Delta have not been able to complete that road since Jonathan’s regime. We’ve been having a lot of hardship.

“For those of us from Akwete, we are saying they’ve inadvertently created a republic for us, because we can’t access Obehie and we can’t also access Aba, through Opobo/Azumini road. I don’t know if they’ve abandoned the road. At a point, we learnt that the Federal Government was owing them lots of money. When little was paid to them, they did not take the road from Ukanafun to join Azumini.

“After then, nobody knows whether they’ve abandoned it. We were all happy at the initial stage when they awarded that road, but currently, I don’t think there’s anything to be happy about.

“Again to think that the worst two spots on that road are in front of Ukwa West Local Government Headquarters in Okeikpe and then the terrible one at Ohambele is worrisome because the Local Government at Okeikpe ought to at least do some palliatives there.

“So you’ll wonder what the state government is doing there. Yes, it’s a Federal road, but those using it are mostly Abia and Ukwa people. It’s very sad. We’ve been suffering,” Olujie said.

Chairman of the Grand Council of Niger-Delta Youth Leaders, Abia State Chapter, Obum Mao Azunna, says CCECC only did about 500 meters quasi construction at Okeikpe area in Ukwa West, since 2012 till date, stressing that the road has subjected the Ukwa people, their neighbouring Annang and Ogoni people into economic hardship.

“Properties worth millions of naira were destroyed by the company in the course of executing the project, but less than 7percent of the people affected were paid compensation. The road is very important, due to its usage by the Ogonis and Ndokis of Rivers state, The Ukwa East and West indigenes of Abia and the Akwa-Ibomites, who ply the road on a daily basis.

“However, the condition of the road has caused untold hardship to the rural people and farmers, who now find it difficult to sell their produce in the semi-urban markets. A journey of 30 minutes is now taking two hours or more, due to the deplorable condition of the road.

“Ukwa land is the only oil-producing territory in Abia state and I wonder why the Federal government would abandon an all-important project that would enhance the wellbeing of Ukwa people, Abians and Nigerians in general. Ukwa people would not find it easy with the road, especially at this rainy season.

“The road was awarded to CCECC, by the federal government, during the administration of President Goodluck Johnathan, sometime in 2010. The road network transverses Obehie town in Ukwa West local government, through Akwete and Azumini in Ukwa East local government and ends at Ukanufun town, in Akwa Ibom State, Nigeria.

“Obehie to Akwete was captured in the first phase of the project, according to the available public document (sign-board) at Obehie. However, the company commenced the project at Ukanafun in Akwa Ibom, which was on the second phase and stopped somewhere after Azumini.”

A motorcyclist, Edidem Sunday, says the condition of the road from Ohambele, Obohia, Ohanso, Akwete to Okeikpe, all in Ukwa East and West LGA is too bad to compare with the smooth side of Azumini to Ukanafun.

“I don’t know why they left the other side so bad. I enjoy taking passengers from Azumini Junction to Ukanafun and even down to Etim Ekpo. But it’s always a problem to move from Azumini towards Obehie in the raining season.

“Even most taxi drivers are afraid of going towards that route because it causes a lot of problems. I am just begging them to help fix that road, because it’ll help the people.

“Most Akwa-Ibom Transport Company (AKTC) vehicles that normally ply this road are no more coming as usual. I don’t know whether they’ve found a new route, but we all know this road is easier.

“The Opobo-Azumini-Aba road is also not good. Let them just help us and fix it. I’m a hardworking man. I don’t beg anybody for food.

“My biggest enemy is bad road. If the roads are good, I have enough traders and passengers to carry on a daily basis and make genuine money.”

An old retired school teacher and native of Ukanafun, who was a commuter in a stranded public vehicle at Ohambele axis of the road, John Uko, says abandoning of the roadshows that the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs is against trade and commerce.

“I don’t know why we love doing wrong things in this country and ignore the right things. Even a child knows that a motorable Obehie-Akwete-Azumini-Ukanafun road must change people’s lives and create a new busy commercial centre in the middle of Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Abia State.

“There’s something very significant about this road. People always talk about economic diversification, especially on agriculture. If there’s any road in Nigeria that can improve agriculture in terms of moving farm produce into cities and also improve trade and commerce between rural, suburbs and urban areas it’s this road”, he said.

Uko notes that the road is also capable of strengthening the unity of Nigeria, as it connects between over five ancient tribes that have been doing businesses together, pre-colonial era.

“The road leads straight into the Ibibio ethnic group and the mainland of the Annang ethnic group. From Ukanafun LGA, which is an Annang land, you’ll get to Oruk Anam LGA, which is also Annang.

“In fact, it connects all the eight Annang speaking LGAs in Akwa-Ibom State. It’s also a link to Ikot Abasi, which is in Ibiobio land in Akwa-Ibom State.

“From where we are, you already know it came into Ukwa land, who are Igbos. From the other side, the road leads to Ogoni land in Rivers State. It may have not directly linked to all the places I mentioned, but it connects through straight, left and right of it.

“So, to me, it’s both an economic and unity road. For me, I’m from Ukanafun and I often go to Ikot Abasi for business. I must pass through Ukanafun and Oruk Anam before getting to Ikot-Abasi. I’m already in Ukwa, which is an Igboland. Can’t you see the link?

“What else can strengthen unity more than trade and commerce? When people do business together, they know each other culturally and otherwise. The old ports that connect each other around this area aren’t working again. Now, the road, especially this Abia section is a shame.

“This road is very important, because all these areas are places that were booming in the palm oil business in the past. From here to Opobo and other nearby local ports, we were all active in the past and the people in government know the resources here.

“For me, I don’t know why they enjoy watching people suffer. This road can create a new commercial city for Akwa-Ibom, Abia and Rivers States if things were done properly in this country.

“I plead with whoever that’s in charge whether Abia or Federal Government or even NDDC to quickly fix this road, because it will help our people to survive on their own, through trade and commerce. That’s all I ask for.”

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