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By Nelson Egware
Unlike most states in Nigeria, Delta State, which was carved out of the defunct Bendel State in 1991, is made of an estimated 60 percent upland and 40 percent riverine or coastal communities. This composition and the attendant topography across the state makes it extremely difficult to develop infrastructure especially in the riverside areas, which includes marshy creeks, because of high cost of construction.
The coastal and shoreline areas in the state cut across the three senatorial districts with part of Ndokwa East in Delta North and Ughelli South in Delta Central but predominantly more in Delta South with Isoko South, Burutu, Bomadi, Patani, Warri, South West, Warri North local government areas chiefly among the riverside areas in the state.
However, these obvious challenges did not deter the Senator Ifeanyi Okowa-led administration in Delta as it has remained committed to the development of coastal communities since he took over the mantle of leadership in 2015. He has demonstrably expressed his belief that the riverine communities, being rich in crude oil and constituting the nation’s economic mainstay could only be ignored or neglected at the nation’s peril. Specifically, Governor Okowa believes that it would be wicked of any government exploiting oil from their environment to leave these communities unattended to, and with a polluted and degraded environment citing difficult terrain.
Due to the age-long neglect and deprivation of the riverine communities, they resorted to pipeline vandalism and shutting down of critical oil assets as a way of drawing the attention of government and the international community to their plight. These destruction and disruption continued unabated until Okowa entered into a pact with them to build lasting infrastructure in the coastal communities no matter the cost.
In the heat of the destruction of oil and gas installations in Delta especially by the agitators, the Okowa administration boldly stepped in and restored peace in riverine areas of the state with impactful projects. He restored the people’s confidence by holding townhall meetings with them, and resolved to take development to the creeks, which were hitherto described as impossible-to-reach, in terms of development protects. He demonstrated strong political will by ensuring that projects were taken to the creeks where most of the oil exploration and production in the state take place.
Aside the Bomadi Bridge built by the Ibori administration, most administrations were afraid of the humongous resources that will be deployed to construct a kilometre of road in the creek or to build a structure capable of housing students and people that live in the riverine communities.
There was the fear that if such funds were committed to these projects the effect would be hardly visible to the public. However, the Okowa administration chose to take the bull by the horns and has been able to put in a whole lot of resources to build roads in the difficult terrain of the state.
In Burutu Local Government Area, for instance, the governor ensured a complete concrete pavement of all internal roads in Burutu town, the administrative headquarters of the local government area; schools were built and a modern market is currently under construction there.
In the same local government area, the Okowa administration recorded another feat by completing the 20.29 km Obotobo 1 – Obotobo 11 – Sokebolou–Yokri Road in Ogulagha Kingdom in Burutu as well as the Main Axial Road at Okerenkoko in Warri South-West Local Government Area of the state. To achieve the feat, a mobile asphalt plant had to be deployed in the area.
Other riverside communities of Oporoza, Okerenkoko and Benekrukru, among others, have been given a facelift with well-paved roads.
In Patani Local Government Area, the Okowa government constructed the Uduophori-Toru-Angiama-Toru-Apelerebi-Patani Road, while Lucky Korebe Road, Koko and concrete landing jetty with walkway at Ogheye-Dimigun also got the attention of the state government in Warri North.
Again, the Okowa administration completed the construction of concrete pavement road at Obitobon-Elolo-Ajaokurogbo-Orubu, Ogidigben, construction of Access Road to Nigeria Maritime University Okerenkoko (Kurutie Campus), construction of Oporoza Palace Road in Gbaramatu Kingdom, all in Warri South-West Local Government Area as well as the construction of Ogulagha/Youbebe/Biniebiama Road, in Burutu Local Government Area.
Through the state interventionist agency, Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (DESOPADEC), Governor Okowa ensured the rehabilitation and completion of the Primary Healthcare Centre, Gbokoda; Primary Healthcare Centre Deghele in Warri South-West; renovation of Ngbile Town Hall, Kiagbodo in Burutu; supply and installation of 250KVA Transformers at Odimodi Community in Burutu; renovation of classroom block at Jelu School, Omadino in Warri South; and, completion and fencing of examination hall in Sanctus Rosarium Catholic School in Patani.
Other projects in the shoreline communities include construction of Staff Quarters Akugbene, Bomadi, sandfilling of Tekedor Kusimi Community Egwa II, Warri South-West, construction of concrete landing jetty for Burutu Modern Market in Burutu, construction of Concrete Landing Jetty with walkway, Ugbege Community, Warri North, construction and furnishing of 10 units of five-bedroom bungalows at Okerenkoko in Warri South-West.
Inaugurating the road projects in Ogulagha Kingdom in 2019, Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo said that he was pleased to perform the historic inauguration of over 20 kilometers of roads in the creeks of the Niger Delta, a feat he described as unimaginable.
Prof Osinbajo said: “It is an honour to be here to visit you, the King of Gbaramatu Kingdom, and inaugurate road projects that were executed by Governor Okowa. I am very pleased that we are able to see this type of development in this axis and I commend Governor Okowa for his efforts.
“There is a lot of oil and gas in this area and the national assets have been protected. I thank you, Your Majesty, for all that you have done to be able to achieve peace and prosperity in this kingdom.”
Osinbajo, who was happy with the development strides of Governor Okowa in the creeks and other parts of Delta State, expressed sadness that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of Niger Delta have not met with the yearnings and aspirations of the people in the riverine communities despite the huge funds allocated for the development of the area.
Besides, and for the first time in the history of the state, the Okowa administration inaugurated concrete paved roads in Burutu, the administrative headquarters of Burutu Local Government Area. While addressing the people of the area, Dr Okowa noted that he would like to be remembered as the overnor who developed the riverine areas of Delta State.
He disclosed that the Vice-President was invited to inaugurate the projects because he visited the creeks in the pursuit of peace and the enabling environment for oil and gas production.
At Ogulagha, Governor Okowa stated: “It is not just the length of the road that makes this project unique; it is that the road is located right beside the Atlantic Ocean with all the human, material, ecological and financial implications that this difficult terrain presents. We did not know we could get this length of road in the creek until the king drew our attention to it.
“I am happy about the progress we have made so far. This has greatly helped to ensure peace in the state, which makes for uninterrupted oil production and the health of the national economy. We are continuing to use various structures and initiatives to ensure that the peace we have enjoyed in the last three years is sustained.”
The Ebenanaowei of Ogulagha Kingdom, HRM Joseph Timiyan I, in an address said: “In spite of the enormous contribution of Ogulagha Kingdom to the economy of ours, we have never enjoyed the presence of both the federal and state governments through infrastructural development, appointments and training programmes until 2015 when the current God-sent Governor, Senator (Dr.) Ifeanyi Okowa, came to our rescue with development and appointment of Special Assistants.”
Chairman of the local government council, Hon. Godknows Angele, had in an address, said that the people of the area were delighted with the development brought to their local government by the Okowa administration and pledged their unalloyed support towards the peace and development of the state.
As testified by ex-MEND leader, Freedom Adowei, “Under Okowa, riverine communities across the state have been receiving government’s attention more than ever, with some transforming into visible living communities. If you go round, you will see how the governor is being commended for the construction of roads in riverine communities such as the Okerenkoko Road in Gbaramatu Kingdom, Warri South-West, Sokebolou/Obotobo Road in Ogulagha Kingdom, Burutu Township concrete road pavement and others, all within Burutu Local Government Area of the state as well as other parts of the riverine Delta.”
Another great contribution of the Okowa administration to the development of riverine communities is the construction of new towns in Oboghoro and Utonlila communities in Warri North Local Government Area. The projects, which were executed through DESOPADEC, were inaugurated in March 2019, transforming the communities to modern towns. They include 24 units of 2-bedroom semi-detached bungalow, multi-purpose hall, portable water supply scheme with treatment plant, concrete walkway, pedestrian bridge, concrete landing jetty, fishing boats, among numerous others.
Speaking during the inauguration, Governor Okowa said that his administration would turn around most of the riverine communities into modern towns in the next four years.
“It is important as a country that we begin to think of how to impact on the lives of our people in the riverine areas; if you seek peace, and partnership with the people, you need to do things that will make them happy. I can see that the people are excited but I am more excited to be in this community than you are because, from your statements, this is the first time that a governor is visiting this area to commission projects.
“Living in the creeks should not deprive the people of basic necessities of life and in the next four years, we shall develop more towns in the creeks. I thank the Delta State Oil Producing Area Developmental Commission (DESOPADEC) for embarking on these projects. This is how it ought to be, executing projects in line with the demands of the people.”
Oboghoro and Utonlila communities in a joint address read by Chief Solomon Arenyenka, stated: “We like to place on record that this is the first time Oboghoro and Utonlila communities have been privileged to receive a State Governor, whether elected or appointed or any other visitor of that calibre since their founding some centuries ago
“Your Excellency, your visit to our communities today is remarkable as it is the first time that different projects of such magnitude are to be inaugurated in any Itsekiri riverine community. How else can we appreciate you than to say that we are 100 percent behind you, not only in your bid to return to Government House for second tenure, but also in future.”
The then Chairman of DESOPADEC, Hon. Godwin Ebosa, had said thar the projects were based on the demands of the people and thanked the Okowa administration for encouraging DESOPADEC to discharge its responsibilities to the oil producing communities.
Governor Okowa also inaugurated concrete jetties at Ogheye Dimigun Community and Koko, all in Warri North Local Government Area.
Another star project of this administration in the creeks of Delta State is the multi-billion naira Ogheye Floating Market in Warri North Local Government Area. A project the Okowa administration inherited from the previous administration but the process was slow and the contractor couldn’t achieve much.
When Okowa came in, he redesigned the project, which sits on a 6,000 square metres platform built on top of the river. The market has a banking hall, an administrative building, a standing tower, power generating sets and other facilities. The contractor has built 96 open stores and 80 lock-up stores.
Speaking during an inspection of the project in May, 2021, Governor Okowa said, “It is a special market because we have a lot of communities from Warri North and Warri South-West, and the river extending to Edo and Ondo states. It will obviously open up a lot of opportunities, and it will expand the economic opportunities of the people of the riverside areas.
“For every project we are able to deliver in the riverine area, we are happier for it, much more as a government, than those projects we do in the upland because it is much easier to do projects in the upland. However, we must realise that our brothers and sisters who are in the riverine areas who suffer more from the effects of oil pollution, the contamination of their water, environmental degradation of their land, do suffer more and ought to be attended to.”
He thanked the people of the riverine community for giving peace a chance, assuring that government will continue to partner with them to do more.
“It is a project that is dear to my heart just as we continue to do things in the riverine areas, because we believe that when you give, you should also receive. There is no doubt that a lot of the oil production of this country comes from these areas. Unfortunately, over time, we have tended to forget them believing that the cost of putting up infrastructure in the riverine areas is heavy and we tend to withdraw as government, and that is not fair. It is not equitable and that injustice of our continued belief must be redressed.
“And, for everything we have done in the riverine area, I am happy about that. This is the second time l am visiting the Benin River and l am happy about it. I am glad that I will come back again (because the contractor has said that the project will be ready before the end of the year), with other persons we may invite along to come in to inaugurate this project.”
The construction of Ayakoromo Bridge is currently in progress while the multi-billion naira Trans-Warri Road which comprises 25.8km road and 19 bridges linking Ubeji, Ifie, Ijala, Ogbodede, Inorin, Ajigba, Orugbo, Usele, Ode-Itsekiri is also ongoing. The project was first awarded in 2006 but the contractor could not mobilise to site until 2007. The project suffered serious set backs as result of inadequate funding. As at June 2020, 14 of the bridges have been completed while work is ongoing on the remaining 5 bridges. The Okowa administration has also completed 95 percent of the internal roads in Ode-Itsekiri and looks forward to completion of the the entire project by the end of 2022.
Speaking recently after inspecting the level of work done on the project, the Olu of Warri, His Majesty, Ogiame Atuwatse III, commended Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for paying N8 billion out of the N9 billion owed the construction firm handling the over N40.8 billion Trans-Warri Ode-Itsekiri bridges and access road project.
He said: “I want to thank Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for his kind disposition towards us. We all know the existing economic situation in the country, for the governor to pay N8 billion out of the money owed the contractor is very commendable.”
The monarch expressed satisfaction with the job done so far and called on the communities in the area to continue to support the contractor by providing a peaceful environment as they had always done.
The governor recently awarded the construction of Orhere Bridge in Ughelli South and construction work is also at an appreciable level.
On the Beneku River, a bridge is currently under construction to link the oil-rich Kwale and Beneku community in Ndokwa East Local Government Area, which will connect over 10 adjoining communities to their headquarters, Aboh, and save the people of the area the pains of having to pass through other local government areas to be able to access the council headquarters. For the people of the affected communities, who hitherto could only maneuver the river through a pontoon, it is a dream come true and a heart full of gratitude to Governor Okowa for coming to their rescue when it mattered most.
The governor also embarked on the construction of concrete paved roads in Ikpide-Irri, a riverine community in Isoko South Local Government Area and it is near completion.
All of these developments in the riverine and rural areas of the state got the attention of the United Nations, which lauded Governor Ifeanyi Okowa for his efforts at developing riverine and rural communities in the state. UNO’s Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator in Nigeria, Mr Edward Kallon, gave the commendation during a recent visit to Asaba. He said that with the level of development in rural areas of the state, Okowa had demonstrated passion and focus for the lives of the rural people.
According to Kallon, the governor’s rural development agenda had seen many satellite towns developed with good roads and schools, universal healthcare and youth engagement and remarked that Delta was doing well in managing peace and conflicts and urged the governor to sustain it. “We have done a sequential analysis of where we are in Nigeria and I can tell you that Delta has done well in terms of promoting universal healthcare, youth employment and rural development in the state.
“Governor Okowa is one of the most progressive governors in Nigeria and it is worth commending what the Delta State Government led by him has done in terms of peace and conflict resolution, because without peaceful co-existence you can’t talk about development.
“No peace without development and there is no development without peace, and there is no development without strong institutions. And, you can only talk about development if your people can live well and afford the good things of life.”
Kallon urged the state government to adopt a strategic policy that would move the state to the next level of development, adding that “Nigeria requires 350 billion dollars to achieve the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) before 2030.”
In recognition of these efforts, the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers (NICE) on Thursday October 14, decorated Governor Ifeanyi Okowa as the 2021 Best Performing Governor in Infrastructure Development in Nigeria, with a call on his colleagues to emulate him.
The governor was also inducted as Honorary Fellow of the Institution at its 19th International Civil Engineering Conference and Annual General Meeting held in Asaba with “Civil Infrastructure Development: Challenges and Prospects Under Pandemic Situations” as theme.
National Chairman of Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers, Dr Jang Tanko said: “As a body tasked with the regulation of civil engineering works in Nigeria, we recognise the landmark achievements of Governor Ifeanyi Okowa in road construction, erosion control and massive Central Secretariat for civil servants in Delta.
“In recognition of these laudable achievements, we are pleased to announce that the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers will confer on Governor Okowa the 2021 Best Governor in civil Infrastructure development award and investiture as an Honorary Fellow of the Nigerian Institution of Civil Engineers.”
All of these efforts by the Okowa administration in riverine communities is a clear evidence of his sincere commitment to rural and equitable development. This, indeed, endeared him to the masses as a caring and purposeful leader who will be long remembered as the man who dared to develop riverine communities in Delta State.
•Egware is Senior Special Assistant (Media) to Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State.