Over 300 companies trapped in the shutdown of the Eleme-Onne section of the East-West Road area near Port Harcourt, Rivers State, have cried out over bleak weeks ahead.
This came as a result of the rejection of the offers by the Ministry of Niger Delta headed by ex-governor and ex-senator, Godswill Akpabio.
Ogoni youths had occupied the stretch on Tuesday, July 26, 2021, insisting on the repair of the road, but the Ministry sent the permanent secretary to announce a N2.5bn-compensation to property owners to enable construction to start and ordered RCC, the contractor, to move in on Friday to start work.
The youth did not budge and insisted on seeing the FG or work in action before they would vacate. The stalemate has caused panic within the companies as the youth began making arrangements for church service at the venue on Sunday.
A CEO in one of the multi-national corporations said the delay to address the issue was becoming worrisome to the businesses in the zone. “We are now afraid because it’s scary,” he said.
Another source staying away in Lagos to await outcome told BusinessDay on the telephone that the companies have lost man-hours running into hundreds of millions of naira, if not billions yet. “You have large scale corporations such as two fertilizer manufacturing companies who serve the entire country,” he said.
It was gathered that farmers are waiting endlessly for their supplies to touch their crops because it is a seasonal application and it cannot wait.
Read also: Wike demands completion of East-West Road
The only petrochemicals company in the country is there. Trucks are stranded for days, not doing anything and not delivering value. Drivers are running losses. Indorama Eleme Petrochemicals Limited also has a port facility (jetty for export of their products that earn hard currency to the nation). The place is dormant now, sources said.
The Oil and Gas Free Zone Area (OGFZA) with about 300 companies is now shut down. A huge loss of man-hours is being recorded. The source said: “This is an economic road that delivers traffic to Ogoni of Rivers State, to Akwa Ibom, and to the Cross River States. Travellers have been cut off from their destinations.
“The call for attention to this road especially the bridge at Eleme has been ongoing for a long time with promises not kept. This road has been a huge loss to the economy; yet, this is the road that links the country to its huge economic nerves such as the only oil and gas port, light ocean terminal, deep ocean terminal, ports, customs, and many economic installations.
“It is also the road that links the nation to the construction site of the N120billion Bodo-Bonny Road across the sea. Why is this matter being treated with a lukewarm attitude? The FG ought to consider all these losses and intervene in this deadlock. We hear the Senate proposing a concession action for this road. We say no to this. It would mean taxing people who work in the area going and coming, yet this is the road to the nation’s economic hub,” the CEO lamented on phone.
Some insiders interviewed said the N725.77bn road has not had any serious provision in the budget right from the Olusegun Obasanjo time. They say those thinking that the present Minister of Niger Delta Affairs is implicated in the road project may find out that he is not sitting on any allocation meant for the road.
They argued that Akpabio is not the Minister of Works but he has rather been fighting to garner N100bn to complete the road. He has often stated that he should be one of those fighting for that road because it leads directly to his hometown. “He is a stakeholder, too. Besides, he wants to be on record as the minister that fixed that road. So, he has nothing to gain by sabotaging the road,” a source said Friday.
Many wonder why he is just offering N2.5bn to pay compensations to those whose property would soon be demolished to create space for construction to start. He has, however, explained that this is part of the expenditure earmarked for the project. There is N20bn from the Sovereign Wealth Fund that he is said to have wrestled out of those sitting on the fund for four years. He seems to seek more money to make it N100bn and deliver the road as one project.
A source suspected that some conflict entrepreneurs in the communities may have got wind of the construction about to begin and may have felt left out and may have mobilised the youth to begin troubles ahead of works to force attention and be included into negotiations, something that is now common in the oil region.
Meanwhile, more groups are threatening to mobilise more youths to the troubled area. In a statement signed by Ana Hyacinth, SSA Media, to the chairman, National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN), said: “We shall be mobilising youths from all communities in the state to Akpabio on Sunday, August 1, 2021, if the FG through the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs continues to pay lip service to the demands of the people.”
She said they had been part of the ongoing protest and have keenly followed the Federal Government’s “slow and deceitful” response measures to ensure that the demands are swiftly met. “This is a road with high economic importance to the development of the country and one begins to wonder the rationale behind the payment of lip service to the people’s legitimate demands.”
The leaders of the protests said they will not leave the place until they see work in progress. Leader of Ogoni Youths Federation, Yamaabana Legborsi told newsmen that they did not trust Akpabio’s promise to mobilise contractors to fix the stretch. They said the company said to be ordered to site has not got there. It is not clear if any company would agree to mobilise to such a place under HSE rules.
The youth have vowed not to vacate the expressway except the contractor moved to the site and the company announces that Federal Government has given it money for the reconstruction of the failed portion of the road.
Reacting to Akpabio’s announcement of the N2.5bn, Legborsi said: “We have received it with mixed feelings. We described it unambiguously as diversionary because the aim of the five-day-old mother of all protests remains on the front burner: which is the demand for the complete reconstruction of the entire stretch of the East-West Road. And that is the end, and we are serious about it.”