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522-bed hostel, East West Road: Two key NDDC intervention projects that redefine Rivers, Niger Delta

522-bed hostel, East West Road_ Two key NDDC intervention projects that redefine Rivers, Niger Delta

Two key intervention projects by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) seem to have lifted the face and economic agility of Rivers State in particular and the Niger Delta in general. One is the 522-bed students’ hostel in the Rivers State University and the rescue of the East-West Road on Onne and Mbiama axes, in Rivers and Bayelsa states.

A towering edifice

A towering edifice containing 522-bed spaces is a new landmark in the Rivers State University of Science and Technology (RSUST), now renamed Rivers State University (RSU). It is built and donated to the premier science and Technology University by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and was unveiled in December 2015. Today, the edifice is ineffective use by over 600 students that would otherwise be squatting or living in dingy rooms off-campus.

The hostel has three floors with 174 rooms and can be found in 18 universities in the oil region, though at different levels of completion. The one in the University of Port Harcourt (UNIPORT) is not so lucky; it is yet to be completed.

Beyond the official 522-bed spaces, the complex has ancillary facilities such as a 20,000-gallon water tank linked to a water treatment plant. This is said to provide a steady water supply to the hostel complex. There are slots for super-markets and shops; students lounge; administrative offices; cybercafé; games rooms, and specially-fitted rooms for physically challenged students. The hostel is said to be fully furnished with installed new electricity generating set to specifically serve the hostel.

This comes from a special intervention scheme by the NDDC years back to some 18 universities in nine Niger Delta states, with Imo University as one of the early completed ones. Universities yearn for completion of theirs because the students yearn for the spaces much.

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Why NDDC intervened

Director, Corporate Affairs of the NDDC, Ibitoye Abosede said that apart from the RUST hostel, six other prototype hostels had been commissioned out of the 18 being constructed by the NDDC in nine states of the region. He listed the hostels as those in Imo State University; Federal University of Science and Technology, Owerri; University of Benin; the Delta State University, Abraka; Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike and the University of Uyo Teaching Hospital.

The Vice-Chancellor of the RSU, Professor, Blessing Didia, has always spoken glowingly about the new edifice built by the NDDC in that university. The VC is not alone. Wanbo Ata Awajior, 300-level student (Accounting, Faculty of Management Sciences), told BD SUNDAY in an exclusive interview that the NDDC hostel has been very helpful and supportive for her and other students on campus.

“It allows us to read at convenience. Though the hostel is expensive, we value it. We pay N40,000 per session (one academic year). The security the hostel provides is good. Since I started staying in it last year (2016), I have not experienced any robbery incident like in other hostels. Besides, we live here like members of one community. Apart from going for lectures, you can remain inside the NDDC hostel and nobody will notice you were in school. The food in the hostel canteen is expensive so one has to go and buy food outside. In all, I would say the NDDC hostel is good and in fact very conducive for students who can afford a space,” Awajior said.

Officials of the NDDC have always explained the rationale behind the 18 hostel projects and the one at the RSU in particular. In line with this, Abosede recently told leaders of the National Association of Niger Delta Students (NANDS) that the Commission would continue to assist the educational institutions in the Niger Delta region. He harped on NDDC’s assistance to universities in the region in the area of accommodation and other infrastructure.

The present chairman of the NDDC board, a senior advocate of Nigeria (SAN) and senator, Victor Ndoma-Egba, stated thus: “If you want to invest in a nation, education of the youths is the best option. However, for human beings to be a resource and not a curse, they must be healthy, educated and motivated.”

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Excited students say it all:

Most students interviewed point to several advantages enjoyed in the NDDC facility in the RSU. They point to the absence of robberies unlike in other hostels within the same university, reading in a very convenient way, reduction of rent rates outside the campus due to many students getting into the campus, helping students to read more due to convenience, power supply availability on campus, etc.

Another 300-level student, Barinaanu Nleela, (Business Education, Faculty of Science & Tech Education), added this: “I have stayed in the NDDC hostel for three semesters now, and I can say that the environment is good. It is supposed to be for four students per room according to the authorities, but those who got the allocations allow others to join them to reduce the fees. So, squatting has been introduced.”

She went on: “The price difference is just N20,000 but the problem of insecurity at the back gate is an issue. Students at the back gate are robbed frequently. Now, more than 600 students have been taken off the township rooms. That has prompted the students to beg the vice-chancellor to duplicate this hostel in the Rivers State University (RSU).

This hostel has helped me and a lot of other students. There is no steady power supply in accommodation outside the campus but because we are on campus, we enjoy regular power supply to study more consistently. This facility is responsible for the drop in house rent outside the university for off-campus students.”

Other sources put the number occupying the hostel to about 1000, just to enjoy what they term world-class facilities. Those who have visited the facility describe it as nothing but a turn-around scheme. Evelyn Jumbo, a mass communication student, said the NDDC has given them a beautiful edifice that stands out as a landmark. She has joined in giving kudos to the NDDC.

Michael Amadi, also a 300-level student (Law), said the new hostel was the best thing that had happened to RUST in recent years. According to him, students go through a lot of indignities and risks while living in off-campus hostels. He said it was due to inadequate accommodation that forces many students to live off-campus and sometimes falls prey to the menace of cultism.

It is believed that some landlords take advantage of the situation to provide sub-standard accommodation at cut-throat rates. In many cases, such accommodations lack the required atmosphere for learning as they are usually in high-density areas of the town where noise pollution is said to be a constant factor, he stated, as he said such facilities hardly provided basic amenities such as water and electricity.

The law student advised university authorities to discourage off-campus accommodation, as it was usually accompanied by many negative consequences.

The Dean of Student Affairs, Isaac Zeb-Obipi, agreed with the students, saying the hostel had gone a long way to easing the over-crowding of existing hostels in the university while increasing the students’ access to decent housing. He remarked: “It has reduced the pressure we are having in the area of providing accommodation for our students. I commend the NDDC for coming to the aid of the university by building and furnishing the hall of residence.”

READ ALSO:Abandoned NDDC projects litter in A/Ibom State

Hostel saves N500m in UST

BD SUNDAY investigations reveal that most landlords charge as high as N100,000 per apartment around the areas where the RSU is situated: Diobu, Mile 3, Oroworokwo, Mile 4, Iloabuchi, etc. For 1000 students to have escaped into the NDDC hostel, they would have saved at least N500m in five years that they would have handed over to landlords. Going by the official capacity of 522, this would have saved at least N250m within the same period.

Many students said the presence of the NDDC facility has saved them from squeezing in air-tight rooms, exposure to cultism, prostitution, crime, drugs, and general distractions that made students crash out when it was regarded as the University of Stress and Tension. According to NANS, some of the incidents that consume the lives of students could have been prevented with the provision of sufficient bed spaces in public institutions of higher learning.

The origin of the hostel intervention scheme was necessitated by the Needs Assessment launched by the National Universities Commission (NUC) years ago, which urged universities to urgently address the problem of students’ accommodation. The committee toured 61 of the then 74 federal and state-owned universities and released its report in June 2012, stating that only 8.9 per cent of the total student population of 1.2 million students across the 61 public universities was accommodated on campus.

From bad to good

According to reports, the findings showed that despite the upsurge of the student population in the last decade, there was no corresponding improvement of accommodation and other students’ services. The obvious result was an acute shortage of accommodation and overcrowding of the few existing ones, thus upsurge in immorality and crime on campus.

Figures released by the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) showed that the situation in the RSUST or RSU was worse. In the year 2012, some 9,808 candidates applied for admission into RSUST as their first choice institution. This was a time when most students wanted to school there because of the BB Fake effect. Of these, the university was only able to admit about 10 per cent. But even at this, the carrying capacity – student/staff ratio was exceeded in several academic programmes, and infrastructure like classrooms, water supply, power, accommodation, were therefore grossly inadequate.

Now, the authorities of the RSU seem very grateful. The VC, Didia, noted: “The University has a student population of about 20,000 and only about two thousand students are accommodated on campus. You can, therefore, understand the joy of the university community for the great relief which the NDDC brought to us.

“Apart from providing the students with another home away from their homes, campus hostel accommodation guarantees a sense of security for the students. It also enhances healthy students’ relationship and encourages commitment and academic excellence.”

NDDC and East-West Road intervention:

The East-West Road (EWR) is regarded as the most sensitive economic route linking the entire oil region across six states from Cross River (Oron/Calabar) to Nigeria’s economic capital, Lagos. Such is the critical importance of the EWR that whenever it breaks down, it almost causes national emergency in terms of disruption of economic flow and agitations from youths and communities along the route.

The critical dual carriage road measures 338k for one single lane and 676km for both carriages running from Oron/Calabar in Cross River State through Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo states. This road would have collapsed again if not for the intervention of the NDDC. The project, though, belongs to the Ministry of Niger Delta, which now holds oversight responsibility for the NDDC, the Commission has received a mandate to intervene and rescue the all-important road.

In recent months, the EWR collapsed in some sensitive sections especially at Onne (near Port Harcourt, Rivers State) and at Mbiama, near Yenegoa, though still in Rivers State. By this, Rivers State and its economy were being cut off from two critical ends, West and East. The collapse was so scandalous that Rivers State became a no-go state, all worsened by the fate of the Port Harcourt-Enugu Expressway as well as the abduction threats on the Port Harcourt-Owerri dual carriageway.

Onne hosts the world’s fastest-growing oil and gas free trade zone with over 200 companies and investments worth over $50Bn. Also, two of Nigeria’s seaports, Apapa and Onne, have helped the country to occupy the position of highest maritime power in Africa, far above South Africa and Egypt in terms of volume of trade and vessels going and coming, but at over 66 per cent of Africa’s maritime share. These two ports, however, have two ugly features in common: collapsed road access.

Observers say Apapa has been so notorious over the years, while others say Onne Road has joined in the notoriety ranks. Recently, two private sector kingpins took the bull by the horn and set up billions of naira to begin rescue efforts. Now, a few weeks ago, the NDDC did same on the Onne stretch from the Eleme Roundabout.

Financial history of the East-West Road:

* N211Bn by Obasanjo in 2006 * N725.77Bn revised by Jonathan from 2011 – 2014

* N245.9Bn for Sections 1 & 2 on Aug 18, 2011, to Setraco * N112.16Bn from N64.1Bn for Warri – Kaiama * Revised to N48.9Bn from N29.9Bn for PH – Kaiama * N84.75Bn from N44.8Bn for Ahoada – PH * N671m in October 2012 for consultancy to Suraj Nig Ltd for Oron section N479.2Bn approvals in 2014; N165.25Bn in October 2012 for phase 1 (v) to CCECC N269.38Bn revised cost for Warri – Kaiama – Ahoada to Setraco; N43.9Bn upgrade of 15km PH-Onne in Nov 2014; N661.33m engineering supervision job on Oron – Calabar Dec 3, 2014; N3Bn proposed contributions by companies to support Wike admin in 2015; details not available; Now, NDDC intervenes.

Targets: Dec 2013; shifted to April 2015; Minister of Niger Delta says its 90percent; others say it’s 70percent only; Motorists say it has been abandoned; Now, the 2018 federal budget targets 2018/19 as new completion period.

NDDC comes to the rescue:

The NDDC started emergency repairs on some of the failed portions of the East-West Road, especially the dilapidated sections between Eleme Junction and the Onne near Port Harcourt. Onne area with its over 200 companies has over 200,000 workers and suppliers. Thus, when the critical road collapsed, it became so difficult that motorists and workers were sleeping on that section overnight. This attracted outcry, protests, threats of court cases and general threat to law and order.

The NDDC’s intervention began in the last days of June 2017, after the visit of the boss of the supervisory ministry, the Niger Delta Affairs Ministry, Usani Uguru Usani. It was at that point that the CEO of the NDDC, Ekere, disclosed that N70Bn would be needed to complete the sensitive East-West Road including the 15km PH-Onne stretch.
On June 30, 2017, the executive director (projects) of NDDC, Samuel Adjogbe, inspected the on-going repairs on the road and saw the excitement of motorists. This seemed to bring back the memories of the same kind of intervention on the Itu-Calabar Road in 2016 that reopened the Cross River State economy to this day. Accounts of the intervention steps by the NDDC were everywhere in the press due to the sensitive nature of the EWR.
The executive director had said that the emergency repair was the only remedy to what he described as a critical situation, adding that the intervention was necessary to save the very busy and important road artery to Akwa Ibom and the Cross River States. He said he was hopeful that the emergency repairs would be completed within 30 days.
According to the reports, motorists started counting their fingers from that day. Christopher Godwin stated thus; “Drivers that dared to use the road before now ended up in mechanic workshops. We are very happy with NDDC for what they have done in the last few days,” he said. Ogbonna Chukwudi, a welder, was full of praises for the NDDC for coming to the rescue of road users. According to him, a few weeks before, the road between Eleme Junction and Refinery Junction was virtually impassable.
The next three days, the CEO of the NDDC himself put on fatigue shoes and went inspecting the road, a sign that it was now a top priority project, according to reports. He confirmed the 30 days target for rescuing the all-important road and this rang out with happiness and commendations around the country, up to the National Assembly.
Ekere stressed the importance of the road, describing it as the gateway to economic activities in the Niger Delta region. He declared: “This road means a whole lot to the people of the Niger Delta.”

He commended the contractor for mobilising to the site promptly. “It is not as if the type of engineering we study in Nigeria is different from what is obtainable in any other parts of the world. It is just a question of our attitude to work,” he reportedly declared.

Briefing the NDDC boss on the emergency repairs, the Project Manager, a tested engineer, Efe Eloho, said that they faced a challenge with the soil texture, but promised that the repairs would stand the test of time. He noted: “We excavate as much as 2.5 metres in some areas to remove unsuitable materials before filling with sharp sand and hardcore.”

At a point in the intervention work, however, many wondered if the motorists had rejoiced too early as their joy seemed to turn to tears as near-total traffic jam kept travellers there for days. Companies on the route called media houses to say their workers could hardly show up at work anymore. They cried out against the threat of shut-down due to the scanty number of workers available. The companies wondered why the job could not be done one lane before the other.

NDDC spokesmen say then that the hope of a better road should becloud temporary hardships which were normal in such interventions. BD SUNDAY then found that the intervention work was progressing steadily and hopes were high for urgent relief which soon came following the NDDC CEO’s reaffirmation of the 30 days ultimatum.

Has NDDC done enough?

The NDDC began in the year 2000 as the revered ‘Apple’ in Rivers State at a time many other oil-producing states fought for the sitting of its headquarters in their various state capitals. Each state presented incentives to attract the Commission, but Port Harcourt (Rivers) won. In the past couple of years, however, some critics from the host state have accused the NDDC of doing nothing in the state. The Commission has always tried to debunk this claim, pointing to a myriad of projects and programmes scattered around Rivers State.

Besides, the officials argue, projects are allocated to states on basis of their oil production quota to the national treasury. This, they say, is because the funds with which the Commission executes projects are contributed up from oil/gas revenue realised from different oil facilities in various communities.

Observers say most state chief executives would want to control the contract award processes at the NDDC or the projects coming to their states. When this fails to happen, they say, it generates bad blood and their followers could begin to condemn the entire work done by the Commission.

A source in the Commission said: “We cannot say there is no room for improvement in the work we do here in NDDC but to write off the entire effort of the Commission and say we have done nothing in any of our states especially Rivers State cannot be near the truth. Our stakeholders can help us by pointing out errors. That is the way to improve. Outright condemnation of the work we do especially the painstaking efforts of the present Board and Management led by seasoned and well-meaning administrators and technocrats is unfair. Evidence of our work is everywhere and the excitement and prayers of many community people and motorists where we intervene abound. This keeps us going”.

 

Ignatius Chukwu