The people that walked in darkness have seen a great light: They that dwell in the land of the shadow of death, upon them hath the light shined. – Isaiah 9: 2 (The Bible – Kings James Version)
On December 15, 2022, Babatunde Fashola, minister of works and housing, made a triumphant entry into Opobo Channel, on Julius Berger chopper, to inspect the Bodo-Bonny road, which is designed to connect Bodo, Opobo and Bonny Island in Rivers State.
Two things were of great importance during the visit: the announcement of the December 31, 2023 completion date for the project and the joy of the people of the community. A people who have lived, worked, walked and travelled only on water all their lives while connecting with each other in their different communities.
Alabo Osobonye LongJohn, the chairman of the Bodo-Bonny Road Project Peace Liaison Committee (BBRPLC), while expressing the excitement of the Bodo and Bonny communities, thanked the Federal Government for taking the bold steps to construct the road and provide them access to other parts of Nigeria, thereby changing their status from “an island to being part and parcel of Nigeria”.
“We are very grateful to the Federal Government of Nigeria for constructing this long-forgotten road for Bodo/Bonny people. We will never forget you for linking us with the rest of Nigeria with this important road,” LongJohn said.
Re-echoing the joy of the communities, Jasper Jumbo, secretary of the BBRPLC, commended the Federal Government for mustering the political will to make the road a reality in their lifetime and making them feel that they are part of Nigeria.
The 37.9 kilometers road, which traverses Bodo, Opobo and Andoni to Bonny Island, has 13 bridges and is being financed by the Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) under the Federal Government Tax Rebate Scheme at an estimated cost of N200 billion.
Already, the main bridges at Afa-Creek, Opobo Channel, Nanabie Creek, Pipeline and nine mini bridges with a total of 348 metres long are at advanced stages of completion.
The road, which will link the mainland of Bodo to the island of Bonny, home to the NLNG traverses forests, swamps and creeks, will provide a safer mode of movement to and fro Bonny Island, where other companies carry out their operations. Before now, the companies spent huge sums of money on helicopter and boat services, sometimes at great risk as well.
The road, which had been on every successive Federal Government administration’s budget since 1975, would make it possible for Bonny Island and Bodo communities to commune with each other across the major rivers, which have been separating them for hundreds of years.
During the inspection tour of the road, Fashola disclosed that the road project had already taken thousands of Nigerians working there from poverty and given hope and help in the process.
The minister noted that the construction of the road shows that the Federal government is committed to the development of all parts of Nigeria.
Fashola, who was elated by the level of work so far done on the road, said: “I sometimes hear some comments that the Federal Government is not doing anything in Rivers State. But this project is concrete evidence that the government has done something and will continue to do something not only in Rivers State but across Nigeria. This project will reduce poverty and we are using it to provide solutions to poverty. We are building the road after three previous administrations had tried to build it but failed.
“Most importantly, two communities within one state that were once divided by water and could not connect to each other because of lack of road – Bodo on the mainland and Bonny on the island – will for the first time in human history and civilisation be able to link up with each other by road next year.
“The road is costing the Federal Government of Nigeria N200 billion in one state. It used to take hours and money to travel between Bodo and Bonny and was also an inhibitor of productivity. So, our government designed this project to provide an alternative to water. There is nothing wrong with water but there is an efficient alternative that reduces travel time that will impact the cost of goods and services and open up this place for more development.
“This place was also engulfed in conflict but this project has brought about peace and stability among the communities that are now working together. I can say that for the first time in human civilization and in the history of mankind, people can actually walk on their way between Bodo and Bonny communities and it is almost done.”
Already, the construction of the road has provided about 719 direct jobs and 3,050 indirect jobs for the youths and people of the host communities and others, while “the completed stretch of the road has reduced travel time to the Afa Creek Jetty (Patrick Waterside) from 40 minutes to five minutes as well as reducing the travel cost from about N6, 000 to about N2, 000”, according to a document issued by Fashola’s office.
It also said the completed stretch of the road has provided easy access for residents to their farms, schools and health centres in the communities, while the stretch with the first completed major bridge (Afa Creek Bridge) and the sand-filled stretch of the alignment has provided access to the sites of the ongoing Bodo Oil Spill Remediation Project.
On September 15, 2017, NLNG signed a tripartite agreement in Abuja with the Federal Government and Julius Berger Nigeria Limited to fund the construction of the Bodo-Bonny road at an initial cost of N120.6 billion.
The road, according to available documents, is envisaged to help address the twin challenges of poverty and unemployment as well as improve the lives of people of the region, especially those from Bonny, Ogoni, Okrika, Eleme, Andoni, and other communities in the Niger Delta.
The agreement was signed by Tony Attah, the then NLNG’s managing director and chief executive officer, and Fashola, minister of power, works and housing at the time, on behalf of the Federal Government, while Wolfgang Goesh signed on behalf of Julius Berger.
During the event, Attah said: “This for Nigeria LNG is part of our effort to contribute to the advancement of the Niger Delta. More importantly for us as a company, our contribution to the project will lead to the accomplishment of the dream of connecting Bonny Island to the rest of Rivers State by road and not only by sea.
“Our greater joy is that the road will ease the plight of people of Bonny Island, the community that has amicably hosted the NLNG Plant and operations for so long. Over the years, our love for our host community had compelled us to open up our strictly business sea vessels to accommodate members of the community, and their visitors, and save them from the hazards of the sea to the best of our ability.
“If you have kept track of our business principles and all our CSR activities, you will by now be convinced that we have kept our promise to help build a better Nigeria and especially our host communities in the Niger Delta region.”
Fashola commended NLNG, saying: “NLNG has stepped up as a unique example of the constructive role the private sector can play in national development. This project represents a defining moment in the government’s determination to strengthen and improve the quality of life in the Niger Delta which holds so much of the country’s resources.”
NLNG is a joint venture incorporated in 1989 to produce liquefied natural gas (LNG) and natural gas liquids for export, and is owned by four shareholders: the Federal Government of Nigeria, represented by the Nigerian National Petroleum Company Limited (49 percent), Shell Gas BV, SGBV, (25.6 percent), Total Gaz Electricite Holdings France (15 percent), and Eni International (10.4 percent).
The NLNG plant at Bonny Island has six processing units (trains) with total processing capacity of 22 million tonnes a year of LNG and up to 5 million tonnes of natural gas liquids (LPG and condensate). It accounts for approximately 7 percent of the world’s total LNG supply.