A visit to Oporoza, in Gbaramatu Kingdom of Warri South West Local Government Area of Delta State gives one an eerie feeling of drifting in the middle of the ocean. In the days of militancy in the Niger Delta region, the mere mention of Oporoza or its neighbour Okerenkoko sets off palpitations in many hearts. So, an inspection tour of projects executed by the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, in Oporoza and Ugborodo communities through the meandering creeks of the delta is not an assignment for the faint hearted. Although the spokesman of Gbaramatu Kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbebekama, would want visitors to feel at home in the island, the reality is that the creepy feeling that one is in a zone wrapped in an aura of mystic, still persists. Just to think that the kingdom is the homestead of the former leader of the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta, MEND, Government Ekpemupolo, alias Tompolo, gets one edgy as the speed boat bounces through the waves to the landing jetty. Gbebekama and other community leaders of the town feel pained about the negative perception of Oporoza as a hot-bed of militancy. “We are peaceful and law-abiding people like other Nigerians. All our people are asking for is development. We contribute enormously to the economy of Nigeria, so we expect that basic amenities like water and schools should be provided for us.” It was against this background that the NDDC Managing Director, Dr Samuel Ogbuku, led a team of Directors and other officials of the interventionist agency into the depts of the ocean, as it were. For four hours, high ranking officials of the Commission traversed the creeks and open water-ways in Warri and Escravos, to inspect NDDC projects in some of the coastal areas of Delta State. On arrival at the Oporoza jetty, a group of young men waited anxiously for us to disembark. One of them had a video camera that was recording every move we made right from the landing point. In a way, the people of Oporoza may be right in saying that they are being misjudged by those of us who are still petrified by the stories woven around communities in the frontline of militant agitations in the past. When our speedboat anchored at the jetty after a bumpy ride on rough waters, we saw a people that were very receptive. That friendly disposition helped to shore up our confidence and wiped out the impression that the island harbours militants. Perhaps, the NDDC team got a friendly treatment because of the past performances of the Commission in the Gbaramatu kingdom. They will not forget in a hurry that the NDDC built and commissioned a health centre for them when the entire Gbaramatu kingdom had no modern health care facility. The Cottage Hospital in Okerenkoko saved the people from the dangerous practice of self-medication and the hazardous boat trips to Warri whenever anyone took ill or when women were in labour. The Gbaramatu Kingdom hosts Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, which has numerous flow stations at the Jones Creek and Chevron oil terminal in Ogborodo. Ogbuku inspected the shore protection project in Ogborodo, which had been stalled for many years. The situation at the site was not encouraging because the contractor was said to have abandoned the shore protection and reclamation project. Mr. Victor Omunu, one of the opinion leaders in the area, decried the conduct of the contractor, whom he said collected money for the job and barely scratched the surface, lamenting that the contractor disappointed and short-changed the people. Omunu said that the poor performance of the contractor had rubbed off negatively on the NDDC, adding that it would take a complete turnaround to change the perception of the people about the Commission. Pa Wawe Agba, an elder in the community, agreed that the credibility of the NDDC was on the line because previous promises made by the Commission to the people were not fulfilled. “We want results not promises,” he said. The NDDC team had earlier inspected the first phase of the canalization of Oporoza creek, which had been completed. Ogbuku, who led the team noted that the project would provide easy access and navigation for the communities and the oil company operating in the Gbaramatu kingdom. Ogbuku, who was accompanied by the Executive Director Projects Mr. Charles Ogunmola and other Directors of the Commission, assured that work on all infrastructure projects in the Niger Delta region would be completed to positively impact on the lives of the people. The inspection team also paid a courtesy visit to the Pere of Gbaramatu Kingdom, King Oboro Gbaruan II, at his palace in Oporoza. The NDDC boss identified Escravos as an area of special economic priority, stating that NDDC was taking steps to make it more accessible by rallying the support of stakeholders for a broad partnership that will expedite the construction and completion of the Warri-Omadino-Escravos Road. He said: ” We have reached out to Chevron Nigeria Limited and other stakeholders, seeking for partnership for the completion of this road and other projects. “We chose the Public Private Partnership, PPP, model as an alternative source of funding for the Commission. So, we have been going about seeking funding partners to complete our current projects and also start new ones.” The NDDC boss noted that the partnership between the Shell Petroleum Development Company, SPDC, and the NDDC in the construction of the 25.735-kilometre Ogbia-Nembe Road should be replicated for other projects. Ogbuku told the monarch that the 2024 NDDC budget would have inputs from all major stakeholders in the region, stating: “In our budgeting for 2024, we told our budget committee to have a stakeholder’s conference for it. The budget cannot be NDDC budget alone, it must be a budget for people of the region.” The traditional ruler of Gbaramatu kingdom, King Oboro Gbaruan II, urged the NDDC to ensure that none of its projects was abandoned, noting that non-completion of projects was responsible for the slow pace of development in the Niger Delta region. The monarch declared: “As traditional rulers, we are worried that development is not moving as fast as we expected. We have played our own role by ensuring that there is peace in the Niger Delta region. Having provided a peaceful environment, there should be no excuse for not developing our region.” Earlier, in an address by the Gbaramatu Traditional Council of Chiefs, the spokesman of the kingdom, Chief Godspower Gbebekama, affirmed that the NDDC had several on-going projects which needed to be completed. He observed: “In spite of the daunting challenges of the Commission, your intervention is evident in the Niger Delta and Gbaramatu Kingdom in particular.” According to him, NDDC projects in the area include the Warri-Amadino-Okerenkoko Road, the Seitorububou-Kurutie-Ubafan Road and bridges, canalization of Oporoza Creek, the reclamation and sand-filling of Benikurukuru community, among others. The chiefs appealed to the NDDC to adequately fund the projects to ensure that they were completed for the benefit of the people, stating: “The NDDC was created to attend to the peculiar developmental needs of the Niger Delta region.” For the people of Omadino, the plan by the NDDC to enlist partners for the execution of the road linking them to Escravos gives them hope. According to Ambassador Austin Oniyecum, one of the prominent Ijaw leaders in the area, the Warri-Omadino-Escravos Road will reduce the stress and cut the distance of travelling on water. “It takes over two hours to travel from Omadino to Okerenkoko now, but the road will reduce that time to only 20 minutes. That is why we consider the project as very important,” he said. However, this important road link suffered a setback when the Omadino community asked for a re-alignment of the route to make way for a new university that is being planned for the area. Ogbuku assured the people of Omadino, as well as other coastal communities that the NDDC would not relent in its efforts to provide development infrastructure for them. He said: “I can assure you that the NDDC is determined to make a difference in the lives of the people. We will continue to build new roads and bridges as well as complete on-going reclamation and shore protection projects.” It takes a visit to coastal communities for anyone to begin to appreciate their plight. One of the youths in Ugborodo, who simply identified himself as Johnson, said that nobody would want to spend weeks in the creeks. He said that those who have the means, run away from the area to live in Warri. “Living in the creeks is nothing but tortuous. That is why we are crying that government and NDDC should develop our area. We deserve some basic amenities as people from whose land oil is drilled to sustain Nigeria,” he said.
June 22, 2023
June 22, 2023