Normalcy has now returned to the Ogoni portion of the East-West road after the protests embarked upon by youths from the local governments of Ogoni, Eleme, Tai, Gokana, and Khana, respectively to press home their demands for the rehabilitation of the Eleme-Onne road portion which has become severely dilapidated.
The protesting youths, led by the President-General of the Ogoni Youth Federation, Legboorsi Yamaabana, had called for the protests following the expiration of a 14-day ultimatum they had given to the federal government to mobilise contractors to fix the road.
During the protest, the youths blocked the East-West highway, closing off all access and link roads resulting in a heavy backlog of traffic and severe losses running into billions in economic activities in the area and beyond. Man hours were also lost due to time spent in the gridlock.
The Eleme-Onne road is the only gateway to the Onne ocean port terminal and the oil and gas free economic zone which handles a large chunk of the nation’s import-export operations. The area also plays host to a number of very important companies like the Port Harcourt Refinery and Indorama Petrochemicals among others.
The ever busy road has been deteriorating steadily for years as a result of constant usage by heavy haulage trucks and erosion. The Aleto Bridge, especially, which links up Eleme with Onne is almost giving way, a condition which is dangerous to both motorists and commuters.
The East-West highway, of which the Eleme-Onne road is an important spur, traverses six states namely Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and Cross River. It is a major arterial road linking up a critically important economic area of the country.
The federal government had to remobilise contractors handling the road for the protest to be called off. Now, that protest should not have held as a notice was earlier given. Government should have acted on time. The fact that it only responded when the protest was underway in itself portends danger for the country as it gives an impression that only protests can get the government to act and it should not be so.
However, we commend the youths for the peaceful nature in which they conducted themselves during the protest. The manner in which it occurred drove home their message and that may have prompted the quick response they got from the government. This should serve as a lesson to others. Whenever there is a need for such protest to bring attention to perceived grievances, they must be conducted peacefully and with decorum. The protest must aim at minimum disruption to economic life and not cause untold hardship to others.
In the first place, that road should not have been allowed to deteriorate to that level before maintenance work is carried out, going by its importance to the citizens and economy of the country. Now that the protest is over and the contractor remobilised, there should be no further delay on the work. All the necessary support needed by the contractor to begin and complete work on the road should be provided. The federal and Rivers State governments should also enter into dialogue with the youths and other stakeholders in the area in order to allow the contractor carry out the job in a peaceful atmosphere.
It is also unfortunate that despite huge funds expended on the entire East-West road, successive governments have not done much to complete it. We urge the current government to not only fix the bad part of the road but make a conscious effort to complete the entire road. And to preserve the road, government should find a lasting solution to the problem of haulage trucks and also imbibe the culture of road maintenance in general.
Sadly, the East-West road mirrors several projects in the country begging for intervention which ordinarily should occur without any prompting on the part of the government.
It is time for government to rise up to its duties in the areas of social amenities. It can also consider how citizens can participate in ensuring the availability of such amenities. Roads are basic and they should be taken seriously.