Uduak Johnson is an 11year-old girl who lives with her step-mother at Eliozu, a suburb of Port Harcourt. It takes her more than twenty minutes to trek the short distance to Eliozu Community Primary School on school days. This is because the road is very bad.
Uduak and her school-mates were happy when officials of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) came to inspect the extent of work done on the Eliozu-Eneka ring road in Obio/Akpor area of Rivers State recently. Hope, she said: “I will be happy if NDDC can complete Eliozu-Eneka road before the rain sets in. It means I will no longer get to school late; my teachers will not punish me as a result of lateness.”
Uduak explained: “In the morning I always fetch water, wash plates and at times go on one errand or the other before going round and round the flood and gullies to get to school. The road is very bad.
The straight road to our school is always flooded when it rains, and the state of the bridge poses even greater danger to children; some have fallen from the bridge and drowned.
“My aunty often told me to trek across four adjoining streets to avoid the flood along the road that cut across Eliozu stream, the shortest route.
But with the construction of a bridge across Eliozu stream and quality drainage on the road, it will longer take me upto 10 minutes to trek to school,” she said.
Another resident and Community Development Chairman of Eliozu, Mr John Nwopara also expressed joy at the visit. He said it would enable the officials of NDDC, led by its Managing Director, Mr Chibuzor Ugwuoha to see things for themselves.
Since construction work began on this road about a year and a half ago, residents have been faced with more challenges. If rain falls now, I bet you that everybody in this community will be scampering for safety.
But if eventually the road is done and done well, commnities such as Eliozi, Elingbu, Rumuduru, Rumuaghara, Oroigwe and Eneka will be so happy with the NDDC.
If quality job can be done on this road, flooding, which has made usage of Eliozu-Eneka road very risky each time it rains, will be eliminated.
There would be massive influx of people coming to live and do business in the areas because of its proximity to Port Harcourt city.
According to Nwopara, school children will no longer face the risk of getting drowed as a result of flooding around Eliozu stream.
The concern of Uduak and Nwaopara possibly informed the decision of Ugwuoha, not only to visit the project site, but also to trek some kilometers.
By so doing, he was able to inspect the extent and quality of work done by the contractor and also to feel the hazards faced by residents on daily basis.
At the end of the inspection, Ugwuoha expressed dissatification with work done on the road, and directed both the contractor and consultant in charge of the project to see him in his office.
He told newsmen: I feel embarassed with what I am seeing at this site. As far as I am concerned, NDDC is yet to get value for the money spent on this project.
We need an explanation from the contractor. He has to tell us what he intends to do. We will listen to him and based on that, approaptie action would be taken.”
Earlier on February 18, Ugwuoha had warned contractors handling NDDC jobs to sit up as the era of doing substandard work for the commission was over.
For a road of this nature, one would expect that the design should take into cognisance all the important elements that would make the road to last.
But that is not so. If there is problem with the design, I will like to know and hear from all that were involved.
My vision on the development of the Niger Delta reigon is that it is better to build one solid road than to spend money constructing hundreds of roads that would not last up to a year before they collapse,” Ugwuoha said.
The NDDC chief, who re-echoed his message to contractors handling projects for the commission, added that the era when contracts awarded by the commission was abandoned by contractors was over.
He noted that the commission had 44 ongoing mega projects including roads and bridges, shore protection and reclamation projects in Bayelsa, Rivers and a University Hostel in Ondo State.
Under my administration, contractors are not expected to hire obsolete equipment, out-source workers that are readily available within their host communities or abandon projects awarded to them.
“Niger Delta region is in dire need to develop, in the area of human and infrastructure provision and contractors are crucial agents for the realisation of the motive”, he said.
Ugwuoha noted that his management was aware of the practices whereby contractors blamed insecurity for why they abandoned projects, and advised that host communtieis be carried along.
Engage the youth from communities around the project. It is not good to destabilise communities where you are executing contracts by out-sourcing all forms of labour needed to execute a contract”, he told contractors.
The NDDC boss also charged the contractors on the need to deliver quality jobs, noting, “the era when roads done by NDDC collapse under one year is over.
We want our roads to last up to 10 years like roads in America, France and Germany. This is the sure way to achieve the mandate of Mr President in the development of the Niger Delta region”, Ugwuoha said.
He said, henceforth, contractors executing projects for the commission must work according to design, adding that “from now on, only credible contractors would be patronised by the NDDC.”
Though Eliozu-Eneka road was among the first project to be visited by Ugwuoha, who assumed office as the third MD of NDCC on August 6, 2009, stakeholders from the region are applauding his bold steps in upholding standard in infrastructure development.
Available record show that the NDDC, established by the administration of Chief Olusegun Obasanjo in 2001, had, as at April 25, 2009, embarked on 2416 projects. Of these, 871 had been completed while 1545 are ongoing within its nine constituent states.
The projects done by the commission include roads and bridges, water, electrification, shore protection and hospitals. They are meant to alleviate the suffering of the people of the oil-rich region and empower them.
The NDDC, as an interventionist agency which replaced the Oil Mineral Producing Areas Development Commission, oversees the development of projects for the nine oil producing states of Edo, Bayelsa, Delta, Cross River, Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Imo, Abia and Ondo.
Mr Christian Lekia, an indigene of Rivers and President of a Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO), Niger Delta Coalition Against Violence, said by lashing out on contractors and condemning substandard jobs, Ugwuoha had shown that the era when the management of NDDC were mere toothless bulldogs were over.
“Before now all we knew the NDDC for was poorly constructed jobs. Communities wanting one project or the other from government will say please do not do NDDC standard for us”, he said.
Prince Eugene Dibiagwu, an indigene of Izombe, an oil bearing community of Oguta, Imo State, said he was highly encouraged by the hard stand of the NDDC boss in pointing out that the era when quacks undertake jobs for the commission were over. “Development as a concept does not imply holistic undertaking of all aspect of the needs of a people. For the attainment of true development in the Niger Delta region, whatever development project that NDDC, Federal, State, Local Government and even the oil companies must embark on must be of good standard”, he said.
Dibiagwu, who is the MD of a construction firm, maintained that sheer greed and the get-rich-quick syndrome was adversely affecting the growth of the construction sector.
We expect government officials who will call a spade by its name, if construction sub-sector must grow in Nigeria and that is what Ugwuoha has done”, he said.
Mr Sampson Akanimoh, an indigene of Akwa Ibom State said if project executed by the NDDC must be done right, the new management must thoroughly look into the activities of critical departments of the commission.
It gets us nervous that the NDDC has project implementation department whose officials supervise and okay most of these shoddy jobs that have earned the commission a bad name.
Since ‘what is worth doing is worth doing well, nothing short of the best quality jobs are expected to be done by the NDDC in the hitherto restive Delta region.
If this is done, residents would experience improved quality of life, be gainfully engaged and feel compensated.
Only then can agitations, mostly violent, be permanently laid to rest in the volatile Niger Delta region of Nigeria.
Onyeukwu writes for NAN