How NDDC Project Breeds Crisis In Rivers Communities Apart

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While the contentious road project is presently routed through Kaa community to Ataba on the volition and consideration of NDDC, the people of Kereken-Boue, represented by their council of chiefs had already registered their discontent through a petition to NDDC.

The coastal communities of Kaa, Kereken and Kono Boue, all in Khana Local Government Area of Rivers State have been long-time neighbours. They share a common boundary and enjoy relative peace, harmony and communal cohesion.

But a harp disagreement over the routing of the on-going Ataba road project, awarded by the Niger Delta Development Commission NDDC, has severed the hitherto cordial relationship and mutual co-existence the communities once enjoyed. Presently, there is apprehension among the erstwhile neighbours as the mutual trust appears to be adrift on daily basis. The communities are apparently pitted against themselves.

While the contentious road project is presently routed through Kaa community to Ataba on the volition and consideration of NDDC, the people of Kereken Boue, represented by their council of chiefs had already registered their discontent through a petition to NDDC over what they considered a deviation from the old master plan of the defunct Oil Mineral Producing Area Development Commission OMPADEC on some projects.

In the petition which a copy was exclusively obtained by The Tide On Sunday, the people of Kereken represented by their paramount ruler, His Royal Highness, Gabriel Samuel among other chiefs and elders welcomed the planned extension of road to Ataba. The community stated that the development will ease transportation difficulties and promote peace and development among the neigbouring communities.

But the Kereken community also expressed dissatisfaction in strong terms over what they considered a contravention of the old OMPADEC master plan which routed the Ataba road project through the Bori-Boue axis.

To press home their demand, the community in the petition called for a rethink on the survey and contract work until after genuine consultation with concern parties had been amicably discussed.  The chiefs of Kereken Boue also raised alarm in the petition over the extraneous pressure on them by youths of the community who may be dissatisfied with reasons that may be given for the diversion of the road project from the Boue axis. 

The intriguing clash of interest over the routing of the said road project had however, culminated in a litany of accusations among the affected communities, and this had, flared up a brewing crisis in the area.

Trouble started when youths from Kereken community allegedly posed threat to Kaa community over the said diversion of the road project from their axis. 

Reacting to the threat, the people of Kaa community sent a delegation to Kereken to verify whether the aggrieved youths had the consent of the council of chiefs and elders.

But the paramount ruler of Kereken denied complicity with the youths over the threat, stressing that they only had scores to settle with NDDC.

The situation worsened when some youths from Kono-Boue, stormed Kaa community, alleging that one of their kinsmen, Mr. Manyie who went on a fishing expedition under a heavy storm on the 12th of April 2010, never returned. The youths solicited that Kaa should be part of the search party to find the missing  man. The corpse of Mr Manyie was later discovered and the people of Kono-Boue concluded that the man may have been killed by Kaa people. The case was reported to the divisional police station at Bori for further investigation. This flared up tension in the area, as Kono-Boue and Kereken-Boue people resident in Kaa community moved out of the community.

As a reprisal attack, one Mr Goodluck Deewii, a cyclist from Kaa community was allegedly abducted at Kono-Boue while carrying a passenger to Kereken. According to the community development committee chairman of Kaa, Mr Jumbo Nuga, the said Mr Goodluck Deewii is yet to be seen either dead or alive till the moment. Apart from, Deewii, Mr Nuga alleged that there had been two unsuccessful kidnap attempt on women from Kaa by Kono-Boue people.

Although the divisional police station in Bori had mediated into the crisis, the communities now live under the siege of fear, as they keep vigils over the possibilities of intruding attackers.

The worse affected are students from the conflicting communities who are presently writing the senior school certificate examination at the Government Secondary School Kaa. Kaa a commercial centre in Khana has also witnessed a decline in business activities as people now operate under fear and tension. The people are therefore inviting the presence of security operatives to put the situation under control. Apart from the vigilance of the police on the issue, the Khana Local Government chairman, Hon Greg Nwidam had also waded into the crisis.

Part of the interventionist measure of the Khana Local Government Area chairman was the summoning of a peace meeting at which all stakeholders in the affected areas attended.

Reports, had it that the peace meeting was duly attended by the deputy speaker of the Rivers State House of Assembly Hon Dumnamene Deekor, the member representing Andoni Constituency, Hon. Ikunyi Ibani, the security operatives, chiefs and CDC members from, Ataba, Kereken, Kono-Boue and Kaa communities among others. Chairman of Khana Local Government , Hon Greg Nwidam promised to put the situation under control, restore peace in the area, and ensure the smooth implementation of the project. Following the brewing crisis among the affected communities, there had been an abrupt stoppage of work at the project site.

When contacted, the contractors handling the Kaa-Ataba road project, ATAFRANK Nigeria Limited confirmed that there was a temporary withdrawal from site following obvious threats, Managing Director of the company, Mr. Atajit Francis, told The Tide On Sunday that it was imperative to get a thorough investigation on the issue to ascertain the truth on the matter.

He said at no point in time was he lobbied by any of the communities, but the project was advertised and his company tendered and got the job.

He added that “every project had its own challenges but such challenges must not be allowed to degenerate into crisis, as projects was all about development”. He also cautioned about speculations on the issue at stake stressing that the temporary withdrawal from site was for safety reasons and the company will mobilise to site as soon as the situation normalise.

Commenting on the issue, the Assistant Director of Corporate Affairs, NDDC, Sir Innocent Nwaigwe said before embarking on a project budgetary considerations and project designs are taken into consideration. By this, he said every project is carried out along budgetary estimation.

According to Sir Nwaigwe, no NDDC project is intended to cause problems among communities rather the objective is to bring sustainable development in the beneficiary areas.

He said the issue of diversion of project was out of stake as engineers no where it would be possible to start off to get the best alignment and avoid negative impact on the communities in practical terms, Sir Nwaigwe said, “it was not the policy of NDDC to use money meant for development project to pay compensation that may arise from demolition or infringement on existing structures, when such infringement could be avoided. Rather, he said, every design is for convenience and the best impact on the communities.

He blamed the conflicts among the communities on ignorance of NDDC policy objective and emphasised that NDDC projects should not be used to instigate crisis.

He called on any aggrieved community to dialogue with the commission for due consideration and not to harass contractors or fight their neighbours.

He also assured that the new board of the NDDC was poised to bring sustainable development to all parts of the Niger Delta and this is practically demonstrated through its mega projects, sprawling across the Niger Delta region.

 

Taneh Beemene