Rumuibekwe/Elelenwo

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The Rivers State Government under the leadership of Rt. Hon Chibuike Rotimi Amaechi, has since October 26, 2007, placed physical infrastructure development as a priority. The reason is not far-fetched. The government had realized that the state lacked basic infrastructures to kick-start an aggressive development strategy. It reckoned that the problems in the state were attributable to the dearth of basic foundations to absorb the shocks associated with the realities of present-day socio-economic development and growth. The governor, therefore, decided to frontally pursue an aggressive policy that integrates all sectors of human development.

For the government, the programmes that would facilitate the speedy development of the state include good road network in both urban and rural areas; primary, secondary and tertiary hospitals; primary, secondary and tertiary education facilities, water and sanitation infrastructures; strategic food security policy; urban renewal programme; and good transport network. But the government, also realized that all the listed pillars of development would not make any meaningful impact if a good road network is not put in place in both rural and urban centres in the state.

Thus, the government began a policy of constructing roads in all the rural communities in the 23 local government areas. Most of the roads are designed with bridges and drainages to check storm waters and subsequent flooding of the state, which experts argue, is way below the sea level. And today, the government has constructed more than 50 internal roads in the local government areas. More road projects are still ongoing in the communities. It has also constructed more than four dual carriageways already while work is ongoing on more than seven in both Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre and Port Harcourt local government areas. About four flyover projects are in the works, with one at Eleme Junction already completed and commissioned by President Goodluck Jonathan while the Eliozu flyover project, awarded to Bulletine Construction Company has seemingly been abandoned. Contracts for about five more have been awarded, and work would soon commence on them. In all, contracts have been awarded by the Amaechi administration for about 800 road projects in the state. Some of the internal community roads and dualisation projects have been highlighted in this column previously.

Today, Development Update takes a look at one of the strategic link roads being constructed by the state government in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area. This is the Rumuibekwe/Elelenwo Link Road. In fact, contract for the construction of Abua/Okoba Close/Rumuibekwe Estate Road with extension to Elelenwo in Obio/Akpor was awarded to Deansgale International Limited on November 26, 2008. Valued at N1,340,133,621.75, the 1.3kilometre road project was designed to be completed in 24 months.

The vision of the government in awarding the contract to link the two important communities in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area by road is to further enhance communication between people from the area. Another vital reason is to ease human and vehicular traffic in and around the communities. Perhaps, it is not out of place to stress that the link road would serve as a very important access route for many vehicles desperate to exit or access the critical Port Harcourt/Aba Expressway or even Woji and Old Aba Road. It is also an important conduit for those striving to access Elelenwo and Akpajo to Eleme or the interchange at the Eleme Junction, en route Aba or Rumuokurusi on the East West Road.

Therefore, the new link road would serve as a critical access route for residents of Port Harcourt and those who do one form of business or the other around the state capital and its environs. The decision to open up the road, hitherto hidden in the mass of buildings sprawling in and around Rumuibekwe Estate and Elelenwo is, indeed, commendable. It shows that the government is not just thinking fast on how best to move the state forward but how positively its programmes can make a difference in the lives of Rivers people and those who live and do business in the state. It is because of the immeasurable benefits of the road to the people of the state and other residents that the government, has been closely monitoring the progress of work on the road to ensure that the contractor meets not just the project specifications but also delivery timeline.              

Between November, 2008, and the end of the first quarter of 2009, the Ministries of Works and Urban Development marked the buildings encroaching on the expanded road for demolition. Landlords who owned properties along the road were directed to demolish them while illegal structures on the right of way of the link road were also marked for demolition.  The issues of compensation were taken up by the government, and those whose properties were affected were listed and paid compensation later last year. And by October, 2009, the state government indicated that about 10 per cent of the project has been executed. But, honestly, the contractor was nowhere near the area as evidence of mobilization to start the real work at the project site.  

However, the contractor mobilized to site in February, 2010, and within a space of three weeks, graded, leveled and piled some stretch of the road from the Okoba Close axis to the Deeper Life Bible Church end. This is a stretch of about .450metres length and 12metres breadth. The shoulders on both sides collapse into new drainages constructed to take storm waters off the road, and empty into the creek separating Rumuibekwe from Elelenwo communities. Development Update notes that in one month, Deansgale completed the asphalting of this stretch of the road.

The asphalting of this stretch of the road, Development Update learnt, was necessitated by the need to allow for free flow of traffic at that end of the road, which attracts heavy vehicular movement on a daily basis. Another reason for the speedy process adopted by the contractor is the fact that the Abua Close/Okoba axis of the road was in a terrible shape and gave residents serious nightmare prior to the award of the contract by government.

Now, with the completion of work within that stretch, Deansgale shifted emphasis towards the creek, an axis that had never been motorable since the creation of the road and the massive development of the area by those who had acquired land for residential purposes. But one thing that has impacted negatively on the project is the need to expand the road to allow for a major construction effort. Consequently, new developers and those who had built their houses were asked to demolish either their fences or even structures that literarily hampered progress on the construction process.

At the same time, the contractor moved over to the Elelenwo end of the road, and began clearing the road. Now, a few hitches have delayed the job from this axis. One is the fact at the time residents began acquiring land and developing their properties, none ever imagined that one day, a major road would be carved out of that area to link Rumuibekwe Estate New Layout. Thus, houses had been built indiscriminately, some close to the less than six-metre road hitherto used as access route for those who live around the area. With the massive development effort going on in the area, a new strategy to create a link road within that circumference has been met with difficult challenges, including the challenge of paying compensation to large number of residents whose houses have had to be demolished to give way for the road construction as well as the time lag in the relocation of those affected. All these are issues in the road infrastructure development process. Of course, Deansgale, and the Rivers State Government are bracing up to these challenges.

In spite of the challenges highlighted above, Deansgale has continued with the process of bringing the vision of the government in awarding the road contract into manifest reality. Indeed, work is now progressing with the demolition, grading and leveling of the road from the Elelenwo axis. The drainage has also been created to take storm waters off the road into the creek nearby.

After about nine inspection visits to the project between February and last week, Development Update notes that attention needs to be given to a few issues relating to the standard delivery of the project to the government. From the Rumuibekwe Estate end, it is important to point out that the stretch from Ahoada Road has yet to be attended to. Even the buildings still appear too close to the road in spite of the fact that certain level of demolition of structures encroaching on the road has been made. The initial asphalting that had been done on the road appears light, and needs to be standardized to ensure that it is not washed away soon by erosion and heavy vehicular movement. The shoulders that are supposed to create convenient thorough fare on the road for users are virtually non-existent, thereby making it difficult for pedestrians to have an easy walk through the road when it becomes functional.

At the Elelenwo axis, Development Update reckons that the issues look more complex. For instance, the drainages on both sides appear light and shallow. Even the width of the road is small, at between 7-8 metres instead of 10-12 metres. In fact, the width of the road at this end does give some concern to development watchers.  A number of houses obstructing access and progress of work are still standing.

Development Update notes that work is yet to begin on the bridge meant to link both communities together. The suspended bridge has already attracted the excitement of residents of both communities, who see the development as worthy of commendation. But issues have also arisen.

Chairman of Rumuibekwe Estate Landlords Association, Emenike Nwokeoji, spoke the feelings of residents, who expressed their concerns at a monthly meeting of the estate recently. One of the issues raised is the fact that the link road would expose residents of Rumuibekwe Estate to a torrent of criminal incidents that have hardly been experienced. The other concern is the need to restrict heavy duty trucks from accessing the road, and causing severe damage to the road and the bridge in no distant time. They also canvassed the construction of speed breakers to check excessive speeding and unnecessary accidents on the new road. The same fear was expressed by some impacted residents of Elelenwo community. Take Chief Alex Kanu, for example. This estate surveyor agrees with the residents of Rumuibekwe Estate that these issues are of concern to many in Elelenwo.   

As for the security risks, they suggest the deployment of police patrol teams to the road, on completion. In fact, some insist on a permanent road block to serve as a deterrent or containment factor to criminal elements who may want to take advantage of the new road to create panic and discomfort to residents of the area. On the issue of heavy duty trucks plying the road, if completed, the residents suggest that in addition to the construction of speed breakers, a permanent cross bar to serve as barrier to such heavy duty trucks should be constructed and erected at the base of the bridge on both sides to prevent lorries, trailers and tankers from using the road.

In all, residents from both communities praised the Rivers State Government for the bold initiative to award the contract to link both communities by road, and said the project would help accelerate the pace of development in the area.

In his response, the Project Manager, Deansgale International Limited, Engr Eric Hatcho, said the company was working round the clock to deliver the project since mobilization to site and payment of certain percentage of the total contract sum by government. Hatcho noted that the initial delay in the progress of work was caused by the reluctance of those whose buildings or fences were affected to remove their structures to facilitate the speedy delivery of the project within deadline. He said that since compensation has been paid to affected residents, the company has strived to fast-track the project delivery process in the interest of the government and people of the state. The project manager assured that the project would be delivered to the government within agreed specifications, and timeframe. But one thing he could not state for sure was what percentage of the work has been completed so far. For Development Update, however, about 30 per cent of the job has been done thus far.              

Now, if Deansgale is to deliver high quality Rumuibekwe-Elelenwo Link Road to the government in the next 17 months, then the Ministry of Works needs to intensify monitoring of the project to ensure compliance with specifications. The ministry’s officials also need to ensure that all road blocks to the timely delivery of the road are cleared, especially approvals of design adjustments, work completion certificates, milestone payments, among others. This way, it would be possible for Deansgale to deliver this all-important link road to the government within the agreed timeline.