Sometime in the late 1990s when the initial construction phases of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) plant on Bonny Island were still ongoing, the Nigeria LNG Limited (NLNG) arranged for a delegation of some prominent Bonny indigenes to visit a similar LNG project jointly financed by Petronas (Malaysia’s national oil company), Shell and Mitsubishi in 1978 and which was already operational on the Malaysian Island of Bintulu.
My uncle and the then Secretary of Jumbo Major House of Bonny, Warisenibo Henderson Jumbo, was on that delegation. I remember publishing a full-page interview which I had with him regarding the trip back then. He was, indeed, the first person on that trip to publicly hint at the size and potentials of what was coming to Grand Bonny Kingdom.
The smooth, safe and peaceful relocation of the entire Finima community had already been concluded then, thanks to the negotiating skills of Chief Israel Idamiebi-Brown during the series of negotiations in London and elsewhere. For displaying stunning adroitness, he was often lifted shoulder high by his jubilant kinsmen on returning from some of those conferences. The legal luminary and former Rivers State Attorney-General and Commissioner of Justice may also have been on the Bintulu facility tour.
New Finima, as it was then called, was next to pure heaven. In fact, early visitors to the place may have turned green with envy on seeing the alluring design and pattern of new residences and the fact that some of the natives who had just been evacuated from mostly congested, leaking huts and dilapidated block houses were now proud owners of out-spaced modern homes, paved roads and recreational grounds, among other social amenities.
In those days, transportation from Bonny main town to Finima and back was free as there was literally an ubiquity of brand new airconditioned Toyota Coaster buses running an almost 18-hour service daily. Indeed, I can recall making about three sightseeing trips on a particular day from Bonny to the new settlement while still seated in the same bus, free of charge. Some there were who made more of such trips daily, almost converting it to a regular pastime.
For me, that period was quite epochal as it marked the beginning of the trust and sincerity of purpose between NLNG and Grand Bonny Kingdom which, from all indications, have endured to this day.
At the peak of construction work on the NLNG base project, it is on record that TSKJ and its numerous subcontractors engaged about 18,000 workers. And their presence mounted enormous pressure on the then available social infrastructure in Bonny and its hinter communities. For instance, house rent took an astronomical rise with as many as 10 persons sharing a room where available. Those who could not afford it made do with the corridors and open football fields of the primary schools in town.
For those who do not know or who may have forgotten so soon, TSKJ was an acronym for the special purpose vehicle (SPV) that delivered the US$1.8 billion LNG facility on Bonny Island. While it existed, the name stood for Technip, Snamprogetti, Kellogg and JGC (Japan Gasoline Company). It was a joint effort between some of the best engineering, procurement and construction (EPC) firms in the world.
Prior to the arrival of NLNG, Bonny people had borne the brunt of Shell’s gas flare and oil export activities, particularly noise from the ceaseless landing and take-off of helicopters. The Island hosts Nigeria’s first and largest crude oil export terminal built and operated by Shell. Tank Farm, as the locals call it, accounts for 35% of the nation’s petroleum exports and was an important target for both federal and rebel forces during the Nigerian Civil War in the late 1960s.
It was, therefore, gladdening to notice that the arrival of NLNG practically upped the ante for Bonny. Schools and pupils in the Kingdom have continued to enjoy donations of desks and textbooks. The gas firm, working in alliance with Shell and ExxonMobil, has since floated a Joint Industries Committee (JIC) to oversee internal road construction and repairs, electricity generation and distribution, and water supply and reticulation, particularly on the mainland.
The LNG firm has also joined in the provision of cargo boats to enhance transportation between Port Harcourt and Bonny. Its multi-million naira micro-credit facility to cooperatives in the Kingdom and elsewhere has been quite commendable. What’s more, the company has since 2004 instituted the NLNG Grand Award Night during which it honours and publicly rewards outstanding accomplishments in Arts and Science from across the country.
Except for the new airport project on the ancient Island, by far the biggest intervention of any oil and gas firm in the life of the Ibanis is the ongoing construction of a N120.6 billion road project from Bodo to Bonny. Not only will it make for an easy connection to the rest of Nigeria, it also has the potential of bringing down the high cost of living on the Island. Already, it has created employment for previously jobless Bonny and other Rivers youths.
Originally planned as a joint project to be funded on equal basis by the federal government and NLNG, work on the 37.9 kilometre road would have been stalled had the latter not acted in good time. Whereas the gas company had since laid out its counterpart fund and with which construction work began, the government had not been forthcoming with its own obligation. It is highly commendable that NLNG has opted to fully finance the project and deduct the extra cost from its tax remittances to the government.
Bintulu had barely operated for 20 years at the time the Bonny delegation arrived. The visiting Ibanis were obviously encouraged by what was on the ground over there. Question is: after more than 20 years of operation with almost 10 times additional investment, can the NLNG facility in Bonny provide the same inspiration to other upcoming LNG projects elsewhere around the world? Methinks the answer is an emphatic yes.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
My Fantasy On A PH Road
I cannot stop trying to imagine what the experience will be like driving on the ever-busy Aba Road in Port Harcourt, especially upon the final completion of the multiple flyover bridges being constructed and expanded on the road.
Honestly, I am conscripted by the urge to write about this premature reverie of mine following the inviting beauty of the already commissioned two new flyovers and the consequent ease of transportation now being witnessed at those sections of the inter-state thoroughfare.
Rivers State Government had on October 18, 2019 awarded a N21 billion contract to Julius Berger Nigeria Plc for the simultaneous construction of flyovers at the Garrison, Rumuokoro and Artillery Junctions located in Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor Local Government Areas. The projects were to be delivered in 16 months with the government reportedly making an upfront payment of 70%.
Governor Nyesom Wike had at the Rebisi Flyover inauguration on November 7, 2020 expressed satisfaction that his administration was beginning to fulfill its promise of building flyover bridges to ease traffic flow at some notoriously chaotic junctions in the state capital, with one already being commissioned four months ahead of deadline.
He praised the German construction firm for working very hard to ensure early delivery of the projects, particularly at a time the COVID-19 pandemic was stalling construction activities elsewhere in Nigeria and across the world. The governor went on to announce a schedule for the official inauguration of the remaining flyovers.
While cutting the tape to commission the 969.4 metre-long dual carriage flyover, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola (SAN), was said to have submitted that the urban regeneration and renewal efforts of the Wike administration would serve to promote peace among residents as well as boost tourism and restore the Garden City status of Port Harcourt.
The Rumuogba 1&2 Flyover was commissioned some days ago by no less a personality than the former Governor of Kano State and ex-Defence Minister, Senator Rabiu Musa Kwankwaso, who was so visibly fascinated by the landmark project that he openly urged his host, Governor Wike, to endeavour to present himself for a higher role in national governance.
The two-time presidential candidate was obviously on the lookout for a tested political administrator who has the capacity to replicate such developmental accomplishments for the greater benefit of the entire nation. And for him, it was almost like eureka!
Barring any further additions, there will soon be eight flyovers on the state’s own stretch of the Port Harcourt–Aba Expressway. They include the flyovers at Isaac Boro Park, Kaduna Street, Rebisi, Rumukalagbor (Waterline Junction), GRA Junction, Rumuola, Rumuogba 1&2, and Eleme Junction. It is doubtful if any other Nigerian state or even African country can boast of this number of flyovers on the same road space!
Before now, any contemplation of a trip from the Isaac Boro Park in Port Harcourt to Eleme, Oyigbo or Aba was like an invitation to migraine. It was almost certain that any such traveller would have to consider the usual traffic hiccups at Garrison, Waterline, GRA, Rumuola, NAF Market Junction in Rumuomasi, Artillery 1&2 Junctions and the ever notorious Rumuokwurusi (Oil Mill) Market on Wednesdays.
To be cramped in any Aba-bound commercial bus while being held up in traffic at almost every one of these intersections is not only time consuming but also very irritating. The experience is hardly any different for occupants of a private car without an air conditioner.
Even on their way back, mostly from Aba, Port Harcourt traders and other frequent travellers are always full of tales of how commercial bus drivers suddenly terminate their journeys at any time (sometimes as late as 10.00pm) anywhere near Oyigbo on observing the slightest indication of a gridlock ahead.
These are extremely discomfiting situations. And in addition to robberies, rapes and kidnappings, they form part of the stories of what people suffer on Aba Road every day, due mainly to avoidable traffic jams.
Having just enjoyed the experience of commuting on both the Eleme Junction and the newly inaugurated Rumuogba 1&2 Flyovers which seem a bit farther apart than the others, I am beginning to imagine that a drive on these Aba Road flyovers may be almost like a roller coaster ride due to their closeness.
For instance, driving to Bori Camp from UTC Junction means that upon one’s descent from the Isaac Boro Flyover at Leventis Motors, the Kaduna Street Flyover is already in sight and waiting to be connected. A descent on the other side of it almost dovetails onto the Rebisi Flyover. And such is the case at Waterline, GRA and Rumuola.
This can only mean that one is literally airborne for the greater part of the trip. And for those who love air travel, the experience would be soothing. I don’t belong here though, but I sure will relish the experience of such undulating ride on this road any day.
What thrills me most in all of this is the night-time glitter of these projects. It’s like a carnival route. Of course, that’s part of their planned aesthetics. Another charm for me is the aerial view of Port Harcourt which they afford. The city sprawls resplendently on both sides of the elevated edifices.
Yet another fascinating feature of the new flyover projects is that their underpasses are well lit and protected with a combination of cement walls and meshed grille, ostensibly to ward off street traders, criminal elements and destructive lunatics. Indeed, the older flyovers in the city had unprotected underneath which encouraged daytime mini-markets and criminal hideouts at night until recently when the government barricaded them. Besides the fencing, some also have their giant pillars now decorated with very attractive murals.
Finally, I have no doubt that, after their commissioning, no normal human being will complete a breath-taking trip on these new flyovers in Port Harcourt (especially at night) without openly or secretly feeling like ‘Wow, Governor Wike!’
By: Ibelema Jumbo
Lest We Forget (Part 1)
A Social Media Activist Iniobiong Umana once wrote; “Remember when the city of Port Harcourt use to be called, “the Garden City”, because of its beauty and cleanliness. All of that is no more today. Port Harcourt is suffocated with urban dirt and the city looks squalid with obnoxious fumes from heaps of refuse everywhere”. My response was quick I said – it is all about growth, it happens to all cities, London, New York, Lagos etc. And I added, that, what we should be discussing is urban renewal measures and expansion.
My intention was not to dismiss his candid observation, but to bring him up to speed with the story of Port Harcourt and its urban logistics. First the name Garden City of Port Harcourt was given to the city before the Civil War. What really made the City Garden City was the fact that the old city, especially Government Reservation areas were well planned, well laid out. Most importantly the city enjoyed the ambience of a Garden or Gardens. Every neighbourhood had well pruned flowers and indeed every home had gardens planted in their front and backyards.
There were well laid out parks and gardens for relaxation in Government reservation areas and city centre. A place cannot be called a Garden if it is squalid and filthy.
Those who planned the city ensured that every building had sanitary lanes in place separating it from another building. Sanitary lanes were made permanent feature of building plans.
The beauty of Port Harcourt was part of its civilization. The city of Port Harcourt was a whiteman’s city which was designed to possess the features of metropolitan London and Liverpool. Surely, the Whiteman built a city for himself. However, he also built for the elite class and the working class.
The city had three areas of Town, G.R.A., then called European quarters, D/Line and expanded into mile One, two, three and Borokiri.
These were also planned with well laid out streets. There was a well supervised urban control structure. The municipal council was very visible, supervising monitoring and enforcing all town planning laws.
The implication is that there was a strong municipal urban governance structure in place, that supervised all aspects of urban logistics.
The city which was built in 1913, has a seaport, Railway, and Airport. It enjoyed the status of a world class city.
The garden sobriquet was a well deserved name, a home of roses and lilies, ornamental trees, and beautiful ambience, clean and welcoming to all.
That was not the city we saw in 1970, through the military era and indeed not the city we see today.
Indeed, it is only a City we dream to have. The Garden City that Gabriel Okara saw in his poems, after the civil war, a “Garden City lumbering out of a bad dream”.
The garden had turned into bushes and roses were overgrown with weeds. This was his poetic depiction of a city that had lost its glory.
What efforts were made to restore the Garden City which many children born either during the war or 1970 did not see?
First, the city began to expand uncontrollably with shanties springing up because of population explosion.
What is today Obio/Akpor became a very large expanded territory of Port Harcourt with satellite towns springing up everywhere.
The then military governor of Rivers State Police Commissioner Oyakhilome during his dispensation thought the planting of flowers alone was what makes a Garden City.
Governor Rotimi Amaechi saw expansion as the sole solution to decongest the city and so came with the concept of Greater Port Harcourt.
Today, Governor Wike who came to the saddle of power with his new Rivers Vision in 2015 has come with the Vision of urban restoration through a radical renewal policy.
He began this well thought out policy with restoration of public buildings to give the city a face lift. A good example is the Port Harcourt Produce House, now restored and called Chief Emmanuel Wonukwuru Aguma House. We also have the former water line building restructured and given to the Health Management Board. So many other buildings scattered all over the city which became derelict have been restored in addition to the construction of new ones.
The entire stretch of Old and New G.R.A., now have well laid out reconstructed streets and drainage. Trans Amadi Industrial Layout and many parts of the city have been renewed with dual carriage highways with illuminating street lights.
Urban renewal is a scheme intended to restore derelict city back to a functional state, according to Iniobong Umana.
This is the city Port Harcourt is returning to. The construction of eight Flyovers on Aba road, Ikwerre Road linking East West road as well, through Rumuokoro serves a dual purpose of renewal and expansion.
With Flyovers you ease traffic grid lock and at the same time expand the city space on the highway. Thus road transportation is expanded to accommodate more city commuters in and out of town.
Flyovers represent the city logistics used to achieve a linkage between the city and satellite towns in the Greater Port Harcourt area and other parts of the now conurbating mega city of Port Harcourt.
This makes a good city expansion plan which is the creation of new living areas within the proximity of the growing city possible. Port Harcourt is now growing into a beautiful mega city with space for sanitation and gardens. Congestion and squalor cannot grow a beautiful Garden but a renewed and expanded city can.
By: Bon Woke
2023: More Polling Units, Please
The Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) is currently conferring with stakeholders in Nigeria’s electoral space to reach a national consensus preparatory to creating more polling units in the country before the 2023 General Elections.
According to the Commission, these stakeholders include the political parties and such apex socio-cultural organisations as Afenifere, Ohaneze Ndigbo, Arewa Consultative Forum (ACF) and the Pan-Niger Delta Forum (PANDEF). Other groups are the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Nigerian Supreme Council For Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and civil society organisations.
While addressing the ACF in Kaduna recently, INEC Chairman, Prof. Mahmoud Yakubu, said that it was no longer feasible and sufficient to use the polling unit network established by the National Electoral Commission (NECON) 25 years ago for the current population of 200 million Nigerians.
“When the polling unit structure was established in 1996, it was projected to serve about 50 million registered voters. However, the number of registered voters for the 1999 general election was 57.93 million.
“This rose to 60.82 million in 2003, 61.56 million in 2007, and 73.52 million in 2011…” He said.
Yakubu further disclosed that the number of registered voters rose to 84.04 million in 2019, after dropping to 68.83 million in 2015, because the Commission embarked on a robust continuous voter registration exercise, in line with the law. He also claimed that every attempt made since 1996 to recreate the polling unit structure had failed owing to several reasons.
It could be recalled that INEC had in 2014 planned to create 30,000 extra polling units but was heavily criticised mainly on the fear that it would end up engaging in a disproportional distribution of such polling units in a manner that foists dominance of one region of Nigeria over the others for political advantage as has already become the case with states and local governments creation.
The present stakeholder engagement seems to follow INEC’s promise in September 2018 to create new polling units after the 2019 General Elections, following its receipt of 3,789 requests nationwide for the exercise back then.
The varsity don who was recently sworn in for a second tenure as the nation’s electoral umpire-in-chief, revealed that his Commission is now in receipt of a total of 5,747 requests from communities and groups across the country but would prefer to convert the existing 57,023 Voting Points and Voting Point Settlements to polling units. He claimed that this decision was less likely to attract serious criticisms from major stakeholders and the general public.
INEC’s proposal to the stakeholders is contained in its document entitled “The State Of Voter Access To Polling Units In Nigeria”. It is based on enhancing access to polling units and for which the Commission has opted to ensure three things: First, adequacy of polling units as prescribed under Section 42 of the Electoral Act of 2010 (as amended); second, location of polling units in places that are considered conducive for voters to participate freely in the electoral process and ensure that the environment at specific units remained conducive to positive voter experiences; and third, maintaining adequate safety and security of voters, especially in the context of the prevailing COVID-19 pandemic.
In other words, INEC is aiming to ease access of voters to their ballot boxes by decongesting overcrowded polling units; ensuring even distribution of voters in order to achieve 500 voters per unit; locating polling units more effectively within trekking distance of voters given that there is usually restriction of movement on Election Day; relocating polling units from private properties and other unsuitable places to public buildings and neutral grounds; and creating polling units for new settlements not serviced by the existing ones.
Much as one agrees with INEC that time is long overdue to add more polling units to the nation’s electoral process, the body must also endeavour to tread carefully. After all, it is always advised for the mouth with an aching tooth to chew with caution. Our electoral institutions had, in the past, goofed wantonly and most irreversibly. So, going forward, every one of their intentions has become suspect.
Having so warned let me also draw attention to another interesting aspect of the ongoing INEC consultation with stakeholders. The electoral body has announced its new resolve to scrap the situation of polling units in private properties, palaces, political party offices, disputed properties, government houses and such inaccessible locations as forests and shrines. Indeed, it irks me to think that this kind of aberration has been tolerated in the country for close to three decades.
My concern here is that the stakeholder groups INEC is engaging with are mostly membered by beneficiaries of this anomalous system of situating polling units. Most of our top politicians, retired military chiefs, royal fathers, religious leaders, opinion leaders and captains of industry are guilty of this. Was the strongman of Ibadan politics not rumoured to have had so many polling units in his compound while he lived? It will, therefore, be a herculean task for Yakubu and his commissioners to extract a tacit nod from these people on this particular matter.
By the way, why would INEC list government house polling units among those to be relocated? Are such places no longer regarded as public buildings? Well, except if the Commission is viewing it from the angle of easy accessibility; else one would have argued that the exercise is needless since several First Indigenes had been ousted from office even after doctoring the outcome of proceedings at such polling locations.
Lastly, like the INEC boss warned at the Kaduna confab, millions of eligible Nigerian voters may not exercise their electoral franchise in 2023 if the existing number of polling units is not expanded and restructured now.
By: Ibelema Jumbo
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