Kilometer 6+500, Section 3A of the East-West road is the gateway into Port Harcourt city from the Rivers South East and parts of Rivers East senatorial districts. This Eleme section of the East-West road provides the main access to Nigeria’s garden city and the oil and gas headquarters from those parts of Rivers State except through the waterway. The affected communities include Eleme, Ogoni, Andoni, Opobo, Nkoro, Okrika, Oyigbo, and Bonny totaling 10 LGAs out of the 23 LGAs that make up the New Rivers State and parts of Obio Akpor particularly, Elelenwo.
The federal government energy policy encourages energy shift from crude oil and its products to gas. Interestingly, the ongoing Bodo-Bonny road was designed to link Bonny Deep Sea Port and enable the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas Company, NLNG to have access to the domestic and industrial markets within the country through roads, thereby, lowering the cost of transportation and making their products – LNG and LPG more affordable and accessible to Nigerians. Transporting products by sea exposes personnel to the security challenge of sea pirates and mishaps. The use of LNG and LPG as fuels will reduce the emission of greenhouse gases in the environment and cut down dependence on wood and crude oil products for heating, transportation and electricity needs. Products from LNG plants are cheaper than those from the refinery due to cost of production. The road at completion connects to the celebrated Ogoni, Andoni and Opobo unity and Sapenwa – Bori roads and the ongoing Bori – Kono road being built by the administration of His Excellency, Chief Barr. Nyesom Ezenwo Wike. All of these are like the tributaries of a sea draining into a water course, empty into the Eleme section of the East-West road. This same section of the East-West road also provides an access to the Oyigbo people to Port Harcourt through the Alesa-Agbonchia-Oyigbo road initiated, designed and built to completion by Gov. Wike which serves as an alternative route to the Aba-Port Harcourt Expressway.
The deplorable status of the Eleme section of the East-West road remains a nightmare to voyagers travelling to and from Akwa Ibom and Cross River States. Through this way, those travelling to Abia, Bayelsa, Delta and other states in Nigeria also depend on this route. This was why the Gov. Wike on assumption of office in 2015 in the midst of recession mobilised scarce resources and performed remedial work on the road. Other intervention measures include the dualistion of Elelenwo – Akpajo road, the dualisation of Elelenwo – Slaughter road and the Elelenwo – Odili road whose main root is the Eleme section of the East – West road. Regrettably, this is not enough.
Mindful of the fact that Eleme land plays host to national and international companies such as Port Harcourt Refining Company which operates the first and fourth refineries in the country, a subsidiary of the NNPC, National Fertilizer Company of Nigeria, NAFCON now privatized and expanded into Notore Chemical Company PLC and Notore Oil and Gas Free Zone, Indorama Eleme Petrochemical Company, Indorama Fertilizer Plant, Onne Sea Port which comprises of Federal Lighter and Federal Ocean Terminals, International Institute of Tropical Africa, Onne Campus of the Rivers State University, Nigeria Naval College, Onura Onne, Daewoo Engineering and Construction, Ebubu and other companies totaling about four hundred (400) which made such remedial measure to be expedient.
Again, cautious about tourists attractions at Eleme and Oyigbo such as the Afam Power Plants, Rivers State Cassava Processing Plant as well those to the ancient towns of Bonny, Opobo, and Okrika Island; and the recreational opportunities at Ken Saro-Wiwa Park, Bane, Songhai Farm, Tai and National Youth Service Corps, NYSC permanent orientation camp, Nonwa, Police Training College, Nonwa, Ken Saro-Wiwa Polytechnic, Bori and Gas Companies at Okrika which rely on the road for the conveyance of human, vehicular and cargoes movement, it is no doubt that the road records millions of users daily. For instance, cargoes to and from the Onne Seaport, petroleum products from the two oil refineries, fertilizers from the two fertilizer plants in Eleme LGA among several others cannot do without the use of that road.
At a time when the rail infrastructure in that part of the country has collapsed or does not exist, coupled with years of industrial expansion, vehicular traffic on the road has increased tremendously. Another addition is the large farm produce from the areas listed which must be transported from the farms in the rural or semi-urban areas to the city.
Pained by the challenges faced by the people daily in which several manhours are lost, loss of assets such as petroleum products, cargo containers and trailers which slide into the Aleto river on the failed Mmubete bride, Aleto and the countless potholes that have decorated the road like the stars in the sky, the Rivers State Government had conceived an idea of taking up the responsibility of remodeling and rebuilding the road since she is not averse to spending Rivers money on projects which have direct impact on Rivers people. However, she was constrained by the bottlenecks associated with being reimbursed as seen in the recent approval of
N79 billion approved by the federal government. Many times, trailers, trucks and other freight transporters are seen collapsed and often into the river and on innocent road users which led to death. The resultant effect is the loss of investment and most regrettably the loss of lives of bread winners and benefactors to the dependence and invalids. Hence, Rivers State government went on to dualise the Akpajo – Elelenwo – Rumukrushi road and Elelenwo – Woji road but these were not enough.
In successive months, the Mmubete Bridge at Aleto, in Eleme LGA, the only bridge on that section of the road has suffered different degrees of subsidence and the last one was on 17th June 18, 2021. That section of the East-West road has completely failed and despite the speculations that the road has been remodeled and expanded to be three lanes each and with a flyover at Akpajo, Refinery and Trailer Park junctions, the federal government is yet to take action. A situation that has angered the Eleme youth who intercepted the minister of Niger Delta ministry, Sen. Akpabio in the rain under whose ministry the road is scheduled to be awarded for rebuilding but to no avail.
Daily, commuters suffer untold hardship while plying the road. Many times we have seen containers crashed into the river by the bridge. We have seen containers crashed from trucks upon men and women as they cry to death helplessly. The other day, a pregnant lady en route to a tertiary hospital at Port Harcourt, was delivered of a baby in a car because he could not travel across the traffic at the refinery junction Alesa. Many times, we people had slept on the road due to traffic which resulted in loss of man hour and various categories of injuries.
Having waited for the federal government and even the issuing of threats to peaceful mass action to prompt her the rebuild the road, amidst several remedial works to salvage the situation, the Rivers State Governor during the signing of the contract papers for the award of the GRA Junction Flyover in Port Harcourt on Friday, August 14, 2020 announced its desire to build Woji-Aleto-Alesa road which will serve as an additional by-pass to the East-West road. It was explained that at the completion of the road, travel time from Okrika will be reduced to ten minutes from the regular four to twelve hours plus on a traffic day without going through the East-West road and of course, the cost of transportation. It will serve as an alternative route to the Onne Sea Port, Indorama and the Port Harcourt Refinery and have a far reaching strategic advantage in the short, medium and long term. As the road construction goes on hundreds of Rivers people would be engaged and employed throughout the duration of the project. The completion of the road will result in a reduction of traffic experienced at the Akpajo junction of the East-West road and travel time to Ogoni, Okrika, Opobo, Nkoro and Oyigbo as well as travelers in and out of that section.
On 19th August 2020, Paulinus Nsirim, Rivers commissioner for information and communications had announced the road was awarded at the sum of Nine Billion, Five Hundred and Ninety-Nine Million, Three Hundred and Ninety-Four Thousand, Seven Hundred and Twenty–Five Kobo and to be executed by Rafoul Nigeria Limited. At the construction of the road, Port Harcourt city would be expanded as the road cuts across a large expanse of virgin land which would be utilized for industrial and estate development and further boost the revenue generation in the state as regards to rents/leases and of course taxes
Another advantage of the road is its potential to minimize rural – urban drift which is a common trend in Nigeria as access to basic infrastructure such as roads makes it convenient to remain in the rural areas since there is no threat to accessing the city when the need arises. Hence, farmers will safely remain in the communities to farm whose produce can easily be transported to urban markets where they are largely needed.
This road also makes it easier for the security agents to move freely to police the environment, thereby securing life and investment in the affected areas.
The road whose construction has commenced following the payment of compensation to affected landowners in line with the land use act begins at 400 meters from the existing Woji Bridge and then 200 meter of five span bridges across the creek and moves into the virgin forest up to Aleto and Alesa communities, Eleme LGA to terminate at the Refinery. The road is 6.5 kilometers long and is a dual carriage. It will have asphaltic pavement concrete covering about 13 kilometers and the total width is about 20 meters, median inclusive. Both sides of the road will also have walkways of 1.5 meters each and drains of 1.2 by 0.5 meters spanning across the entire length of the road would be of immense socio-economic value to the State as it will guarantee the supply of petroleum products, fertilizers, transfer of cargoes from the seaport, farm produce among others. In the meantime, the construction period of the road provides Rivers people, Nigerians and foreign personnel of Rafoul Nigeria employment as stipulated by the constitution on labour and the local content. In addition to this direct labour, its construction would come with an indirect engagement of indirect labour with a multiplier effect.
By Samuel O. Onungwe