Tuesday, July 27, 2021 3:24 pm
Okafor Ofiebor/Port Harcourt
Economic and social activities have remained grounded at Eleme section of the East-West road as protests over the poor state of the expressway that linked the South-south with the Southwest party of the country by thousands of youths from Ogoni communities in Rivers State entered its second day.
The peaceful protest started at about 5 am on Monday, July 26, with thousands of youths blocking the expressway and preventing movement of motorists to express their anger against the very poor condition of the Eleme section of the East-West Road.
The protesters had marched to the refinery junction and Akpajo segments of the road where they used heavy duty trucks to block expressway to stop movement of traffic.
Our Correspondent who has been monitoring the situation reports that many businesses, multinational oil companies located in that segment of the road could not open for business as they could not get access to their premises.
Some were also afraid of opening their business premises out of fear that the huge number of protesters many become uncontrollable.
Many residents of the area also joined the protesters in solidarity.
Speaking to journalists, an Ogoni human rights activist, Celestine Akpobari, who is also one of the leaders of the protesters and an APC Chieftain, decried the neglect of the road by Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs under the leadership of Senator Godswill Akpabio
He lamented that Akpabio who wrote to the federal government that the East-West road should be under the jurisdiction of his Ministry has refused to work on the road.
On the duration of the protest Akpobari said: “It is going to last as long as the federal government refuses to do something concrete on the road and ontractors fail return to site
” This is the only major road connecting Eleme, Andoni, Opobo Nkoro,Tai,Khana and Gokana that’s Ogoni LGA’s and Akwa-Ibom and Cross States. The revenue the federal government is using in developing network of roads in other parts of the country is gotten from here. Do we have to continue to beg to be given the button on our shirts?”
He warned that that the issue of the East-West road should not be linked to partisan politics:”When an issue concerns Ogoni struggle, we don’t remember political parties. Effect of the bad road does not discriminate between APC or PDP.
“We have volunteers who will bring canopies, water, goats etc which we slaughter eat on the road. It has turned to a carnival, Akpobari said.”
As expected, few commercial motorcyclists and commercial drivers who are daring enough to wriggle through the blockade are charging desperate commuters high fares.
The youths who blocked the road at the refinery junction carried posters and placards with different inscriptions conveying their displeasure with the condition of the expressway.
Some inscriptions on their banners and placards read “If you love Eleme, Fix our road”, “Eleme deserves Good roads”, “INDORAMA give Eleme light or leave Eleme Land”, “Privatise NNPC,” among others.
They blocked both lanes of the road, but the impact could not deter passer-by much as they had no option than to trek through.
Also some of the youths take on the job of ensuring that there is no breakdown of law and order as they were patrolling hot spots along the express to ensure that crisis did not erupt.
Commuters had been agitated over the deplorable condition of the road and had made several appeals to the federal and state governments as well as the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs to fix the road without any positive response over the years.
There have been occasional assurances by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, who said apart from fixing the road, his Ministry will build flyovers at Akpajo, Refinery Junction and Trailer Park intersections to ease flow of traffic.
Also, the Chairman of Eleme Local Government, Obariollomate Ollor, had on assumption of office last month threatened to block the road if the Ministry of Niger Delta failed to mobilise contractor for the repair of the badly dilapidated sections within 14 days.
Also, a group of Ogoni activists issued a similar ultimatum to the Federal Government to fix the road or face an unprecedented protests.
But the Federal Government did not respond to the threats and on Monday, the youths came out and blocked the road.
In solidarity with the protesters, Ollor was at the Refinery Junction on Monday where he addressed the crowd with huge of protesters who hailed him.
Ollor commended the protesters for their peaceful conduct, reminding them that it is their right to call their government to question when things are not done the way it should.
He enjoined them to remain peaceful but wondered why the trunk A Federal road that is used in ferrying goods and services worth billions daily could be so neglected despite appeals for urgent repairs.
Eleme section of the East-West road connects about 300 multinational concerns in Oil and Gas free Zone OGZA, Port Harcourt Refineries, Indorama Petrochemical and Fertilizer Company, Onne Ports Authority,the two Port Harcourt Refineries and the Notore Chemicals Company, NNPC, among others.
Besides being the only major road connecting, Andoni, Opobo Nkoro,Eleme,Tai,Khana, Gokana Local Government Areas in Rivers State, it also links Rivers State with Akwa-Ibom, Cross Rivers.
Solidarity messages have been pouring in from stakeholders and road users to the protesters.
Kennedy Friday, an aide to Senator Magnus Abe and former Senator representing Rivers South East who is also an Ogoni “I stand in solidarity with my Ogoni people as they engage in massive non-violent direct action to prick the conscience of the whole country with the protests on the deplorable state of the East-West Road, Eleme Junction to Onne junction.
“Perhaps, it has become the lot of the Ogoni people—and we are already used to it—that we do not get anything fundamental from the government on the platter of gold. We must always first struggle and fight before anything good comes to us.
“We accept that reality with equanimity, but also with resoluteness and determination, and with boldness and bravery to fight for our right in order to bequeath a better Ogoni for the generation to come after us.
“As the immortal of our people, the ever-living Ken Saro Wiwa said, we will fight for our rights fearlessly and non-violently and we shall win!
“The story of the Eleme Junction—Onne Junction of the East-West Road is yet another confirmation of the benumbing insensitivity of government and the sheer contempt for our people.
“That a stretch of road housing over 100 billion Dollars of the Federal Government investments, and from which the government makes billions of Dollars every month, could be so neglected to the extent that it has become a death trap on which lives are scarified every single day is a story of what the Nigerian Government can do to the weak and disadvantaged.
“But as Ken Saro Wiwa prophetically declared decades ago, any government which can do to the weak and disadvantaged what the Nigerian Government is doing to the Ogoni people loses its claim to independence and freedom from outside domination.
“I stand in solidarity with my people and I am there with you guys in the spirit even though it is physically impossible for me at this time.
“My people, do remember that history and God are on your side!”
Our Correspondent also reports that residents of Eleme and environs have vowed that they are ready to bear the immediate inconveniences of the shutdown of the road as long as the federal government refuses to do heed calls for the repair of the road.