The Guardian of Sunday, 06 June 2010 00:00 By Kelvin Ebiri,
Ogba/Egbema/Ndoni local government area of Rivers State prides itself as the highest oil and gas producing council in Nigeria, but its neglected headquarters, Omoku, is literally a dying town.
Omoku, which is endowed with a vast and valuable extractive resource deposit consisting of forestry, petroleum, natural gas and minerals, remains backward in terms of infrastructural development in the Niger Delta.
Indicators that this once flourishing and promising town is in decline are evident. All the major and inner city roads are not motorable, the town lacks potable water, electricity is epileptic, there are no drainage system and when it rained two Sundays ago, over 400 houses were flooded, with properties worth millions of Naira destroyed.
When The Guardian visited Omoku, it was discovered that one major infrastructural challenge facing the community, which is presumably the second largest town in the state, is the dearth of good roads and a central drainage that could channel rain water to the river.
The few gutters in the community constructed under the auspices of Nigeria Agip Oil Company (NAOC), which also supplies Omoku with electricity, are shallow and presently littered with sand and dirt.
Standing beside a deep crater at Erema Street, Azubuike Olowu lamented that several businesses like pubs, grocery stores, electrical and electronic shops, hair dressing saloons, cybercafés, provision stores and others along the street have closed down over the years due to the deplorable road.
“Omoku has gone backwards in the last eight years. The government has forgotten about us and we are left to our fate in spite of our contribution to the wellbeing of Rivers and Nigeria in general. We are tired of being ignored,” he lamented.
Similarly, Egbirika Paulinus Ifeanyi, who described Erema Street as an eyesore, submitted that the road has been begging for urgent attention for a long time. He decried the hardship experienced by residents of the area as unpardonable owing to the fact that they are citizens of the country, who deserve not to be treated as political and social orphans in their own state.
“Those of us who live along Erema Street are faced with a lot of hardship. It is difficult for us to drive into our houses. This road is not passable and if there is a heavy downpour, everywhere will be flooded. It is just an eyesore. It is so sad that this community that contributes to the economic sustenance of Nigeria, could be neglected this way,” said Ifeanyi.
A medical laboratory scientist, who lives in the area, explained that the commencement of the raining season, which often results in flooding, is a stark reminder of the eyesore Omoku has turned into.
He contended that the deplorable condition of roads in the town is not what an oil company can handle. He described as inhuman a situation whereby residents of a major oil and gas producing community, whose resources sustain the country and yet still pay their taxes to state and federal governments, are despicably denied basic infrastructure.
Efforts by The Guardian to get the reaction of the state Commissioner for Works, Dakuku Peterside, proved abortive. The Environment Commissioner, Kingsley Chinda, after repeated calls, in a text message replied that he was in a state executive council meeting.
The last time Omoku experienced heavy downpour, over 400 houses were flooded. And the primary cause of the avoidable situation is lack of good roads with gutters flowing into a central drainage system.
Kelvin Oreke Okechukwu, who resides at Ndoni Street, was sleeping at about 2a.m on that fateful Sunday when suddenly rainwater forced its way into his room. He was jolted out of sleep when his drenched mattress became too cold and uncomfortable for him.
“My electronics were all destroyed, as you can see, I am laying block in my door to prevent further water from entering my room. We are appealing to the state government to construct gutter for us. We have never experienced this kind of flooding before. That night, we all slept outside till morning.”
This pathetic situation was also experienced by Mrs. Victoria Ikoro, at Umu-Enyike Street, off Sambo Street. She explained that the saturated water, which flowed into her living room destroyed rugs, books, fridge and other valuables.
Ikoro said attempts by the community to persuade intervention agency like the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and even the state government to improve the condition of the internal roads in Omoku have not yielded any positive effort.
For Sir Dickson Ordu, the Community Development Committee (CDC) chairman for Omoku central communities, the neglect of the town, which is where the late Professor Claudus Ake hails from, is painful to describe. He said the reason residents of the community are increasingly feeling like a subjugated class in their own state is that Omoku has not been appreciated by government for its 207 oil and gas wells spread across the council.
“We have been crying and yet nobody cares about us. We have never destroyed oil and gas installation. We have no militants here. While the Niger Delta was in turmoil, our area had been peaceful. Oil and gas have been flowing uninterrupted. Maybe because we did not resort to arms struggle, that is why we are being undermined.”
He explained that save for NAOC’s benevolent intervention; Omoku would have been classified as a medieval town. According to him, “it is the oil company that has enhanced the little development that can be seen here.”