By Monima Daminabo

Since Monday last week, routine traffic at Eleme in Rivers State and along the strategic East West Road, had been disrupted by protesting youths of Ogoni extraction. Their grouses comprise the grossly deplorable state of the highway, along with the interminable filibustering by the Federal government in rehabilitating the highway, after several of its promises failed to materialize.

Admittedly, until the launch of their protest, traffic along that section had been hellish as the gridlock there often kept commuters in their vehicles for hours on end. This is not to mention that deaths occur on the road on a daily basis, through the incessant occurrence of accidents. The situation also often saw impatient drivers crashing through adjoining precincts as alternative routes which often led them to trespass through private property and homesteads, to the discomfort of the locals.

The ongoing protest however took matters to a new level, as the aggrieved youths blocked the road with assorted obstacles including vehicles, which completely terminated all forms of vehicular movement across the location.  As it is, all workers and visitors to the numerous establishments in that location are forced by the protest to trek to their destinations, as no vehicular movement is allowed. However smart drivers who are travelling to neighbouring Akwa Ibom State are rerouting through Abia State.

According to the protesting youth who so far have avoided any form of violence as their mission is not disruptive, but simply to call the Federal government to deliver on its numerous promises, they will only backtrack on their action when and if a contractor is mobilised to the site by the government, to commence rehabilitation operations. This they argue is informed by the fact that a contract for the rehabilitation of the road had long been awarded with nothing to show for such.

It is therefore their expectation that where the federal government may be sleeping on its duty to drive the rehabilitation of the road, their protest will serve as a wakeup call on the former to do the needful.

A striking angle to this protest is that it may hardly be an anomic development that was launched by any whimsical tendency, but rather an organised enterprise that may be enjoying the endorsement of sundry factors beyond the actual protesting youths.

Not a few Nigerians are convinced that endorsement and sponsorship could have come from any of the several public and private establishments which are located there, and have been fatigued by the prolonged dilapidated state of the road, with their plight not assuaged by the complacence and negligence of government to address the challenge.

For instance, the protest has been spiced with several comic twists that turned it into a rally of sorts, by relaxing the attendant tension. The comic twists include the unexpected show of solidarity by show biz personalities, company representatives as well as even the Chairman of the Eleme Local Government Area Obarillormatte Ollor, who pleaded with them to maintain a civil ambience in the exercise. Meanwhile, several drivers enroute neigbouring Akwa Ibom State, are taking the alternative route through Abia State to their destination.

The East West highway which links the South South states of Edo, Delta, Bayelsa Rivers and Akwa Ibom (just short of Cross River) had suffered serial mistreatment which belie its strategic significance not only to the economy of the Rivers State. With respect to its strategic significance, it constitutes the very jugular vein of the oil and gas sector of the country, as a highway that spans the country’s oil and gas zone. This condition renders it the most trafficked road in the country, as it undergoes daily, the humongous grind from the movement of heavy equipment that service the oil and gas operations.

For the purpose of clarification, while the road serves as the arterial highway to the heart of the oil and gas sector, the Eleme section under consideration leads to a complement of strategic public and private establishments that drive the Nigerian economy. For instance the Eleme sector hosts among other establishments, two ocean going wharfs namely the Light Ocean Terminal and the Deep Ocean Terminal all in Onne, the National Fertlizer Company of Nigeria (NAFCON), now called Notore Chemicals Limited, the Eleme Petroleum Refinery which is due for a turn-around exercise, Indorama Petrochemicals (formerly Eleme Petrochemicals, the export Free Zone at Onne with dozens of companies as well as a Naval Base.

It is against the negative impact on these victimised establishments and by extension the entire country, through the dilapidated state of the East West road that the protest by the youth along the road assumes an altruistic connotation and demands a fresh disposition by the federal government to the crisis.

Their protest is simply an amplification of public take on the situation, and should be seen so by the government. The situation demands urgent intervention by the Federal government as the state of the road constitutes a threat to the nation’s economy, on the ground that its further deterioration may take a toll that is better avoided.

For if the road finally gives way due to prolonged apathy of the government, the reverberation will not be confined to the locality. Every Nigerian may be touched in one way or the other.

Culled from Daily Trust Newspaper

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