It is an unprecedented feat. A road to Ekeremor Local Government Area, Bayelsa State, after 40 years of waiting in traumatic vain, is worth the celebration. In fact, Governor Seriake Dickson, rode to Ekeremor on Saturday last week. He is the first person in history to have accessed the local government area by land.
Dickson could be considered for the Guinness Book of Records. He has done what many politicians in Bayelsa, who occupied a similar position and even higher privileged state and national offices before him failed to do for the people of Bayelsa. It was a moment of inexplicable joy. People residing along the Sagbama-Ekeremor Road saw vehicles drive into their communities for the first time.
Though the project has not been completed, bulldozing the swampy mangrove forest to create a road and sand-filling it from Toru-Orua, where the asphalt base has so far terminated, to Aleibiri in Ekeremor, gives an indication that the road which targets Ekeremor Town in the first phase, will soon be completed for the usage of all kinds of vehicles.
Significance of the road
The Sagbama-Ekeremor Road is one of the three senatorial roads in the state. It is designed to connect all the communities in the Bayelsa West Senatorial District. Other big ticket senatorial road projects in the state are Yenagoa-Oporoma-Koluama Road to link the Central Senatorial District and Ogbia-Nembe-Brass Road for the East Senatorial District. All of them are conceived and designed to link the state capital and all communities to the sea, where the wealth of the state is believed to be domiciled.
The main objective of the Sagbama-Ekekremor project is to hit Agge, a riverine community that lies on the fringes of the Atlantic Ocean. It is in Agge that the government has proposed to establish the deep seaport project. From the inception of his administration in 2012, Dickson has continued to emphasise the importance of linking Bayelsa to the sea through three flanks, the three senatorial roads.
In fact, the Sagbama-Ekeremor road project has been on the drawing board since 1979. Late former political leader, Chief Melford Okilo, mounted pressure on the Federal Government to construct the road. But he could not live to see any significant work done on the project.
In 1993, the Oil Minerals Producing and Development Commission (OMPADEC), which metamorphosed into the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) awarded the road project valued then at N888m. The commission reportedly paid 50 per cent of the money to a contractor, who fled with the money.
The project, which was inherited by NDDC sat in limbo, remained in its abandoned state throughout the administrations of late Chief Diepreye Alamieyeiseigha, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan, who later relocated to the Presidency and Chief Timipre Sylva. People were miffed that former President Jonathan showed no interest in the three senatorial roads including the Sagbama-Ekeremor until he was booted out of office.
Dickson, however, toed a different path. He remained adamant that the three senatorial roads were essential ingredients to the development of the state. Dickson was the brains behind the eventual completion of the Ogbia-Nembe Road in the eastern flank of the state.
The Ogbia-Nembe road, a joint project of NDDC and the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) was abandoned by the contractor until Dickson gave the firm N3bn cheque to return to site. He has also not abandoned the Yenagoa-Oporoma-Koluama road in the central flank. In fact, the central senatorial road has been constructed up to Igebiri and sand-filled close to Oporoma.
But the governor has vigorously pursued the completion of the Sagbama-Ekeremor road in his Western Senatorial District. After taking over the project from NDDC, he first constructed the road to Toru-Orua, his hometown in Sagbama. All kinds of vehicles can now drive to Toru-Orua, a community that was hitherto only accessible through water.
Sand-filling of the road, which is about 100km has been done up to Aleibiri, a community in Ekeremor. Special vehicles with capacity to maneuver sand can now be driven to Aleibiri. The governor and his entourage used such special vehicles like Hilux vans to inspect the project up to its terminal point.
The Sagbama-Ekeremor road was awarded at the cost of N30bn to both Dantata-Sawoe and Setraco?. The terrain is the most difficult as it cuts across mangrove forest, rivers, rivulets and swamps. There are two major bridges to be constructed from Aleibiri to Ekeremor main town which is the section of the road project handled by Setraco.
There is no gainsaying the importance of the road to the communities in Ekeremor. The local government area can only be accessed by water. To cut down on the number of hours it takes to get to Ekeremor by water transport, some persons halve the journey by road through Bomadi in Delta State and complete the rest by water. Water transport is generally replete with dangers following the activities of sea robbers, Pirates, kidnappers and other maritime criminals.
Little wonder, the communities were thrown into jubilation when they saw the vehicles of the governor and his entourage. The people of Angalabiri, Ofoni, Ayamasa and Aleibiri trooped out en masse to give Dickson a rousing welcome.
Excited communities linked by the Sagbama-Ekeremor road such as Angalabiri, Ofoni, Ayamasa and Aleibiri in Sagbama and Ekeremor local government areas, came out en masse to cheer the governor and his entourage. Women wore their best wrappers and blouses. They sang and danced various renditions of Ijaw songs.
Children rushed out in their numbers to behold line of endless vehicles that came into their communities. Community leaders, elders, Chiefs and their traditional rulers floated red-carpet receptions for Dickson. At each community, residents received their governor and gave him gifts. He is their hero.
The people of Alaebiri were particularly happy. To them, the governor had fulfilled one of the promises he made to them when he visited their community by water during the last electioneering. The governor graciously told them that next time he would come to their community, it would be by road.
Excited Dickson addressed the communities in Ijaw dialect. He promised to fully complete the road in December 2018. He thanked the people for their reception and show of love. He said the road project was part of the fulfillment of his campaign promise in 2012.
He said it was one of the three Senatorial road projects he promised to deliver in order to open up the state from three flanks. He assured them that ?by December all manner of vehicles would travel along the road. Dickson directed the Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure to make his promise a reality saying he would be coming back during the yuletide season.
He said the need to connect communities in the state to the capital Yenagoa necessitated the construction of the three senatorial roads. He assured them of the commitment of his government to improve on their living conditions, adding that the few communities around the area that were yet to be connected to the national grid would soon be hooked up.
Dickson said: “This road is very beneficial not just to this local government or this senatorial district, it is very important to this state. It is important to the Ijaw nation, the Niger Delta and to Nigeria because all the communities across the other side of the River is Delta State as you all know.
“So, this road connects so many communities and peoples cutting across the local government. It is important so, I want to get it delivered before the end of my tenure.
Dickson was accompanied on the tour by some ?eminent personalities including the former Deputy Governor of Sokoto State, Murktar Shagari, who also expressed surprise at the boldness of the governor to construct the road in a difficult terrain.
He said even though it was obvious recession slowed ?down the work, the governor must be given kudos for continuing with it even with the persistent economic hardship in the country.
Shagari said: “When the people of Bayelsa have a person that is completely selfless, that believes in development and opening up the Niger Delta area to the world, they should count themselves fortunate”.
The people believe that the road when completed would fast-track development and increase economic activities in their areas. They vowed to continue supporting Dickson and his administration for transforming and developing their areas. Most of them said they would never forget the governor.
The Spokesman for the Aleibiri Federated Communities said since 1979 during the second republic under Chief Melford Okilo that the road was conceived, no administration was able to execute it.
He said: “It is in this context that when in 2012 you came on board and announced the take over of the project and your desire to go all out to construct the road, not many thought that it would ever see the light of the day.
“Today, you have shamed the doubting Thomas, the cynics, the political jabbers and all those who have over the years played politics with this critical economic road. We lack words to appreciate you for what you have done for us as a people. You have wiped away our tears, you have made us feel that we are part of this country”.
Indeed, Dickson has given politicians in the state especially the ones from the western part of Bayelsa a run for their money. Most of them, occupied positions of authorities but added no value to the development of the state.
The Minister of State for Agriculture, Senator Heineken Lokpobiri, is among the prominent politicians from Ekeremor. Many people believe that Lokpobiri, a former speaker and two-time senator, may lose his political relevance if he for the first time drive to his community on a road built by Dickson, his avowed political enemy. The governor is fast rising to becoming an indisputable political leader, a rallying point to the people.
Though some persons accuse Dickson of paying much attention to his senatorial district, others reply them by citing examples of projects including road infrastructure executed by the governor in areas other than his senatorial district.
Besides, they argued that if former President Goodluck Jonathan had used his position as a deputy governor, governor, Vice-President and President to attend to the infrastructural needs of his Eastern Senatorial District, that area would have reduced the burden of governing and developing Bayelsa.
Dickson’s efforts have attracted the admiration and commendations from unusual quarters. A chieftain of the All Progressives Congress (APC) Tokpo Coronation, praised the governor saying he was doing well in the area of road construction.
He said: “Much as we see all the faults of governor Dickson and criticise him as l also do, we should be bold and objective enough to encourage him where he is trying.
Take it or leave it, Dickson is doing relatively well in the area of road construction, linking the communities in the Sagbama/Ekeremor axis. You may say he is doing it only for his area, yes, but if every past governor had done same, Southern Ijaw, Nembe-Brass, Ogbia and others would since have been linked by roads.
“There is nothing that brings physical development to a place like connecting them with roads to the metropolitan centres. The next is electricity.
“Thank you Dickson for giving hope to the communities in Sagbama and Ekeremor local government areas of driving to Yenagoa by road, thereby avoiding the scourge of sea piracy and other maritime crimes.
“Most of those communities now being linked by road didn’t hope to see motorable roads in their communities in their life time. Some of the old men and women may have seen cars for the first time in their lives”.