The Tragedy In Rivers: A Missed Opportunity For Akpabio To Intervene

By Christie Oby Ndukwe

After a period of relative silence, I am compelled to address the recent tragedy that unfolded in Rivers State, prompting me to speak out once again.

During my online vigil with a particular church, I came across a distressing video on WhatsApp. In the video, a young man, his voice filled with pain and desperation, called out to the Governor of the State for help as vehicles, both commercial and private, went up in flames.

The incident occurred around 8:45 pm on a Friday, leaving behind a scene of devastation – charred remains of people, vehicles, and goods. Tragically, more than five individuals, including a pregnant woman, lost their lives in the blaze. Over 100 vehicles were consumed by fire, with many others sustaining injuries and requiring hospitalization. The scale of the loss is truly staggering.

Among the victims were individuals on their way to or from funerals, social gatherings, or work, as well as those eagerly anticipating payment for goods and services. Some may have narrowly avoided the tragedy if they had listened to their instincts and chosen not to embark on that ill-fated journey.

This was an unforeseen accident, yet one that could have been prevented. The drivers of the two utility vehicles involved had the opportunity to exercise patience and avert the catastrophe. It is regrettable that such a tragedy occurred, especially given the potential for intervention that was missed.

As we mourn the lives lost and the extensive damage caused, it is a stark reminder of the importance of vigilance and responsible behavior on the roads. Let us strive to prevent such senseless loss in the future.

While everyone blames the drivers of the truck ladened with PMS and the one that carried cows from the North, many have not asked why the road that leads in and out of the soon-to-be ready NNPC Port Harcourt Refinery; Eleme Petrochemicals and Indorama Company should be in such a deplorable state.

What about the Onne Sea Port even though it’s yet to operate at maximum capacity? A Trunk, a road popularly known as “East-West” Road in the oil and gas rich Niger Delta region. Yes, it’s the same road that leads to the Bonny-Bodo road, to the commercial city of Bonny that houses the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas company. It’s the shortest route to Akwa Ibom and Cross River States through Rivers State. This is the road that has been left yearning for completion since the beginning of Democracy in 1999. The road links the nine South South States in the Niger Delta which produces oil and gas, the mainstay of the Nigerian economy.

How could such an important road descend into such a deplorable state? The oil and gas industry, the cornerstone of the Nigerian economy, stands as a crucial sector deeply intertwined with the nation’s prosperity. Yet, the goose that lays the golden egg is left in the dark.

I am particularly incensed by this tragedy, where blame must be redirected from the desperate and helpless drivers and commuters to the successive governments that have failed the people. Sometime in 2019, an NGO founded by me, Citizens Quest For Truth Initiative had a embarked on a Citizens Advocacy to ascertain the level of under-development of the Niger Delta region despite the billions pilloried through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA). Our advocacy led us to the uncompleted section of the East West Road, from Bayelsa to Cross River State. We found out that the three multinational construction companies responsible for the project were being owed so much for several years and that slowed down construction works as they all pulled out of site. It was SETRACO for the Bayelsa to Eleme junction of the road, RCC for the Eleme-Akwa Ibom section while GITTO was handling the Cross River section which at the time was the worst of the three sections.

Without boring readers with the contract details and figures, I am going to speak on the politics that led to the tragedy which we just witnessed. Space and time may not permit for a detailed piece but I will expose the unseen hands that frustrated the efforts of the then Minister for Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio in completing the Eleme-Aleto section of the road where the carnage occurred.

Following a series of deliberations, the President issued an order for the project, which had been transferred to the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF), to be returned to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs (MNDA). The MNDA had successfully completed the Edo/Delta sections of the road. The road was redesigned from the initially approved 4 lanes to 6 lanes in order to better accommodate the significant volume and type of heavy traffic, especially on the Aleto bridge. Akpabio had foreseen the impending tragedy several years before it tragically unfolded. Unbeknownst to those intent on thwarting his efforts, Akpabio had secured an interest-free loan of about 10 billion Naira through the SUKUK Bond. Despite his proactive measures, he found himself entangled in a political quagmire that ultimately led him to transfer the project to the Ministry of Works as demanded by his critics at the presidential villa, reportedly under the directive of President Buhari.

As the saying goes, “the internet never forgets.” I have brought to light what many may not be aware of or may intentionally overlook. It is imperative that President Bola Ahmed Tinubu holds accountable those who are truly responsible for this senseless destruction and irreparable loss.

Christie Oby Ndukwe is President/ Founder Citizens Quest For Truth Initiative

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