Ohaji/Egbema: Harbinger of wealth thriving in penury, violence

Rochas Okorocha

NDDC Abandoned Projects Liter The Two Communities
Imo state enjoys the status of an oil-producing state because of several communities in the Ohaji/Egbema Local Council of the state. But the neglect that these communities suffer, like most other oil-bearing communities in the country, is simply mind-boggling.

Across communities like Abacheke, Mmahu, Abaezi, Obiakpu, Obokofia, Etekwuru, Assah, Awarra, Obosima and Umuokanne in the Ohaji flank, evidence of poverty, penury is palpable.

Oguta Local Council, also an oil bearing area, which borders Ohaji/Egbema, and host of communities like Ezi-Orsu, Egwe, Egbuoma, Osse Motor, Orsu Obodo, and Nnebukwu, as well as Nkwesi, Mgbele, Awa, Izombe, Mgbala, Obudi, among others is not faring better.

It would have been expected that if they are not benefitting from the prized mineral that God has deposited in their domain, that their lives should not be made worse. But that, unfortunately is their lot, as they have to contain with occasional oil spills, which decimate aquatic lives, and also ensure that the flora and fauna of the area is annihilated.

While highbrow oil companies transact their businesses around them, perennial unfulfilled promises made to the people find expression in the glaring lack of basic infrastructure, such as health facilities, good roads, schools and sundry structures that support development.

For instance, the road that leads from Owerri to Ohaji, via Imo Palm Plantation (formerly Adapalm), is impassable, and members of the community, who are predominantly farmers are imperiled conveying their farm produce to urban area, such as Owerri, the state capital.

In 2012 after the two local councils were ravaged by flood, its inhabitants suffered huge losses, especially to their property, and some were even forced to desert their ancestral homes for months.

Though both the Federal Government, through the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), and the Imo State government, through the Amnesty Committee, chaired by wife of the state governor, Nkechi Okorocha intervened, the people are still far from benefitting from the much-talked about dividends of democracy or perks arising from the wealth in their domain.

While on a one-day visit to Imo State as Acting President, a few months ago, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, visited the area, but that has not translated into anything good for them, as he was there primarily to see the extent of sufferings people of the area are undergoing, despite being the area that shot the state into limelight as an oil-bearing state.

Despite complaints of neglect from the communities, the issue that has continuously been bandied by institutions angling to intervene, is that of alleged obstruction by youths from the communities.

The youths, according to sources and contractors, are allegedly asking for certain forms of settlements before such jobs could be executed.

At the moment, youths from Awara, Assa, Mobile and Ikwerede, all in the Ohaji area are alleged to be some of the most troublesome and their communities, which are seriously backward.

There is also the problem of recurring cult clashes between rival cult groups, which usually result in loss of lives. This unfortunate scenario is also the reason why some indigenes have deserted their ancestral homes, while certain categories of workers, who hail from that area, have also decided to abandon the communities.

A couple of months back, the state deputy governor, Eze Madumere, led a government team to demolish a structure in the area, which was used for hiding kidnap victims.

The area is also notorious for playing host to militants, who eventually surrendered over 1, 000 firearms during the amnesty programme, which was at the behest of the state government.

The arms surrendering notwithstanding, occasionally, they youths still threaten to return to trenches because of what they described as the neglect of their communities.

However, as part of efforts to develop the area and quell anti-social behaviours among its youths, the state government announced plans to establish a university of science and technology there, as well as to employ teachers who are to be posted to some schools in the area. A skills acquisition centre is also to be sited in the area.

Even with these plans in the pipeline, the unimpressed youths are also accusing the Imo State Oil Mineral Developing Commission (ISOPADEC), (which primary function is to ensure that development is taken to the oil bearing communities) of not doing enough for them.

Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Sam Onwuemeodo, who confirmed the state government’s intervention, disclosed that many projects would be executed in the communities in order to give them a sense of belonging.

At the moment, the state has no commissioner or representative on the board of the NDDC. The commissioner nominee, Kanma Nwauwa, is awaiting approval.

That perhaps also explained why the Ohaji area plays host to a lot of abandoned projects, which is also blamed largely on incessant clashes by the youths and other form of criminalities.

By the last count, about 22 developmental projects, including roads and water schemes in the area have been stalled, or abandoned either as a result of clashes, or financial constraints between 2007 and this year.

Some of the abandoned projects include Assa/Obile Road, Phase 1, covering 6.5km; Obinze/Umuokanne Road; Assa Obile Phase 11, a six-classroom block in Awara, Ohaji Road abandoned since 2004; Obogwe Water Scheme; Awara/Igwerede Water Scheme; rehabilitation of Umuagwo Water Scheme; construction of Comprehensive Health Centre Complex in Assa; construction of Umuakwu-Umukanne Road; construction of Obitti -Umudo-Ogbaro Road; construction of Obitti-Umuoke Road; construction of Umuokuzo-Umuokanne Road; construction of Umuoke Road; remedial works on Owerri- Port Harcourt Road, along Umuapu end; solar powered water scheme, Ihie, and solar powered water scheme in Mgbirichi.

Others are Ikwerede Solar Water Scheme; electricity project in Assa-Obile; Awara/Ikwerede Electricity project; electrification of Obitti, and Avu-Obosima-Adapalm-Etekwuru-Egbema Road, traversing five communities in Ohaji.

A youth from the area, who identified himself as John, told The Guardian, that it was really sad that the oil-bearing region thrives in squalor, stating that the only solution to the problem was for the authorities to massively embark on life-changing projects, and the provision of basic amenities such as water, health facilities, schools and motorable roads.

‘’We need all these things. Everyone can bear us witness that communities that bear oil should not be left alone to suffer,’’ he said.

A source outside the oil-bearing communities added: ‘’I agree with others that these oil-bearing communities are suffering. Ohaji people are behind in terms of infrastructure, but the youths are also not allowing us to go and work there. As it stands now, because of cult clashes, no body can go there now. These are the problems we are encountering. You see them asking for settlement before they allow any one to carry out any task there, even, when the assignment is for their own benefit. How do you go there? He queried.



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