In Rivers, its more road networks, less stress for residents

It was only a few days ago that riverine dwellers residing in communities along the Opobo/ Bonny/Andoni waterways travelled by road for the first time in their existence. Rather than travelling only through water, they now have the option of travelling by land. Now they could either drive or be driven to their communities, which for almost two centuries were cut off from the adjoining towns to Port Harcourt, the state capital. This development is a big deal for the people along that axis, especially business persons that want to travel to Port Harcourt and other parts of the country.

Some of the historical communities that lie along these waterways are aquatic wonders that should ordinarily attract tourists in droves if there had been conscious and concerted efforts to develop them. A few days ago, Governor Nyesom Wike alongside the former Minister of Agriculture and Water Resources, Adamu Maina Waziri, inaugurated the Ogoni-Andoni- Opobo Unity road, a project that was started by the administration of former Governor Peter Odili.

In 2014, Wike had during his electoral campaigns promised to deliver the project. Recently, when he promised to roll out some projects to mark the two years of his second term in office, very few cast their attention to the Ogoni-Opobo- Bonny Unity Road project.

Following the inauguration of the project, a few ambitious persons from the axis have started setting their sight on greater economic opportunities. Some are normal business people, such as traders that engage in buying and selling, while some are big business people that are checking out the terrain in order to act at the appropriate time. One of them, a recent returnee from Europe, who spent 12 years working on a cruise ship along the Mediterranean wants to build a hotel in Opobo and work towards making it a tourist attraction.

He, however, said he wants to collaborate with the state government. Indeed, apart from boasting of eyecatching creeks and beaches with white sands, they also have fresh waters that accommodate rare sea foods and creatures that ought to be promoted. But beyond the improvement of the physical feel of these communities are that there are more travelling options for both residents and visitors to move in and out of the communities easily.

The absence of a comprehensive developmental blueprint by the Federal Government in areas with historical reverberations, according to one resident of Bonny, who hails from the kingdom, but resides in Port Harcourt, where he has a chain of businesses, speak volumes of the level of neglect of a community that would have been a big earner in tourism. Bonny Kingdom, which plays host to the Nigerian Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG), remains a key source of Federal Government revenue.

It is due to the neglect of the Federal Government on the Opobo, Opobo-Andoni waterways that motivate pirates and other criminal elements to occasionally stage attacks and disrupt the area’s socioeconomic balance. The local economy suffers greatly as trawler owners who play a major role in the sustenance of the local economy feels threatened to send out their trawlers for fishing due to the attacks on the fishing activities. When the then minister of finance and coordinating minister for the economy, Dr Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, lamented in 2013 that piracy in the Gulf of Guinea has threatened about $600 million worth of fishing exports, as well as a loss of over N2 trillion yearly in capital flight to foreign countries, she was talking about sea pirates attacking and robbing vessels, kidnapping crews, attacking trawlers and waterways traders, travellers and displaced them of their valuables. According to Dr Adangoi Taokodi, who conducted a research on the consequences of piracy along the Gulf of Guinea, some of the victims are maimed or killed in the process, while the ones that can be termed as fortunate only lose their income or trading capital.

Yet, some troop to the area occasionally to escape the madness in the city for an encounter with nature. But beyond that is the history behind some of these communities. For instance, in 1970, while the country was struggling to rebuild after a civil war that lasted for three years, the people of Opobo were celebrating 100 years as a people. It was in 1870 that Chief Jack Annie-Pepple (later King Jaja) took some chiefs from Bonny to establish Opobo, situated along the Ikoroma River.

According to history sourced from both British and oral accounts of Opobo people, who witnessed his reign, Jaja apart from setting up a new kingdom, and nurturing and growing it to the point that it became a major trading town was also a shrewd businessman who competed favourably with the British in the sale of commodities, especially palm oil. While the British wanted to take total control of the palm oil business, which was highly valued on the international market, Jaja wanted his people to also play an important role in the trade. The British, out of sheer greed found his stance unacceptable and plotted for his capture.

Jaja was eventually tricked into a ship and sent on exile and eventually died outside his beloved kingdom. In 2020, exactly 150 years after Jaja founded Opobo, his direct descendant King Dandeson Douglas Jaja said the sitting of Opobo on the banks of the Imo River was well thought out in 1870 because the kingdom strategically became an important commercial settlement to compete with Lagos in the volume of Nigeria’s international trade. King Jaja, who is also Chairman of Rivers State Traditional Rulers Council, said in the wake of World War 11, the British government closed the Opobo seaport, which destroyed the commercial strength of Opobo Kingdom. He made the remarks in 2020 during the 150 years anniversary of the kingdom, which was graced by Governor Wike, who assured of the completion of the road project.

The monarch noted that the Nigerian government had failed to acknowledge the subsisting commercial potentials of Opobo. Today, we are glad to acknowledge that the road will open up a new page in the development of Opobo.” On that very day, Wike in his remarks declared that the Opobo- Ogoni-Andoni Unity road would reduce crimes and attract greater development to the area, strewing that the completion of the road remained a top priority to his administration. The governor recently promised to roll out some projects to mark the two years of his second term in office.

At the inauguration, the governor directed his Special Adviser of Special Projects to liaise with the King and leaders of Opobo on where they desire a new land to be sand-filled and reclaimed for them by the state government. Wike also urged the Survey General of the State to commence the process of land mapping and survey of the already sand-filled land in the area to enable Opobo people to begin the allocation of spaces among themselves.




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