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 The curious case of Bayelsa’s N2.3bn bridge that never was

The curious case of Bayelsa’s N2.3bn bridge that never was

DAILY TRUST

Elebele, a community in Bayelsa State, which links to Oloibiri and Otuoke, has been cut off since September last year when a bridge linking the oil-rich area with Yenagoa, the state capital collapsed.
The collapse of the bridge has forced many residents to abandon the community, while others desperately wait for intervention.
But recent claims that a N2.3bn has been set aside for the construction of a bridge by the NDDC has created some controversies for the troubled people.
In September 2019, a wooden bridge linking Elebele community in Bayelsa State to Yenagoa, the capital, collapsed, leaving hundreds of residents stranded. The bridge, first built in 1986, is vital as Elebele links to an area where multinational companies drill for oil and gas.
It links also to Oloibiri, where oil was first discovered in commercial quantity in Nigeria in 1959 and to Otuoke, former President Goodluck Jonathan’s village. Since the collapse, many residents of the community, located in Ogbia Local Government, have been forced to leave their homes because the bridge collapse has affected their source of livelihood and they cannot take the risk of crossing the river by boat over fears of rising water levels in this rainy season.
But recent claims by the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Godswill Akpabio that the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) could construct the collapsed bridge in Elebele community for N2.3 billion has generated a lot of interest.
In a television interview recently, the minister had claimed that the bridge is among the projects being conceived by the NDDC, even disclosing that they have committed N2.3 billion for the project.
However, the NDDC has denied this claim with its director of corporate affairs, Charles Obi Odili, in a statement said the contract is still at the design stage.
“In the past 48 hours, a digital photograph of a wooden bridge, allegedly constructed by the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, at Elebele in Ogbia Local Government Area of Bayelsa State, has been trending on social media. According to the post, the NDDC built the wooden bridge at a cost of N2.3 billion. This is fake news.
The Commission hereby declares that it has no such project at Elebele. We have gone through our records for the past 18 years and there is even no contract offer for the construction of a bridge in the community,” he said.
The bridge that collapsed was built by the Shell Petroleum Development Company some years ago and since its collapse, residents have constructed what they call a “monkey bridge,” which looks very precarious and unsafe and many people prefer not to take any risk with it. This is not the first time the bridge would collapse.
After it was first constructed in 1986, the bridge gave way in 1997 and was reconstructed by the SPDC before its recent collapse. Repeated calls by members of the community to the state government to fix the bridge have gone unanswered.
The Paramount Ruler of Elebele community, HRH David Osene (Ogpolo xi) confirmed that several people have deserted the community because of the hardship brought about by the collapsed of the bridge, while business activities have crumbled. “No contractor has been mobilized to start the construction of the bridge, we are begging the government to construct a permanent concrete bridge for us this time so that it will not collapse again,” he said.
“We are now almost back to square one like in those days that we didn’t have a bridge. We are cut off from the capital city, Yenagoa and other towns in the state. Our business activities have crumbled, our farm produce cannot be transported for sale, the economy has dropped to the extent that people are packing out from our community,” he said.
The chief said the popular Elebele market which used to be filled by traders is no longer thriving as a result and makes a desperate appeal for help from the government. Commenting, the Youth President of Elebele community, Mr Okala Azibola, said though the minister’s comment did not say that the bridge was constructed, people of the community will be happy if the NDDC or any of the Federal government agencies and state government help them with a modern bridge.
Desperate, the community wrote a letter to the NDDC for intervention and help to construct a bridge that could withstand the test of time. Mr Odili of the NDDC acknowledged that they have received an appeal from the community.
“The Elebele community in 2018 sought the assistance of the Commission to rebuild the bridge which had collapsed. The proposal is still going through our system and is presently at the design stage,” he said. “While awaiting NDDC’s intervention, the community undertook a self-help project and built the wooden bridge. It has no NDDC input. NDDC has not paid out any money for it.
In clear terms, this bridge has nothing to do with NDDC.” Odili believes the false reports are being peddled by mischief-makers. But for the people of Ebelebe, mischief or not, their community is dying because of the bridge collapse and an urgent intervention is needed to save the situation.
They hope this intervention would come from somewhere. Anywhere. And soon

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