YINKA OLADOYINBO looks at the reactions of the Ondo State government to the claims of neglect and non-development by the people of the riverine areas of the state.
The riverine communities of Ondo State, which are located in Ilaje and Ese-Odo Local Government Areas of the state, have always been agitating for better living condition and developmental projects right from the creation of the state in 1976. The peculiar situation of the people has always put them at the mercy of successive governments in the state, with many past administrations leaving them worse than they met the people.
The basic infrastructural facilities that could aid the socioeconomic development of the areas like good road, electricity, potable water, health care facilities will modern schools are lacking in most cases in the areeas. Where such facilities are existed, many of them are in a very bad shape and could not meet the acceptable standard in a civilised society.
The development has made both the state and the Federal Government to set up commissions that are saddled with intervening in the areas of need of the people and be able to appropriately bridge the gap. The Federal Government established the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), while the state government set up the Ondo State Oil -Producing Areas Development Commission (OSOPADEC), with the aim of using the derivation fund accruing to them for the development of the communities.
It was at the instance of OSOPADEC that the first major road to link Ilaje communities was conceived during the tenure of late Chief Adebayo Adefarati and implemented during the administration of Dr Olusegun Agagu which did the first phase of the road from Igbokoda to Ugbonla. The over 30-kilometre road has however become deplorable some years after the people were able to take their vehicles to their door steps. Many portions of the road have failed, making a journey from Igbokoda to Ugbonla that should not be more than 20 minutes to more than an hour journey.
Many indigenes and groups from the area raised the alarm over the bad condition of the road. Among the vocal groups over the development was the Egbe Omo Ilaje, Akure branch, which claimed that the situation had negatively affected the socio-economic development of the people. The group even alleged that the situation was a deliberate attempt on the people of the riverine area by the government.
Chairman of the group, Henry Ojagbohunmi, said the road had become a death trap and greatly affected the economic activities of the people. He added that majority of the residents had abandoned it and were now traveling by water.
He said, “The road which was commissioned with fanfare in the belief that Ilajes can now heave a sigh of relief is now completely out-of-use; many portions are bad and have become a nightmare to the people. It is as if the government has forgotten us. Many people no longer use the road; they have abandoned it and have gone back to water transportation.
“The road was constructed by OSOPADEC and the commission has continued to receive allocation; we deserve to be taken care of by government. The level of neglect is much. Ilaje people are asking government to tell us what we have done to deserve this,” he lamented.
Apart from the issue of the road, the people have always had issues with the level of development in their areas, with many of them blaming government at various levels for the situation. However, respite seems to have come to the people of the riverine communities as the state government has, in the last few weeks, been inaugurating projects, including schools, international markets, health facilities, among others.
Prior to the commencement of the inauguration, one of the heart-warming news given to the people of Ilaje Local Government Area was the preparedness of the government to reconstruct the much-talked about Igbokoda-Ugbonla Road. To this end, the government awarded the contract for the rehabilitation and complete asphalting of the road for N4.3 billion, with the development expected to improve the socio-economic situation of the area.
Disclosing the move, the Commissioner for Information, Mr Kayode Akinmade, said the contract had been awarded to a Chinese firm with the flag off expected to be performed by the state governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko. He said the road, which was initially constructed by the previous government, collapsed after use, thus necessitating the latest effort of the Mimiko-led administration.
According to the commissioner, the road, which is a project of OSOPADEC, the commissioner, will bring a lot of relief to the people of the area, as most part of the road have given in to erosion.
Also speaking, the state Commissioner for Environment, Chief Olusola Ebiseni, who is an indigene of Ilaje, said the decision by the administration to rehabilitate the road showed that the governor was sensitive to the plight of the people. He said the road was not initially constructed to specification, saying this was responsible for the total collapse some years after it was put to use. He said after completion by the new contractors, the people would heave a sigh of relief as road users that had abandoned the route would return and the economic activities of the people would again be booming.
While the people were still basking in the euphoria of the road rehabilitation, the state government made it known that some of the developmental projects already executed in the riverine communities would be inaugurated for the benefit of the people. Some of the projects already inaugurated by the governor included the Igbokoda International market with over 1000 shops; model primary school in igbokoda; civic centre and community staff quarters in Ugbonla, basic health centre at EbuteIpare; and Igbokoda and the inauguration of the Abiye Safe motherhood project in Ilaje and Ese-Odo.
Presenting cell phones to pregnant women in Ilaje and Ese-Odo in continuation of the Abiye programme during the inauguration of the health centre, the governor explained that handsets would foster closer link between the pregnant women and their healthcare providers. He said the health facilities were well-equipped and functional to meet the health needs of the pregnant women.
He added: “Every pregnant woman registered at this facility will be able to enjoy Abiye facilities through caller-user group. With this development, we ‘ll be able to track pregnant women from conception to delivery. We have ambulances already provided and for our people in difficult terrain, we have -tricycles and boat ambulances for the people in the riverine area.”
At the event, Mimiko also promised to award contract for the supply of potable water from Aboto to Ugbolna before June this year.
The harvest of projects and programmes of the government by the people of the riverine communities may have signaled the beginning of better days for the hitherto neglected people who lived on water and faced the attendant consequences of oil exploration and exploitation.