By Magnus Effiong
Eleven years after former governor Godswill Obot Akpabio initiated the construction of the 2.1 km Offi Uda-Uko Nteghe Bridge and the Etebi-Enwang road projects in Mbo local government area of Akwa Ibom State, the said projects are still in the realm of conjecture as nothing tangible goes on at the site.
Incidentally, the Etebi-Enwang road passes through Offi Uda where the current Akwa Ibom SSG, Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem, hails from but interestingly, the SSG himself finds it extremely difficult to access his community particularly during rainy season as the spot between Orukim and Offi Uda remains perpetually un-motorable.
Our reporter, who embarked on a one day trip to the area for on-the-spot-assessment of the projects, gathered that while the bridge is the only doorway to Etebi, Unyenge, Offi, Uko Nteghe, Ibaka, Amkprang, Udingi, Eke Uda, Orukim, and the Mbo local government headquarters, Enwang, the Offi-Ampkrang-Udingi road has translated into a bush tract completely inaccessible thereby making it practically impossible for even a motorcycle to reach Amkprang and Udingi communities.
Investigations indicated that the Etebi-Enwang road and Offi Uda-Uko Nteghe bridge projects were part of Akpabio’s six flagship projects. While others like the Uyo-Ekim Itam road, the flyovers, Uyo-Nnung Udoe Road, Aka-Etinan road amongst many other projects have been completed and put to use, the bridge project in Udaland has remained a mirage.
The media hype accorded the projects at conception had attracted a lot of attention and commendation from the natives who saw Akpabio as a Moses sent to deliver them from years of suffering by reasons of the bad road. But as at today, the condition of the road is a far cry from what the Akwa Ibom government would have the public believe.
Our reporter further observed that the many companies which handled the bridge contract had attempted to temporarily cross the river by sand-filling it from Uko Nteghe end to Offi Uda. They inserted gigantic pipes in-between the now sand-filled muddy passage-way for the sea water to pass through unhindered and for people to walk through to each end.
But this technique seems to have become the people’s albatross as the method now hinders free flow of water and stops fishing activities in the area. During rainy season and high tide, the now uncontrollable river overflows it banks and makes the passage-way unusable.
Our reporter also observed that many abandoned construction heavy equipment litter the site even as most of the giant iron rods and other equipment on the site of the abandoned bridge have since been vandalized by some irresponsible elements. Unfortunately, it is this road that links the much talked about Ibaka Deep Seaport.
The Uda people themselves are crying out in agony, saying they were finding things too difficult without an access road. This may have prompted the people of Amkprang Uda community to send a Save Our Soul appeal to Gov Udom Emmanuel for an immediate intervention.
The Village Head of the community, Ovong Etim Okon Abang, flanked by the Political Leader of the community/Special Adviser on Youths and Sports in the local government council, Ulap Opio Etifit as well as the Youth President, Ulap Samuel Etim Asuquo, said the bridge in particular has become death traps to the people of the area.
Chief Abang, who also lamented that his people have been cut off from civilization by reasons of the deteriorating road situation, said the development has affected the economic life of his people negatively.
Sounding very hopeful that Gov Emmanuel would one day remember the community, the Village Head said since the construction work on the abandoned bridge started on December 2, 2007, three different construction firms had worked on the bridge without completion.
He said: “They keep engaging contractors who would end up abandoning the project. The first was Sineong Nigeria Ltd. When they abandoned the work, government engaged another one called Bulletin and after that, Amitec Construction and Development Company was brought but today the site has been completely abandoned.
“The absent of road makes us live a bad and risky life in this 21st century. We cannot transport our farm produce and other goods and services to where the market is. The level of suffering the abandoned road and bridge has subjected us to cannot be quantified. We are appealing to our Governor to come tour help.”
He however commended the Gov Udom-led administration for making efforts to construct the one kilometre road linking his village with Offi but tasked contractors on speedy delivery of the said road construction works before next raining season arrives.
His words; “Despite our condition, we will still vote for Gov Udom Emmanuel. We have no doubt that during his second tenure, he will do something tangible about the Uko Nteghe-Offi Uda Bridge. We are hopeful he’ll complete the Etebi/Enwang road and our small Offi/Amkprang road. These projects, when completed, will make life a bit meaningful to our people.
“Let me also commend the member representing Mbo State constituency in Akwa Ibom House of Assembly, Hon Samuel Ufuo, for providing us with solar-powered borehole. This is the first time for us to have real dividend of democracy. I pray the Almighty God to bless Hon Samuel Ufuo.”
On his part, the Special Adviser on Youths and Sports in the local government council, Ulap Opio Etifit advised government to declare the Bridge head at Offi a disaster zone to avoid loss of lives but added, “We believe strongly that Governor Udom Emmanuel would come to our aid soon.”
He said, “Contract for Etebi-Uda-Ibaka Road project, where Offi-Uko Nteghe Bridge is part of, was among the first batch of road projects awarded by former Governor Godswill Akpabio, but despite his promises, he could not complete that project.”
“But things are changing,” he submitted, explaining that due to visible signs of infrastructural interventions shown by the Udom Emmanuel government in other places, he would mobilise his people to deliver hundred percent vote to the Governor particularly in Amkprang where he comes from because “the bird in the hand is more valuable than thousands in the bush.”
On his part, the Youth President, Ulap Samuel Asuquo said “two years ago, Governor Udom Emmanuel visited the area to see the state of affairs of that Bridge project and the condition of our roads, and after observing what our people were passing through, he promised to start work again and complete that project but since then we have not heard anything as regards that.
“That road, if completed, would boost the economy of Uda people generally as it is the shortest route between Eket and Ibaka where the Ibom Deep Seaport is cited. We are reminding the Governor of the need to complete that project as he promised.”
However, as the people continue to look up to Governor Udom Emmanuel to fulfil his electioneering promise as regards completion of the projects, the Uda people themselves are still walking through the valley of shadows of death with no access road or any tangible government presence.