In Rivers State, the governor, Ezenwo Nyesom Wike, has decided to litter the state capital, Port Harcourt and his Obio/Akpor local government area with flyovers.
At the last count about eight of such flyovers were under construction and out of the number, one has been commissioned, two more are awaiting inauguration by the end of February 2021, while the rest are at different stages of completion.
The unprecedented number of flyovers in the state is obviously what is consuming the state’s capital votes and the governor does not care.
In August last year, Wike, while playing host to members of the Rivers State Executive Committee of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), boasted that it has never happened anywhere that “within one year, a state government will construct five flyovers at the same time”.
He said the flyovers are part of the urban renewal programme of his administration and a deliberate action to arrest the level of gridlock in the two local government areas. He said he is unapologetic about the projects and will do more if he decides.
Only last Wednesday, February 17, the Rivers State Executive Council approved the award of two contracts for the construction of two additional flyover bridges in Port Harcourt City at the cost of N12.4 billion.
One of the flyover bridges will be at the intersection of Olu-Obasanjo Road and Port Harcourt Aba Expressway popularly called “Waterlines Junction”, and it will be 800 meters long according to the Commissioner for Works, Elloka Tasie-Amadi.
The other flyover bridge will be at the intersection of Olu-Obasanjo and Ikwerre Road up to the Azikiwe Street and will be 1KM long.
The state commissioner who briefed journalists after the meeting said the approval was sequel to two memos his ministry presented to the council on the need for the construction of the flyovers which will also be handled by Julius Berger Nigeria PLC.
He said the construction of the flyover bridges became necessary because of present and foreseeable traffic difficulties that motorist will suffer.
He added that it is already observed that the flow of vehicles from the soon to be completed GRA flyover and the Rebisi flyover get into lock jams at the Waterlines Junction on Port Harcourt -Aba Expressway, but the flyover there will be a solution.
As expected, the avalanche of flyovers have been criticized by many individuals and groups. A non-governmental organization, Rivers Anti-Corruption Network recently sued the state government at the Federal High Court in Port Harcourt demanding for the documents covering the award of three flyover contracts awarded to Julius Berger Nigeria PLC.
Leaders of the NGO, Sebastine Kbalap, and Arochukwu Ogbonna, said they had applied to the Accountant-General of the state for the documents covering the award of the contracts in pursuance of the Freedom of Information Act but were not availed.
They said the state government had also failed to make available relevant documents on the cost of the several other contracts recently awarded so they had to go to court to compel the relevant officers to provide the documents in the overriding interest of the public. When the matter came up, the Presiding judge, Justice James Omotosho, adjourned to February 22 for the hearing of the case after listening to the lawyers of the parties.
The All Progressives Congress (APC), has also come down hard on the governor. A chieftain of the party, Mr Ogbonna Nwuke said what is more disturbing is the fact that Wike usually awarded the contract for the flyover before getting approval from the state house of assembly.
He said the kind of money used for the needless flyovers should have been invested in developing cottage industries and creating jobs to engage the youths and grow the economy. The former Commissioner for Information also lamented that the governor has refused to pay attention to roads leading to rural areas in order to end the misery of the people.
Ordinarily, the construction of flyovers in any city should not be a problem but the way and manner Wike has been going about his own, calls for concern. He is creating the impression that without the flyovers, Port Harcourt and Obio/Akpor will no longer be urban cities.
But he is wrong and should be told so. Developmental projects such as flyovers should be inclusive and people oriented. It should also be in phases to avoid putting motorists and commuters in difficult situations while trying to access their places of work or business, which is the case in Rivers State.
The last one year has been hellish for the people, because the construction of the flyovers are simultaneous. A hitherto 20 minutes ride now last for over an hour as the few alternate routes are always jammed because of the number of cars plying it. For instance, connecting the new GRA through Bori Camp is a nightmare because of the expansion and reconstruction of the Rumola flyover.
The situation would not have been as bad as it is if the GRA junction was not also closed to traffic due to the construction of the flyover there. At rush hours the two cities are chaotic, making people spend valuable hours in traffic because of one man’s obsession for flyovers.
More worrisome is the fact that the governor is building the multi billion naira flyovers at the expense of other very important projects and programmes that will equally uplift the living standard of the people.
For five years, the governor has not paid pensions and gratuities, promotion arrears of some civil servants is still unpaid since 2015, public schools and health facilities are in ruins, the state secretariat complex lacks power, forcing workers and visitors to use the staircase to climb the 17 storey Point block and the 10 storey Podium block because of the unusable elevators.
The general welfare of the state workforce is abysmal and yet the state has spent close to N80 billion building flyovers.
If Wike is not despotic, he will not with so much effrontery tell Rivers people to “go and die” for complaining that he spends their money anyhow on flyovers.
He needs to be reminded that it is not because of flyovers that he is called Mr Project. His first tenure saw some promising future for the state with projects that has direct positive impact on the people. All of that changed when he won a hard fought reelection.
He became an emperor, a despot, running the state like his personal estate. If truly he was not obsessed with flyovers, he should have moved on to other pressing projects like completing the Opobo/Adoni unity road which he promised to commission before the end of January 2021.
Wike should have commenced work on the Trans-Kalabari road, construct the road to Okehi in Etche local government that leads to Okpala in Imo State, send Julius Berger to fix the Elele to Omoku road and so on.
Surprisingly, motorists and other road users are complaining about the heavy traffic around the Rebisi (Garrison Junction flyover) that was inaugurated recently by the Minister for Works, Babatunde Fashola. There are fears that the flyover might not have resolved the problematic traffic it was meant to resolve.
Our take is that the King of flyovers should slow down with his obsession, he should conduct a public opinion and see the reaction of the people concerning the flyovers.
If he is a listening governor the outcome of the poll will give him a new direction of projects to be carried out. For free, we will also conduct one and send the result to him. But in the meantime, he should channel the resources of the state to other areas that his administration has paid less attention to in the last six years.
Wike should know that it will be nice he is remembered tomorrow for other big ticket project he judiciously used the state funds on and not only on flyovers.