By Amos Odeh
The Bayelsa government on Wednesday said it is addressing the challenges caused by blockage of the Silver River at Aguobiri in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area (LGA) of the state.
The blockage was to pave way for construction of bridges on the ongoing Yenagoa-Oporoma expected to make Oporoma, headquarters of Southern Ijaw LGA accessible by road.
Surveyor Moses Teibowei, Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure in Bayelsa told members of Federated Correspondents Chapel of NUJ after an independent tour of the project that the state government was sensitive to the plight of the residents along the banks of the blocked river.
He explained that the river was blocked, while a floating jetty was being used to pass heavy construction equipment required for the road project with several long bridges. This floating jetty has been used by developed nations like China during war and emergencies and would be dismantled after four months.
“The Bayelsa state government is sensitive to the hardships caused by the blockage of the Silver River and we are taking steps to ameliorate these hardships.
“The Ministry of Works and Ministry of Health are collaborating on the relief measures. We are providing some 20 canoes placed at each side of the blockage.
“The idea is that natives going to their farms or fishing expeditions would anchor their boats at one side of the blockage, cross over and use the ones provided by the government and when they return they cross and board canoes also provided by government back home. At the end of the contract, the canoes will be shared among them for fishing and paddling to the farms. Altogether they are 40 canoes with chains and padlocks.”
“The Youths have been most cooperative and supportive of the project, except one incident which the youths jointly calmed down, compared to youths who disrupted work on Sagbama – Ekeremor road, Aguobiri youths are exemplary in peaceful conduct . Apart from 10 youths directly engaged , others are indirectly benefiting from the project and they are always praising and commending the prosperity government of Senator Douye Diri”
“The state government has graciously agreed to award contracts to link Aguobiri and Angiama communities where the road is passing to Oporoma, the headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local government area as the target, even though the Yenagoa – Oporoma road has been in the drawing board since early sixties.”
“The Ministry of Health is spearheading medical assistance to the impacted residents while we have engaged youths to evacuate water hyacinth and debris from the floating jetty,” Teibowei said.
Surveyor Furoebi Akene, an Environmentalist, had urged the Bayelsa state government to reopen the blocked Silver River to check the spread of Cholera, which recently claimed 25 lives in Southern Ijaw Local Government Area.
Akene, Executive Director, Centre for Environmental Preservation and Development (CEPAD), said on April 20 that the blockage had worsened the spread of the infectious disease.
According to him, the blockage had made the once fresh water stagnant, which the residents along the river depended on for drinking and domestic use adding that there were better alternatives to blocking the river.
“The continuous blockade of the Silver river around Aguobiri by the construction company is a clear show of incompetence and abuse of human and environmental rights of not only the Aguobiri people but all the communities downstream.
“This is the height of unprofessionalism in the construction industry as it affects River crossing.
“The river in question here has a width of about 100 metres around the point of crossing and having enormous commercial value.
“Marine activities using outboard and inboard engines powered boats use the river frequently every day conveying human and materials, and not canoes for fishing and farming only.
“This river flows through a lot of communities downstream like Angiamagbene, Luduon, Eniwari, Fonibiri, Opuama main town and her sub communities and empties into the Atlantic Ocean after Akassa in the Brass LGA.
“It is therefore environmentally and economically dangerous and unhealthy to continue to block such a river just to employ the services of transit ferry canoes to exchange farmers and fisher men.
“Quoting from the statement of the commissioner for works, it is evident that the blockade has already generated health issues to the people of the area, hence the engagement of the Ministry of Health for health palliatives.
“In order not to aggravate the health and environmental problems further, it is professionally and ethically expedient for the client to act fast and instruct the contractor to remove the blockade and use self propelled or tugboat propelled barges to cross their equipment and personal.
Reacting to environmental, health and economic concerns, Teibowei said that views were the opinion of those who expressed it,” Akene said.
Teibowei said that the government ensured that the contractor handling the project adopted best practices to mitigate adverse impact adding that the technology deployed was used by the Italians and Chinese..
He explained that the blockage was a temporary one and would last only for four months.
Dr Newton Igwele, Commissioner for Health, on April 8 confirmed the outbreak of Cholera in Southern Ijaw LGA, saying that the state had deployed epidemiologists and acquired vaccines to tackle the disease.