Ayakoromo Bridge and False Hopes
By Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi
It is no longer news that the Delta State Government recently addressed the media on the multi-billion naira contract for the construction of the Ayakoromo Bridge in the Burutu Local Government Area of the state, stating that it has cancelled the contract for the bridge due to poor performance by the contractor.
At first glance, the latest action for me depicts Delta State government as an administration that is internally directed, people-focused, externally open and above all, a right step taken in the right direction, particularly as such action is long overdue.
However, as an author that has in the past supported and will continue to support good intentions coming from the present administration in the state, particularly when such actions are directed towards uplifting the life chances of the people, the truth must be told to the effect that in the present circumstance, the newest action by the state government only confirm as true the words of Winston Churchill, a onetime Prime Minister of Great Britain, that ‘there is no worse mistake in public leadership than to hold out false hopes soon to be swept away.
For a very long time, the state government has given false hopes to the people of the Ayakromo community and Deltans as a whole about the true condition of the bridge.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa persistently failed to reveal the true bill of the contractor’s technical health/know-how even when it was glaringly obvious to Deltans with critical minds that the contractor was technically-challenged. Most brazenly, Okowa’s administration failed to remember that, as a general rule, the first step to solving a problem is to admit that one exists. But instead of going by this rule, the state government told Deltans that the bridge was 60% near completion, even when the Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) pointed otherwise.
Take, for instance, when the administration learnt in January 2020 that the Ijaw Peoples Development Initiative and Ayakoromo youths planned a protest against the ‘abandonment’ of the bridge, the Okowa-led administration, through the Commissioner for Information, Charles Aniagwu, in a statement in Asaba, stated that the state leadership was committed to the completion of road projects it has embarked on.
He added that the Ayakoromo bridge project had not been abandoned and urged the groups to shun their planned protest. The statement also noted that the state government had already made provisions for the completion of the bridge in the 2020 budget and was desirous to complete the project.
Again, six months after that statement, precisely in June 2020, the Delta State Government, in a similar style, assured that the Ayakoromo Bridge would be vigorously executed as a top priority project. This time around, the Commissioner for Works, Chief James Aguoye, made the disclosure in Ayakoromo while speaking to newsmen.
Aguoye, according to media reports, said that the project had a budgetary provision of N1 billion in the 2020 budget. The Commissioner added that the project would be up-scaled in 2021.
In January 2022, after the first executive council meeting, which was presided over by Governor Okowa, the Commissioner for Information, Mr Charles Aniagwu, announced that the Delta State government has recently approved an upward review of the contract cost of the Ayakoromo Bridge project from N6 billion to N10.5 billion, noting that the review was necessary as a result of present economic realities in the country.
Even government supporters were not left out in the now-ended season of lies and blind support.
For instance, when I did a piece titled Ayakromo Bridge, One Abandonment too many, the referenced piece, among other concerns, expressed/underlined the urgency of having the contractor sacked. And in his place, have a new contractor appointed backed with adequate funds, superior technical skills and experience to replace the current contractor, who obviously lacks the wherewithal to complete the bridge.
The reactions that trailed this objective submission by the piece could be seen better than imagined.
Some commentators argued that even in a democracy, the government is at liberty to take or discard advice and public opinion in the interest of the greater good for the greater number.
Public opinion, in their view, does not always provide clear-cut policy guidance, and even when it is clearly in favour of a certain course of government action, the authorities may decide otherwise-particularly when they realize how uninformed, superficial, and changeable most opinions really are. To others, the government may also reject people’s opinions as a result of its convictions, the recommendations of the public service, or the pressure of advocacy groups
To the rest, whenever the government fails to follow a clear-cut preference among the public opinion, they may actually be relying on a deeper understanding of the issue, the greater information at their disposal, a more sophisticated analysis of its implications, a concern for minority groups’ rights, or a less prejudicial attitude.
Now that the season of denial and argument has ended, the question that is as important as the piece itself is; what is the fate of Ayakromo Bridge? Will it still be completed by the present administration, or has to be handed to the incoming administration? Would it be considered a good commentary that the Governor inherited from his predecessor a bridge under construction that is far less than one kilometre yet could not complete in eight years?
While answers to the above questions are being anticipated, I must quickly add that the underlying objective of this piece is not to chastise any individual or group but to draw the attention of the Okowa-led government to this mess in ways that will assist him in performing the traditional but universal responsibility of provision of economic and infrastructural succour to the citizenry, which the instrumentality of participatory democracy and election of leaders confers on him.
The government must give the desired new lease of life and satisfactory service/governance to the community’s people. Above all, the state government must design more creative and development-focused ways to serve and save Deltans holistically.
Finally, as noted in my previous intervention on this topic, the state government must not fail to remember that the Bobougbene community and its environs in Burutu LGA are reputed for producing palm oil in commercial quantity and supply of same to Warri metropolis and Okwumagbe markets in Ughelli-South LGA. The bridge, when completed, will provide easy access to these markets. This is a very important reason why the state must pay disciplined attention to that project. It must not, for any reason, be abandoned.
Jerome-Mario Chijioke Utomi of Social and Economic Justice Advocacy writes from Lagos; 08032725374