The east-west coastal road project may remain another pipe dream after all. That is because administrators and major stakeholders in Nigeria's Niger Delta region appear to have chosen to abandon it, even when it became crucial to the survival of the region.
Just recently, the issue of the road project was conveniently ignored as Governors of the six oil-rich states in the region along side world's best brains deliberated on a realistic roadmap to progress for the Niger Delta.
Tagged the "Second South-south Economic Summit (SSES)", the conference, which commenced on Thursday, April 26 and ended on Saturday, April 28, 2012, in Asaba, the Delta State capital, failed to address the issue of the abandoned road project.
The abandonment of the coastal road project, like a bad dream, began no sooner than there was a change of leadership at the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC). The NDDC, under its former Managing Director, Chibuzor Ugwoha, included the construction of the coastal road project in its top priority list which it sees as a major catalyst to development in the region and the country as whole. Unfortunately, the idea was dumped immediately Ugwoha left the NDDC.
Prior to his exit, and in the heat of the excitement generated by the coastal road initiative, the project became a contentious issue as the Ministry of the Niger Delta, under the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Elder Godsday Orubebe, suddenly saw it as the exclusive right of the ministry to execute the construction of the road project.
It is, however, surprising to see Elder Orubebe beat a retreat and abandon his quest to snatch the project from the NDDC's portfolio and implement it. It is even more worrisome to see the NDDC's current leadership and South-South Governors ignore the project despite its touted benefits.
"The Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan: a Blueprint for the Sustainable Development of the Niger Delta Region" finally laid the conceptual foundation for the East-West Coastal Road in 2004. By the way, the Niger Delta Regional Development Master Plan is the first integrated development plan in Nigeria that was produced based on stakeholders' participatory inputs and experts' analytical guidance in 25 sectors, including health, education, transportation and agriculture.
Before the Master Plan, the Niger Delta Environmental Survey, in formulating development priorities of the Niger Delta Region, proposed the construction of an east-west coastal road in 1998.
Also, the International Conference on the development of the Niger Delta Region held in Port Harcourt from December 10 to 12, 2001 under the aegis of NDDC and the United Nations Development Programme, UNDP, emphasized the need for an east-west coastal road. The conference was of the view that there could be no meaningful development of the region without the proposed Niger Delta Coastal Road.
In tandem with the Niger Delta Regional Master Plan, the objective of this regional road is to serve as a strong east-west link from Calabar towards Lagos, with several north-south areas connecting growth poles, central and northern Nigeria.
The coastal road travels over 704km on the main alignment and with about 106km of spurs, straddling over barrier Island forests, fresh water swamps, mangrove swamps and waterways. Spurs are provided to connect the east-west coastal highway to centres of economic activities in the northern and central regions of the country, and also to create access to the coastline for maritime industries, tourism and recreational activities.
The planned Coastal Road will help immeasurably in opening up the Niger Delta region's economic potential, assist in eliminating the severity which encumbers the movement of goods and people as well as improve their living standards. Indeed, the road holds many prospects for the coastal region as well as for the Nigerian economy at large. According to recent studies, the road project will create employment for over 11,000 people in the region during the construction period.
Other likely benefits of the East-west Coastal Road, if eventually completed, are that, it will give direct access to waterways that are currently underutilized, and encourage the establishment and growth of maritime industries, enhance the exploitation of the natural resources of the Niger Delta such as oil and gas, salt, sand for glass-making, timber and so on.
Hafiz Muhammed wrote form Abuja