‘We have 600 communities, one general hospital, no electricity’
For residents of communities in Ilaje Local Government Area of Ondo State, it has been a painful irony of neglect despite the rich crude oil deposits in their domain. In this piece, HAKEEM GBADAMOSI, after visits to some of the communities, reports on the deplorable living condition of the residents.
Ondo is regarded as one of the oil producing states in Nigeria by virtue of exploration activities in Ilaje Local Government Area of the Southern Senatorial District of the state. However, despite being the goose that lays the golden egg, the local government has only maintained a steady decline in its lack of infrastructural development.
The local government which has its headquarters in Igbokoda ranks Ondo among the oil producing states, due to the amount of crude oil found in Ilaje but this has failed to translate for the development of the area or the alleviation of poverty of its residents.
Prior to the discovery of oil in Ilaje, the occupational activities of the people of the area were mainly fishing and building of canoes just as some of their women engaged in mat weaving. The discovery of oil in the area, however, relegated fishing and other occupations to the background.
When Nigerian Tribune visited major communities in this area, the level of neglect could only be imagined. From Igbokoda to Mahin, Ugbonla, Aboto, Igbotu, Ayetoro, Atijere, Obenla, Ayetoro, among many others, residents only condemned their lot, insisting that they deserved better. Lamenting the neglect of the coastal area by subsequent governments in the state, the indigenes from these communities alleged marginalisation of the area, saying there has been no noticeable government presence that corresponds to the area’s input into the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of the country. They noted that there are no good roads, no potable water and no electricity at the headquarters of “the only local government that produces oil in the state.”
Speaking to the Nigerian Tribune, the traditional ruler of Igbokoda, the Olu of Igbokoda, Oba Afolabi Odidiomo said the marginalisation and neglect was not limited to the headquarters of the local government. According to him, entire villages and towns in Ilaje lacked basic facilities in the areas of education, health and infrastructure.
He disclosed that Igbokoda, as the headquarters of the local government, could only boast of two overpopulated secondary schools with no teachers. “No functional laboratory can be found in any of these schools. In the whole of Ilaje local government area, there are no JAMB centres. Our students usually travel to Okitipupa to register and sit JAMB examinations.
“Education is nothing to write home about in this local government. In many communities, there are no teachers, no facilities; the schools have no life at all. We have made several appeals to the authorities to ensure that these things are addressed but no positive result.
“Apart from this, our students learn under terrible conditions, many of the school structures are nothing to write home about; students attend classes under trees; there are classrooms with no roofs, no doors or windows,” he said.
Speaking on healthcare facilities in the area, he revealed that there was only one general hospital in the entire local government area with only three medical doctors at the hospital, saying “one of the doctors is even a youth corps member.”
He added that “There are no modern facilities or equipment in this hospital. The scanner machine at the hospital is old and not even functional. We travel as far as Ondo town and Okitipupa to receive medical attention. We have over 600 communities and they are all oil-bearing.
“The most annoying part is that the NDDC recently approved the sum of N90m in 2018 for the uplift of the hospital but rather than equipping the hospital, the contractor embarked on the renovation of the hospital, without equipping the hospital. We are just being abandoned to die.”
Oba Odidiomo also said despite living on water, provision of potable water has been difficult for the state government and other agencies responsible for the development in the area to execute.
“Since there is terrible pollution of our water through the oil exploration, we resort to buying sachet and table water from Okitipupa and you can imagine buying a table water as much as N200,” he stated.
He said the people of the area have been living in darkness for over a decade with no attention from government until recently when the state government visited the area and assured that electricity would be restored. He lamented incessant flooding in the area.
He said whole communities were always submerged in water, destroying properties and sources of livelihood. “I want anybody to challenge me if there was any particular period our people received relief materials from any quarters, we are not asking for money but we just want the government to do the right thing,” he advised.
Also speaking, Ebisemiju Oladeji from Idiogba in Ugbo Kingdom, said there was no evidence of government presence in the whole of Ilaje. “I dare say that the people of Ilaje are not happy with the way we are being treated by successive governments, both at the federal and state levels. We have been relegated to the background in the scheme of things in the area of development.
“As you know, Ugbo Kingdom in Ilaje Local Government area is the headquarters of crude oil exploration in Ondo State but the level of abandonment has turned us into the headquarters of poverty in Nigeria. Successive governments through various agencies have also not helped,” he said.
Igbokoda, the headquarters of the local government, which is the only community connected to power, has been cut off the national grid for over 10 years.
Continuing, Oladeji added that power outage has made life very difficult for artisans from the area, noting that some of the artisans have abandoned their jobs and taken up arms, saying this has turned the land into breeding ground for criminals.
“The public schools which our children attend can only pass for a disaster waiting to happen. Access to these supposed schools are especially difficult or impossible during rainy seasons because of flooding. Oftentimes we lose school kids to the cold hands of death when they try to go to school during rainy seasons,” he said.
A resident of Ayetoro community, Emmanuel Meradesa, called on the state government and other agencies to stop some of the communities along the waterways from going into extinction as a result of constant and high magnitude of coastal erosion.
For Meradesa, some coastal communities like Ayetoro, Otito, Mese and Gbenefa are on the verge of extinction. According to him, the Ondo State Oil Producing Area Development Commission (OSOPADEC) and the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) are not making enough efforts to save the communities.
“Maybe they want to wait until the whole Ilaje communities are washed into the sea before they will act and come to our rescue. Ilaje communities are gradually going into extinction and yet we have the three tiers of government that are supposed to be caring for the masses, but they won’t.
“We are aware of the various contracts awarded for the development of these communities. The contracts have been diverted by government and their contractors for their personal use. Many of the road constructions have been stopped and the few ones they started are either abandoned or done shoddily thereby worsening the situation.
“The present Ondo State government under Rotimi Akeredolu recently approved N807m for the rehabilitation of 74.5km of wooden walkways and jetties in Ilaje and Ese-Odo local government areas, while the same government awarded another contract of N7.1 billion for a 7.135km road in Owo local government.
“If the figures don’t annoy you then the fact that the governor feels wooden walkways and wooden jetties are what we deserve here. They should hide their face, when our neighbours in Delta State with similar terrain now enjoy concrete walkways and jetties provided by the state government.
“At a time we are gasping for potable water, employment, good roads, schools and highly skilled teachers, electricity and protection of our coastline from perennial sea attacks, we regard the decision of the state government to invest its meagre resources on wooden walkways as a gross misplacement of priority,” he said.
Meradesa also condemned the state government for abandoning the N19.3billion coastline road linking Ondo and Lagos states which was flagged off by Governor Akeredolu some six months ago.
He noted that that 51 kilometer Araromi-Akodo/Ibeju-Lekki road project jointly funded by OSOPADEC and NDDC would have engendered unprecedented economic activities.
“We travel miles to get water”
A resident of Molutehin, who identified herself as Esther, said she spends about four hours before she can fill a bucket with unclean water from a borehole project for the community that was abandoned.
“We want to appeal to our government to help us in providing some amenities, especially water. We travel miles to get water to cook and drink and the economy is not too good for us to keep buying expensive bottled water from Igbokoda and other towns,” she said.
Too many abandoned projects
In Aboto, residents also lamented the inability of government to complete a water project. A resident of the community, James Atimise, said “the miserable life the government has made us live has deprived us of the good things of life. “The water recycling project in Aboto which we thought would bring succour for some communities has been abandoned. No school, no water, no light, no hospital and we cannot do all these through communal efforts while the state government never completes any people-oriented project here.
“This local government can safely be regarded as the headquarters of abandoned and uncompleted projects. They are just using projects to siphon money from the coffers of government.”
He listed some of the abandoned projects to include roads, schools, health and civic centres, markets and sport complex.
A septuagenarian, Pa Temisan Iwalewa, laid the blame of the neglect and marginalisation of the area on the doorsteps of political office holders and appointees from the area. According to him, “these politicians always think of ways to make money and build houses in Akure, leaving the people lavishing in abject poverty.
“We have never witnessed any fruit or dividend of democracy in the area since the advent of this democracy. They promise heaven on earth and will do nothing for us, but they know how to cajole us with few naira notes when there is need to vote for them again.
“We have prominent sons and daughters in high places concentrating on trivial issues instead of hammering vehemently on the need to save Ilaje nation from this catastrophe.
“We have made up our mind not to vote here until we witness the dividends of democracy. Our people are suffering here and they have turned our children into vandals; the government should design ways to get these youths employed rather than using them as political thugs.”
However, the chairman of OSOPADEC, Gbenga Edema, recently assured the people of the coastal areas that the state government would make life more meaningful for them. Edema who made this promise while speaking on the activities of the commission in the last one year, said the commission would redouble its efforts in ameliorating the suffering of the people in the coastal area.
Edema, while speaking on uncompleted projects in the area, said “In respect of inherited projects, the commission is working on the problematic portion of the Okitipupa-Ayeka-Araromi-Irele road and in the next two months by the grace of God, we are optimistic that the road would be ready for use.
“Similarly, the Aboto Water Project and the reticulation to Igbokoda has been completed. We are already going through the process of test-run and quality assurance check. We are also optimistic that the project would be inaugurated by the governor soon.”
He also said the commission had also improved health facilities in the area through its health intervention programme.
Speaking on behalf of the state government, the Chief Press Secretary to the governor, Segun Ajiboye, said the state government has shown interest in the development of the oil bearing communities in the southern senatorial district of the state. He explained that this led to the inauguration of the OSOPADEC board immediately the governor came on board, noting that the board has recorded laudable achievements within a short period.
He said “the commission has paid the 2014/2015 edition of its bursary scheme in which 5,237 students benefitted whereof the sum of N221.24 million was disbursed to students from Ilaje and Ese-odo LGAs in various tertiary institutions across the nation.
“The commission has got a handle on some of the problematic projects inherited. A particular project worth mentioning is the Okitipupa-Ayeka-Araromi-Irele Road. The problematic portion of the road was redesigned – from asphalt overlay to concrete overlay. The road is now completed.
“Similarly, the Aboto water project and the reticulation to Igbokoda has been completed and already going through the process of test-run and quality assurance check on the water from the taps, while the 28.3km Aboto-Atijere Road was renegotiated and has since been re-awarded.”
Ajiboye said “The Akeredolu led administration attaches so much importance to the welfare of our people. As a result, the commission also intervened in the medical challenges facing the people in the oil rich region of the state through health intervention programme which saw the Commission collaborating with some selected government-owned health establishments in the state.
“About N15m has been expended on about 22 patients with grievous and life-threatening ailments benefitting from the scheme. The aged and physically challenged are not left out as data capturing in the two local government areas for a welfare package for them has been concluded.”
Speaking on the road project linking Ondo State with Lagos State through Araromi Seaside to Lekki, Ajiboye said the 51km Araromi Seaside – Igbo Eedu- Akodo- Ise-Lagos Road has been flagged off by the governor and it is expected to be completed within the next 36 months.
“The recent award of contracts for the repair and rehabilitation of walkways/jetties across the various communities in Ilaje and Ese-Odo local government areas worth N800 million demonstrates the Akeredolu-led administration’s commitment to give a new life to the people in the oil-producing areas of the state.”