Indigenes of Okposi Ezinasato in Ohaozara Local Government Area of Ebonyi State in diaspora known as Ndi Okposi in Diaspora has faulted the Okposi-Ubuntu road dualization project by the government of Engr.David Umahi, nothing that the project will not be in the overall best interest of Okposi Ezinasato indigenes.
The group made this known in communique signed by Mr. Aja N. Chuku and Mr. Chukwu O. Chukwu yesterday.
The statement read; “we learned of the intention of the Ebonyi State Government to dualize Okposi-Uburu road that traverses from Court Area, through Okposi Achara, Obodoma, Isi-Ovia to Uburu. After we objectively reviewed the benefits, risks, costs and alternatives of the proposed project, we contacted one of the traditional rulers in Okposi Ezinasato, to express our concerns regarding the project.
“Unfortunately, the response of traditional ruler was rather obfuscating. Consequently, we articulated our views in a private letter to our State Governor, His Excellency, Engr. David Nweze Umahi, dated May 20th, 2020.
“ In the letter, we graciously commended the efforts of the State Government in bringing development closer to the people, we also rejected the project because its overwhelmingly devastating socioeconomic losses, as most of the homes, businesses and important landmarks along the designated road would have been destroyed.
Overwhelmingly devastating socioeconomic losses as most of the homes, businesses and important landmarks along the designated road would have been destroyed.
“Concerns by Traditionalists that most of the compounds/buildings marked for demolition are ancestral homes that shelter the graves of our (departed) illustrious ancestors, hence such road dualization will desecrate those graves and herald the spiritual dissociation between our departed loved ones and their living family members.
“That dualization of an existing functional road in Okposi at this time is entirely unnecessary as the host community is currently bedeviled with minimal infrastructures.
“We recommend that the Government should responsibly channel the funds to prioritize other impactful projects as revamping the dilapidated (public) educational sector in Okposi: Quality education is wealth and a proven primer for transformation of lives.
“Construction of internal roads in Okposi Ezinasato, with emphasis on the following road networks: Avia Nkwo-Obuegu-Oduogo Road; Obodoma-Ojigwe-Court Area Road; Mebiowa-Ojigwe
“ Furthermore , we recognized that the State Government, in its own wisdom and judgment, may decide to still proceed with the road dualization without deference to our recommendations.
“Therefore, we respectfully requested the following from our governor: That the road dualization project should have a humane face and conform to global best practice standards.
“ That the entire Okposi autonomous communities and, indeed, the affected individuals should be taken into confidence by the state government.
“ That instead of confining the dualization to the land space on one side of the existing road, as proposed by the government, the road dualization should utilize land spaces on both sides in order to ensure minimal damages to properties.
“That the State Government should appoint Professional Estate Valuer(s) to evaluate properties/developments and economic crops that would be affected by the construction, and in line with the Nigerian Land Use Act Sec. 44, sub-section 1a & b of the 1979 Nigerian Constitution as amended in 1999, ensure that fair compensations are paid to the affected owners.
“ That the State Government should conduct proper Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) using qualified Urban and Regional Planner(s) to evaluate the impacts of the project on the biodiversity and ecosystem of the host communities.
“That for optimal benefits, the road dualization should be extended from Okposi to Amasiri (in Afikpo L.G.A.).
“ The fact about Okposi- Uburu link roads is Okposi and Uburu communities are linked by at least two major roads namely court Area Okposi, through Okposi Achara, Onu-Ogo, Obodoma, Isi-Ovia to Uburu.and Court-Area Okposi through Odogo, Obuegu Onu-Avia Nkwo to Obiozara and Uburu.
“ The current road mapped for dualization has several important landmarks such as Federal Government College, Okposi, the residence of the Late Onyiba Aja Nwachukwu (Nigeria’s first Minister of Education), several homes and businesses, etc.
“ This road was just recently reconstructed, with drainage systems, and completed by Governor Umahi’s administration. This road is currently functional and in excellent condition. We are, therefore, dismayed by the fact that the same government suddenly decided to dualize the same road, thereby prompting several resounding questions about the wisdom in redoing the same road that was completed barely 3 years ago.
“Objectively, we should ask ourselves developmental questions: Could the allocated funds for this road dualization be channeled to other infrastructural projects to boost economic activities and development in Okposi? Do the merits of this road dualization justify the expected losses and hardships? Considering the total cost of the project including compensations; cost of demolition and debris clearance, and actual construction costs proper, would it not make better economic sense for the government to construct an alternate road altogether? What is the cost-benefit of this road dualization? Why is the State Government fixated on a good road that was just completed a couple years ago when there are multitudes of muddy roads weeping for attention in Okposi? Are we really building a sustainable future? If we, Ebonyians, can answer these questions without any form of bias or political sentiments, we will invest wisely and profitably given the well-documented paucity of funds available to the State. It is instructive to note that Governor Umahi is from Uburu and he is intent to dualize the road that leads to his hometown at all cost, irrespective of the harm such unbalanced decision might cause the neighboring village and its inhabitants. Meanwhile, the Governor and his agents have been brandishing the false narrative that Okposi people must act now so as not to miss a lifetime opportunity to dualize the designated road.
“ The second major road (Court-Area Okposi through Odogo, Obuegu Onu-Avia Nkwo to Obiozara down to Uburu) is a very strategic road network. This road bifurcates at Avia-Nkwo; to the left leads through Uburu enroute to Enugu (Enugu State), while to the right leads to Abakaliki through Onicha. Interestingly, this alternate road was previously mapped-out for dualization that was initiated, but later abandoned, in the 1990s, thus residents proactively restrained themselves from building close to this road.
“This road network will be a viable alternative for dualization considering project cost reduction, reduced compensation costs, and overall economic benefits given its strategic linkages to Uburu and Onicha and, by extension, Enugu and Abakaliki.
“ Although it is quite reasonable to argue that dualization of the existing road is a catalyst for economic enhancement in our community, there are numerous stakeholders who will certainly be negatively impacted by this project. Therefore, it is logical for the government to consult properly with those stakeholders so that the delivery of the project will yield the desired dividends.
“ .In the case of the proposed road dualization, the State Government ignored the need to engage directly with over 95 percent of the affected families; the affected properties were not evaluated by Professional Estate Valuers to determine fair compensations for the owners. Rather than adopt global best practices and standards in acquiring private lands and properties, the state government opted to forcefully intimidate and harass the affected individuals using the Governor’s political appointees and our traditional rulers. Obviously the three (3) traditional rulers in Okposi happily romance with the Governor and carry out his wishes, at the detriment of their subjects, out of fear of reprisal and dethronement by the governor. Accordingly, Governor Umahi, through his political appointees and his goons at the State’s Ministry of Works, as well as the local traditional rulers, bizarrely determined who, what, when, where and how much to compensate the affected individuals.
“ When the proposed road dualization project was vehemently opposed last year by many stakeholders from all the villages in Okposi Ezinasato, we thought that the State Government would toe the right path by direct engagements and consultations with the people with a view to arriving at an amicable solution. It is pertinent to mention here that Governor Umahi received and read our letter but, sadly, his office never considered it courteous and civil to acknowledge and/or reply the letter till date. We later learned that the Governor was unhappy with the letter even when we only expressed our concerns over the unprecedented economic and deleterious socio-cultural implications of the project on our people. Perhaps, we must state categorically that the letter was very objective, respectful and in no way a collective attack on the person of the Governor or his government.
“ We are pained by the recent development whereby the people living in the marked areas for the proposed road dualization were instructed to vacate their homes within 96 hours. We are very much aware that dualization of an existing, functional road has never been an infrastructural emergency. The decision of Governor Umahi’s administration to create unnecessary humanitarian crisis by forceful evictions and displacement of some villagers in Okposi in the middle of a disastrous COVID-19 pandemic, all in the name of road dualization, is unfathomable and certainly confounding. It is irresponsible, inhumane and not well thought-out, especially as Government never made any plans to relocate these potentially homeless, poor citizens who have lived in their ancestral homes for generations and have no alternate homes.
“ Following the 96-hour ultimatum issued by the government to the affected families to vacate their homes two weeks ago, most of these families resigned to fate and elected to deface their homes/properties, where feasible, by removing the roofing sheets, doors and windows, hoping to salvage what is left in their (ruined) lives. Similarly, local farmers had no option than to prematurely harvest their crops in the affected lands.
“ Apparently, the State Government hurriedly tasked the traditional rulers in Okposi to direct the affected persons/families in Okposi to report to the local government headquarters at Obiozara on Thursday, January 14, 2021, for verification exercise. Right there and then, the affected persons were individually informed of the token (“compensation”) which the government allocated to them without due regard to proper assessment and evaluation of their properties. Thereafter, they were further directed to go through a flawed and corrupt bureaucracy of having their traditional rulers validate their identifies and their financial “compensations”. It is prudent to note that owners of undeveloped lands and farmlands (with or without economic crops) were not considered qualified for compensation. The State Government has since deployed heavy duty equipment and proceeded with aggressive demolition of properties along the proposed dual road even when most of these families are yet to be formally compensated.
“ It is quite disheartening that the State Government deliberately did not follow basic procedural norms in the proposed road dualization. The government violated ethical and professional best practices including, but not limited to: absolute disregard for individualized consultations with affected persons; improper identification of affected persons; undervaluation of affected properties; grossly unfair and corrupt compensation practices geared toward affected persons; exclusion of compensation for some individuals with undeveloped lands; reckless endangerment of public lives due to forced evictions during a pandemic, etc.
“ This neither speaks well for the government nor the leadership of Okposi Ezinasato Communities as the essence of governance and development is to lighten the yoke of the people and not to increase their burdens. For an administration that prides itself as a “Divine Mandate”, it is senseless to see the same government inflict hardship, sorrow and pain on the same set of people that it set out to ‘rescue’. It is obvious that the whole exercise is riddled with corruption and ordinary folks in the village now have their homes, businesses, properties and means of livelihood confiscated from them, under duress, for a paltry token, all in a bid to satisfy the desires of the State Governor. It beats our imagination how names were compiled, and tokens allocated to some people without engaging them individually to determine the worth of their properties. If the State Government is sincere about the plight of her citizenry in Okposi, it should have taken into cognizance the current property values and compensate the affected individuals fairly.
“Having fruitlessly exhausted other channels of communication to reach out to His Excellency, Engr. Dave Umahi, and the three traditional rulers in Okposi, we are compelled to make our views public to underscore the shenanigans surrounding the proposed Okposi-Uburu Road Dualization project.
“With the speedy compilation of names of the affected individuals and planned payment of tokens, under the garb of compensations, we advise that the government should ensure that affected individuals who have been probably rendered homeless are safely relocated.That considering the current global challenges posed by COVID-19 Pandemic, the State Government should not disregard the health implications of the evictions even as the Government is bent on pursuing the road dualization project. That fair compensation should be paid to all the affected individuals to help them regain their lives and contribute meaningfully to the peace and progress of Okposi community.That the State Government should carry out Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) to evaluate the impact of the project on the biodiversity and ecosystem in the host communities.That the dualization project be extended from Okposi to Amasiri for optimal socio-economic benefits.That conscious and continuous consultations/communication should be in place until project completion.That the Government should speedily complete the project”.
Vanguard News Nigeria