It is a journey of immense wonder and danger sailing on the waters of Niger Delta, where I travelled in an open boat from Sapele to Ogbudugbudu, Okifamba, Opia and Olougbene in the Egbema Kingdom of Warri North LGA; then from Warri to Okiyotoru, Makaraba and Kokodiagbene in the Gbaramatu Kingdom of Warri South-West LGA; and then from Koko to Eghoro, Bateren and Jakpa in Warri South LGA. I capped it all up with another boat travel from Warri in Delta State to Bilabiri Kingdom on Dodo River in Bayelsa State where I met a very special king, HRM Pere Paul Seidei (JP), Angirikpe the 5, Ibenanawei of Bilabiri Kingdom and Gbarakepa of Dodo River who remarkably addresses himself as “The Ark of God”. In all, I spent more than 36 hours on the high seas.
The Niger Delta is a region defined by water, aside from the oil and gas under the ground. Navigating the many creeks of the region is a daily chore for the people. Stepping off the coast at Sapele one accosts the beehive of activities in the mammy transport. The fishing and trading activities supported by the mammy transport encompasses all the communities of the Gbaramatu Kingdom made up of okodiagbene, Benikrukru, Kenyagbene, Makaraba and Okoyitoru. The mammy transport also includes in its sphere the diverse towns of the Egbema Kingdom such as Tsekelewu, Ogbudugbudu, Opuama, Opia, Dumok, and Polobobou.
Setting sail through the wide sea and narrow creeks, it is a two-hour journey to the town of Gbudugbudu in the Warri North Local Government Area. The school serving the entire town was founded back in 1955.
Utolu Primary School, Ogbudugbudu, which bears the legend “Knowledge is light” hardly ever saw any improvement in its affairs until 2007 when Chevron partnered with the Egbema/Gbaramatu Central Development Committee (ECGDC) in the construction of one block of six classrooms. The new construction has definitely upped the ante of activities in the school, as the School Principal Mrs M.A. Torumade readily attests to.
The erection of the new classroom block has been embraced in a way that some of the educated Ogbudugbudu townspeople living in far-flung areas like Sapele and Warri are longing to return home to teach in the school. As many as seven of them applied to teach in the school but were not taken by the government in the course of the Delta State recruitment exercise for teachers:
Education takes pride of place for the children across the creeks of the Niger Delta, as the children can be seen daily having to row in boats for long distances to attend school.
Health is another key issue in the lives of the people of the Niger Delta. Water-borne diseases are all the rage. The construction of a Health Centre at Okifamba brings so much joy to the people. The expansive building was commissioned by Rev. Dr. I. C. Tolar, the former chairman of ECGDC on Thursday, November 19, 2009. The facility serves the 36 clans making up Okifamba.
Time was when wooden jetties used to serve the communities. These poorly constructed jetties almost always gave way against the surge of the sea. The situation is improving with the construction of not only concrete jetties but waiting sheds to boot. Typical examples include the Opia Concrete Jetty and waiting shed.
Even as the Niger Delta is surrounded on all corners by water, the region suffers from acute shortage of drinking water. It is akin to the case of the poem, “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”, in which Coleridge laments of “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.” It is in the drive to offer potable water to the region that the Olougbene Water Project was undertaken.
At the Okoyitoru community, the need is a public toilet. The construction of a concrete public toilet is now in place together with the construction of a footbridge leading to the toilet. The people of Okoyitoru, who already had a jetty and waiting shed, recall that it used to be so much trouble doing their daily toilet routine, until the advent of the new public toilet. Makaraba community, celebrated as an ancestral homeland of the Ijaw, equally savours the joys of the construction of a concrete jetty and waiting shed.
The stark contrast made in the affairs of the communities of the Niger Delta is illustrated in bold relief by the side-by-side view of an old decrepit wooden bridge falling apart and the brand new concrete link bridge constructed at Kokodiagbene. The Kokodiagbene Elders-in-Council Chairman Mr. Daniel Ukuli knows the difference made in their lives by the new construction, saying that it used to be hell travelling from one community to the other.
Now that one of their own is the president of the country the Niger Delta is on the front burner in the scheme of development in Nigeria.