Jonathan, Itsekiri and $16b EPZ

2015-03-27
THE NATION Newspaper

When the idea of the $16 billion Export Processing Zone for Delta State was first introduced nearly four years ago, it was greeted with glee, back-thumping and eulogies for the federal and Delta State governments by the benefitting communities. It was touted as a magic wand to tackle mass unemployment, youth restiveness. It was also expected to bring prosperity to not only the state, but the entire country. But four years on, the debate over ownership of the land and alleged victimisation of the smaller Itsekiri host communities by their more populous Ijaw neighbours and kinsmen of the President Goodluck Jonathan have brought several dimensions and polemics into the project.

The original site of the key project was Koko, an Itsekiri town and headquarters of Warri North Local Government Area. The home town of the famous Chief Nana Olomu, the famous Niger Delta nationalist, who put the town on world map in the late 19th century, is in need of positive development following the infamous toxic waste saga of 1987 and wanton destruction by ethnic militias during the Warri crisis. The town has significantly lost its attraction as one of the major port cities of the state. Massive warehouses built by companies in its yore days have been converted into churches and other uses.

It was against this background that the July 25, 2011 visit by a group of foreign investors led by Mr Matouq Janna, Senior Vice President of Xenel/Safra Group of Saudi Arabi and PP Singh of Nagarjuna Group from India was received by indigenes of the town, including Chief Victor Nana, scion of the famous Koko patriarch, with fanfare and expectation.

Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan was also ecstatic as he enthused: “The benefits are quite huge. The completion of the plants will lead to the employment of thousands of persons and many of them will be Deltans. So, we have a lot of benefits from it and there are several industries that will spring up from these plants. Industries that will utilise the bye-products and others that will make parts for these plants will also benefit… the future is very bright.”

The hopes and expectation of the Koko people were cut short after the visit as they were told that the project would no longer be sited in their town. Information later emerged that the narrowness of the Benin River access to the Atlantic Ocean was the reason. Mr Paul Odili, Communications Manager to Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan, and a key member of the think tank, told our reporter that more than $1billion was needed to dredge and expand the river to accommodate bigger vessels.

The unwillingness of the Federal Government, the Nigerian Ports Authority and other stakeholders in the project to commit the fund scupper the project. The search for a new site led to Escravos area, where Ogidigben, another Itsekiri community on the fringe of the ocean, was chosen.

Nearly four years down the lane, at least three false starts on, people of the area are wondering if the project is jinxed. The latest bump on the long tortuous road was last Monday’s failure of President Goodluck Jonathan to perform the groundbreaking ceremony for the Ogidigben Gas City Project and Gbaramatu Deep Sea Port in Warri South West Local Government Area of the state.

The March 16 no-show was the third of such disappointment: in November 2014 over 200 foreign investors, local businessmen, community leaders and the state government were left red-faced when the Ministry of Petroleum Resource, in a terse statement, announced that the President would not be in Escravos for the ceremony. ‘Security report’ was cited as the reason for the abortion.

 

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