Chux Ohai: Warri – Trapped between Oil Wealth And squalor

Warri’s image as an oil-rich city and commercial hub of the Niger Delta is threatened by filth and slums, reports Chux Ohai

Mercy Filatei lives in a small island, just behind the Ogbe-Ijoh Waterside Market in Warri. She lives with her husband and their two children. The place is called Fenigbene Camp and it is inhabited mostly by Ijaw fishermen, traders and a few boat builders.

A few weeks ago, Mercy’s husband, Timi, went in search of a job in Lagos. Like most other male residents, he was tired of earning a meagre income from fishing and living in a squalid condition at the camp.

Mercy tries to augment his earnings by selling roasted fish.With the little money she makes, she is able to feed their two children and take care of the home-front.

This Saturday afternoon, she is back in her regular spot near the entrance to the camp. A short distance to her left, some boat builders are already busy at work. And behind her, a few dugout canoes paddled by women are ferrying passengers across the river, just as the pleasant aroma of roasting fish filled the air.

Most of the residents of the camp seem to be absorbed in a quiet struggle for survival. Like the Filateis, many of them appear determined to rise above the squalid conditions that define their existence in the community.

“The residents of Fenigbene community are self-made people. They are not enjoying any amenities. Instead, they have been providing their own needs without assistance from the state or local government.

“There is nothing coming from the government to the people. All they have been doing is make empty promises. After every election, they forget what they pledged to do for the people. This is what we have been facing in this town. There is nothing we can do about it,  other than to hope in God’s intervention,” Chief Porto-Novo Dieyei, the Pere-Egbewei of Isaba Kingdom, says.

Unfortunately it appears that the efforts of the people have not amounted to much. The ‘island’, which was barely reclaimed from the water, is still a study in squalor. The ‘soil’, made of thick layers of saw dust, is so fragile that only wooden houses and similar structures can be erected on it.

In addition to the absence of potable water and electricity supply, there is no school or health care facility in Fenigbene. The people depend on the river, which is currently plagued by water hyacinth, for their water supply. Since they could not build toilets in the camp because of the nature of the ‘soil’, they have no other choice than to empty their bowels in the same water.

“It is not enough to say that the residents live on the margin, they are the margin themselves,” Dieyei says.

Yet, while admitting that its condition is bad enough, a former councillor with the Warri South Local Government Area, Mrs. Rose Tulu,  says the community falls under the joint supervision of the local government council and the Warri South West LGA.

In an interview with our correspondent, Tulu says it is the duty of both LGAs and the Delta State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission to improve on the welfare of the residents of the community.

“Fenigbene is part of Warri South LGA and Warri SouthWest LGA. The community is highly populated. We have always known it to be a fishing camp. It is the duty of parastatals like the DESOPADEC to execute some developmental projects in oil-producing communities.

“Sometimes, government officials themselves need to visit the communities under their supervision to see things for themselves. It is the duty of the representatives of the government to monitor the progress of contracts awarded for developmental projects,” she says.

But the problem is not peculiar to the community, as Dieyei notes. “If you look around, you will discover that there is no potable water in Ogbe-Ijoh Waterside as a whole. The roads are bad and there is no drainage system. Development is slow and poor.

“Unfortunately, DESOPADEC, which was created by the government to spread development to the grass roots, has neglected communities like Fenigbene. Officials of the commission are only interested in developing the communities of their friends. DESOPADEC is involved in what I would describe as ‘man-know-man business,” he says.

Infrastructural decay

Further inland, the same pitiable conditions are prevalent in parts of Warri that are densely populated. There is appalling evidence of infrastructural decay in places like the Okumagba Layout, Ugborikoko quarters and Essi Layout.

Investigation shows that apart from the Warri-Sapele Road, which is the major road that leads to the city; Okere Road, Airport Road, Refinery Road, which is still under construction, and parts of the Government Reservation Area, tarred roads are few.

The city does not only lack a functional drainage system in many parts, it is also filthy. The gutters in most parts of the city are clogged up with refuse, just as the canals and other water channels are permanently blocked by filth that has accumulated over a period of time.

Although construction work on Okumagba, which is about 3km long, has been on-going for quite some time; there is no end in sight yet. The project appears to be abandoned.

Yet, none of the backstreets in the densely populated areas, such as Iyara, Enerhen, Okere-Urhobo and Okumagba Layout, is tarred. Those places are not ‘motorable’ and they are always flooded whenever there is heavy rainfall.

Slums

The presence of slums further diminishes the image of the oil-rich city and the commercial hub of the Niger Delta.

“Whenever the name, Iyara, is mentioned in Warri, it evokes trepidation. It is the city’s most dreaded bad spot believed to be the inhabited by undesirable elements,” says Edet Akpan, a commercial tricycle operator in the city.

Located in Essi Layout, Iyara Street is often associated with bizarre and dramatic events. It is said that a woman who sold fried bean cakes (akara) on the street once confessed to witchcraft publicly.

 

Read More at The Punch

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