From George Onyejiuwa, Owerri

Oil-producing communities of Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta, Imo State, have become a vortex of crises. This is as a result of neglect by the multinational oil-prospecting companies and various governments in the provision of infrastructure like electricity, roads, functional healthcare centres and potable water. 

The plight of the indigenes of these communities is further compounded by the environmental degradation associated with oil exploration, which has affected their livelihoods, as farmlands and streams are despoiled by oil spills.

The Imo State Oil Producing Areas Development Commission (ISOPADEC), established in 2007 by the administration of Ikedi Ohakim as an interventionist agency, did little to address the parlous conditions of the oil-bearing communities, especially in the provision of infrastructure to make the lives of indigenes of the communities more meaningful. The eight-year administration of Rochas Okorocha did not adequately fund ISOPADEC. Funds meant for developmental projects in the area were allegedly diverted.

However, there seems to be a ray of hope. The new ISOPADEC managing director, Chief Charles Orie, has vowed to change the ugly trend. The commission recently kicked off 38 projects to be executed in 33 wards of Ohaji/Egbema, Oguta and Oru East LGAs. They include the construction of 24 new classroom blocks for primary schools, renovation of health centres in Mgbala, Mgbrichi, Awarra, Obitti, Ubudi Agwa, Umuhu and Amagu.

The commission also commenced the rehabilitation of the old Oguta General Hospital as well as the construction of a new 20-bed general hospital in Oguta, rehabilitation of the General Hospital, Awomama, and construction of a 20-bed General Hospital with modern facilities at Umuokanne.

The ISOPADEC boss listed the projects to include three new hospitals, maternity homes, rehabilitation of hospitals like General Hospital, Oguta, renovation of primary and secondary school blocks and building of new 30-classroom blocks in some communities, as well as construction of some community roads.

He said, “This is the first time that the ISOPADEC will be executing 38 projects in 33 wards of the oil-producing communities of the state. These projects must be delivered in the next six months. This administration of Governor Hope Uzodimma wants to change the ugly narratives in the development of the oil-producing communities in the state. 

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“These projects, especially the rehabilitation of health centres and the construction of new ones, are primarily to give the indigenes of these communities access to quality healthcare because health is wealth.

“We are not only renovating but are building 24 new six-classroom blocks for the primary schools in all the 33 wards to provide conducive learning environment for both the teachers and the pupils. The only way of quelling the restiveness of the youths is by giving them a sense of belonging and it is what is called shared prosperity.”

Orie said all the contractors were already mobilized to site. He, therefore, appealed to youths in the 33 benefitting wards to cooperate with the contractors by protecting the construction equipment in their communities. He urged the contractors to cooperate with the youths by giving them jobs to do.

Traditional ruler of Oguta, Eze Nnani Nzeribe, said his joy knew no bounds. He said the development opened a new vista in grassroots development. On the rehabilitation of the general hospital, which he disclosed was established as a referral facility by the defunct Eastern Region government, he said: “We want this hospital, when finished, to be well-equipped and staffed for the use of our people. This is because our people have always gone as far as Owerri for their health-related issues as a result of the total collapse of the Oguta General Hospital.”

He prayed for the successful completion of the projects and declared that Oguta was safe and peaceful: “The people will give their full cooperation to the contractor handling the hospital project.”

A community leader in Mgbuisi, Ohaji, in Ohaji/Egbema LG, Chief Damian Opara, said: “I am impressed with the new development in ISOPADEC. I must commend both the governor and Orie for bringing the dividends of democracy to the suffering people of the oil communities. We are happy about the projects.

“If the previous administrations had acted in this manner, there would not have been any militancy by the youths.”