“Eke-Ojapo Road Construction is ‘Edumoga Moment’”, Elite Alert Local Politicians, Police, ‘Cultists’, Criminals and Trouble Makers
Ahead of the commencement of construction work next week on the Eke-Ojapo Road project in Edumoga District of Okpokwu LGA in Benue State, elite from the area have declared an ‘Edumoga Moment’ which they say demands of all stakeholders in the area to turn a new leaf. They have in mind stakeholders in the maintenance of peace and who can work together to burst violent and disruptive pockets of social tension raging across the District owing to activities of youths suspected to be cultists and sundry criminals. Such stakeholders are political leaders from the area, the police, traditional rulers and the youths. Describing the news of the impending commencement of work on the road as a revolution at a meeting of its top bureaucrats, diplomats, businessmen and women, professionals and politicians Sunday in Abuja, the elite resolved by acclamation to work with all stakeholders to prepare the District for the Edumoga they see emerging after the completion of the road project.
Edumoga, the largest of the 22 districts in the old Idoma Native Authority, is about the only one still unbroken in the series of creation of new districts in the state. As such, it is the most developmentally hungry District. Although it has produced the chairmanship of the old Okpokwu LGA twice or so since the local government was created in 1976, Edumoga perceives itself the underdog in comparative terms and carries on as such, with particular respect to the Eke-Ojapo Road which links the upper part of the District to its agricultural and food heartland in the lower part. Now, from nowhere, the road project is to be tarred, hence the uncontrollable excitement oozing from the community’s elite.
Some of the masterminds behind the resolution told Intervention that the road is at the core of Edumoga’s existence on the margins in spite of its populousness and agricultural advantage. It was pointed out that communities in the lower part of the District have no choice than sell off whole orange trees to bulk buyers mostly from the eastern part of the country because there is no outlet outside Eke-Ojapo Road. The argument is that Utonkon Market on the Otukpo-Enugu rail line is too small in terms of coping with the volume of agricultural production from the area. And even if it were big enough, patronising the market entails carrying sacks on the head to the market, a distance of over ten kilometres. While admitting that the Gabriel Suswam administration constructed the Utonkon-Okpoga Trunk B Road in 2008, the interviewees argued that not only is the road already derelict, it is not a route patronised by any public transport system in the area..
The elite united under Edumoga Development Association (EDE-MA) are calculating that once the Eke-Ojapo Road is tarred, it gives the areas in the lower part of the District access both to Ugboklo, the commercial nerve centre of the District as well as Otukpo, the economic hub of the Idoma part of Benue State. It is also part of their argument that it is the absence of the road that explains the absence of any government owned secondary school in the District even though 61 of the 82 so-called public primary schools in Okpokwu LGA are in Edumoga, according to statistics described as official. In the absence of schools, clinics, functional markets, any viable government establishment in the area, the District has since exploded in fake drugs, criminality, ‘cultism’ and politics with bitterness.
EDE-MA described these features as worrying, pointing out how bad it is that nowadays, many urban based elements cannot even travel home without being molested by persons suspected to be local cultists. Besides such attacks, they conduct regular raids on women returning from the market, dispossessing them of whatever they realised in the market. Rural banditry and herdsmen violence are, therefore, two issues that everyone – the police, political leaders, the youth and community leaders must put heads together to resolve, the association said.
Along with celebrating the road project, EDE-MA Development Association is also making a final appeal to the youths in the area to embrace the ‘Edumoga Moment’ by asking all those involved in ‘cultism’ to quickly and categorically renounce such temptation and, instead, ready themselves for better economic opportunities. EDE-MA restated its earlier position not to support anyone involved in any form of criminality, no matter what. It is saying it stands by its December 2016 Abuja Declaration to work with development or community associations of other districts to resolve inter-communal discords. It renewed its call on political leaders from the area and the police to join such efforts in the wake of the road project. The association is particularly calling on the police to resist any temptations to connive with suspected cultists in any form, adding that it is worried by reports suggesting cases of connivance on the one hand and cases of misuse of police power here and there by few bad eggs on the other. It indicated its preparedness to work with law enforcement agencies to hold cultural rehabilitation seminars for all who may renounce ‘cultism’ and sundry criminal temptations and turn their attention to new opportunities in agriculture, information technology and cultural innovations.
It could not be confirmed how quickly the 15 kilometre Eke-Ojapo Road would be completed, bearing in mind the coming of the rains in the area very soon. For the first time since 1976, the road will be tarred. It has always been poorly graded and easily washed away as soon as the exercise is over. Now, providence would appear to have taken it up, bringing the suffering and exclusion of the area to an end. Having been relieved of the burden of bearing the cost of the road, the expectation is that the Benue State Government and Okpokwu LGC would plan ahead as far as maintenance of the road after it has been tarred is concerned.