Dissecting The Benefits, Opportunities, Challenges of PH Ring Road

Nelson Chukwudi

IT IS MASSIVE. It is gigantic. It is expensive. It is first of its kind. It is a legacy signature impression. It is the single largest infrastructure project ever undertaken by any sub-national government in Nigeria. It is the Port Harcourt Ring Road!

The Port Harcourt Ring Road project is a clear evidence of Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara’s resilience, foresight and exhibition of political will to take tough decisions. The project shows a convincing strength of courage. Moving what was once a concept on the drawing board for decades into the sphere of reality, does not depict weakness but strong commitment and determination to dare, and do extraordinary things.

Lest we forget, this ring road project for Port Harcourt was first contemplated decades ago. The initial proposals were made in the 1970s during the military era. When the administration of Chief Rufus Ada-George superintended the State between January 1992 and November 1993, the idea was birthed again. At the time, Port Harcourt City was not as expansive as it is now, and some of the areas were forested and uninhabited.

With the Ada-George’s concept, the ring road was to run from then Slaughter at Oginigba in Obio/Akpor Local Government Area through Okujagu to Abuloma, Amadi-Ama, and connect Eastern Bypass to Amadi Flats, Old GRA to Aba Road by Abali Park, all in Port Harcourt City Local Government Area. He also thought of linking Borokiri to Okrika by road and bridges. Another section was to begin from Njemanze, connect Nanka to Illoabuchi, link Eagle Island also in Port Harcourt City to Rumueme. But that link was not finalised. However, he okayed the Rumueme-Rumuepirikom-Mgbuoba link road connecting Ozuoba through the popular Rumuokwuta-Ozuoba-Choba Road. It was to via off at Ozuoba to East-West Road in Obio/Akpor. It also was to connect Port Harcourt-Owerri Road by Airport Junction in Ikwerre Local Government. Here again, the administration could not take the project off the drawing board.

The administration of Dr Peter Odili, between 1999 and 2007, understood the importance of the ring road to the economic rejuvenation, and revived the project to attract investments to the State. It actually executed the first stretch of the road from Slaughter through Okujagu to Abuloma, and then, linked Amadi-Ama to Eastern Bypass and Amadi Flats. It completed that section of the road on a single lane ticket. It further connected Mgbuoba to East-West Road by now Obiri-Ikwerre. The project was not 100 percent completed.

During the Chibuike Amaechi’s eight years in the saddle between 2007 and 2015, the administration dualised the Peter Odili Road, reckoning with its potential benefits in opening up the city of Port Harcourt to accelerated development. It also embarked on the construction of the Ada-George Road, and dualised it, linking it to Rumuokwuta-Mgbuoba-Ozuoba-Choba road. He completed it. He also completed the Mgbuoba-East-West link road by Obiri-Ikwerre. Amaechi constructed an interchange on East-West Road by Obiri-Ikwerre, and began the dualisation of Obiri-Ikwerre-Airport Road, which he named after Prof Tam David-West. He did not complete the road before the expiration of his tenure.

In addition to that, Amaechi initiated the extension of the ring road by connecting Prof Tam David-West Road in Greater Port Harcourt City Area through Igwuruta, with a flyover across Port Harcourt-Owerre Road by Agricultural Development Programme (ADP) office in Ikwerre Local Government Area. That new design was to take the road from Ikwerre Local Government through Eneka in Obio/Akpor, to Etche Local Government; again, connecting Iriebe in Obio/Akpor, across Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway, and link Agbonchia, Ebubu, Ogale to Onne in Eleme Local Government Area. The project was also commenced but abandoned by the administration.  

On arrival in office in 2015 as Governor, Nyesom Wike took up Obiri-Ikwerre-Airport Road, and completed it. He did that because he bought into the idea tapping into the obvious benefits of the ring road to the sustainable development of the State. The current ring road project was first suggested in 2019, but gained approval from the Rivers State Executive Council in 2020. Wike reasoned that redesigning the route will better serve the overall interest of the State. He contracted Julius Berger Nigeria Plc to do the design. What the contractor put out was inconclusive before Wike left office on May 29, 2023. Little wonder he did not factor the project into the 2023 budget.

But the paradigm shift in concept made the new project unique in many ways. The route traverses six local government areas – Port Harcourt City, Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre, Etche, Eleme and Okrika – and connects Port Harcourt in a circular form. It covers 50.15km dual carriageway, with varied widths of between 7.6m and 29.2m where there are service lanes. It also has six flyovers, and one major river crossing bridge. In addition, it has not less than 19 roundabouts. But despite the importance attached to it by Wike, he did not make any budgetary allocation to the project in the 2023 Appropriation Act.

Indeed, it took the administration of Sir Siminalayi Fubara to take the project off the drawing board, and ensure that the N195billion project was actually flagged-off on Monday, July 17, 2023. How did it happen? Governor Fubara awarded the contract for the project to Julius Berger Nigeria Plc in July, 2023, barely 50 days into the new administration, with a target completion date of 36 months, which draws into 2025.

The Governor did that because he understood the importance of the project. For this reason, He sent a supplementary budget of N200billin to the Rivers State House of Assembly because funding of the project was not provided for in the budget he inherited. On the day he assented to the supplementary budget in Government House, Governor Fubara stated: “Let me on behalf of the Executive arm of government commend you for your prompt response to the supplementary budget. We are a product of Consolidation and Continuity. We will implement every good idea by the previous administration geared towards improving the lives of Rivers people.”

On the day of flag-off of the project at UTC Junction in Port Harcourt, Governor Fubara said, “When all these places are opened up, people, including real estate investors, will start moving in, and businesses will open up the areas because people have started acquiring land there”. He also said that the road will not only facilitate travels, decongest traffic in the city centre, but will further boost interactions, social and cultural exchanges between communities and populations in the various LGAs along the 50.15km route.

Honestly, successive governments from 1970s to 2023, had seen the importance and overarching benefits of the ring road to the socio-economic growth and development of the State. This is why any discerning minds would reckon with the serious attention past governors and administrators placed on bringing to fruition the life of the Port Harcourt Ring Road as a key to fast tracking the overall development of the State. Therefore, dismissing the project as “not of any significant economic benefit to the State”, shows how short-sighted purveyors of this negative narrative definitely are. Even more laughable is the assumption that “the project is not fundamentally different from the 12 flyovers built by the immediate past administration of Nyesom Wike”.

Let’s take a tour of the benefits a little bit. The project signals a pivotal milestone for Rivers State. It has the potential to enhance the quality of life for residents and stimulate substantial economic growth in the region. It stands as a valuable asset for the State, facilitating smoother transportation and communication between its various LGAs. By addressing traffic congestion, enhancing transportation linkages, generating employment opportunities, and stimulating economic growth, this signature infrastructure project will undoubtedly leave a lasting positive impact on the State for generations to come.

The road will decongest traffic in Port Harcourt, providing an effective bypass route for inner city traffic, alleviating congestion and significantly improving traffic flow within the city. No doubt, this will reduce travel times and improve air quality, making the city more livable for residents.

It will improve transportation link between different parts of the state, by facilitating seamless logistics connectivity for different areas, promoting greater mobility for both people and goods. It will also boost economic activities, make investment decisions easy, and help reduce poverty in the land. Another plank of its benefits is the fact that the road will create a substantial number of direct and indirect employment opportunities, stimulate economic growth and uplift thousands of livelihoods. The local communities will boom and unemployment will reduce. The economic benefits include the fact that it is a major investment that gives hope to thousands of people; just as it will open up new areas for development and influx of new businesses, increasing ease of doing business and accelerating investors’ confidence in the state.

Now, let’s dig a little bit into the details of the project. The ring road, understandably, is an essential component required to achieve sustained socio-economic development. In fact, roads make movements easier, of a person, goods or services, from one point to another. This road will be doing just more than that because it is not just a path secluded within the city, it is of a diverse nature, conveying traffic more out of the city centre, to six LGAs on a seamless drive. To be able to navigate one’s way easily in and out of the metropolis on such road cannot be dismissed as a waste of scarce resources. Obviously not! On the contrary, the decision-making process for the project must have been guided by sound wisdom, political will and foresight.

This road, like well-planned routes, make urban areas rampantly inhabited, which is why they flourish. The ring road, sprouting out from the city centre, offers any travellers a chance to criss-cross several communities on one smooth drive while not pulling off; and can return to the city in a circular drive. It is a far stretching, wide enough road. With a length that is 50.15km, out of which 45km is dual carriageway, the road has six distinct flyovers, measuring 4.8km, and one river-crossing bridge of 350m. There are four lanes on each side. Altogether, there are 19 roundabouts and rotary intersections.

It is a huge signature infrastructure development initiative, driven by the Fubara-led administration, to stimulate and contribute to economic growth of the State in general, and to the impacted communities in particular. The assurances it brings, in part, are these: to enable a sustained social integration, which is a given, facilitating the acceptance process that would ease interaction among the people across the LGAs for social support, friendship, and foster intimacy. This single but far stretching road will also create a transportation connectivity that will ultimately ease mobility. This will enable people to have the ability to travel to work or business places, if such place of employment or business was in distant communities across the six LGAs that the road connects. In fact, the road promises to make the categorisation of Rivers State in the Ease of Doing Business Ranking very easy.

This is not a project stuck in the city. It is a major transportation artery that all motorists, and indeed, road users are gearing up to enjoy the reduced travel time benefit it will offer. Access to essential services like healthcare and education, including leisure will be made easier from the catchment communities into the city and in reverse. When there is good connectivity through roads, people more likely travel farther and explore new opportunities. This definitely leads to a better quality of life, and life expectancy.

Since the day of flag-off and with actual construction work commenced, the progress achieved has been heart-warming. The start point of the road is at the UTC Junction axis, off the Abonnema Whaff Road. A transformational construction work is ongoing, meaning a redefinition of the entire landscape, including adjourning Abonnema Wharf area. From there, the road runs along and branches off into Njamanze Street, and with a quadrant curve, it turns to connect Rumuji and Sabagiriya streets. From there, it links Illoabuchi Street, and onward to Opobo Street. All of these are in Mile One and Two Diobu axis in Port Harcourt. It drives on to Eagle Island, then turns rightwards towards the back fence of Nigerian Agip Oil Company (NAOC), from where the river-crossing bridge of 350 meters takes off, rising, crossing over the creek and descending to link Mgbuodohia community.

Again, the road runs from Mgbuodohia unto Aker Road. At St. John’s Catholic Church axis of the IAUE/Rumuepirikom Road, the first flyover is mounted. The second flyover is at the Ozuoba Junction axis of NTA/Mgbuoba/Choba road. The third flyover begins from the Rumuosi axis of the East-West Road and descends unto Rumuekeni community. The fourth flyover is at Rukpokwu and crosses over Port Harcourt Airport-Owerre Road unto Eneka, with a roundabout and trumpet arms on the Rumuokurusi-Igwuruta Road. The fifth flyover is elliptical in nature and rises from the Igbo-Etche community axis over the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway unto Iriebe Community at Elelenwo. The sixth flyover is at Alesa-Eleme, and runs across the East-West Road unto Abam-Ama in Okrika.

Specifically, the ring road criss-crosses many communities in six LGAs, including Port Harcourt City, Obio/Akpor, Ikwerre, Etche, Eleme and Okrika. Rivers State has 23 LGAs, and the road traverses six of 23 LGAs, representing approximately 24.38percent. In terms of population projection, Rivers State had 7,476,800 people as at 2022, occupying 9,669km² area, with 773.3/km² density, and has annual population change of 2.3% from 2006 to 2022. This also means that in terms of population growth, these six LGAs have seen significant rise in population, rising from 1,852,256 recorded in 2006 census to a projected 2,664,000 in 2022, out of a total state-wide population of 5,198,716 in 2006, and 7,476,800 in 2022. A further look shows that Port Harcourt City had 774,600 population in 2022 against 538,558 in 2006; Obio/Akpor had 665,000 in 2022 against 462,350 in 2006; and Eleme had 273,500 in 2022 against 190,194 in 2006. Also, Etche had a population of 249,939 in 2006 against 359,500 in 2022; Okrika had 222,285 in 2006 against 319,700 in 2022; and Ikwerre had 188,930 in 2006 against 271,700 in 2022. Even as conservative as these population figures show, the numbers exhibit signs of explosion in concentration owing to inflow of economic activities and concerns, thereby justifying the urgency for a good network of roads linking all six LGAs to facilitate interactions between their peoples, investments therein as well as goods and services.   

Therefore, the ring road serves as to connect other roads, creating a perfect linkage between communities that will surely advance rural connectivity while offering multiplier gains that could reflect in growth in local employment, livelihood enhancements and other enablers of sustainable development. When such local employment opportunities are identified and accessible, a much-needed safety net would have been created to reduce financial distress that weigh so heavily on the people.

Of course, adequate compensation has also been paid to owners of property on the right of way and affected by the construction. Estate valuers had done proper evaluation and assessment of each property so affected. Payment is still ongoing, but is being done after all the certifications have been verified. No one is short-changed, and it is only when payment has been done that affected property are pulled down and the site cleared.

Expectedly, those negatively affected by the construction work are wont to complain, particularly of low value of compensation payment. It is human to so do. But the truth is: No amount of compensation by government can offset the cost of building new structures either for residential, industrial or corporate business purposes. That is one of the sacrifices people make for new infrastructure development projects to take place, especially in populated areas. Another inconvenience is traffic diversion and disruptions, occasioning stress and manhours lost in travel time, especially when it comes to road construction projects. Again, such pains and sufferings are natural in heavily populated areas, and remain the price we pay for development to take place.

In Rivers State, the people have made similar sacrifices in the past for government development projects to come on stream. Whether it is under the military junta from 1967 to 1979, 1984 to 1991, or 1993 to 1999; or under the civilian administrations from 1979 to 1983, 1992 to 1993, or 1999 to date; history is replete with moments of human sufferings triggered by the execution of road infrastructure development projects, including flyovers, interchanges and bridges. In recent memory, the Dr Peter Odili, Chibuike Amaechi and Nyesom Wike governments are characterised by many such undertaking resulting in demolition of structures along project rights of way and or diversion of traffic thereof. Residents, landlords, business owners and motorists impacted by the Ikwerre Road expansion from Education Bus Stop in Port Harcourt City to Airport Junction in Ikwerre LGA by former Governor Peter Odili can remember vividly what they went through. Or is it the impacts of the dualization of Peter Odili Road, Rumuobiakani-Oginigba-Slaughter Road, Artillery-Rumuomasi Old Aba Road, Woji-Okporo-Rumuodara Road, Rumuomasi-Elekahia-Waja Junction Road, Nkpogu-Amadi-Ama/Nkpogu-NLNG Roads, Rumuokurusi-Elimgbu-Eneka-Igwuruta Road, Rumuola Road, Rumuokwuta-Mgbuoba-Ozuoba-Choba Road, Eliozu flyover, AGIP Junction flyover, and Eleme Junction Interchange, among others by the Chibuike Amaechi administration? Or the sufferings that the construction of Oro-Abali, Rebisi, Rumuogba, Okoro-Nu-Odo, Rumuokwuta, Rumuepirikom, GRA Junction, Oroworukwo, and Rumuola flyovers, among others, unleashed on the people during the Nyesom Wike years? All are signposts of the impact, whether negative or positive, that the execution of infrastructure development projects in populated areas bring.     

Now, to the specifics of the ongoing construction work: The project sites have been cleared, piers, including the vertical support structures of the flyover bridges have been cast and mounted. At some sections that have been so cleared, top soils have been removed to allow for unbound mixture of coarse, fine crushed stones, together with crushed sand have been laid in most areas. These will enable the road to achieve the desired load-bearing capacity and prevent the underlying subgrade from being deformed while absorbing traffic loads. And across many sections of the road, massive construction activities are ongoing at high intensity. Of course, the ring road comes with walkways, and street lighting too.

Rivers State Governor, Sir Siminalayi Fubara, on Wednesday, March 20, 2024, visited two sections of the construction site and was conducted round by the Managing Director of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, Dr. Lars Richter. The Governor took a ride on a section of the stretch of the road, pulling off from the Obiri-Ikwerre-Airport Road axis, through the Jesuit Memorial School in Elikpokwuodu Community unto Rukpokwu on the Port Harcourt Airport-Owerre Road intersection. From there, he moved on to through Rumuodumaya – Rumuokoro to Rumuosi and Ozuaoba communities before terminating the inspection tour at the UTC Junction.

At the end of the inspection tour, the Governor expressed satisfaction with the progress of work achieved thus far. He said: “I think that we are good, considering the understanding that we had with Julius Berger Nigeria PLC. We signed off that in 36 months, this project will be done and delivered. And with what I have seen, they are meeting up that target. I think that we have a few issues: the price rate of things at that time we signed the contract and what subsists presently is not the same due to high inflation and the exchange rate spike.

“But whatever it is, I have assured the contractor that we are going to provide the necessary support to make sure that we deliver. You know this project is very important to us. It is one of the first things that I signed off when I came in as the Governor of this State. It is a signature project for me, whichever way anybody wants to look at it. We signed on for it. We are paying dearly for it, and it is one of the objectives of this administration to make sure that we deliver it to our people”, he noted.

In his remarks, Managing Director of Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, Dr. Lars Richter, gave explanation of the milestone achieved by the company. He said: “I think we went along various alignments of the road. We could see several spots where we are working: Is it on the U-channels? Is it on the road construction? Or even on the two flyovers? Over the East-West Road, we had started with laying of the first beams on one of the flyovers. On the other flyover, we will soon finish drilling; we are using two drilling rigs to complete the piling. We are moving to the second flyover already.

“So, you can see, the first flyover we started on January 15, 2024. Two months later, we are already laying the beams. So, we are on track. We are on schedule as we promised His Excellency. I am really satisfied with the work, with my team. Of course, I am satisfied with His Excellency for his support. I am excited that we had the opportunity today to inspect the road together, and to discuss also the challenges; for example, compensation and relocation. He has assured me that everything will be done as soon as possible so that we can also meet our timeline. I am really happy and satisfied with the work here”, he said.

Indeed, his assurance is testament that Governor Fubara means well for Rivers State, and that his administration is working tirelessly to deliver quality good governance to the people. This road, among others, is a genuine proof of that commitment! Increasingly, Rivers people will not be burdened with limited access to road infrastructure that they had suffered when this road is finally delivered. This is particularly as it relates to urban-rural connectivity because such limited access to road had inhibited easier mobility of people, and undoubtedly delayed their access to the benefits of development. So, the disproportionate disadvantages that people likely suffer will be over soon. I dare say that the Port Harcourt Ring Road will improve rural infrastructure. Governor Fubara makes me see it so because he knows it as much as that, which is why he has designed it in a manner that it is seen as a crucial pathway to alleviating poverty.

Also, to be noted is that this road adds to the long-sought after solution to resolving the traffic congestions experienced in parts of Diobu axis of Port Harcourt, particularly on Ikwerre Road. Such traffic jams, over and again, had caused unnecessary pollution, and arguably, raises environmental concerns, and other levels of disruption on economic development.

A well-constructed road, as we are seeing of the ring road, assures that travel time will be reduced for motorists, and indeed, all road users getting out of the city centre. Another is the fact that there will be increase in the speed limits that motorists will apply, while also providing smoother driving experience. There will be overall transportation efficiency within the benefitting communities. What else can be a good respite for motorists other than knowing that the derivable benefits extend to enjoying reduced fuel consumption rate, lower vehicle maintenance costs, and increased productivity level for businesses.

The truism about this is remarkable: When a city is beautiful in outlay, it is 80percent a reflection of the good roads that have been provided, well developed and maintained. Without a doubt, the city of Port Harcourt is growing and expanding. So should the road infrastructure, essentially so that it does not only accommodate the increasing population density and the associated urbanization but diffuse same to border communities in none urban LGAs so as to decongest the metropolis. By all means, Governor Fubara is using this road to contribute to the socio-economic and cultural development of rural communities in particular and the state in general.

 Nelson Chukwudi is the Chief Press Secretary to the Rivers State Governor, and writes from Government House, Port Harcourt.

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