The words “fools rush in where angels fear to tread”, taken from Alexander Pope’s 1711 poem “An Essay on Criticism”, aptly describes my ways.
I have been in more hot water than a teabag.
The creeks and waters of Niger Delta are very hot. I should know because I travelled the waters and creeks when the zone was a no-go area.
I set sail in an open boat from Sapele to Ogbudugbudu, Okifamba, Opia and Olougbene in the Egbema Kingdom of Warri North LGA.
Then I sailed from Warri to Okiyotoru, Makaraba and Kokodiagbene in the Gbaramatu Kingdom of Warri South-West LGA.
I journeyed further on from Koko to Eghoro, Bateren and Jakpa in Warri South LGA.
I capped it all up with another boat ride from Warri in Delta State to Bilabiri Kingdom on Dodo River in Bayelsa State where I met a very special king, HRM Pere Paul Seidei (JP), Angirikpe the 5, Ibenanawei of Bilabiri Kingdom and Gbarakepa of Dodo River who remarkably addresses himself as “The Ark of God”.
In all, I spent more than 36 hours on the high seas and low creeks. Eghoro, Bateren and Jakpa in Warri South LGA. And another 20 hours on the high seas!
Call me Maxim the Navigator and I will take a bow.
Stepping off the coast at Sapele one accosted the beehive of activities in the mammy transport. The fishing and trading activities supported by the mammy transport unites all the communities of the Gbaramatu Kingdom made up of Kokodiagbene, Benikrukru, Kenyagbene, Makaraba and Okoyitoru.
The mammy transport also includes in its sphere the diverse towns of the Egbema Kingdom such as Tsekelewu, Ogbudugbudu, Opuama, Opia, Dumok, and Polobobou.
Setting off on an engine boat manned by a boy of about 15, it is a two-hour journey to the town of Ogbudugbudu in Warri North LGA.
The school serving the entire town was founded back in 1955. Utolu Primary School, Ogbudugbudu, which bears the legend “Knowledge is light” hardly ever saw much improvement in its affairs until 2007 when Chevron partnered with the Egbema/Gbaramatu Central Development Committee (ECGDC) in the construction of one block of six classrooms.
The erection of the new classroom block made some of the educated Ogbudugbudu townspeople living in far-flung upland areas like Sapele and Warri apply to return home to teach in the school.
Education takes pride of place for the children across the creeks of the Niger Delta, as they can be seen daily having to row in boats over long distances to attend school.
Health is another key issue in the lives of the people of the Niger Delta. Water-borne diseases are all the rage. The construction of a Health Centre at Okifamba brought so much joy to the people.
The expansive building was commissioned by Rev. Dr. I. C. Tolar, the former chairman of ECGDC on Thursday, November 19, 2009. The facility serves the 36 clans making up Okifamba.
Time was when wooden jetties used to serve the communities. These poorly constructed jetties almost always gave way against the surge of the sea. The situation is improving with the construction of not only concrete jetties but waiting sheds to boot. Typical examples include the Opia Concrete Jetty and waiting shed.
At Kokodiagbene, the stark contrast made in the affairs of the communities of the Niger Delta is illustrated in bold relief by the side-by-side view of an old decrepit wooden bridge falling apart and the brand new concrete link bridge constructed there.
Even as the Niger Delta is surrounded on all corners by water, the region suffers from acute shortage of drinking water. It is akin to the case of the poem, “The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner”, in which Coleridge laments of “water, water everywhere but not a drop to drink.”
The ritual is to carry many bags of pure water in the boat, and the boatman drops a bag at each checkpoint of the Joint Tax Force (JTF) soldiers before moving on.
It is in the drive to offer potable water to the region that the Olougbene Water Project was undertaken.
At the Okoyitoru community, the need was a public toilet. The construction of a concrete public toilet is now in place together with the construction of a footbridge leading to the toilet.
The people of Okoyitoru, who already had a jetty and waiting shed, recall that it used to be so much trouble relieving themselves, until the advent of the new public toilet.
Makaraba community, an ancestral homeland of the Ijaw, equally savours the joys of the construction of a concrete jetty and waiting shed.
The sea can be overwhelming when there’s no land in sight. If a big ship came along with waves that could capsize the small boat my boatman always made sure to stay safe by boating away from the threatening waves.
Some of the creeks were so narrow and shallow that movement was well-nigh impossible.
The restive youths of a community tied my boat with a rope to the jetty post, refusing that I should take my leave.
The youths thought I had come with their rep who they wanted to lynch for living it up in a hotel suite in Warri without ever setting foot in his wretched hometown!
The elders had to intervene to let me go.