Gabriel Owokoniran, made his compulsory one year National Service Memorable by building a major bridge connecting several Ibadan communities

The job was seemingly taxing. Community leaders and affluent residents were unable to crack the knot. Government was not quick enough to address the plight of the several gated communities in Elebu area of Ibadan, where a bridge connecting about eight communities lay in ruins for years, making passage a nightmare for residents whenever it rained.

But a young man, who had no stake in the area, Gabriel Owokoniran, has cracked the hard knot, bringing unquantifiable joy to residents of the large community.
Though Owokoniran did not study engineering in the university, he successfully constructed a durable bridge. The success of the project has earned him the praise and admiration of all residents.
The Chairman of Asaka, one of the eight communities, Pa Wellington Adebanjo, recalled that the spot was impassable for a long time, particularly for small vehicles, motorcycles and pedestrians.

He said the various estates had held several meetings on how to fix it but sadly came to the conclusion that constructing a proper bridge there required millions of Naira which they believed was beyond the residents’ capability.

His words: “Then, we contacted Iddo Local Government Area but we did not receive any positive response. The council revealed that it had plans for the area (construction of road and bridges) but that it fell on Phase Two of the development plan. The first phase, they said, was that of Labuta Zone. They said they could not predict when work would start in our zone.
“We were at the middle of that when Gabriel came, though we were not actually making progress. We levied each community N40, 000 but nothing was coming forth.

“We initially thought Gabriel would dupe us. We interviewed him, thinking he was an engineer, believing he could offer professional advice. Yet, he did this job satisfactorily. We only supported him morally.
“The most interesting part of his work is that none of us was there to supervise him. In the rain, he was there. In the sun, he was there. He really put his all into it.”

How it all started
In an interview with Southwest Report, Owokoniran recalled that he came about the idea of the project while taking a walk one day. He said he saw road users struggling to pass through the spot which was fully eroded after a heavy rain.
His words: “I started the project on February 22, this year. At one of our Community Development Service (CDS) sessions, our co-ordinator, Mr Bright Ayoola, told us that the purpose of our CDS was not just to gather in a particular location but to go out, identify the problems in our host community and provide solution. He said that is what can make our service memorable and outstanding.

“That motivated me. I then went out. While I was taking a walk, I saw motorists and pedestrians struggling through a puddle because rain fell that day. While trying to video the scene and present to our supervisor and determine if it was a problem I could solve, people came around and started appealing to me to help if I was a government representative, a worker with a non-governmental organisation (NGO) or representative of a private firm. But I told them I was a corps member. So, they all appealed to me to do something about it if I could. Then, I assured them that I would present it to the NYSC.
“When I told Mr Ayoola, he said it was a good project. He pointed out that the impact would be great if I solved it.

“I took up the challenge. I followed the bureaucracy of the NYSC by writing for approval.  I got approval on December 22, last year.
“Then, I began the paper works. I wrote community leaders and associations and corporate organisations to help in funding the project.”
Yet, the 29-year-old corps member said the magic did not come through the letters. In the face of frustration, he came up with an idea that saw him through.

He said: “When money was not forthcoming from anywhere, I introduced ticketing as an option. I presented it to the community leaders and they obliged. My thinking was that organisations and other individuals would be willing to help us if they see how much we are achieving on the project.

“I want to thank God that they supported the idea. We wrote to all necessary authorities for approval, including the police. What we raised has helped us fix the bridge to this point. The problem is almost solved. We are only left with filling of the road. There is no erosion on the road now.”

The challenges: insults, discouragements
Highlighting the challenges he experienced in undertaking the project, he said: “One of the major challenges I experienced in the course of this project was insults from people, even the same people using the road. When you come out and you ask them for ticket fees, some will embarrass you.
“Some said they wouldn’t pay a kobo because they are paying tax to the government. They maintained that it was not my responsibility as a corps member to do it, and that they are not even begging me to do it, anyway. If you can’t do it, then, leave it,” some people told me. I felt discouraged at a time but I overcame that by telling myself that I had the goal of building a bridge to accomplish. So, I pressed forward.

“Another challenge was that I was really discouraged when I had disappointments from corporate bodies. I thought that was the end of the project. But I encouraged myself to pursue a cause I believed in. It was in the course of brainstorming that ticketing came as an option.
I have been able to raise over N1.2 million from ticketing and little donations which have taken us this far.

“We have filled the road, graded and constructed drainage systems. The first drainage system we constructed was about 170 metres. The channelisation was also the same length. The road was filled and graded. An individual paid N150, 000 for excavator. I was able to use my status as a corps member to achieve those things.”

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