Okey Sampson, Aba
Sometime in 2017, then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, sent Hon. Gideon Sammani, the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Political Matters, to represent him at an event organised by Ossy Prestige, member representing Aba North/South in the lower legislative chamber.
Sammani, who landed at Imo airport and got to Aba through the Aba/Owerri highway, admitted after the journey that South-East had the worst network of federal highways in the country. Although the presidential aide stated the obvious based on what he passed through on the road adjudged to be one of the very best in that geopolitical zone, he evidently would have appreciated the peoples’ plight more if he had plied the Aba/Ikot Ekpene or Umuahia/Owerri and other horrible federal highways in Abia.
Prior to 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari came to power, traveling from Enugu to Aba, Abia was nightmarish; it was akin to taking a voyage to the land of the dead. A journey that should normally take less than two hours lasts five and in some cases six with the inherent discomfort to users. Overtime, the roads became haven for armed robbers. Although today, travelling from Enugu to Aba could be as enjoyable as cruising in a yacht on still water, however, that is the farther good federal roads could be within Abia.
Travelling on the other federal highways in Abia could be horrifying and nauseating. From Umuahia/Bende, Umuahia/Ohafia/Arochukwu, Umuahia/Ikot Ekpene and Umuahia/Owerri highways; from the Aba/Ikot Ekpene, Aba/Azumini and Aba/Port Harcourt federal highways, it’s the same story of dilapidation and anguish all through with the corresponding hike in transport fares. For instance, a journey from Aba to Port Harcourt, which used to be N500 is now over N1, 000. The situation has become so worrisome that residents of Abia State have called on President Buhari to make the reconstruction and rehabilitation of federal roads in the state a top priority.
Some residents and commuters who spoke with the reporter described federal roads in Abia as death traps. They feared that if nothing was urgently done, Abia State would soon be cut off from other parts of the country.
Peter Egbuta, who lives in Aba, Abia State, said: “Out of the four federal roads linking Aba with other cities in the South East and South South, only the Aba-Owerri Road through Osisioma to the
Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway rebuilt by the state government is in manageable condition. This has put enormous stress to motorists plying the road as the heavy influx of vehicles into the city centre through this axis usually results in heavy gridlock, resulting in loss of man-hours.”
Egbuta, who regretted that repeated appeals to federal authorities on their plight fell on deaf ears, feared that economic and business activities in the commercial city and Abia as a whole would suffer the more if the Federal Government fails to tackle frontally the debilitating state of federal roads in the state.
A commercial bus driver, who plies the Umuahia/Ikot Ekpene (Akwa Ibom State) highway and who gave his name simply as Maduka, bemoaned the deplorable nature of the road. He lamented that during the rainy reason, motorists have pass through rural roads in and around Umuahia with its attendant security risks. “I’m sure you may not have travelled to Akwa Ibom State during the rainy reason; if you did, you will appreciate what drivers pass through. We keep patronizing mechanics every week, repairing one thing or the other in our vehicles. The routes we were using were village roads, but the youths feed fat on us. We paid as much as N100 and at some point, we pay N50 and this is apart from the money we pay to security agents on the roads”, he said. Maduka added that the only succour they have now is the dry season, informing that commuters who use the road are getting apprehension now that the rainy season is setting in.
The situation of the Aba/Ikot Ekpene highway became so worrisome that natives of communities along the Obingwa Council Area, Abia State axis of the road not quite long sent a Save Our Soul (SOS) message to President Muhammadu Buhari over the deplorable state of the road.
They urge the president to direct the Federal Ministry of Works to commence the rehabilitation of the road to end the suffering of the people of the area.
The natives, who met under the aegis of Agalaba Patriotic Front (APF), Obingwa council area, lamented that their communities have been cut off from Aba, following the dilapidated state of the road and over 45 businesses closed down in the area while articulated vehicles diverting from the bad spots, have destroyed community roads and farmlands.
They described the worst sections of the road as the Opobo junction to Ukpakiri as well as the stretch between Umuokpo and the Nigerian Christian Hospital, at Nlagu, a boundary community between Abia and Akwa Ibom States.
As if their prayers were answered, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Raji Fashola, said contract had been awarded by the Federal Government to the rehabilitation of the road. However, since the announcement was made, nothing on ground has given hope to its reconstruction.
“As at today, over 45 businesses located on the road including hotels, filling stations, farm settlements, mechanic workshops and schools have closed shop. These businesses provided jobs to over 5,000 families. Now, they have closed shop because the Federal Government refused to rehabilitate the road. Our people can no longer convey their agricultural produce to Aba town,” said a youth leader from the area.
Another native, Eugene said, “This road has been featuring in the national budget since 2009, without being rehabilitated. It is shocking that an important road like the Aba –Ikot Ekpene federal highway that links Aba to Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Cameroun has been left to decay.”
A driver of one of the commercial transport companies in Aba, who gave his name as Ifeanyi, while recalling some of the ugly experiences of drivers on the Aba/Azumini highway stated he had contemplated quitting his job as his vehicle before it was changed by the company spends time in the mechanics than being on the road as a result of the deplorable nature of the road.
The lawmaker representing Aba North/South Federal Constituency, Hon. Ossy Prestige is not left out in the cry for the federal government to intervene and rehabilitate federal roads in the state. Not long, he made a presentation at the floor of the House of Representatives through a motion, “The Need to Rehabilitate the Failed Portion of Aba- Port Harcourt and Aba- Ikot Ekpene Federal Highways.” He noted that the two roads were strategic to the economic life of not only Aba residents, but to the Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) of the state and Gross Domestic Product of the Federal Government.
“Due to the high rate of commercial activities between Abia State, Rivers and Akwa- Ibom, among other states and extending to neighbouring Central African countries such as Cameroon, Gabon among others, it has become imperative for the federal roads to be fixed.
Prestige, while calling on the concerned authorities to quickly deploy their equipment to make federal roads in Abia accessible, lamented the negative effects the deplorable nature of such roads in the state is having on commercial activities in Abia.
If motorists could complain about the poor condition of federal roads in the Abia the way they did, a Board of Trustees (BoT) and national caucus member of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC), Prince Benjamin Apugo, is bewailing the debilitating state of federal roads in Abia. Although he gave kudos to the Federal Government for rehabilitating the Abia section of the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway, but for him, that is a far cry from what was needed. “I’m happy about the rehabilitation of the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway, but the Federal Government should also look into the rehabilitation of other federal roads in the state because they are important to our people. The Federal Government should, as a matter of fact, build an airport in Abia to give the people a sense of belonging; it will make us look like others.”
Some of the federal highways Apugo implored the federal government to rehabilitate in the state include the Umuahia/Bende/Ohafia/Arochukwu, Umuahia/Ikot Ekpene, Umuahia/Owerri, Aba/Ikot Ekpene, Aba/Port Harcourt and Aba/Azumini Roads.
In fact, in lending credence to Apugo’s call for the rehabilitation of the Aba/Azumini federal highway, Mr Gabriel, a native Akpaa Mbato, one of the communities affected, said businesses and commercial activities in the area are lull following the collapsing of various parts of the road. He called for concerted efforts to fix the road to ameliorate the suffering of residents of the area and other road users.
Abia State Commissioner for Information, Chief John Okiyi-Kalu, express sadness over the bad condition of federal roads in Abia. “I must have to make it abundantly clear that no federal road in Abia is good and this is not only affecting economic activities, but also weighing down on the state government’s efforts in rehabilitating internal roads in the state.” Okiyi-Kalu was of the view that the money the state was pumping on Aba/Owerri and Port Harcourt roads, which are federal roads, could have been used to work on other roads.
He called on the federal authorities to do something urgently to rehabilitate federal roads in the state and save the people from further hardship.
Succour on the horizon
Succour appears to be knocking on the horizon as there seems to be light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The Federal Government aside the rehabilitation of the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway, said it had awarded contracts for the fixing of the Aba/Ikot Ekpene and Umuahia/Ikot Ekpene highways. Indeed, when the Senate Committee on Works inspected the roads recently, it pledged to make case for adequate and proper funding of the roads and other Federal Government projects in Abia State to ensure their timely completion.
The pledge came while the committee’s chairman, Sen. Mohammad Aliero, was responding to complaints of under-funding of the rehabilitation of the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road, being handled by Hartland Raycon Construction Nigeria Limited. The company’s Project Manager, Mr Hisham Yassin, had told the committee that Federal Government did not release adequate fund for the project. The company said it only received about N250 million initial mobilisation for the N13.2 billion project which amount he said represented about two percent of the contract sum and would not achieve anything substantial on the 48.9 km road project.
Work on Section 1 of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, according to Mr Olajide Agboola, the Federal Controller of Works in Abia, had gone more than 70 per cent completion, even as he was satisfied with the quality of work by the contractors.