From Stanley Uzoaru, Owerri
Truth is that, any person who passed the Owerri/Orlu and Owerri/Okigwe roads in the last two years, even during the dry season, would ask whether Imo State ever had a governor. But, three governors, Chief Rochas Okorocha, Chief Emeka Ihedioha and the incumbent, Senator Hope Uzodimma, presided over the state this period.
A visitor to the Eastern Heartland State would be wondering what became of the clean city built by Chief Sam Mbakwe as governor in the Second Republic with well-paved roads and drainage system. Attempts by Okorocha to change the trend ended in poor quality works, which earned most of the roads done then the sobriquet of “China roads.”
The state chapter of Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) had in a letter to the then Commissioner for Works on June 1, 2018, alleged that government destroyed both public and private properties valued at over N58 billion in the course of its urban renewal programme. It also resulted in the destruction of telecommunication, water pipes and electrical cables worth N25 billion. The society said the needless destruction of infrastructure and waste of state resources was because quacks were engaged to execute the programme.
While some people blamed Okorocha’s urban renewal programme for the eye sore Owerri had turned to, others said that it was not time for blame game. Instead, they urged that the deplorable state of roads, worsened during rainy needed urgent remedy.
On Monday, November 30, Uzodimma tackled the Owerri/Orlu and Owerri/Okigwe roads. He said the reconstruction will gulp N55 billion and be completed in 18 months. He did the flag-off with traditional rulers and stakeholders in full attendance.
Chairman of traditional rulers’ council, Eze Thomas Obiefule of Orlu, said: the road had deprived the Orlu zone of good business opportunities: “We have suffered a lot on this road, we have never had a smooth ride on it for the past 30 years, it will take you ages to get to your destination.”
Another traditional ruler from the zone, Eze E. C. Okeke, said there was no better time than now for the roads to be constructed: “This festive season how would it have looked like if the roads were not given attention.”
Eze Cletus Ilomuanya who also witnessed the flag-off ceremony said: “This road has been abandoned for some time now. It will be a relief to ply on it to Owerri from Orlu.”
A commercial bus driver, Damian, recounted how his vehicles and others plying the road for commercial purpose had always gulped money as they visited the mechanics workshop almost after every trip: “Driving on this road is a big problem, we constantly visit the mechanic because of the nature of the road, sometimes we spend countless hours on the road especially during the rainy season; vehicles get trapped in the bad spots.”
Chairperson of Orlu Local Government, Mrs Ifeoma Ndukwu, described the road as a complete death trap. She said over 15 vehicles were involved in fatal accidents on the road recently.
Uzodimma disclosed that the roads had become necessary to enhance the economic activities of the state. He said that previous administrations had neglected the major roads, but declared that his administration was here to right the wrongs of his predecessors: “These roads will be delivered on good time. They (contractors) will work day and night to give us exactly what we want.
“These roads are important to our people because it has been left in the hands of amateur contractors. Since our late governor, Sam Mbakwe, built that road over 30 years ago, administrations after him have constantly engaged small contractors. Today, we are giving you a better one.”
At Okigwe, where the governor also flagged off the Owerri/Okigwe Road, Speaker, State House of Assembly, Paul Emeziem, said: “Everybody knows that the road has been in a terrible shape for decades. It became a death trap especially the Eke-Emele area, vehicles can spend several hours at this spot.”
The contractors said the road would also create employment for the people for the duration of construction.