The importance of the Enugu-Onitsha expressway cannot be overemphasized. It is strategic, connecting the South-East and the South-South. It links Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi states, as well as the northern states of Benue and Kogi.
But there could hardly be a more wretched and forsaken place in this clime than the Ugwuoba section of the Enugu-Onitsha expressway. It belongs to another world and another age. It is the end of the world, so to say. It is the spot where justice was murdered.
Over the years, the road has terribly deteriorated. It is filled with potholes, craters and gullies carved by erosion, making life miserable for commuters. Woe betide you if you pass the route during the rainy season. If you are driving, your vehicle will never be the same after a trip.
Road to Golgotha
Going out of Enugu metropolis, you enjoy the picturesque ambience of the colonial Milliken Hill, which the Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi administration inaugurated not too long ago. But when you get to the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, your anguish begins.
The reporter had the misfortune of passing through the so-called road last Saturday and experienced the torture that commuters go through every day on that route. According to regular users of the road, the angels of mercy were even on duty that day.
Even if your heart is made of steel, it will melt when you get there. Passing through that route is a perilous venture; it’s like a journey through the valley of the shadow of death.
It requires special driving skills to navigate through the deep gullies. For both man and machine, the consequences of passing through that route could be dire. There, you dance if involuntarily without any music playing because of the wave-like motion of vehicles.
Vehicles were trapped in the mud when the reporter got there at about 8am that day. For about one hour, no vehicle could meander through the conundrum and drivers, conductors and some passengers resorted to pushing trapped buses out of the muddy gully.
It was gathered that sometimes, commuters spend several agonizing hours when a truck tumbles or gets stuck in the middle of the road to Golgotha. Both sides of the road are in an indescribable state of deplorability. And there were broken down, fallen and trapped vehicles on either lanes or what was left of them.
At Ugwuoba, confusion reigns. Disorder is the order. Bedlam rings a bell. As Ali Mazrui would say, only a drunk can drive straight on this road. In their desperation to escape from the hell, some drivers drive into each other’s path, thereby aggravating the situation.
The expressway section is not the only way out of Ugwuoba in Enugu State. There is also the old Enugu-Awka Road, which was rehabilitated by the Sullivan Chime administration, but it is now in distress. Because of the sorry state of the supposed expressway, many vehicles now ply the narrow old road, resulting in gridlock, particularly around Amansea Bridge.
Indeed, Amansea has become the home of agony and grief. There, commuters running away from the horrors of the expressway see their ears with their eyes. Some portions of the road have failed, and when impatience on the part of the drivers or machine malfunction rears its head, there will be commotion like it was last Saturday.
A driver, Dan Onyia, said: “This Ugwuoba is a pain in the ass. Before setting out, you pray not to be trapped at Ugwuoba. What you are seeing now is child’s play compared to what we experience every day on this road. We are lucky to be here early; I pity those coming after us because the situation would have worsened in the next few hours. The suffering is too much. Please, tell the government to help us.”
For Chief Anayo Umunnakwe, the state of the road is nothing but an act of wickedness. “When the Igbo say that they are being marginalised, people will think that we are talking just for the sake of it. As far as I’m concerned, and I have no apologies for that, this is a deliberate effort to punish Ndigbo. What does it take to fix an ordinary road? It doesn’t require rocket science to fix a road. I think this Ugwuoba is the worst road in this country.
“Even in war-torn countries, you cannot see anything close to this. This is a tragedy; it’s man’s inhumanity to man. Worse still, they have shut Enugu airport in the guise of rehabilitating the runway. How long does it take to fix a small thing like an airport runway? What it means is that you must travel by road, which is real torture. When I was coming to Enugu last week, I spent two days on the way.
“One side of the road in Asaba, the capital of Delta State, leading to the Niger Bridge has been closed for weeks in the name of rehabilitation. The result is a lot of delay because of the traffic congestion. After being in the traffic snarl for almost three hours, I was forced to go and sleep in Asaba. I think there is more to the torture we are made to pass through than the ordinary. The most annoying thing is that the governors will tell you that it is a federal road,” he said.
Like this, like that
The ugly story of the Enugu-Onitsha highway is not restricted to the Ugwuoba section. Some portions in Awka, Dunukofia, Umunya and Awkuzu leave a sour taste in the mouth. Some portions are broken while erosion has swallowed some.
In Awkuzu, one side of the road is closed. It was gathered that the romance of the road in the name of reconstruction has been on for awhile. Worse still, operatives of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) harass drivers there even as policemen were seen extorting money from helpless drivers.
A driver said: “It is compulsory that you must drop N50 any time they are on duty on this road. If you try to resist or give any excuse, you will regret it. The policemen can delay you for as long as they want. Those guys are heartless; they don’t joke at all.”
Many fatal accidents have been recorded on that road, leading to deaths and incapacitation. Take this from the coordinator, Recover Nigeria Project (RNP), Comrade Obi Ositadinma: “The bad portions of the road have claimed many lives and rendered others permanently disabled. Our so-called leaders pretend they are blind whenever they get to the bad spots. This, to us, is irresponsibility and an indication that the government does not care about the people.”
Last year, a pastor, his entire family and a neighbour’s only child, a girl, died in an accident at Ugwu Onyema while going for Sunday service. The accident was attributed to the ugly state of the road. The pastor’s aged mother remains inconsolable because he was her only son.
But the pathetic story of the road is not the only problem travellers face there. As someone noted, the Enugu-Onitsha expressway is a preferred hunting ground for robbers and kidnappers.
It was gathered that violent and heavily armed robbers and kidnappers lay siege to the road whenever it pleases them. This is because it is relatively easy for them to pick their targets as a result of the terrain, and they usually operate unchallenged.
Another commercial bus driver, Okoro, said: “Every day, people are robbed on this road. The bandits torture passengers and molest women after dispossessing them of their belongings. Just pray that you are not a victim because it happens almost daily.
“Kidnappers are on rampage on this road. Because of the state of the road, they easily stop vehicles. But if you try to escape, they can open fire on the vehicle and they shoot with accuracy. They shoot like trained marksmen.
“If they stop a vehicle, they will evaluate the passengers thoroughly. Anyone that looks prosperous will be asked to come down and marched into the bush. If they see any high quality bag, they will take it. If you are travelling and you put on good clothes, jewelry and wrist watch, you are making yourself vulnerable.”
From an abyss of despair, a passenger, Mrs. Janet Amalaha, said: “Each time I think of passing through the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, I develop high blood pressure. I hear all sorts of things happening on this road. My friend’s daughter was attacked and raped on this road. My kinsman was abducted on this road and his family paid hefty ransom before he was released after serious battering. It is because of the state of this road that banditry is thriving here. People are robbed here. People are kidnapped here. Women are raped here. All manner of things are happening here because of the state of the so-called expressway. This is a shameless country.”
The poor state of the road has also affected commercial activities. A trader, Mrs Christiana Ikem, said: “Businesses used to boom along the expressway but not anymore. Travellers used to stop to buy yams, palm wine, abacha, fruits and other things but only a few apply the road now and even those who do cannot indulge in the luxury of stopping to buy anything after wasting so much time in traffic. The situation is really terrible,”
It was gathered that the cost of transport has skyrocketed. Justifying the endless increase in fare, a driver, Ibeabuchi, said: “Things are really difficult for commercial vehicle operators because you are always visiting mechanics and buying spare parts because of the terrible state of road.
“During election season, they will bring construction equipment to give the impression that they are about to reconstruct the road. But immediately after the election, everything will come back to square one.”
Meanwhile, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has explained that construction activities on roads and other infrastructures across the country were being slowed by the rains. He said the rainy season was at its peak in the country hence the roads were in a precarious state.