From Magnus Eze (Enugu), Jeff Amaechi Agbodo, Aloysius Attah Onitsha), Geoffrey Anyanwu (Awka), Felix Ikem (Nsukka), Okey Sampson (Aba), George Onyejiuwa, Stanley Uzoaru (Owerri), and Chuks Onuoha (Umuahia)
“The bad state of roads has affected our income and costs us more money in vehicle service and maintenance” –Motorists
When the Igbo of the Southeast cry of marginalization, one thing they persistently point out is dearth of infrastructure, particularly the deplorable state of federal roads in the region since after the civil war.
Today, the Southeast is completely severed from other parts of the country on account of bad roads. Coming into the zone from the northern flank through the Enugu-Makurdi highway is a nightmare, while the Enugu-Onitsha expressway, one of the busiest roads in the federation, has remained totally dilapidated and impassable. Accessing Aba, the commercial hub of Abia State, from any parts of the country is better imagined. Even though worked is progressing on some sections of the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, the Aba-Port Harcourt has remained an eyesore and a national disgrace.
Overtime, successive administrations had used some of these roads as campaign issues, particularly, the Enugu-Onitsha road, only to look the other way after elections, leaving the people of the region, motorists and commuters who ply the roads in perpetual pains and anguish.
Indeed, at the build up to the 2015 general elections, former President Goodluck Jonathan and his Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) during their campaign in Enugu State claimed that they were fixing the Enugu-Onitsha and Enugu-Aba roads. But all were just glib talks of the politicians as the roads remained in deplorable state.
However, Sunday Sun investigation revealed that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has come in to fix the roads, but the motorists are not satisfied on the pace of the work.
In fact, most motorists believe that “nothing was going on there,” as people are still trapped on the roads on a daily basis. Indeed, a trip from Enugu to Onitsha that would ordinarily take less than two hours; now lasts for five to six hours.
With the rainy season this year, the old Enugu-Awka highway, which was reconstructed by the Enugu State government and was used as an alternative route also collapsed as heavy-duty trucks diverted to the road. With the totally collapse of the old road now, movement to and fro Anambra State from Enugu has become unbearable.
“Look at what we are passing through. This is another hell on earth. It is tear-evoking and our fate has been used to play politics for many years, yet we have governments in place. In situations like this, one hates to be a Nigerian,” 32-year-old Chijioke Ibeh, a timber dealer at Onitsha Bridge Head, Anambra State, lamented.
For Mr Ibe, last Tuesday was one of his worst days in life. Having spent some days in Cross River State sourcing quality timber woods for his customers in Onitsha, he finally bought a lorry load of goods worth about N1.8 milliom. After paying the driver a whopping sum of N250, 000 as transport fare and also settled the forestry produce and other levies plus extortions on the road, he was counting his gains after all the toil as he proceeded on the journey.
The worst happened just after the Iva Valley along the Enugu-9th Mile axis of the federal highway as the driver encountered very bad spot few metres to Ozougwu Comprehensive Secondary School, Enugu Ngwo. On trying to manoeuvre the spot, one side of the vehicle skidded off the road and stuck in the deep hole. What followed was a creaking sound of the lorry body as the other side of the tyre was forced to go up in air and the vehicle landed with a deafening bang on the road, scattering the entire logs of woods across the expressway.
Ibeh sustained injuries while the conductor of the lorry was also writhing in pains when the reporter got to the scene. The wood merchant who was cleaning some blood stains on his hands explained his predicament thus: “We were proceeding slowly until we got to this place. We all saw how bad the road was, but the driver said we have to manage it and this is where we landed. After paying N250, 000 for the transport, we are now paying N35, 000 to loaders who will help us trans-load into this new vehicle we got while the driver is also demanding N100, 000 to convey the goods to Onitsha not to talk of working on the fallen vehicle.
“If I had died in this vehicle when this avoidable accident happened, who would have trained my young family? Government has to do the needful by getting committed to real road reconstruction because that is the essence of government.”
Ibeh’s frustration represents the travails of road users travelling between Enugu-Makurdi, Enugu-Awka-Onitsha expressways. Some motorists and commuters who spoke toSunday Sun recounted their ordeals and called on the Federal Government to ensure the reconstruction of the roads urgently.
Mr Tony Okafor, a commuter said: “I don’t want to believe that the Federal Government’s promise about that road is a campaign gimmick for the re-election of Mr President. Buhari is a man known for his integrity, so we implore him to look into that contract with a view to calling the contractor back to site. That road is not only a major road in the Southeast, it is the busiest, leading to no fewer than six states, cutting across the North and Southern parts of the country. So, putting it in order or fixing it should be a top priority to the Federal Government.”
Another commercial driver, Felix Ugwu said: “The one Buhari government said they are doing, they started at 9th Mile on the left side of the dual carriage and stopped at Nkwo Ezeagu area, but refused to open it up for use. From Oji junction here the Niger-Cat said it is doing something, but I can’t see or understand what they are doing.”
A pump attendant at a petrol station at Oji junction along the expressway, who gave his name as Joe, lamented that he and his colleagues lost their jobs because of no business following the abandonment of the expressway by motorists because of the dilapidation.
“The filling station and others along this expressway had to close down because no vehicles are passing through here again and no truck can come here to bring products. Look at this junction, which used to be a beehive of activities both for business and social activities is now totally deserted, look at empty shops being taken over by bushes and reptiles,” he said.
One commuter told Sunday Sun that at some point three weeks ago, several vehicles to and fro Enugu had to do a ‘cross country’ of passing through the Inyi-Ufuma-Oko road in the southern axis of Anambra State, which takes at least three hours before they could connect Awka.
Sunday Sun learnt that the member representing Anaocha, Njikoka and Dunukofia Federal Constituency of Anambra State, Hon. Val Anyika had wept on experiencing what people go through on that road and personally mobilized truckloads of stones and chippings to intervene on the Ugwuoba/Amansea end of the old road that was almost cut into two.
Lamenting the rot in the system and the wickedness of the leaders, the lawmaker said: “On my way coming back from Abuja via Enugu airport, I was held up at that spot for three to four hours. Having experienced that just in a day, I sympathize with the road users who use that route on a daily basis.
“It’s a pitiable sight, seeing traders losing their trading wares, seeing Nigerians losing their lives and property by way of their vehicles falling into the gully by the side. You can also see the vehicles stuck there. That day I was passing, about three drums fell. These things belong to people and that’s one of those things that make people to get frustrated, you know, that can cause them stress.”
The Awka-Onitsha axis of the road is nothing to write home about either. Road users and residents, specifically mentioned the Awkuzu, Umunya and Nteje sections of the road as places that deserve immediate attention this rainy season.
When Mr Peter Obi was the governor of Anambra State, he reconstructed a section of the expressway starting from Onitsha River Niger bridgehead to Odumodu Umunya.
Just at the heat of the last governorship election electioneering in the state, the All Progressives Congress (APC) candidate, Dr Tony Nwoye promised to rehabilitate the road and immediately attracted the Federal Ministry of Works to do some palliative work there while the state government under Governor Willie Obiano had at different times done some maintenance work on it.
During the campaigns for the 2019 general elections, the APC promised to rehabilitate the most deplorable portions of the road spanning from Umunya to Awkuzu and consequently mobilized RCC contracting firm. The company has done total rehabilitation of one lane, but still did not open the rehabilitated portion for use.
The story is the same on the Onitsha-Owerri road where some portions had failed, thereby causing accidents and perennial gridlocks.
The deplorable spots of the road by Tarzan-Eze Iweka, Egbemena bus-stop, Lords Chosen Church axis of the two lanes and a portion before Oba new road junction, are now giving motorists and other road users sleepless night.
Travellers to and fro Owerri, Umuahia, Aba, Uyo, Port Harcourt and other places are usually trapped at the spot, especially when it rained or there was a broken down articulated vehicle.
Precisely on July 25, this year, two persons died while four others were injured as a container truck fell on some tricycles at Obodoukwu junction, one of the bad portions of the road.
The accident caused many commuters and other road users to be stranded for many hours before the container truck was evacuated from the road.
Some of the motorists who spoke to Sunday Sun lamented that the bad portions had been there for the past two years and had kept on deteriorating without any attention, despite the fact that the relevant agencies also sometimes use the road.
A commercial bus driver, Mr John Adikpe appealed to the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to intervene on the bad spots to ease flow of traffic along the road.
A civil servant who works at Magistrate Court Ihiala, Mrs Uche Ememgini revealed that for the past two years she abandoned the road after she was trapped on it and the court waited and dismissed because she was not around to do her job as court clerk.
“So, I nearly lost my job and after that incident, I decided to be following the old road of Nkpor through Obosi to connect the same Owerri road in order to avoid the bad spots. It is longer, and sometimes you meet hold up along the road, but not comparable with that of Onitsha-Owerri road.
“My appeal is that if the Federal Government refuses to repair the bad portions of the road let the state government do it because our people are the ones suffering on it not those in Abuja,” Mrs Ememgini stated.
Enugu-Ninth Mile-Makurdi Road
Our finding showed that the Federal Government has deployed the RCC construction company to repair the Ninth Mile-Udi-Nsukka-Obollo-Afor area of the Enugu-Makurdi highway leading to the northern part of the country. When the reporter visited the site last Tuesday, the barricade the company mounted between Ama community, after the Ninth Mile, was very visible, but no tangible progress had been made on the reconstruction.
The reporter who drove from Ama to Ebe junction in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State discovered that work had not covered up to 3km since they barricaded the road for over six months now. Commuters now divert to the Enugu-Nsukka old road, which is not any better.
A bus driver who plies from Enugu-Ezike to Onitsha, Nicholas Udeh recounted their daily suffering on the road thus: “We are suffering in unimaginable proportion. I left Obollo Afor before 3:00p.m and now it’s past 5:00p.m and I’m still at the 9th Mile Corner.”
The Onitsha-Nkwele Ezunaka to Nsukka road through Ayamelum is supposedly a federal road, but nothing has been mentioned about in recent times. From Anaku, Omor, Nando, Igbariam, Adani, Opanda, Nimbo, Nkpologu and the rest, it is one hell of a journey.
Senator Chukwuka Utazi, representing Enugu North Senatorial District said that he has used his personal resources to get a construction company in Enugu State which did some remedial works on the Nsukka portion of the road and made it possible for vehicles to still ply there, otherwise it would have been cut off totally by now.
The truth is that whether rainy or dry season, travelling from Enugu to Makurdi is like a journey to hell because of the dilapidated road.
According to a trailer driver, Olayinka Adeboye, being on that road remained his nightmare because “if the bad condition of the road did not fall your vehicle or get you trapped for days in the worst portions with people’s goods, it will give serious damage to your vehicle; one thing is certain, something ugly must happen as long as you ply the road.”
Financial Secretary, Enugu State Branch of National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Mr Ichee Mamah, said: “If not for the little maintenance work done on the road about a month ago within Benue-Enugu boundary down to Umu-Okoro axis of the road towards Obollo-Afor, the road would have been completely cut off by now.
“The bad state of the road has affected our income and costs us more money in vehicle service and maintenance. Before now, from Obollo Afor to Makurdi was two hours, but now it’s five hours, can you imagine? The tyre that is supposed to last for one year, we change it after four to five months,” the union leader lamented.
However, the bad condition of the road is a blessing to Mr Ndubuisi Ugwu, a vulcanizer at the Umu-Okoro axis of the road who said: “The major reason I sited my workshop at this particular area is because the road is bad, and my business is booming as a result of the bad road.
“There is no day I will not get up to 20/30 vehicles that have punctured tyre to work on. To be honest with you, people are suffering on this road, many have died through accidents, if trailer is not falling, there must be an accident or damaged car somewhere on the road. It’s a usual occurrence, it’s no longer new thing to us.”
On the hope of fixing the road, the immediate past Minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige had told newsmen during the Southeast Stakeholders meeting of the APC, last year, that it was an oversight on the leaders of the party from the zone, adding that they were trying to have the road captured in the 2019 budget.
Federal roads in Abia
Prior to the coming of the Buhari administration in 2015, travelling from Enugu to Aba, Abia State was nightmarish; it was akin to taking a voyage to the land of the dead. About two hours journey then lasted for five hours and in some cases six hours with the inherent discomfiture to road users. However, the administration increased pace of the rehabilitation work on the road which was hitherto at snail speed, and today travelling from Enugu to Aba could be some luxury except for the very bad spots around Lokpanta where there is cattle market. There is also difficulty moving from Enugu to the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital (UNTH) axis before where the Sukuk fund is at work.
Then, from Aba to Ikot Ekpene, Aba to Azumini, Aba to Port Harcourt, Umuahia to Ikot Ekpene and Umuahia to Bende federal highways, it is the same story of dilapidation all through with the corresponding hardship to commuters.
The situation has become so worrisome that residents of Aba and commuters using federal roads in the commercial city and other parts of Abia State calling on President Buhari to make the reconstruction and rehabilitation of federal roads in Aba in particular and the entire Abia State, a priority in his second term.
Some residents and commuters who spoke with Sunday Sun in Aba, expressed fear that if nothing was urgently done to put these roads in order, Abia State, may soon be cut off from other parts of the country.
Out of the four major roads that link Aba with other cities in the Southeast and South-south geopolitical zones, only the Aba-Owerri Road through Osisioma to the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway is in manageable condition. This has put enormous stress to motorists plying the road as the influx of vehicles into the city centre; through this the axis usually result in heavy gridlock with its attendant loss of man-hour.
Residents and business owners who regretted that their repeated appeals to the last administration on their plight failed on deaf ears, were afraid that economic and business activities in the commercial city would suffer the more if the Federal Government failed to tackle frontally the debilitating state of federal roads in Aba.
A commercial bus driver plying from Aba to Akwa Ibom State, Emeh Udofia told Sunday Sun that they now use rural roads in Obingwa Local Government as flanks to and fro Aba with its attendant security risks.
“You need to go to Akwa Ibom through Aba-Ikot Ekpene expressway and see for yourself what drivers are passing through there on daily basis. We keep patronizing mechanics every week, repairing one thing or the other in our vehicles. The only routes we now use are village roads, but the youths are also feeding fat on us. We pay N100 and at some point N50 and this is, apart from the money we give to security agents on the roads”, he said.
Commuters on the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road, especially students of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, who ply the road on daily basis, wonder whether there is actually a government in Abia State.
Their reason is not farfetched because while the Akwa Ibom end is in good state, the Abia end which stretches into the Umuahia capital territory is clearly dreadful.
While Godswill Akpabio rehabilitated the Akwa Ibom area as governor, his counterpart at the period, Theodore Orji did nothing, while his successor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, has continued to show no concern.
The Owerri-Port Harcourt, Okigwe-Owerri roads
The Owerri/Port Harcourt dual carriage contract was awarded to the Arab Contractors by the Federal Ministry of the Niger Delta Affairs in 2002.
However, for 17 years, the road project is yet to be completed, although a long stretch of it has been executed from the Owerri axis to Umuagwo in Ohaji/ Egbema council area of Imo State.
Sunday Sun observed that a particular spot at Umuakpu has become nightmare to commuters who are forced to pass through villages to avoid being trapped in the quagmire which the road now represents.
This particular spot, which stretches for about 70 metres has been dubbed “death” zone as many commuters have either been robbed or kidnapped there on their way to and fro Port Harcourt.
Residents of the area said that the bad road has led to the death of their people while also causing low patronage from customers coming to buy their farm produce, especially garri, plantain, snails, palm oil and oranges.
Amako, a commercial bus driver, said that he and some passengers he conveyed from Elele to Owerri became victims to robbers at Umuapu. His passengers heaped the blame on him.
Similarly, the Okigwe-Owerri road was not any better. The road aside being very narrow is filled with craters and the worse portions are at Akabor, Anara, Amaraku and the Eke Atta market junction. And further down the road before Isiala Mbano, both sides of the road had been affected by gully erosion, which additionally reduced the width.
As a result of the dilapidated state of the Okigwe-Owerri road, commercial drivers have increased transport fares, citing the bad condition of the road.
Ndubuaku Nwosu, a commercial bus driver, who plies the road said that they spend more time getting to Okigwe from Owerri because of the bad condition of the road and as a result they jacked up the normal fare from N400 to N600.
“Sometime last year, the bad portions like the ones at Akabor and Amaraku were patched up, but the same portions are now bad again as the rain has continued. We, the drivers usually divert from Okwelle through Ehime Mbano to reconnect to Okigwe to save time because the road is very bad and as a result we need to add money to make up for the time wasted on just one trip,” Nwosu.
For commuters journeying through the Owerri/Aba/Umuahia roads, it has been a clear case of “suffering and smiling”, owing to the pitiable state of the roads.
A journey from Owerri along the Aba road could be very stressful because of the numerous potholes starting from Nekede, Naze and its environs.
Also, stretching from Naze to Okpala junction, a large porthole almost dividing the roads into two was witnessed at Okpala.
Motorists described the Owerri-Umuahia road as the worst in the Southeast. From Egbu, Naze junction and Awaka end of the road are big gullies; the same applies to Enyiogugu, Azara Egbelu, Obu ama and Nkwo Ogugu areas of the roads. But at Eze Oba just after Awaka, the road was completely divided into two.
Not so bad for Ebonyi
Ebonyi State appears to be somehow lucky as some federal roads there are still in good condition such as the Enugu-Abakaliki and Abakaliki-Afikpo-Okigwe highways.
Though the state government is currently intervening in the Okposi-Amasiri-Nguzu Edda axis of the federal road that empties into Abia State border, the F113, an arterial road connecting Enugu East, Ebonyi South and Cross River North, has remained impassable.
Residents of these areas lamented that they are all important agrarian communities with a strategic food security potential for the entire nation. It is the shortest route from upper Cross River, Ebonyi South and Enugu East to the rest of the country.
Sunday Sun gathered that the F113 was last constructed around 1983 during the Shehu Shagari administration and has severely dilapidated over the years.
Between 2007 and 2019, concerted efforts were made to get the Federal Government reconstruct the road with very poor outcomes. In 2010/2011, the design was achieved and the reconstruction put at a cost of about N2.5billion, a cost that has since suffered variations.
It was also gathered that FERMA awarded the repairs of some critically failed portions of the road to Charvet Ltd in 2010 at a cost of about N330 million, but was abandoned in 2011 due to poor funding. In 2014, the paltry sum of N380 million was budgeted for it, but was never awarded by the Federal Ministry of Works. About the same amounts were also provided in the 2016 and 2017 national budgets without implementation.
Currently about 4km of the over 60km stretch is being reconstructed between Onicha and Isu in Ebonyi State on account of a N350 million provided in the 2018 budget. A similar contract for the repair of 7km between Okposi and Isu in Ebonyi State awarded by FERMA in 2018 was never flagged off.
Except for occasional intervention repairs within the Ebonyi axis of the road, including the concrete construction by FERMA of two erstwhile Bailey bridges, influenced by the immediate past House of Representatives member of the area, Linus Okorie; the road would have been completely cut off and become impassable.