Paul Osuyi, Asaba
His forlorn face told it all. He had been struggling for the past three days at Okuovo community along the Benin-Sapele-Warri Expressway where his heavy duty vehicle got stuck in the ditches as a result of the deplorable condition of the road.
The heavy duty vehicle operator, who later identified himself as Nurudeen Bello, said his efforts to extricate the vehicle from the clutches of mud had not yielded results, hence, he took to a makeshift abode where he was exposed to insecurity and weather elements.
He was not alone in the very challenging situation. Motorists plying the route recounted bitter experiences due to the failed portion, covering several metres on the road. To the motorists, driving on the road has become an agonising adventure, one that is better imagined.
A commercial vehicle operator, Yusuf Muskiliu, whose green coloured Toyota Siena was also stuck, said driving on what was once a dual carriageway has become a nightmare for several people, adding that man hours were being lost on a daily basis.
Muskiliu, who spoke in smattering English, said before now, a drive from Warri to Sapele usually took about thirty minutes, lamenting that at the moment, it takes over three hours to meander through potholes and manoeuvre through the stretch of articulated vehicles lining the road.
“We dey suffer here, abeg make una help us tell them to come repair the road for us. We need help here. From Warri to Sapele dey like three hours because of bad road. Before, to reach Sapele from Warri nor reach thirty minutes. Abeg make them come help us,” he pleaded.
On his part, Mr. Ibrahim Isah said his articulated vehicle got trapped in the mud for more than five hours at the bad spot in Okuovo community, Okpe Local Government Area of Delta State, causing traffic build up along the highway.
“We have been trying to pull it out but to no avail. I came from Port Harcourt, heading for Kano. I have spent more than five hours here and I am worried. We are begging government to help us to repair this road to save us from this trouble,” he said.
The Benin-Sapele-Warri federal highway was once a delight to commuters on the route. The road connects the South South region to the South West on one hand; to the South East on another, and yet to the north, all through the Benin by-pass.
A journey from Benin, Edo State capital, when the road was in good shape, was less than one hour. But that does not obtain anymore due to the various failed and deplorable portions on the expressway.
In fact, passengers either from Warri to Benin or vice versa, now think twice before embarking on such journeys, apparently because of lack of alternative routes to their destinations.
Those who dare to travel on the road must be ready for the enormous inconveniences which are not limited to discomfort, as vehicles wobble through mud ditches and manoeuvre the traffic build-up with long stretches of articulated vehicles.
While contending with weather elements, passengers have been dispossessed of their items by hoodlums who have taken advantage of the situation to operate when stuck vehicles are not extricated before odd hours.
“They rob here every time because there is no security. The houses in the community are far inside, so when there is nightfall and vehicles are still stuck here, there will be tension because anything can happen afterwards.
“The bad boys have even vandalised vehicles that were parked here since the owners could not continue the journey. It is a terrible situation here, and we need government to respond to our plea and fix this place,” one of the locals who refused to disclose his identity said.
However, some community folks have taken advantage of the situation to make brisk but legal business by assisting motorists to extricate trapped vehicles for some financial gains. Promise Nelson is one of such. He makes at least N2, 000 from the endeavour on a daily basis.
Though he described it as lucrative, Nelson wants the deplorable portion fixed by government, saying that people were accusing the locals of being responsible for their plight on the road because they stand to profit from it.
Nelson said: “What we are doing here is that we are rescuing vehicles. We have rescued several vehicles in the past few weeks. Anytime that they cannot drive through this place, we will come to dig the ground for the vehicles to move and continue.
“It is not for free, anybody we do it for has to pay us because we spend our time and energy to rescue their vehicles. We free all types of vehicles whether trucks, buses or cars. Sometimes we get up to N2, 000 or more everyday for the work we do.
“But I am not happy about the situation because the bad boys have taken advantage of it to be robbing travellers. Now that this place is bad, security is supposed to be here to protect the people but nobody is protecting them.
“So I want to appeal to government to come and repair this road. It is not good that people are suffering. The other day, one woman was on a journey with a new born baby and their vehicle broke down here. The baby was just crying because he was not comfortable.”
Apart from the Benin-Sapele-Warri Road, federal roads traversing the three senatorial districts of Delta State are in very bad shapes. Travelling on the roads has become a nightmare, as commuters continue to groan under the yoke of discomfort and inconvenience.
The bitter experience is the same for commuters using the Agbor-Eku-Sapele Road, the Ughelli-Asaba Road and the Benin-Asaba-Onitsha Road.
As a result, two members of the House of Representatives from Delta Central Senatorial District – Efe Afe and Francis Waive – recently urged the Federal Government to immediately declare a state of emergency on federal roads in the state.
Monarchs in the state, who are members of the Delta State Traditional Rulers’ Council also added a royal voice to the call for a state of emergency on federal roads in the state, describing them as death traps.
The royal fathers in a communiqué at the end of their meeting in Asaba, implored the Federal Government to take urgent steps to fix the roads to avoid the loss of more lives.
Their plea may have reached the ears of the state government, which has since intervened on the 149 kilometre Ughelli-Asaba dual carriageway. The state government said it would explore areas of collaboration with the Federal Government to intervene particularly on the Benin-Sapele-Warri road to reduce the sufferings of the users.
Commissioner for Works, James Augoye and his Information counterpart, Mr. Charles Aniagwu who inspected the Okuovo failed portions of the road, said the intervention had become necessary, as Deltans and other Nigerians depend on the road for economic survival.
Augoye said the state governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa was disturbed by the suffering of the people who ply the road, and decried the loss of man hours and productive time on the road as a result of unending gridlocks.
“This Warri Sapele Benin Road is a federal highway and as a state we actually did palliatives works on some portions of the road before now and the parts we intervened on are still very solid till today. What we are doing here is to look at the possibility of the state government intervening.
“The work here is not just maintenance or rehabilitation, it requires total reconstruction because the mud here is very clayed and it needs to be excavated to the soil base and refilled with sharp stand to make it solid. So there is much work to be done here.
“The governor has directed that we visit the site and see the possible way of intervention by the state government to free the masses from the sufferings on the road,” Augoye said.
On his part, Commissioner for Information, Mr. Charles Aniagwu said the state government was intervening because Deltans and Nigerians use the road irrespective of where they are from.
“You have seen it by yourself that it is in a very bad condition and we are pained. It does not have to be Deltans that pass through here for us to be disturbed. We are disturbed because what is happening here affects not just the economy of the state but that of the nation.
“We are going to start work in earnest but we have to plead with the Federal Government to assist us in taking care of these federal roads because it is digging very deep into our pockets as a state and the more they assist us the better for us and the better for other Nigerians that are making use of these roads,” he added.
The commissioners appealed to the Federal Government that at the end of the on-going work on the Ughelli-Asaba expressway, Delta SState should be reimbursed for previous interventions so that such funds can be deployed to other needs.
Augoye specifically said the state government is coughing out N19.1 billion for the Sector ‘A’ of the Ughelli-Asaba road which is 47.8 kilometres.
“As you can see, it is taking us several billions to ensure that these roads are put to motorable condition. It is costing us several billions to carry out these interventions and of course you know there are a lot of needs within our direct responsibility as a state.
“But here we are investing huge sums of money to address these federal roads because we believe that leaving it unattended will lead to untold hardship for our people. The governor is seriously troubled that all the federal roads in the state are in terrible conditions.
He is disturbed by the heavy traffic at the River Niger Bridge Head leading into Onitsha in Anambra State. You will recall that at one time we wrote to the Federal Government to allow us fix that road, but they declined on the ground that they have engaged a contractor to address the failed sections of the road.
“The Asaba-Benin stretch of the road has also become a nightmare and even our decision to remediate part of the Agbor-Eku road is just a palliative as that road requires total reconstruction,” Augoye said.