From Ogbonnaya Ndukwe, Aba
It is a major worry for commuters and residents of the area, but it seems the authorities are not showing enough concern.
More than 100 industrial establishments, including the Federal Government-owned petroleum products depot of the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) at Osisioma industrial area of Aba commercial city in Abia State, are at a high risk of being destroyed by fire in the event of any explosion arising from a fallen petroleum tanker plying the now debased road.
Reason is that sections of the road linking the Abayi/Osisioma end of the Enugu/Port Harcourt Expressway with the Aba/Owerri/Onitsha highway are in a very bad condition presently.
The area, which lies within the once famous Ugba Junction, a resting spot for travellers in Isiala Ngwa/Owerrinta boundary area of the state, is plagued with muddy potholes setting booby traps for heavy-duty trucks.
Some of the industries located in the area, include Geometric Power Plant, Guinness Breweries, NNPC depot as well as many manufacturing plants producing paint/resin, shoe soles, roofing sheets/aluminium materials and paper products, among others.
Daily Sun learnt that while work being handled by the contractors rebuilding the road is at a snail speed with very little impact, heavy-duty vehicles including haulage trucks for petroleum products, cement, liquor and other items manufactured in the area, stay for hours on end at the bad portions. Some of the trucks get stuck in muddy potholes, blocking access for others trying to pass.
Findings showed that no day passes without a story of parts of the road being blocked by fallen or stuck vehicles, which hinder movement for the users. Residents of the area, who pass through there into Osisioma Local Government Council headquarters, the Divisional Police Station or banks, as well as those who try to enter through the road into Aba main town and its market areas seem to suffer the most from the deplorable road.
On their part, industrialists in private business whose daily activities are carried out within Osisioma and its environs, have over the years worked alongside the state government, to ensure that the road was passable, since it is through there that their goods and raw materials are brought in.
They are even said to have contributed as a group or in their various individual capacities to procure stones and chippings, which they poured into the bad areas to fill potholes and enable vehicles carrying their products have access into their preferred office and warehouse locations. Also, petroleum tanker drivers using the route from the Osisioma depot were said to have done the same to safeguard their vehicles from falling and spilling the contents in their tanks.
Due to the state of the road, transporters engaged to convey goods, especially raw materials and finished goods from other parts of the country into the area, now charge exorbitant costs. Some of them even refuse to handle such businesses for fear that their vehicles may fall while trying to reach their agreed destinations.
This in turn adds to the cost of production borne by companies, whose factories and warehouses are located in the industrial area; a situation which has led many of them to either move to other locations or increase prices of goods they produce in order to remain afloat.
Some of the road users who spoke to Daily Sun on the impending danger expressed worry that there would be great calamity if any petroleum tanker falls and catches fire while spilling its contents on any part of the road. They said over 120 big public facilities and privately owned industrial establishments in the zone will all be affected.
It was further gathered that the situation has become more precarious particularly as there was no equipped fire service station nearby, except that belonging to the NNPC in its depot, miles away.
Many of the industries use volatile chemicals as part of their raw materials, especially the ones that produce paints/resins, shoe soles, liquor, aluminium products and exercise books, among others.
A market development strategist, Nsobundu-Kenneth Ezeimo, said there was the need to promptly alert the authorities of the impending danger so that government could do the needful in fixing the bad portions to enable easy movement of heavy-duty vehicles.
Ezeimo said drivers whose trucks get stuck in the muddy potholes engage the services of caterpillar operators who assist in pulling them out on payment of certain amounts as charges, noting that this has made the vehicle operators to hike the charges they now collect to ferry goods for the plants into Osisioma and its environs.
He appealed to the Abia State Government to come to the aid of commuters by ordering the contractors back to site. He noted that palliatives were needed urgently to fix the deplorable portions to enable continuous use of the road pending when the contractors would complete the rehabilitation.
Also, traditional prime minister of Umuokiri Autonomous Community in Osisioma, Chief Gorge Ukonu, said the situation had grossly affected his people who use the road as access to other parts of the state, especially their council headquarters, the Ariaria market as well as other locations within and outside Osisioma area.
The community leader said his people were happy when the state governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, visited the area and promised to award a contract for the rehabilitation of the road. He, however, expressed regret that contractors handling the job were not doing enough to urgently tackle the problem as expected. He called on the government to intervene.
A lady, who operates the Lady Black Restaurant in the area, said that business had slowed down since the rainy season due to lack of patronage resulting from the poor state of the access road.
The lady, who had been in business in Osisioma area for several years, noted that despite the shutdown experienced during the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, no day passes without vehicles getting stuck and blocking the road. She explained that the road is the only passage through the council headquarters, the NNPC depot and Aba/Owerri/Onitsha highway.
A petrol tanker driver, Chief Godswill Okeke, said members of the Aba Petroleum Tanker Drivers Unit of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG), have variously made representations to the authorities of Abia State and the Federal Government through the NNPC Osisioma depot management, urging them to carry out repair works on portions of the road that were very bad. He regretted that their efforts never received good responses.
Okeke, who said his trailer had on several occasions been trapped overnight on the road due to gridlocks created by fallen vehicles there, corroborated other users’ comments that haulage of goods into and out of the area was costing much more than when the road was in good state.
Gideon Iwu, another driver from Okigwe, Imo State, who plies the road with his 911 Mercedes Benz lorry, also lamented that passing through the road was a nightmare.
Iwu said the drivers had at various times contributed money, procured stone chips and hired bulldozers to spread them on some of the bad spots but noted that this had not helped much as the entire road needed reconstruction which would only be handled by government.