From Okey Sampson (Aba), George Onyejiuwa (Owerri), Petrus Obi (Enugu), Jeff Amechi Agbodo (Onitsha) and Emmanuel Uzor (Abakaliki)
Forty-six years after the civil war ended (and the federal authorities announced a reconstruction, rehabilitation and reconciliation programme), critical infrastructure in the southeastern part of the country are still begging for attention. Today, the roads in the geopolitical zone are the worst network of federal roads in the country.
The situation is so bad that the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Political Matters, Hon. Gideon Sammani, who recently came to represent the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, at an event in Aba, Abia State, bemoaned the poor state of roads in the zone having ridden the road from the Owerri Airport to Aba. He said that it was like going to one of the areas devastated by Boko Haram in the Northeast. The observation made by Sammani encapsulates the terrible situation of federal roads in the southeast. Commuters and other road users now describe federal roads in the zone as death traps.
The sorry state of Federal roads in Abia State has never ceased to evoke tears from the people who daily experience the agony of plying the roads in the quest to earn a living. From Aba-Owerri, Aba-Azumini, Aba-Ikot Ekpene and Aba-Port Harcourt federal highways, the story is the same – a tale of dilapidation and decay. Aba is now practically locked down. Accessing the city from any point is a traumatic experience. The commercial hub has economically been brought to its knees as traders from the neighbouring states no longer come to the city to buy goods.
In the same vein, villagers living along where these roads pass through find it difficult to take their agricultural produce to markets in urban areas. The situation compelled prominent persons from the area who had to appeal to the Federal Government for a special intervention to save the people from further hardship.
The traditional ruler and Enyi 1 of Eziama Aba, HRM (Eze) Isaac Ikonne who was so exasperated about the bad condition of federal roads in the South East, called on President Muhammadu Buhari to declare the zone a disaster area. He urged the president to do something urgent on the federal roads in Abia State, particularly Aba roads, which he said were abandoned by the administration of Chief Theodore Orji, the former state governor and now a senator, to alleviate the sufferings of the people.
“The Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, particularly the Abia section, is in deplorable condition. It is the same with Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Aba-Azumini and Aba-Port Harcourt highways,” the royal father pointed out.
He expressed sadness that people now use motorcycles as the major means of transportation from Aba to Ikot Ekpene in Akwa Ibom State, with the attendant risks, owing to the bad condition of the road.
While commending Buhari for the manner he has been steering the Nigerian ship of state, the monarch said it was not for nothing that he gave the president the chieftaincy title, Ogbuagu 1 (Lion killer) of Aba, and assured him that the people of the southeast were solidly behind his administration.
Some commuters on their part sent a save-our-soul (SOS) message to the president over the deplorable state of federal roads in the area.
They equally called on Abia State governor, Dr Okezie Ikpeazu, to undertake some palliative measures on some of the roads pending the time the federal government would reconstruct them.
Mr Ifeanyi Agu, a trader who regularly plies the Aba-Ikot Ekpene highway, said that they have suffered so much as a result of the terrible nature of the road, stating that the inability of the authorities concerned to apply palliative measures on the road has worsened their plight.
“If palliative measures are not applied on the road pending when actual reconstruction work will begin, the problem would degenerate to a worse situation that would prevent Aba people from travelling to Akwa Ibom and Cross River states and vice versa; of course that would impact negatively on economic activities in the city,” Agu said.
Perhaps, in response to this yearning, the Abia State government has initiated discussions with its Akwa Ibom state counterpart to rehabilitate the abandoned Aba-Ikot Ekpene federal highway to reduce the sufferings of motorists in the area.
Governor Ikpeazu who stated this during an interaction with newsmen disclosed that he was working hard to intervene on the dilapidated Port Harcourt and Aba-Ikot Ekpene federal roads, adding that he would not be deterred by the scarce resources at his disposal.
On the 13-kilometre Port Harcourt road which links Aba to the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway, Ikpeazu disclosed that he would use the N200 million grant attracted by the past administration in the state to rehabilitate the road.
“Ikot Ekpene and Port Harcourt roads are strategic federal roads, but it is Abia people who suffer the hellish experience of using the roads. Along Port Harcourt road, we have fabricators of machines and tools. They produce a lot of things. Both roads are federal roads; the cost of the two roads is beyond the capacity of the state government for two reasons. Our standard is that every road would be built with drainage. When I think of Port Harcourt, we will have to build a 13-kilometre-long drainage. My predecessor and the former finance minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, got a N200 million grant from the World Bank which is tied to sanitation, storm water management and the rehabilitation of the road. Before the end of the year, work on Port Harcourt road will begin,” Ikpeazu said.
On his part, the member representing Aba North and Aba South in the House of Representatives, Hon Ossy Prestige said he was not relenting in his efforts to ensure that the federal government moves in to reconstruct the affected roads.
“If you recall, on August 23 last year I moved a motion on the floor of the House where I stated the number of bad federal roads in my constituency. The motion was unanimously adopted and a resolution was passed urging the federal government to do something about the roads.
“One of the roads, the Aba-Ikot Ekpene road which is in the 2016 budget, is slated for dualization. As a lawmaker, my duty is to raise the issue before the federal government and by the special grace of God, make sure it is in the budget, and we achieved this desire. The only ones that were not captured in the budget are the Aba-Owerri and Aba-Port Harcourt roads, which I believe will be in the 2017 budget despite any palliative measures the state government might be coming up with,” he disclosed.
The federal expressway from Enugu, Enugu State, runs through Awka, the Anambra State capital and terminates at Onitsha, has been in deplorable condition since 1999 when the country returned to democratic governance. Thus, for 17 years now, little or no rehabilitation work has been done on the road though it has always been reflected in the federal budgets every year and contract awarded.
But in most cases, the contractors that got the contract would end up doing a shoddy job or abandon the work halfway. Yet the Enugu-Onitsha expressway remains a very important road as it is the gateway to the southeast from the south-south, southwest and some parts of the north.
It is also important because of the Onitsha market, which is the largest market in the West African sub-region, where traders and businessmen within sub-Sahara Africa visit for business transactions.
The road totally failed between 2015 and 2016, to the extent motorists and commuters abandoned it for the old road, which was rehabilitated during the tenure of former Enugu State governor, Mr Sullivan Chime, but the road later became impassable due to pressure from heavy traffic on it. Before the expressway collapsed completely, a portion of it was still motorable, particularly the single lane from the 9th Mile area to Ezeagu, but from Oji-River through Ugwuoba in Enugu State to Amansea in Anambra State, the road is terribly bad.
The section from Awkuzu through Nteje to Umunya in Anambra State is also a death trap, and this forced motorists to abandon it and resort to using the old Awka road.
As a result of the total collapse of the road, people living around the area have been faced with severe hardship. Motorists, commuters and other road users had on several occasions been victims of armed robbery attacks and vehicular accidents.
Sunday Sun investigations revealed that the Enugu and Anambra state governments had over the years been intervening to rehabilitate the road in the hope of being refunded by the federal government.
For instance, when Mr Peter Obi was the governor of Anambra State, he rehabilitated the areas within the Awka capital city territory and the commercial city of Onitsha. His successor, Dr Willie Obiano, followed in his footsteps.
The Anambra State Commissioner for Works, Mr Lawrence Chinwuba, said that currently the state government is intervening in the rehabilitation of the road from Amawbia to Amansea and from Amansea to Ikenga with the approval of the Federal Ministry of Works.
He noted that the federal government had promised to rehabilitate portions of the road from Amawbia to Nteje-Umunya axis, saying that the federal government is yet to refund about N43 billion spent by the state government on the rehabilitation of federal roads within the state from the tenure of the Obi administration to the present Obiano administration.
Chinwuba, however, said that despite the huge amount of money yet to be refunded to the state, the government would not relent in rehabilitating the road because of the welfare of its citizens, adding that the state government had approved the palliative work on the bad portion of the Nteje-Umunya road for smooth movement during the 2016 Yuletide season pending when total rehabilitation of the road would be done by the federal government.
Following the outcry by the people of the southeast, senators and members of the House of Representatives as well as motorists, the federal government few months ago awarded a contract to Reynolds Construction Company (RCC) for rehabilitation of a part of the road within Enugu State, stretching from 9th mile to Ugwuoba in Oji-River.
So far, the contractor has only done some palliative work on the road to make it motorable and reduce the hardship faced by the people using the road. RCC has also commenced the earth work on the road from the 9th Mile point. The Anambra State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), Mr Sunday Ajayi, notes that the road is strategic as it links the Southeast, South-South, Southwest and some parts of the North. This, he explains, accounts for the high traffic on the road.
Ajayi further states that the number of auto crashes that occurred along Onitsha-Awka-Enugu expressway in 2015 was 101, while 95 have been recorded so far in 2016. The number of people who died on the road from January to October 2015 was 99, while 26 deaths have been recorded in 2016.
A civil engineer, Mr Ben Muomelu, blamed the collapse of the federal roads on the contractors, who do not usually follow the specifications stated in the contract document.
He explains: “This problem is caused by a situation where so many interests would be attached to the contract by the politicians, who share the contract sum, leaving the contractor with little money to carry out the project. What do you expect the contractor to do? He will use the little money to do one-and-half inch road of 2-to-3 inches agreed upon and at times they will abandon the road due to lack of money. Even the officials of the supervising ministry would compromise by approving the road any how because they have collected their own share; that is the corruption we are talking about.”
Disturbed by the state of federal roads, Chief Michael Ozua Okoye, the Onowu (traditional prime minister) of Awkuzu appealed to the federal government to particularly rehabilitate the Awkuzu-Nteje-Umunya axis of the road which has totally collapsed. The road, he notes, has claimed many lives and destroyed many vehicles, adding that farmers in the area and Anambra South and West can no longer transport their farm produce to the town because of the condition of the road.
According to him, a journey of one hour now takes over four hours to get to Enugu. He revealed that factories and industries within the area have shutdown because of the bad road.
Another native of Umunya and a commercial bus driver, Mr Chigozie Nnabuike, said that the road has made him unemployed, lamenting that his bus got trapped on a bad spot on the road where it remained for two months before he was able to tow it away to a mechanic workshop.
“It remained in the mechanic workshop for another one month without repairs and at the end, I was advised by the mechanic to change the engine, but there was no money to buy a new engine. I cannot pay school fees of my children and right now I’m serving as a conductor to feed my family, pending when I will get money to buy a new engine for my bus. That is why I earnestly want the Buhari government to totally rehabilitate the road, especially now that we are in the dry season, to reduce the suffering of road users,” Nnabuike pleaded.
Like most of the other federal roads in the southeast, the Enugu-Makurdi expressway has completely failed and is now a death trap. From the 9th Mile Corner to Obollo-Afor, the road has totally collapsed. The grievous instance of an entire family that was wiped out while returning for Christmas a year ago easily comes to mind. That incident was just one of hundreds of similar auto crashes that have claimed innocent lives as a result of the bad roads.
As road users lament on the state of the road, Mr Anthony Ogar, believes that members of the National Assembly from the zone should urgently undertake a fact finding tour of the zone, to see the situation themselves before the 2017 budget debate begins, and ensure that they are captured in the forthcoming budget.
Ogar expressed worry that all the federal roads in the zone have long been abandoned, and questioned the kind of representation those in the National Assembly are providing for their people.
For Mr Donald Okoro, the Enugu-Makurdi road is an unmitigated case of seeming official neglect as the whole portion of the road on the Enugu side is in such sorry state that beats description.
“Vehicles now avoid the 9th Mile and go through the new road from Abakpa to Opi junction. You continue on the bad road through Ugbokolo; the portion from Oturkpo to Alede is also very bad,” he said, adding that the road is an old one which needs to be reconstructed completely.
While the people wait for the federal government to do the needful, Enugu State Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi has undertaken intervention initiatives on major federal roads in Enugu State to give the people a respite, especially on the Enugu side of the expressway.
Mr Ronald Eke, a driver, was full of praise for the governor for the rehabilitation work commenced by the government along the expressway. Enugu State Commissioner for Works, Engr Patrick Ikpenwa explained that Ugwuanyi’s intervention on federal roads in the state is to save motorists from nightmare.
He told Sunday Sun reporter during a brief interaction: “What you saw is the state intervention on federal roads; we are intervening at certain sections because they are so bad and our people are crying out. We are intervening from Opi junction to a village called Amala, after Obollo-Afor, along that road. It’s about 25km stretch; we are also intervening from Opi down to 9th Mile at critical sections and then from 9th Mile joining the Enugu-Onithsa expressway we are also intervening.
“From Opi to Amala we are going to do complete asphalt overlay because those areas have become so bad and have caused series of accidents in the past. We want to arrest it finally and save motorists the nightmare they go through in that section of the road.”
Owerri-Port Harcourt road
The contract for the dualization of the Owerri-Port Harcourt road, a major link between the Southeast and the South-South was awarded to Arab Contractors Engineering Company in 2002 by the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs during the Olusegun Obasanjo administration.
But 12 years after the contract was awarded, the road project is yet to be completed, making its terrible condition a source of great concern not only to the people living around the area but also to motorists plying the road, especially the section stretching from Umuagwo to Umuapu, covering over 12 kilometres.
As a result of the terrible dilapidation, a journey from Owerri to Port Harcourt which used to last one hour now takes almost a whole day as a result of the traffic snarl caused by the collapsed road. Even some commuters sleep on the way for days when their vehicles breakdown, exposing their passengers to armed robbery attacks.
The Umuapu spot of the road is the worst affected as the level of the dilapidation has become nightmarish thereby forcing motorists to pass through villages to avoid being trapped on the road.
Some residents of the area who spoke to Sunday Sun said the bad road has led to the death of several people as well as causing low patronage from customers who come to buy their goods, especially garri, plantain, snails, palm oil and oranges which are produced in abundance in the area.
Mr Emeka Ochia, a native of Umuapu community said that the condition of the road has caused the people great agony, explaining that whenever it rains, their homes would be flooded and their household property destroyed.
Also, the youth leader from Umuagwo, Uzoma Amadi, said that besides the accidents which have claimed the lives of some persons from the community, armed robbery cases have also increased with people being attacked on a daily basis.
“So we are appealing to both the federal and state governments to at least repair these bad portions at Umuapu and Uwuagwo if they don’t want to complete the road,” he suggested.
Confirming the danger of plying the Owerri-Port Harcourt road at night, a driver, Mr Obilo, disclosed that he and the passengers he was conveying from Elele to Owerri were robbed at Umuapu.
His words: “Last June, I was robbed, including my passengers at Umuapu about 8:00pm because of the bad road. Ever since that horrible experience, I stopped plying the road at night, and if I must go to Port Harcourt I use the Aba-Owerri road which remains the best even if it is longer. You can also see that many vehicles have broken down because of the bad condition of the road.”
In 2010, the contract for the dualization of the Owerri-Aba road was awarded to the Arab Contractors company, but the project was abandoned after some earth work was done, leaving the road in a precarious condition and this led to fatal accidents that occurred this year in April at Agbala where an entire family of six perished. Again, last year, a commercial bus coming from the Aba end of the road had a head-on collision with a Mack truck coming from the Owerri end, killing 13 passengers in the incident. The truck was attempting to dodge a pothole on the road when it slammed into the bus.
However, the Federal Roads Management Agency (FERMA) has been able to mend the failed portions of the road at Agbala, Ulakwo and the Okpala junction before the border with Abia State. The road which was built in the early 70s has been a death trap not only because of its narrowness, but also due to the abandoned dualization, which created gullies on the shoulders of the road.
This road which connects Owerri and Umuahia, the capital of Abia State, is comparatively better than the Owerri-Port Harcourt road. Until recently, there were major bad spots at the Emekuku end of Owerri, a development that compelled motorists plying the road to negotiate through a village path before reconnecting with the road at Enyiogugu, a community in Mbaise.
However, last month the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) carried out a palliative work on the spot which has allowed free flow of traffic. Another bad spot at Obowo-Achingali, which has continued to be flooded whenever rain falls, was recently repaired while other bad portions on the road are still awaiting attention.
Just like the other federal roads in the state, the Owerri-Okigwe road is not in any way better. Besides being very narrow, it is largely covered with potholes of various dimensions extending over a long stretch of the road as if a multiple of crater bombs were detonated above it.
It is, however, noteworthy that through the recent intervention of the Niger Delta Development Commission some of the collapsed portions of the road at Akabo, Anara and Amaraku which were responsible for severe traffic jam along the road have been filled up.
However, the collapsed portion of the road around Eke-Atta market in Ikeduru has not received attention. Commenting on the state of the southeast roads, elder statesman and chieftain of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP), Chief Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, said that majority of the federal roads in the southeast are in horrible state.
His words: “I am appealing to the federal government to urgently do something about the state of the roads in the southeast by releasing funds for the maintenance of the federal roads. Neglect of southeast roads is the primary reason people of the geopolitical zone have been crying of marginalization.”
In the same vein, a member of the Imo State House of Assembly and chairman, House Committee on NDDC, Hon. Henry Ezediaro said that the state has not benefitted as an oil producing state as most of the Federal roads in the state are in bad shape.
“Imo State is an oil producing state yet we have not really reaped the benefit of that because all the federal roads in the state have failed, but we have continued to make representations to the federal government through the state governor, calling on the federal government to repair the roads in the state,” he said.
Former Imo State President of Ohanaeze, Mr Azuka Akpelu, said that the neglect of federal roads in the Southeast is part of the extant policies of the federal government to sustain the marginalization of Ndigbo.
“It is part of the marginalization policy of the Federal Government against Ndigbo; all the federal roads in the southeast are nothing but death traps, because they don’t care about the people,” he lamented.
Ebonyi State federal roads
Though Elechi administration did not go far in the project, but he ended up dualizing some sections of federal roads in the state. Among these is the Enugu-Ogoja federal road. The project was said to have cost the state government over N2.23 billion. The contract was awarded to various contractors.
Also towards the end of Elechi’s tenure, the state government interrupted the contract for the reconstruction of Enugu-Abakaliki-Ikom road at Ishieke, which was awarded to Setraco Nigeria Limited, covering the stretch from the Eke-Obinagu end in Enugu State to Abakaliki and re-awarded it to a Chinese company. However, upon assumption of office, Governor David Umahi revoked the contract and the project was re-awarded to Setraco Nigeria Limited, which originally got it from the federal government.
Umahi faulted the action of his predecessor who interrupted the federal government project and then undertook to handle same with meagre resources of the state.
Ebonyi State government shortly after the termination of the contract and return of the original contractor handling the project immediately commenced construction of federal roads across the state.
As at the moment, the state government through the Ministry of Works is constructing the Nkalagu-Ikem road, which is a federal road as well as reconstructing the Abakaliki-Nkwegu-Afikpo road which is also a federal road.
Before the intervention of the state government, these roads were death traps, especially the dilapidated portions at Amudo in Ezza South Local Council Area of the state.
The Abaomege and Onueke portions of the road failed completely and led to the death of many road users just as it completely cut Afikpo off from the rest of the state.
But the Ebonyi State government has reconstructed these portions and expanded the roads as well as constructed drainages to meet modern road standard.
The traditional ruler of Ezzama, Ezeogo Charles Mkpuma, said that the efforts of the present administration in the state under Chief Umahi in fixing federal roads within the state have yielded fruits in boosting the economy of the state.
However, it was gathered that apart from the state government’s intervention on federal roads in Ebonyi, FERMA, has embarked on rehabilitation and maintenance of the roads.
Among the roads that got FERMA’s attention was Onueke-Afikpo federal road where major maintenance was done along the Afikpo-Amasiri-Isu portion constructed by Julius Berger during the former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s regime.
In Amudo, Ezza South Local Council Area of the state, the road project which is being done by the state government on direct labour basis has brought mixed blessings to the community. He said that no fewer than three road accidents have occurred within the period of the road construction.
However, the Ebonyi State government has reiterated its readiness to complete, commission and hand over federal government projects before the end of this year as works have reached appreciable stage in all the structures.