The state of oil producing communities in the Niger Delta region and the Apapa/Oshodi express Way, serving as main access road to the two seaports in Lagos state, presents clear examples that government often neglect areas where it generates chunk of its annual revenue. In this special report, third of five part focuses on how the dilapidated state of the road infrastructure causes pains and losses to the economy.
Infrastructural Decay: Cases Of South-East, South-South Roads
It is not difficult to understand why the life expectancy of the average Nigerian is presently put at a little over 40 years. That is even for those whose lives are spared to measure the expectancy. A whole lot have had their lives cut short in their primes in avoidable circumstances brought about by ineptitude of the government. Rather than the life expectancy improving by the day, reports have it that it keeps going down.
It is enough to have a hectic day at work, but compounding the hard day’s work with long hours on the road, heightens the chances of stress induced ailments. That has been the lot of the average Nigerian who is forced to contend with government infrastructural negligence due to the lack of regard or value for the life of its citizenry.
The infrastructural decay, evidenced on most roads across the country, has contributed to reducing the life span of well meaning citizens of the country. None of the tiers of government can be absolved of blame. They are all culpable, hiding under one excuse, ‘paucity of funds’ and subjecting the lives of the citizenry to all manner of nightmares on the roads.
Take the South East roads for instance, the government of the day had to wait for the runoff to the just concluded elections to make campaign promises for the roads construction. Despite the public outcry, most of the roads before 2013/2014 were nothing short of death traps. Governments, both states and federal, deliberately toyed around with the lives of their citizens in the South East region, just to score political points. Between the end of last year and March this year, each and every one of them came out to say how much they were going to transform the roads and other infrastructures, if voted in for the second time, as if the essence of voting them in for the first term in office, was to sit down and wait for their second tenure before work could commence. An instance is the Aba-Port Harcourt end of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway which has been impassable for a very long time but flagged off in March, 2015 by the past administration.
Construction on a good number of these roads actually commenced, but up till date, they are yet to be completed, especially at the South East end of the roads which connects other South-South states. The construction of the Port Harcourt/Owerri Road for instance, began from the Port Harcourt end and getting to the Owerri end of the road, work stopped with the contractor nowhere to be found. Road users on that axis now resort to the Owerri-Aba road to journey down to Port Harcourt, a far longer route. These led to Governor Rochas Okorocha crying out that the federal government was politicizing the construction of the road and asking that the sons and daughters of the state at Abuja should use their positions to influence the completion of the road.
It all goes to show that the political affiliation of the state government will determine how much infrastructure the state is able to attract. On this, well meaning Nigerians are pleading with the government to put aside the idea of political affiliation as every citizen of Nigeria has a right to infrastructural benefits, political party or no political party. Meanwhile, the construction of the Port Harcourt Owerri Road was said to have been influenced by the then deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha, who unsuccessfully contested the governorship election with Okorocha in the last general elections.
Just to give the impression that they have the interest of the people at heart, the then federal government waited until March, 2015 to commission the Enugu-Abakakiliki-Ogoja-Ikom-Mfum Trans-Africa Highway which before then was in a worst and deplorable state. Tales emanating at the Enugu-Abakaliki end of the road, have it that some portions of that road have been completely washed out, with no sign of coal tar on the road. Now, considering the Nigerian political factor and with construction beginning in March, and the ouster of the government that awarded and flagged off the project, the fate of the project is better imagined.
The Owaza-Azumiri Road, located at Ukwa Local Government Area of Abia State is one of the link roads to Rivers State, Cross River and Akwa Ibom and is a major oil producing town in Abia State, yet, the road construction also went the way of other politicized projects. It was originally undertaken by the Niger Delta Ministry and awarded to a Chinese company CCTEE. The construction, which was approved by the Federal Executive Council was to begin from Owaza to Azumini and then to Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom State.
Reports have it that the Chinese firm went to site with some funds from their side; started scrapping the top soil throughout the length of the road and to their credit began direct asphalting jobs on some portions and the construction of a bridge across the popular Azumini Blue River. Then suddenly, work stopped.
According to information, the ministry refused to pay anything to the construction firm who had no other choice but to pack their things out of site. Even the little they were able to do four years ago, had been destroyed by the rains, making the road worse than it was previously. The gullies on that road are said to be deep enough to consume a full grown adult.
People living within and around that area had to take the longer route to Aba to join the Ikot-Ekpene road, which is not too good as well, but at least, a bit better than the Owaza-Azumini road.
This road was said to have been part of the notorious East-West road, but for reasons best known to the then Minister of the Niger Delta Ministry, Godswill Orubebe, he was said to have tactically excluded it from the East West construction plan. This, once again, brings to question, which areas are indeed the Niger Delta area. According to reports, before now, the area covering Ukwa-West Local Area even up to the Aba fringes was part of Niger Delta. The indigenes of Abia are then asking that if Abia State is part of the oil producing states in Nigeria, why should they be excluded from reaping the benefits of the dividends accruing thereof. Members of the communities within that area have written letters to the Niger Delta Ministry, Sure-P, Abia State Governor and Abia Oil Communities Development Interventionist Agency, as at the time of filing this report, no one is yet to give them explanation as to why work stopped on the project and when work will start on it again, if at all it will.
The Aba-Owerri road, which is fairly okay, is only motorable when there are no rains as the road gets completely flooded any time it rains. While the previous administration did some rehabilitation jobs on the road, they completely overlooked the drainages which are almost completely filled up to the main road level.
Also, the once very popular old Umuahia road in Aba witnessed the worst dilapidation and neglect of all time. The road, which was said to have been constructed during the First Republic is almost eaten up by craters of various sizes. Old Umuahia Road is the adjoining road to Ogbor Hill, Umuahia and other villages like Umunkiri, Umugwu, Nenu, Umuome, Onitsha Ngwa, people whose economic well being to a large extent is dependent on the use of that road that links them to Aba Township, the commercial nerve of the state.
A road user on that route remarked that it got to a point that in an attempt to avoid the road, travelers had to go through Uyo and then bike back to Ogbor Hill. According to him, biking from Uyo to Ogbor Hill cost nothing less than between N500 to N600.
Christian Nwogwugwu, an indigene of Umunkiri painfully recounts his experience: “Old Umuahia Road is a federal road by definition, but faces a lack of maintenance, repairs or possible reconstruction and dualisation. This road was constructed before the political crisis in the 60s. I remember vividly being part of my school’s representatives that welcomed General Yakubu Gowon, then military Head of State on this particular road during his first post-war visit of what was the skeleton of the ruined Biafran enclave.
“Part of his visit was to assess the conditions of the Eastern States in order to prepare for the implementation of the 3Rs (Reconstruction, Rehabilitation and Reintegration). As a young primary school lad, it was my first time on a tarred road. The very point of interest to me on that road is that the same road has remained unimproved by way of rehabilitation by past governments and expected, craters have taken over this all important road.
“These road which starts from Ogbor Hill in Aba and runs through Obingwa Local Government have been completely neglected. The time has come for governments at various levels irrespective of their political leanings, to translate the CHANGE jargon to visible infrastructural terms. In General Muhammad Buhari’s inaugural speech, he said ‘he belongs to all and yet to nobody.’
Nwogwugwu advises that the best way to fulfill the reality of the ‘change’ slogan is by looking into the areas of those who have doubt in the sincerity of the CHANGE slogan and by embracing the whole nation as a single constituency.
“A Change indeed comes, when a leader is not vindictive against his political opponents. It is however, unfortunate that our leaders prefer to pay condolence to victims of road accidents, orchestrated by years of negligence, especially when they want to score cheap political point, instead of carrying out policies that will prevent the loss lives on our roads.”
The very notorious East West Road in the Niger Delta area transverses Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and the new extension to Cross River State. Hundreds of billions of naira have been committed to the construction of this road which started way back in 2006 and awarded by former President Olusegun Obasanjo at the cost of N211 billion. The road construction was said to be originally handled by the Ministry of Works between 2006 and 2009 when it was handed over to the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs. The major contractor to the project is Setraco, Messrs Siraj Nigeria Limited, though there are other contractors like the CECC, Reynolds etc. The project is said to be partly funded by China Exim Bank, African Development Bank (AfDB), Sure-P and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs.
Nigerians will not be quick to forget how this road consumed 11 women leaders who went to pay solidarity visit to the former First Lady of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Dame Patience Jonathan in February, 2015. Before then, also in February, an accident occurred on same road and took the lives of seven people. This same road, is said to lead to the home town of Mrs. Jonathan, yet has been in a state of disrepair for too long.
In 2011, the Orubebe assured the Niger Deltans that the road will be completed in 2012, from then, another completion date was set for December 2013, as the date approached, a new date was fixed for December 2014 and now with the Section V extension (Oron to Calabar), and the previous sections at various stages of completion coupled with the fact that the awarder of the contractor is no longer in the saddle, Nigerians are beginning to wonder what will become of the project.
Ikot Ekpene Road in Aba is no better. The Akwa Ibom end of the road was undertaken by the former Governor of Akwa Ibom State, Godswill Akpabio, he even wanted to extend the construction to Aba but pleaded with former Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji, to take up the compensation to family members of houses that will be demolished at the Aba end of the road. Orji never consented to undertaking it, even pleadings from some meaningful Abians didn’t make him to accept it. He said he didn’t have the political will to do the demolition and lacked the funds to compensate them. As a result, the road has remained deplorable.
The politics of road construction at the detriment of innocent citizens reared its ugly head sometime in Imo State when Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, chairman of Hardel and Enic Construction Company and former governor of Imo State, Achike Udenwa traded words over Orji- Egbu- Naze-Nekede – Ihiagwa- Obinze road which leads to the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. When two elephants fight, they say, the grass suffers, the question some people were asking during this period was, how often do the two gladiators ply the roads, often they are air-bound. It is only the common man who more or less uses the road. Because of the disagreement between the two politicians, the road construction project was abandoned with both parties apportioning blames while the innocent indigenes contended with bad road situation.
The local governments are not left out. They too complain of paucity of funds as being responsible for neglecting even the minutest of construction, blaming the state governments for tampering with their federal allocations and rendering them handicap. But many have complained that even the little that trickles down to them are not well utilized and accounted for.
In fact, some people believe that they are more corrupt than the state governments as they see their position as their own share of the national cake, doing virtually nothing at the end of the day but going about collecting taxes and revenues for doing nothing.
Their ineptitude is being displayed at Okpu-Umuobo Road in Osisi-Oma Local Government Area of Abia State which houses the West African headquarters of Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. This road is the major road that links former Obioma Ngwa, now Obingwa Local Government to Aba Owerri Road in Umungasi-Aba. It is also the road through which other communities like Amato, Ofokobo, Umuocha, Akpa, Mgboko and the rest link the township and transport their agricultural products to the township.
For so many years, the council appeared defeated by the road as each time they grade the road, it collapses when it rains, until the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints located its West Africa headquarters there and undertook to construct and tar the road, from Aba-Owerri Road in Umungasi up to the point where their church premises terminates.
Common sense never prevailed on the council to continue from where the church stopped. Today, from the church site to the different routes that lead to various communities including Mgboko, where the council is located is completely eaten up by both grasses and gullies. Once you are in town up to 6.30pm, you will be sure of trekking back to wherever you are going to, if you are to ply that route, because no motorist (tricycle, bike, bus or kabu kabu) will be on site to carry you as any vehicle that plies that route at night will be sure of tumbling.
Like Nwogwugwu said, President Buhari will do well by looking into some of these roads in the Niger Delta and South East, whether the ones that are still undergoing construction or those that have been completely neglected and abandoned by previous administration. That way, Nigerians will believe that he actually belongs to all.