AS the hand of the clock ticks towards the 2015 general elections, Emeka Mamah and Francis Igata, write on Federal Government’s avowed commitment to complete the rehabilitation of all Federal roads in the country, especially those in the South-East before 2015.
ENUGU-Port Harcourt express way
A random assessment of Federal roads in the South-East geo-political zone which were sources of angst, resentment and despondency to the people due to their abandonment by successive governments, elicits flashes of hope. Successive regimes had consistently reneged on their campaign promises to make such roads passable to better the living standards of the people. For example, politicians had used the Enugu- Port Harcourt express way as a bargaining chip to garner votes from unsuspecting voters during electioneering campaigns.
The dual carriage road which passes through, Enugu, Imo and Abia states to Port Harcourt is the major link between the South- South, the South East and the Northern states. Scores of promising lives had been lost on the road owing to its parlous state of disrepair. Big craters dotted appreciable portions of the road, especially at the Lokpanta- Ama-Anwusa section. Motorists plying the highway are forced to slow down in those places, thereby making them easy prey to armed bandits.
Mr. Innocent Nduba, a businessman resident in Port Harcourt told Vanguard Features, VF, that he plies the road regularly because his family resides in Enugu, the capital of Enugu State. He said: “The road is very good now from Enugu to Okigwe. The place that is bad is between Okigwe to NNPC Mega Filling Station in Umuahia. The deplorable state of that portion of the road has made it impossible for the dual carriage road to be used at the section.
“It is only one lane that motorists use at that point. Once you pass that portion, the road is smooth all the way from Umuahia- Aba through Port-Harcourt,” he said.
Enugu-Nsukka – Makurdi express way
The single lane road serves as the nexus between some Eastern states and the Northern parts of the country. Previous attempts by successive governments to reconstruct the road had met brick-walls due to bad politics. The road passes through Otukpo, the country home of the Senate President, Senator David Mark.
However, Mr. Michael Agada, a civil servant serving in Enugu who travels every weekend to reunite with his family in Okukpo told VF thus: “The road is now far better than what it was during President Olusegun Obasanjo’s era. A journey of three hours from the Ninth Mile Corner in Enugu to Makurdi took seven hours between 1999 and 2003. Today, the same distance can be completed in three hours, with a commercial bus but less than that with a private vehicle.
“The smooth nature of the road now has reduced the man-hours spent on it. The result is that the cost of transportation has drastically reduced.
Volume of traffic
The pot holes which slowed down the movement of vehicles have now virtually disappeared, forcing drivers to reduce their fares. Even the wear and tear associated with vehicles plying the route during the period have reduced drastically,’’ he said.
Continuing, he called on the Federal Government to quickly dualise the road as the volume of traffic continues to increase by the day. This measure, according to him, will reduce accidents on the road.
Enugu -Abakiliki express way: Another single lane road that serves as the ‘’conveyor belt’’ for both for human and material resources from Ebonyi State (which is one of the bread baskets of the nation), is the Enugu Abakaliki road. Apart from leading to the Nkalagu Cement Company, the road which also links Cross River State and Cameroon through Ogoja was contracted to the SETRACO Nigeria Limited. The road is now in a motorable condition.
Mr. Okey Agbo, a building contractor who plies the road often from Enugu to Ebonyi to supply materials for his projects said: “The road is very smooth to Abakiliki. The only place where we have bad portions on the e road is right inside Abakiliki, especially between Ebonyi State University, EBSU and the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, Secretariat. VF learnt that this was because Governor Martin Elechi wanted to dualise that portion to link Abakiliki town but the contractors asked Elechi to allow them to complete their job before he could start any dualisation job.
“That is the source of the friction between the contractors and the state government. It has led to the abandonment of that portion of the road which is less than a kilometre or about five minutes drive. The contractors would have long completed the job, but for Governor Elechi’s insistence,” the source added.
Further investigations however, revealed that Governor Elechi had awarded the contract for the commencement of the dualisation from EBSU to Abakiliki town to CCECC Construction Company.
Onitsha – Okija- Ihiala- Mgbidi – Owerri Road: The road which links the commercial city of Onitsha to Port Harcourt through Owerri was awarded during the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo shortly before the 2007 general elections. Before work started on the road, passengers usually spent between five and six hours to get to their various destinations. However, the road is now better as it takes only about one hour to reach Onitsha from Owerri and vice versa.
Onuiyi Haven -Ovoko -Obollo Afor-Ikem express way
A single lane road, the Onuiyi Haven- Ovoko- Obollo Afor Ikem express way, where the first President of Nigeria and Owelle of Onitsha, Dr Nnamdi Azikiwe lived throughout his lifetime, has not been rehabilitated from the Onuiyi Haven end since Zik (as he was popularly known) died several years ago. The road cuts across three local governments in Enugu State – Nsukka, Udenu and Isi-Uzo. The construction of the road which started from Ikem was awarded to Mife Construction Company and has reached Obolloafor.
A trip through the road showed that from Ikem to Obollo Afor is very smooth. One road user, Mrs. Ebere Agu, who buys goods from the markets in the rural communities and sells them at the urban centres, told VF that: “Ikem to Obolloafor is very smooth. Even the driver can close his eyes when driving. It is about 12 minutes drive from Ikem. The portion remaining on that road is from Zik’s Flat to Obolloafor”.
Another resident of the area, Mr Emeka Ugwu, however said that “the contractor has left the site for some time now”. He wondered why such an important road which was taken over by the Federal Government because of the late Dr Azikiwe, should be abandoned. “One of the reasons why President Goodluck Jonathan was accepted by the Igbo was because of the introduction of of Ebele Azikiwe as his middle name. I wonder why the place where his role model lived, and which was taken over by the regimes before him, should not be given priority attention. The portion remaining now is just from Ugwu-awalawa to Oboloafor- Ovoko- Nsukka,” he said.
Umuda -Kogi -Abuja express way
This road which was flagged-off in May 2013 was expected to open the rural corridors to reduce travel hours from the South East to Abuja and spur economic activities along the flanks. Passing through three states: Enugu, Kogi and the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, the construction of the road was awarded to PW Construction Company at the cost of N12.9 billion with a completion period of 24 months.
Work on the road has started substantially at the Kogi end but the contractors have stopped work and evacuated all construction equipment from the site due to alleged non-payment by the Federal Government. It was alleged that most contractors executing Federal Government road projects have not been paid due to paucity of funds.
Works Ministry reacts
The Director, Federal Highways in the South-East, Mr. Godwin Eghieye told VF in Enugu that: “Two contracts have been awarded on the Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway. Our intention is to reconstruct the very bad portion from Lokpanta to Aba. One of the jobs was awarded to SETRACO, while the other went to ARAB Contractors.
“If you go to that site now, they are working on those two sections. Those are actually the worst two portions of the Enugu- Port Harcourt express way. The intention is for us to take it from Enugu to Lokpanta and then to Aba and Port-Harcourt. The contractors are working effectively to reconstruct the road. We are not just patching, rather it is complete reconstruction.
“On the Enugu-Abakiliki expressway, the road is being constructed through a World Bank loan. Ebonyi State Government wants to dualise a section of it. That will put the project under suspicion by World Bank. If the World Bank finishes the construction of the entire road and Ebonyi State now wants to dualise the road, that will be fine. But you cannot award a contract within a contract. How do you pay for it? If you do so, will you tell the World Bank that you could not finish the road because somebody is coming in to dualise it?
“That is the issue for that portion between EBSU and PDP secretariat on that road. But if the project is completed and they want to extend or dualise the road, there will be no problem. Simply put, you cannot operate a contract within a contract,” he clarified.
Continuing, the Controller said: “For Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, the contractor handling from Onitsha to Awka , CCC Construction Company is still working for us there. The state government decided to take a section of the road and work on it and be repaid by the Federal Government for which they have been granted approval. We are involved in the supervision of the job to ensure that it is of standard. Then when you get to the border, that is Enugu-Anambra border, we have Niger Cat Co.
“There were failures on that section of the road. That is because it was discovered that the soil cement was very bad which was to be pulverised as a soil base and then you put a stone base on top. But after they did that, we found out that the soil cement was not working. What we have decided to do is to take a second look at that road to give a more lasting solution to it through a solid soil cement and stone base on top. All we are waiting for is to get approval from Bureau for Public Procurement, BPP. Actually we are waiting for them to give us a Certificate of No Objection to enable us do what we want on that road. As you can see, the contractor is still on site now, and he has removed the stone base to return the soil cement in a formidable shape. That is for the boundary area towards Enugu,” he said.
“The Umuida-Kogi-Abuja road is ongoing though had slowed down at some point but PW is back on the site now. If you go there now you will see them. Once funds are regularly available to the contractors, the job will be completed within the 24 months duration as stipulated in the contract.
The contractor handling Nsukka-Obolloafor-Ikem road left site but we have asked him to come back to site having completed the portion between Ikem to Obolloafor. The remaining portion now is from Zik’s flat to Obolloafor. He has promised to come back to site as soon as possible,” the Controller said.