It is three days to Christmas and the yearly exodus has began.  In the face of this annual practice, one thing that has remained frightening  is the state of Nigerian roads . Charles KUMOLU writes.

WHEREAS many had expected that these tears would address the problem that elicited it,  it only appears to have made mockery of a helpless situation, given that two years after, the issue remained as if no one saw the tears. Perhaps, that was why many had described that display of emotion by then Minister for Transport Diezeani Allison Madueke, on Benin/Ore Expressway as  mere lip service.

The failure of those tears to revive the state of the highway and others across the country, has elicited  curses on the federal government this yuletide period.

From the collapsed Illorin/Mokwa highway in Kwara and Niger states, to the eternally troubled Benin/Ore road, down to the pot holes ridden Apapa/Oshodi Expressway, the story is the same.

For instance VanguardFeatures,VF, checks, revealed that the Benin/Ore road has been under repairs, yet the condition of the highway is still far from  normal.

An accident scene caused by bad road

“What kind of repairs is taking this long, they are not serious, I ply that route everyday and I can tell you that they are playing politics with the road. I wonder how it will be from 22 (Dec.22nd), people would sleep on that road,”Ikponwosa Osamuyi, a commercial driver with one of the transport companies, told VF at Mile 2 bus terminal in Lagos.

It was gathered that the Federal government earmarked N9.7billion Benin-Shagamu dual carriage, yet there are still tales about the state of the road.

Why the project is yet to be completed, has continued to agitate the minds of road users and others. But VF gathered that the  dual carriage  would be completed in November 2011.

Minister of Works, Sanusi Dagash, who reportedly said this,  disclosed that after the completion of the road, it would last for at least 25 years, noting that it  would  end the protracted hardship being experienced by Nigerians along the road.

He noted that 25 kilometres of the Benin bound of the road had been completed while 50km Lagos bound is on-going.

“The contract is N9.7billion. We know that there is being a lapse period because of appropriations but for now, we have over N3billion for the year 2010 and then there is also a short fall from 2009 that is owed the contractors. We will find ways to arrange may be through a supplementation through the National Assembly’s approval to ensure that we meet up our own commitment that is why I mentioned it on record that the contractors in good fate has kept on working despite the fact that we have only paid the down payment “

Continuing he said, “You may have seen some sections of the road that are yet to be dealt with. This contract should effectively end in November 2011, so you can imagine the amount of work that the contractors have done. There will be a low season for about three four five months before work will kick off in earnest.

We have asked them to continue to work on the remedial aspect of the job that they can through the raining  season and work will kick off earnestly before the end of 2010.”

Nonetheless, eight months after the minister’s assurance, the state of the road and others across the country, have raised doubts on government’s sincerity on the issue.

Highway to death

Apart from the Benin/Ore highway, the Illorin/Jebba/Mokwa highway,  could pass for a highway to the grave.

Unlike the dualisation  of the Kano /Maiduguri expressway, Onitsha/ Owerri road, Abuja  Keffi/Akwanga,Lokoja/Abajji expressway which is at snail speed, It does appear government is unaware of the Illori/Jebba/Mokwa highway.

A recent trip by VF from Illorin to Kotongora, revealed that the road is riddled with potholes.The state of the narrow road, from Bode Saadu to Jebba, is comparable to the biblical passage sthrough the eye of the needle.

Being the only road that links Minna, Sokoto, Kebbi from Ogbomosho, majority of the vehicles on this highway are heavy duty trucks. They are usually laden with premium motor spirit,PMS, livestock and other such items. It is common sight to find smaller vehicles struggling  with bigger ones for the limited available space. It was discovered that this, eventually leads to accident.This was also corroborated by the driver Kolawole Nurrudeen, a commercial bus driver, who plies the route twice a week.

For him, the state of the road predates 1999, noting that successive governments paid no attention to its collapsed state.

“I always laugh when people tell me to take it easy when the vehicle is shaking because of the potholes. What can I do? I don’t have any option or should I use the bush. This road has been like this since I was a bus conductor. I understand it’s a federal road but the Niger state government should do something because a large proportion of the road is in Niger,” Nurudeen added.

Instructively, VF gathered that the federal government had as part of its seven points agenda, awarded contracts worth N373,746,054,381.29 billion for the construction, rehabilitation and expansion of various roads across the six geo-political zones and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT). And this contract covers the Illorin Jebba/Mokwa highway which is in the north central geo political zone. The Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa Road (Ilorin-Jebba Section Phase I) in Kwara State, was awarded to Messrs Bulletine Construction Company Ltd in the sum of N1,508,852,307.50 with a completion period of 12 months.

Other  federal roads   like  the Enugu/Onitsha, Lokoja Abaji, Apapa Oshodi Expressway among others, may pose a threat to many road users during this Festive period.

This is why the Secretary General of the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers,  NUPENG Comrade Elijah Okubo was reluctant to speak when VF encountered him.

Okubo is angry that NUPENG did not get enough support from the public when it protested against the state of federal roads across the country.

“Our comments on the state of the road ahead the Christmas celebrations may not be necessary, because when we wanted to protest people did not support us.

They believed that NUPENG is always making the nation to embark on strike,people thought we were fighting for ourselves” he noted.

When further prodded, Okubo maintained that, “if the truth must be told, our roads are very bad and it is unfortunate that majority will embark on Christmas journey on these roads. The government does not care about the roads because they use the airports.  That is why there focus is on the airports and Abuja. Instead of Nigerians speaking against this, they are more concerned with 2011 elections while the roads are in utter neglect.”

Continuing he said, “a committee was set up which includes members of NUPENG and the Ministry of Works, but nothing tangible has been achieved. But the major problem we discovered is that the ministry does not have enough funds to carry out these repairs. About thirty percent of their allocation is for salaries while the remaining goes to other things. Undue attention is being given to Abuja at the expense of other federal roads and general development. That is not the best method of development. As I am talking to you now, there is no light in my house. I know what I spend on diesel every week.”

But that position was punctured by the Chief Press Secretary,CPS, to the Minister of Works, Mr Taiye Akinyemi, who noted that the ministry, through concerned stakeholders ensured that the roads are put in better shape, so that travelers would have smooth ride to their various destinations.

Akinyemi told VF that, “the issue of federal roads across the country have been in existence before this administration. From inception the administration have been making impact on maintenance of the roads and design of the roads. And the Minister ensured that FERMA is given the needed support to ensure that the roads are motorable. Even now that there are no rains, the minister have encouraged contractors to do more in order to ensure the security of those traveling.”

The Minister also appealed to haulage operators to exercise restraint from over-loading their trucks and trailers as these inimical actions remain the major cause of rapid road failure

“As the holiday season begins, it is important to re-iterate the need for all c. The existing road network is not designed to carry such heavy axle loads. In order to safeguard the roads from rapid deterioration due to excessive axle load, the Federal Ministry of Works has embarked on the installation of weigh bridges on highways across the country. Vehicles found culpable will pay a fine and the excess load will be offloaded at the weigh bridge plaza,” he noted.

In addition he said, “Driver indiscipline, ignorance, impatience, lack of respect and common courtesy for other road users have contributed in no small measure to the rising number of accidents on our roads. It is saddening to note that drivers continue to over-speed, not minding road condition and hazards.”

Meanwhile, while there is no certainty on the state of the roads, VF can reveal some measure of authority that sad tale await travelers on some of these roads.

Shortage of food items

Beyond, fears on the state of the roads, VF discovered that not a few will experienced food shortage during the Christmas celebrations. That these items are in high demand this period, would make its scarcity much pronounced.

For instance VF discovered during a recent Visit to Sokoto that farm produce like tomatoes, onions, pepper and others were unusually expensive. A Sokoto resident Christiana Udemba told VF that onion is the most expensive thing in the town.

She noted that she rarely buy onions worth of N200, adding that the shortage forced her to buy a little quantity for N1000. She noted that the shortage also covers other farm produce.

An attempt to unravel the cause the artificial shortage, revealed that it is not unconnected with the flooding that ravaged the state and other parts of the north recently.

“We lost all our farmland to the flood. We have someone who had about hundred bags of rice, today he is not left with even a plate. You know it happened during harvest period, go around the market people are lamenting. That is why people in other parts of Nigeria will feel our pains because we don’t have anything to carry to other parts of the country,” Malam Bala Kwakwalawa told VF.

His position was also corroborated by VF findings in Lagos.

It was gathered that the shortage extended to the city, where prices of onions and pepper particularly, have gone up.

Mrs Tare Williams, who deals on food items at Ijegun Market in Sattelite Town, Lagos, noted that the question now is not the price, adding that the products are hardly available.

“Before the shortage, I used to buy a bag of onions for six thousand naira, but now it goes for twenty nine thousand naira. I cant afford it, that is why I have stopped selling it. The same thing affects peeper. We were told that water affected them this year. People have now resorted to Ghana pepper which is dark and very hot.” she noted.

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