BY CHRIS OCHAYI, Abuja
THE Christmas and New Year celebrations have come and gone but the harrowing and excruciating pains experienced by the motorists and other users of the Abuja-Lokoja highway will ever remain indelible.
The story of the Abuja-Lokoja road is pathetic, even as hope of rescuing it from its present deteriorating situation remains a mirage. Worst still, is the near failure of contracts for the dualisation of the highway project.
The 196 kilometres highway is one of the most critical roads in the country, being the major link between the North and South for the movement of people, goods through vehicular transportation.
The road is also very significant to the survival of the nation because it boosts economic activities in the country.
It links the entire southern Nigeria to Abuja, the seat of the power, Federal Capital Territory, FCT, and to the rest of the northern states and therefore, one of the busiest roads in Nigeria today.
The single lane highway shares similar characteristics with most other road networks in the country as it lacks maintenance and adequate care by the Federal Government. Abuja-Lokoja road is extremely too narrow for a link between the North and the South.
Many portions of the road have failed due mainly to heavy traffic, which puts it under intense pressure. It is indeed in a sorry situation. The gridlock begins from the Nnamadi Azikiwe International Airport junction, where the dualisation from the Abuja City Centre terminates.
And the gory and painful experience of the road users takes effect as the asphalt overlay from Giri junction to the main Gwagwalada town has failed completely. In fact, the excruciating experiences of the travellers begin almost immediately from the Giri junction point.
It has turn to a death trap as an average of ten accidents are recorded on daily basis with human deaths and property worth several millions of naira destroyed. It was on that road that two prominent politicians Kogi State, Chief Stephen Achema and A.T Ahmed as well as hundreds of innocent Nigerians lost their lives.
Records available at the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, described the road as “notorious for traffic accidents”. And the Commission has never failed in its duties to educate travellers and drivers on the notoriety of the road. Many motorists plying this road even on an ordinary day will always give glory to God on arrival of their destinations, safely.
The pressures on the highways, which have resulted in its deteriorating condition in the country over the years and lack of proper maintenance culture on the part of the succeeding regimes has left untold hardship on users.
For motorists who travel from the North and Abuja to the South during this festive period, it is always a gruesome experience as the entire stretch of the road beginning from the Murtala Muhammed Bridge at Koton-Karfi up to Lokoja Township, Kogi state capital get blocked in a chaotic traffic with travellers often having to spend at least a night in the jam.
It is indeed awful, particularly for those with children. At other times, the traffic jam lasts for several hours as no single vehicle moves in either direction. This situation, some times, put officials and men of the Federal Road Safety Commission, FRSC, on their toes as they battle to control the traffic.
Experiences must have informed some strategies put in place by the Corps Marshal and Chief Executive Officer, Federal Road Safety corps, FRSC, Mr. Osita Chidoka, in the last three years he assumed office. The Corps had through a partnership with the Kogi State Government established a Joint Task Force to decongest traffic.
Under the strategy, traffic is being diverted through the bye-pass, which is 15 kilometres round the town, rather than allowing travellers pass through Lokoja town which is a short-cut.
As this strategy records significant achievement, Chidoka added another dynamic dimension to the operation aimed to decongest traffic and reduce crashes in the recent concluded yuletides with the launching of the Operation Zero
The scheme entailed foot and aerial patrol in monitoring of traffic situations, not only Abuja-Lokoja highways alone, but across the country. Chidoka led the exercise alongside other top ranking officers of the Corps including other security agents.
During a brief stop over at Lokoja-Abuja road, the Corps Marshall had advised drivers to obey all traffic rules and to desist from road vices capable of endangering their lives and that of other road users.
He further advised that “drivers must avoid over speeding, drunk driving, overloading, use of cell phone while driving and should adopt a good maintenance culture for vehicles plying the highways, in addition to avoiding night trips due to inherent traffic hazards.”
While distributing safety handbills to drivers and commuters during the foot patrol, Chidoka explained that “the aerial patrol was designed to enhance and complement the Corps’ monitoring and co-ordination of its nationwide ground patrols as part of measures towards evolving a multi-dimensional approach for traffic management during the yuletide.”
The aerial patrols which took the Corps Marshal and other stakeholders from the Air Force and Police high Command through Lokoja, Onitsha head bridge, Obollo Afor and 9th mile in Enugu State.
Parts of the measure being put in place by the Corps that helped to drastically reduced road crashes figures was the establishment of the Mobile Court, in some strategic areas that tried some road traffic offenders during the yuletide.
But the recurring apprehension on the part of the highway users is the imminent total collapse of the existing single-lane Abuja-Lokoja federal highways and the failure by the government to continue with the dualisation of the road.
To many suffering passengers on the highway, the efforts by the FRSC to restore sanity on the road, though, very commendable, but is never the solution to the horrendous traffic crisis but to make it motorable.
For example, Mr. Haladu Hassan, a driver plying the route who blamed the government’s lacklustre attitude towards the plight of the motorists, lamented that while the existing one-lane is in bad shape due to lack of maintenance, works on the dualisation projects are still moving at snail speed.
He said, “this has already sent a wrong signal that the projects might only increase the profile of failed or abandoned projects in the country.”
Heightening the fears being expressed by Mr. Hassan was recent alarm raised by the House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA, on the state of the road.
Worried by the gridlock, the Chairman of the Sub-Committee, Hon. Aniedi King, challenged the Federal Ministry of Works to prevail on the contractors handling the Abuja-Lokoja Road dualisation project to increase the pace of work on the road.
He further advised the Federal Government to draw down considerable amount of money from her foreign reserve to fund road projects in order to reduce unnecessary loss of lives and property to road crashes as results of the deteriorating state of highways.
Most highways in the country he said had outlived their lifespan, particularly the unprecedented traffic congestion on the notorious Abuja-Lokoja road due to its despair situation.