By Jude Njoku & Kingsley Adegboye
TRAFFIC snarl on the Lagos-Shagamu-Ore-Benin highway due to death-trap potholes on the ever-busy road, has become a recurring decimal. Under normal circumstances, the journey from Lagos to Benin should be covered in three hours but due to the dilapidated state of the expressway, commuters spend almost the entire day on the road.
It was against this backdrop that a contributor to one of the presidential media chats, last year, told President Goodluck Jonathan that whoever fixes that road and power would be regarded as the best President Nigeria has ever produced.
In a swift response, President Jonathan said he would fix the road before the end of his current four-year term. The President who also promised to review the concession agreement with Messrs Bi-Courtney on the reconstruction of the Lagos -Ibadan expressway, matched his words with action when the following day, the concession contract was revoked. The revocation raised the hope of stakeholders that the Lagos-Shagamu -Ore-Benin Road, would also receive prompt presidential attention.
But one year after, the road, particularly the section from Ore to Ijebu -Ode has gone from bad to worse, hence commuters now get stuck in the traffic gridlock for several hours.
The last Saturday of
September 2013 will not easily be forgotten by commuters who passed through the Ijebu-Ode – Ore section of the expressway, which some of them likened to the valley of the shadow of death.
It was a harrowing experience that began early in the morning for most of the passengers who had left their homes to catch the next available vehicle, ostensibly to beat the restriction that goes with the monthly environmental clean-up exercise. While some of these passengers were lucky to beat the 7am time for the commencement of the restriction, others failed.
But whether they left so early or much later, they were to go through hell on the Ijebu Ode /Ore end of the expressway.
Unknown to so many of these passengers, there was a failed portion of the road and commercial transporters who are known for their impatience had boxed themselves into a cul de sac by forming five lanes from both sides and opposite ends of the road, thereby getting into a gridlock that could have been created only by insane minds.
To worsen the situation, none of the security or traffic enforcement officials were around to control the situation. It was indeed anarchy unleashed on humanity as the road became a living hell for all those trapped in the gridlock.
Trust nature to take its course. Women who needed to answer the call of nature were badly constrained and exposed. The vehicles and their overzealous drivers were overstretched and hunger punished the travellers. It took almost seven hours to get to Ore from Ijebu-Ode, a journey that should have lasted only one hour in normal circumstances.
As night fall approached, many of the passengers started nursing another fear – attack of armed robbers who have made the expressway a haven to carry out their devilish activities.
Some of the commuters who spoke to Vanguard Metro, VM, stated that it is only God’s intervention and mercy that spared the lives of those who developed health problems during the journey. “Any asthmatic person, pregnant woman that went into labour or a cardiac case that developed at that point was bound to be life threatening,” a passenger who did not give his identity said. “The pattern of road construction in Nigeria is such that there are no transit medical facilities that could take care of emergencies. In most cases accident victims are taken through long distances before help could be got, hence most of them fail to make it”.
An Nsukka-bound commuter who simply identified himself as Emeka, told VM that he boarded a luxury bus at Jibowu as early as 4am to enable him arrive Nsukka early enough. But the driver of the bus owned by Ifesinachi Transport Company had to go through Ibadan and Ife before hitting Ore, an additional distance of about 250 kilometres because they learnt that the road was blocked and traffic was at a standstill.
“We had to pay higher fares because of the 250 additional kilometres. At the end of the day, I arrived Enugu around 8pm. When I was coming back to Lagos, I had to sleep over at Onitsha in order to leave early and get to Lagos in good time. But I still arrived Lagos around 8pm because the traffic was not just flowing,” he said.
Politics of Benin/Ore Road: Most of those who have
followed the unending saga of the Benin Ore road believe that it is a political project for the ruling political party at the centre, which budgets billions of Naira for its rehabilitation. Mr. Jude Agbi who was a victim of robbers at that section of the road in June this year alleged that “this road which serves as the gateway to the South East, South-South and Northern states is a political project”. He did not stop there.
“The road is left to degenerate every election cycle because 50 percent of the budget for repair works goes into their electoral fund,’’ he alleged.
Another commuter, Mr. Tony Nwokobia who has also gone through rough times on the road, argues thus: “The engineering solution required for the road is beyond FERMA, the agency responsible for the maintenance of Federal roads.
Fortification with hardcore stones
“For instance, the soft soil and swampy land surface needs to be unearthed and fortified with hard core stones before grading and tarring of the road as was done at the Ofosu to Okada end of the same road”. With Christmas fast approaching those who plan to travel during the period must be ready for the unexpected on this road.
Works Ministry reacts: Efforts to reach the Minister
of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, an architect, to comment on the development failed as his cell phone was switched off. But a top official of the Ministry who spoke on condition of anonymity, told VM that work is ongoing on the reconstruction of the road. He attributed the present snarl to what he called a “wash out or mini-slide” that occurred along the Ijebu-Ode -Ore section.
He explained that FERMA moved in to provide palliative repairs but when the Minister realised that the scope of the work was beyond FERMA, he directed Messrs Reynolds Construction Company, RCC, to return to site to bring permanent solution to the problem. He explained that what is causing the present gridlock is the blocking of one of the lanes by the contractor. The source advised motorists to be orderly, assuring that in no distant time, the failed section would be rehabilitated.
An expert’s view: Commenting on the consistent failure of the dual carriage road at the Ijebu-Ode-Ore axis, Kayode Akinsowon, an engineer and former Julius Berger Nigeria Plc staff who worked as a site engineer during the construction of Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in the seventies, attributed it to the high level of corruption in governance in the country.
According to him, kick-back syndrome in contract awards by the government is responsible for shoddy completion of road projects across the country, adding that rampant failures of newly constructed or reconstructed roads, as the case may be, across the nation as being reported in the media on daily basis, are due to shoddy completion of road projects by contractors who are usually friends of government agencies and are awarded contracts on the basis of this.
“For a particular portion of an expressway to fail all the time means that contractors handling the road have been doing shoddy jobs. Every road project has its scope of work and contract terms. But in most cases, contractors handling our road projects do not adhere to contract terms, and this results in shoddy delivery of jobs. The reason for this, is that government officials who are supposed to certify the job at the point of handing over, have been compromised. The result of the compromise is the failure of road projects across the nation”, Akinsowon said.
Previous experiences: Vanguard recalls that exactly four years ago, the Ondo State Governor, Dr Olusegun Mimiko and the then Works & Housing Minister, Dr. Hassan Muhammad Lawal, inspected the reconstruction works on the ever-busy Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway. The traffic gridlock on that day was so frightening that Governor Mimiko and Dr Hassan Lawal became emergency traffic wardens.
Speaking to newsmen after that harrowing experience, Governor Mimiko said: “We have all been witnesses to the harrowing experiences that our people go through on this road on a daily basis. We cannot run away from the fact that this road is congested, hence the road has broken down completely.
The solution I see is simple: From Lagos to Benin, this road has to be reconstructed. The palliative that is going on is okay for this season but ultimately, the Federal Government must commit itself to rebuilding this road. This is a very important atrial road in this country.
We must do something about this road; people sleep here for two, three days and you know what that means in terms of loss to the economy of this nation not to talk of the psychological torture that people go through. There is no question about the fact that this road has to be rebuilt. Yes, we welcome the rehabilitation that is going on but ultimately, this road must be rebuilt”.
A year before this incident, the then Minister of Transportation, Mrs Dieziani Allison Madueke reportedly wept uncontrollably after a facility tour of the road.
Mrs Madueke who empathised with the sufferings Nigerians go through on that road, gave reasons for betraying her emotions.
“I weep at the sight of everything that shows failure of government in Nigeria. Lagos-Shagamu-Ore-Benin Road is a clear picture of Nigerian state abandonment of its responsibility to its citizens”.
Responsibility to citizens
Continuing, she promised to remedy the situation by fixing the road. “The challenge for us is to act wisely in dealing with this matter. The errors have been made but I think we can still correct the problem by looking for what will ensure a renewed government relevance not for self-serving or the good of a few but the good of all”. Despite the weeping and hopes raised by the Minister, nothing was done to fix the road until she was deployed to the Petroleum Ministry.
Dr. Hassan Muhammad Lawal who later took over as Minister of Works & Housing made similar pledges on the road but nothing concrete was done until he bowed out of office. Successive Works ministers after him equally promised to fix the 250 kilometres road but these promises were never actualised till date.