By Vincent Ujumadu & Denis Agbo
FOR years, driving on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway had been a bitter experience. It is one road which politicians use during every election year to woo voters.
While those controlling the federal government would often assembly some construction equipment, which in most cases disappear after election, those in opposition would often refer to the road as one of the signposts of the marginalization of the South East geo political zone.
Although the Onitsha end of the road had been rehabilitated up to Umunya, the portion from Umunya to Awkuzu could pass as the worst road in Nigeria in view of its dilapidated nature. Similarly, the Awkuzu –Amawbia axis is in bad shape, thus forcing motorists to use only one lane with the attendant traffic gridlock as drivers try to avoid each other.
The problem is even compounded by the presence of the police and Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, checkpoints on the bad portions, a situation that results to curses on them by motorists. Often times, many vehicles break down as they try to meander through the menacing water -filled potholes.
The dilapidated nature of the expressway has therefore put so much pressure on the old Enugu –Onitsha road rehabilitated during the former Governor Peter Obi administration. That road is among the ones which the federal government was yet to reimburse the state government after using state resources for its rehabilitation.
A commercial bus driver, Mr. Iorchie Matthew, who plies Onitsha- Makurdi route, told Saturday Vanguard that he puts his vehicle on the Enugu -Onitsha expressway despite its condition because it inevitable.
He said: “Apart from the Head Bridge –Toll Gate axis of the road, the Enugu –Onitsha expressway has been like this for a long time and I wonder why the federal government has decided to abandon it. Since I started plying the route, I notice that caterpillars are usually brought on the road about one year to election, after which the equipments are removed and the road abandoned as usual.
“Those of us who ply from the north to the east suffer so much, especially on the Nsukka –Ninth Mile –Enugu and Ninth Mile- Onitsha roads. We were all happy when construction began on the Enugu end, but as I speak, work has stopped and we do not know why.”
The minister works, power and housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, during his recent visit to Anambra State, was virtually dragged to the very bad portions of the road and, as usual, promises were made that work would soon begin, yet, nothing is happening. Just before the rains set in, some earth moving vehicles scratched to Umunya -Awkuzi axis of the road and the development even worsened the situation.
At the Enugu State end of the expressway, although the federal government has no doubt shown presence and effort at the rehabilitation of the dual carriage way, reality on ground is that it has continued to be a death trap to motorists.
So many lives have been lost on the, including a clergy and his entire family that were going for Sunday service at Udi.
What has become alternative is the old road from 9th mile to Awka, which two administrations in Enugu state worked on.
The worst section of the road is the 15 kilometres Abakpa junction to 9th mile as different sizes of gully erosion had taken control of the left wing of the road at Ugwu Onyeama.
It is feared that the entire road would soon be barricaded from motorists if urgent attention is not given to it. For now, it is only heavy duty vehicles that don’t have any other option that use the road with the attendant risk. Smaller vehicles now use the Milliken Hill colonial road which Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi recently commissioned after it gulped so much money.
There are numerous portions of degradation along the road such as Ekulu River Bridge, just behind 82 Division Abakpa barracks which has become a ticking time bomb.
At this portion is a gully that is not only risky to commuters but is also a threat to the Ekulu River bridge and fast moving vehicles risk skidding into the gully.
However, the minister of Labour and Employment, Senator Chris Ngige dismissed insinuation that the federal government had stopped work on the Enugu –Onitsha road.
Ngige, in an interview said: “The federal government of Nigeria has been generous to the people of the South-East, I am from the South-East, you see, the President promised us infrastructure development and the South-East has not been left out. When you talk about infrastructure, you are talking about transport, road infrastructure, air infrastructure, sea, health and power infrastructure. In all these areas we have not been left untouched.
“I am an eye-mark person, not earmark. If you drive from Enugu now to Awka, you will see the work that is going on along Enugu-Onitsha expressway. If you go there and see the asphalt with thickness that has got to Oji River and coming down, you will appreciate RCC, the same construction company that built the roads in Anambra State when I was the governor. The roads they built then have lasted for 14 years and they are still standing.
“There is also Enugu-Okigwe, Okigwe-Umuahia and Umuahia-Aba, which have become a big construction yard as four Chinese companies are working there day and night.”