•The Calabar -Uyo-Ikot Ekpene federal road … a nightmare for commuters

—Federal roads fall apart in S-South(2)

This is the continuation from yesterday of the South-South installment of the investigative report on federal roads in the country that are presently in a state of disrepair, occasioning tales of woe by road users in the affected places. 

WHAT the government should do is sit up. 

I fault the system which allows the Federal Government to be in Abuja and own roads in Delta State. Every state government should maintain the roads in their states. Look at the East-West Road. It has been there for decades and is still uncompleted. With the effect of the flood now, is there still an East/West Road? So, which road are we talking about? The traditional prime minister of Tuomo Kingdom in the Burutu government area of Delta state, High Chief Mike Loyibo, said: “It is quite sad, the situation of the East-West road is pathetic, particularly the Ohoror-Patani axis of the road,  and the Federal Government must have to be proactive, in fact, government at all levels should be proactive”.

The tragedy in Rivers

Of the three federal roads linking Rivers and neighboring states, none is in good condition. The East-West Road, Owerri-Port Harcourt Road, and the Port Harcourt-Aba expressway harbor dangerous potholes or stretches of collapsed portions that give motorists and commuters nightmares. There is also the deplorable Emohua – Kalabari Road, which investigations showed to be one of the deadliest travel routes now. Federal Government negligence has been blamed for the poor state of its roads in Rivers State. Expressing grievance over this, Governor Nyesom Wike had challenged anyone to “name one thing, one key project, the All Progressives Congress, APC, has done for Rivers”. The answer according to him was “none”.  

In the multiple pains on these roads, if motorists are not falling into crater-like ditches and ruining their cars, criminals rob or kidnap commuters at the bad spots with a high risk of elimination.  Whereas the Owerri-Port Harcourt and Port Harcourt-Aba express roads are in manageable condition, the East-West Road has remained the most worrisome to commuters. Painfully, the stretch on the East-West between Rivers State and Bayelsa , which arguably has been the most drivable of federal roads in Rivers because of recent palliative repairs has also collapsed, cut off by the 2022 flood between Ihike in Ahoada East local government area and Okobe on the Ahoada West local government area end.

 Apparently, the Port Harcourt – Akwa Ibom axis of the East-West remains the most disturbing. In 2021, Ogoni people shut the Eleme-Onne stretch of the busy road to traffic in protest against Federal Government’s failure to execute the contract to reconstruct it. 

One year after, the condition of the road worsened, leading to many accidents and loss of lives. On October 10 and 14, two different accidents reportedly claimed over 10 lives on the road. Apex social-cultural organization in Ogoni ethnic nationality, KAGOTE (Khana, Gokana, Tai, and Eleme local government areas) cried that the road leading to their communities has turned into a blood-sucking monster.  

KAGOTE President, Emmanuel Deeyah, regretted that after all efforts by the people to attract the attention of the Federal Government, successive administrations have refused to carry out even palliative work on the road. Deeyah said: “After our protest two years ago on that road, nothing has happened. 

“The road is the worst. Not too long ago, a truck fell on another car on that road, and many people died. I was on that road Wednesday and Thursday, I went to two different events. The road is nothing to write home about. Every day, as you travel on that road, you pray to God. That road is unpredictable. If there is heavy traffic, the chances of you getting to your destination are very slim. Some days, if there is a roadblock, you will sleep on that road. You can spend three to four hours on that gridlock for a journey that would have taken just three minutes. No good person would wish his enemy travels on that road. This is what we face in a country we all belong to.”  President General of Ogoni Liberation Initiative, OLI, Dr Fabeke Douglas, wondered why the Federal Government cannot commit like N4 billion to construct the Ogoni section of the East-West Road, lamenting its failed promises and mandate to provide good infrastructure and welfare for the people. Recounting how the federal government announced release of billions of naira for the rehabilitation of the said road when the people shut it to vehicular movement for seven days, Fabeke wondered why the same government that spends N4 billion monthly on pipeline surveillance could not spend less in fixing a road, hosting over 200 companies generating revenue for the country. 

He said: “Who is not aware the deplorable state of the Eleme section of the East West Road has been a major concern for residents of the area and commuters? Day in,  day out, we hear cases of accidents leading to the loss of innocent lives and destruction of valuable good and commodities gained with millions of naira. The road has been a death trap for commuters as it always scared travelers plying it alongside heavy-duty trucks from companies. 

“Our people have suffered so much amid plenty and we cannot sit down and watch our people die painful and untimely resulting from the bad state of the road. We, therefore, call on the Federal Government of Nigeria to, within seven days, begin work on reconstruction of the road, including remodeling of the failed Aleto Bridge, failing which Ogoni shall mobilize again and shut down all forms of transportation and economic activities on the road.”

 Meanwhile, after several appeals, Governor Nyesom Wike has reportedly released an undisclosed sum through the Rivers state Ministry for Special Projects to carry out much needed repairs on the dangerous Emohua-Kalabari Road.  In similar intervention, Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Obong Umana Umana has directed the Niger Delta Development Commission, NDDC, to mobilise SETRACO to intervene on the East-West Road portions collapsed by the 2022 flood, between Rivers and Delta state.

The problem in Akwa Ibom

From all indications, Akwa Ibom State is unarguably one state in Nigeria with durable and best road networks traversing the entire 31 local government areas. It shares boundaries with neighbouring states of  Rivers and Cross River as well as the South-East state of Abia. Successive state governments have taken the bull by horns to fix deplorable federal, state, and local government roads, even as it construct new ones to give the citizenry a new lease of life. The Abak-Ekparakwa-Ikot Abasi handled by the federal government is nearing completion. Checks show that work on the 48 kilometers road project has gone up to 30 kilometers with 18 kilometers to go on the construction.

The Federal Government has mobilised the NNPC to dualise the Itu-Calabar road, but the pace of work seems to have suffered a lull because of compensation issues. The Federal Government directed the Akwa Ibom and Cross River states governments, which have the right of way to assist with the payment of the compensation, but the state governments told the Federal Government they do not have the funds to pay. It awarded the Abia State end of the Ikot Ekpene-Umuahia road to two contractors, while the Akwa Ibom portion of the road is motorable, the Abia State end is a deathtrap to users.

 A motorist, Bassey Archibong, said people spend four hours on a journey that should have taken them an hour when the road was good. “We suffer immensely while plying that road. How I wish there was an alternative route. Akwa Ibom side is passable, but as you enter from Ikwuanu, the suffering starts. During this raining season, many cars have broken down in the bad portion furthermore compounding the traffic situation. It is a terrible situation.” A passenger, Lovina Anthony, echoed him,  “The road especially in Abia state side is terrible. It is an excruciating experience passing through the road.”

Drivers have abandoned the Ikot Ekpene- Aba road for over five months now because of its deplorable nature, and have been using an alternative route through Obot Akara though the journey is much longer, according to a driver, Ubong Edem Sunday. 

He complained that youths working in tandem with security agents have allegedly capitalized on this to mount over 15 checkpoints to fleece them. “At Obot Akara, we pass through 15 checkpoints mounted by the task forces, security people and they are very aggressive. Before you reach Uyo, you must have spent N5, 000 if you have loads and N3, 000. Coupled with the high cost of fuel, that is the suffering we are passing through.”

Similarly, Esop Okon Matthew also recounted his experience on the road, saying he once had an accident while trying to maneuver his way out of the menacing approach of the task forces. 

On the East-West road, Akwa Ibom end is in perfect shape and the only snag is the non-completion of the second bridge linking the state and Rivers state and the one at Eket. They designed the road to end at Calabar with a bridge from Oron, but that is yet to happen though they have carried out necessary surveys and tests. Akwa Ibom State government has carried out interventions. For instance, Ikot Ekpene-Aba Road that has cut-off Akwa Ibom from Abia state over a decade now, it filled the bad portions in the state 

 However, the bad portions on the Abia side remain problematic, forcing motorists to avoid the road. Motorcyclists make use of the federal road that seems abandoned. A motorcyclists and an indigene of Ikot Osurua in Ikot Ekpene local government of Akwa Ibom state Aniekan, told Vanguard that Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA, carried out a remedial job on only the part of the state  Aniekan, however, expressed dissatisfaction at the remedial work by FERMA, saying: “What FERMA did on the road was patchwork and it does not satisfy us with that. 

They did not work on the road well. You can see that the road is not very smooth; they only patched the failed portion. They are supposed to dualize this road. It is narrow and cannot take over two vehicles at a time. This road leads to Onitsha Ngwa in Abia state; they patched this side of Akwa Ibom state.”

Going to Abia State, the Iwukem-Ukanafun road is relatively motorable; but where motorists usually confront difficulty is the Azumini side in Abia State. However, the Akwa Ibom State government has intervened on some federal roads in the state to ease suffering of commuters and motorists such as Nto Edino-Ekwereazu, linking the state with Abia State. 

Also, a commercial driver,  who plies from Port-Harcourt to Akwa Ibom, said where they usually have a problem on the road is around Onne, in Rivers state, noting that he only enjoys the East-West Road from Ikot Abasi in Akwa Ibom side. Officials of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing refused to speak on the state of federal roads until authority comes from the minister.

Bayelsa with the least federal roads better off 

 Bayelsa State has the least kilometers of federal roads in the country despite its huge contributions to the national purse. The Mbiama-Yenagoa federal road dualised, about 20 years ago, by the state government before the federal government reimbursed it is still solid. 

It has not only endured years of ravaging floods but prevented overflowing water from Epie Creek from overrunning the state capital because of its high elevation. The state government is also undertaking the construction of Yenagoa-Oporoma federal road, designed to connect Oporoma headquarters of Southern Ijaw Local Government Area and other far-flung communities in the council area to mainland Yenagoa.

However, the Muhammadu Buhari administration has abandoned the Yenagoa-Ko­lo-Otuoke-Bayelsa Palm road, which it inherited from the Goodluck Jonathan administration that started the project at its twilight. Presently, the oil and gas-rich Ogbia and Nembe council areas in the East senatorial district of the state could only access Yenagoa through the Yenegwe-Okarki road, a federal road in Rivers State, following the cutoff of the Edepie-Otuasega road and Onuebum-Otuoke road linking Otuokpoti-Agbura-Azikoro communities to the state capital. 

“But for the Yenegwe-Okarki-Otuasega federal road, Nembe and Ogbia council areas would have been cut from the rest of the state because of the sacking of the Edepie-Otuasega road by flood,” a resident of Imiringi in Ogbia council area said..  The Bayelsa State flank of the East-West Road starts from the Patani Bridge, which also serves as the boundary between it and Delta state and ends at the Yenagoa Gateway Road, immediately after the Zarama Market. Presently, the government has completed the Sagbama to Kaiama Bridge section of the road while the remaining stretch of the Bayelsa axis of the road is still uncompleted. An official of FERMA, who preferred anonymity, said the agency intervened on some federal roads in the state it could not carry out repairs or maintenance on the East-West Road because it is under contract. His words: “Yes, the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing through FERMA has been intervening on the federal roads, but you know that a federal road is any road that links two states or any road that the federal government constructs. In Bayelsa, we do not have many of such and the few ones are in good shape. However, we are always intervening on the Yenegwe-Okarki-Otuasega Road, but because of the flood, we have discontinued all repairs and maintenance. We hope to begin after the flood because we know the flood has caused much havoc.”

Lagos-Port Harcourt road, travellers’ nightmare

Mr. Edidiong Inyang, a commercial driver who plies the Lagos Port Harcourt road on a regular basis, said that it has become a nightmare travelling through the road. “We go through hell on the same axis of the road, especially the boundary between Bayelsa and Rivers States. The Mbiama and Ahoada portion of the road, a 34-kilometre stretch of the road, is a kill joy. 

It is so bad that when you remember that you would travel through it, you fall sick. It would destroy everything underneath your car, your shocks, exhaust, linkage, and everything that has to do with the legs of your car. In fact, the situation is so bad that if you travel by road, immediately after discharging your passengers, your next port of call should be the mechanic’s shop. That portion of the road has collapsed completely, and transporters are suffering so much. It raises your blood pressure and that of your passengers, and only God knows when the road will become motorable again.“

Another driver, Mr. Kingsley Ibe, while narrating his experience on the South-South road said that it is difficult to believe that the natural resources sustaining the country are coming from this region and the people are made to suffer this much. “According to him, the Delta part of the road around Patani before Ughelli has collapsed, and one would think that there was an earthquake there. He said: “People now sleep on the road because only one lane of the road is manageable, with trailers and other heavy vehicles struggling to wade through the single available lane. The recent flood did not help matters as the road has been destroyed.

“I wish I had the video where you would have wept for drivers and passengers who risk the road to find their daily bread.“

Calling on the government to come to their aid, Mr. Ibe said that it is better to stay hungry than to ply the road, but the children are the reason why he takes the risk to ply the road. Mr. Nnamdi Okonkwo, a driver who has been travelling on the Owerri – Onitsha road for decades, said that the road has never been this bad in his many years of using it.

“The Onitsha – Owerri road is hell on earth. At Upper Iweka, the road has collapsed as if there is no government in place, leaving drivers with no option but to go through Obosi to link back Owerri -Onitsha Road. This is a distance of just three to four kilometres but you can spend up to two hours in traffic. There are also very bad spots at Ihiala, where you can equally spend two hours. You don’t talk about Mgbidi on the stretch of Onitsha – Owerri road. The road has become quite impassable that you have to navigate through the village at a huge financial cost.“

He said that there are over 15 tollgates mounted by the youths of the community, who collect between N100 and N200 at every toll. So you pay your way through, and at the end, the driver is left with little or nothing for suffering for a whole day. 

A young man who plies the international route, Lagos – Benin – Ghana who wouldn’t like his name on print said that they encounter hardships and bad road on the Nigeria side of the road. But after Nigeria, the road is smooth and good to travel except for harassment from law enforcement agents who see Nigerians as their cash cows.

“The road is very bad from Nigeria to the border.” In terms of security, from Agboju, Iyana Iba, Lagos parts of the road, there is no security.The police can demand any amount of bribe from you, and it is in your best interest to pay them or get delayed, and you know that the implication is that you would get to your destination late.From Mazamaza Lagos which is our take off point it take you about four hours to get to the boarder because of bad road. But after leaving Nigeria side of the road, you are sure of good road in Benin, Togo and Ghana,” he said.

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