By Ugochukwu Alaribe, Chinonso Alozie, Steve Oko & Emmanuel Iheaka
YES, Nigeria is 61 but the core Igbo are just celebrating the number as there is little or no cause for cheers in the South-East. Infrastructure decay in Igbo land is legendary. All sectors are neglected by the Federal Government. Federal roads in the South-East are in very bad condition and inflicting heavy hardship on the people.
In Abia State, motorists plying these roads cry on daily basis as they decry the dilapidated condition of virtually all the federal roads linking Abia State with other states of the federation.
Worst hit are the Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene, the Aba and Lokpanta sections of the Enugu–Port Harcourt expressway.
Others are the Opobo –Azumini road and the Obehie–Azumini-Ukanafun road.
For motorists and their passengers, it has become a journey through hell as the situation in the above mentioned roads have made them vulnerable to attacks from bandits who kidnap and kill at will.
South East Voice investigations revealed that motorists plying the Aba-Ikot Ekpene highway now wade through villages like Ohanze, Ntighauzo and Abala Ibeme to link Akwa Ibom State.
The condition of the roads and bush paths have been worsened by rainfall, which had left most of them flooded. The situation has also created ‘employment’ for an army of youths who rescue vehicles trapped in the muddy water for a fee.
A journey from Aba to Enugu which usually takes two and half hours now take four hours because of the pitiable state of the Lokpanta area in Umunneochi Local Council of Abia State. The plight of the motorists has been worsened by the activities of cow dealers at the Lokpanta Cattle market and trailer drivers who usually block the road in the area.
Similar situation exists in the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene highway where palliative measures by the Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA, has not helped motorists as the road has caved in, causing deep gullies.
Motorists’ tales of woe
According to Marcel Eme, a bus driver, who plies the Aba-Port Harcourt route: “The Aba- Port Harcourt road has been a nightmare to bus drivers because of its many dilapidated spots with deep gullies. From Alaojii in Ugwunagbo to Obehie is slightly passable though with bad spots. The worst part of the highway is from Ngwaiyiekwe and Obehie to Imo Gate which is the boundary with Rivers State. We are suffering on this route; there is no week that passes without bus drivers visiting mechanic workshops.
“They say that the road has been awarded to a contractor; we are appealing to the Federal Government to direct the contractor to complete the road. Some of us now avoid the Aba –Port Harcourt route to go through Ngor Okpala in Imo State through Etche and Omuma to Igwruta in Rivers State.”
Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, had during the commissioning of internal roads built by his ministry, said the rehabilitation of the Lokpanta to Enugu and the Aba to Rivers State boundaries on the Enugu –Port Harcourt expressway, would be completed next July.
The Minister, who was represented by the Abia State Controller, Federal Ministry of Works, Mr. Onuoha Bede, further disclosed that the Lokpanta axis to the Enugu border is 98 per cent completed and would be delivered before the end of April 2021, while the Aba to the Rivers State boundary is almost 40 per cent completed and would be ready before the July completion deadline.
However, the Lokpanta and Osisioma Ngwa axis to the Rivers State boundary are still in dilapidated condition contrary to Fashola’s assurances.
Efforts to get the reaction of the Federal Controller of Works in Abia State, Mr. Bede Onuoha, was unsuccessful at the time of filing this report.
Hope of relief was raised in 2015, when the on-going rehabilitation work started but six years on, it is not yet Uhuru.
The Abia axis of the highway was segmented into two and awarded to two construction firms apparently for swift execution but the slow pace of work seems to have defeated that aim.
While SETRACO is handling from Enugu/Abia boundary at Lokpanta to Abia Tower, Umuahia junction, Arab Contractors is handling from Umuahia to Abia/Rivers boundary at Obigbo.
Extensive work has been done between Enugu/Abia boundary up to Lokpanta and Osisioma junction Aba but the condition of the highway between Aba and Obigbo particularly at Ariaria Junction, Alaojii Mechanic Village and Asa axis is hellish.
The expressway has virtually collapsed in these identified portions making movement nightmarish for commuters
The woes of road users have been increased by security agents who have converted these failed portions into toll gates for extortion of motorists.
Umuahia-Ohafia-Arochukwu federal road is no exception as it has almost collapsed making trip to Arochukwu from Umuahia, the state capital, almost a day’s journey.
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In fact, commuters prefer going to Arochukwu via Akwa Ibom instead of passing through Ohafia, a journey that ordinarily should not take more than two hours.
Despite claims by the Federal Government that contract for the rehabilitation of the road has been awarded, there is nothing on ground to suggest it will be done any time soon.
In Imo State, the federal roads are in deplorable conditions. Though residents of the state and those who ply the roads may be said to have heaved a sigh of relief from what obtained in 2018/2019, it is still an ugly experience to ply the Owerri – Umuahia road, and Owerri – Aba road. Before the ousted Emeka Ihedioha administration came on board in 2019, it was a nightmare to travel through the Owerri-Umuahia road.
The Imo part of the road was totally broken down. At a point, motorists resorted to taking a bypass through villages in Emekuku and Obowo to cut off the bad areas of the road. That was until the state government did a remedial work on it.
The road has since gone bad again, though not as terrible as it was. A journey that ought to take one hour now takes nearly two hours. Emekuku in Owerri North, Oboama Nguru in Aboh Mbaise and Achingali in Obowo areas of the road are the worst hit.
A commercial bus driver, who plies the road and who gave his name as Obinna Igbokwe, lamented the agony drivers and passengers undergo on the road.
“We are suffering on the road; a journey that ought to take us one hour takes almost two hours because of bad road. We knew the hell we passed through on this road about two years ago. Thank God the state government did some work to reduce the suffering. This road does not look like a federal road. How can a federal road be one lane, when some roads inside town are two lanes?
“The Federal Government should do something on this road. I don’t know why our own is always different. Go to some parts of the North and see the kind of quality roads they have there,” he stated.
The Owerri end of the Owerri – Aba road and the Ulakwo axis are also as bad as they have always been. The state government had equally done remedial work on the road some years ago.”
A bus driver, Ernest Maduako, appealed to the Federal Government to do something about the road to save citizens of the stress.
“The road is bad. We have been managing it like this; the Federal Government should do something about the road, at least to reduce the stress,” he appealed.
The story of the Enugu-Onitsha federal road is common. It is simply an abandoned road which the Federal Government and politicians use as campaign object every election year.
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