By Mohammed Dahiru LAWAL
THE slow pace of work on the Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road has contributed to the high rates of accidents along the corridor, investigation by PRNigeria has shown. About 4,954 road traffic accidents have been recorded in the Kano-Kaduna zone of the road between 2017, when the contract for reconstruction of the road was approved, and 2,020, six months to its delivery date.
Exclusive medical records of road traffic accident victims indicate that men between the ages of 21 and 62 years account for about 81 percent of accident victims on the road during this period. Except for 2020, analysis showed that there has been a steady rise in the rate of road accidents since 2017 when the contractor for the road moved to site.
No fewer than 1,035 people were victims of road accidents between January to December 2017, with 989 males and 316 females. In 2018, about 1,300 persons were road accident victims, with 1,031 males and 269 females, documents made available to PRNigeria show.
Also in 2019, about 1, 770 victims were recorded. No fewer than 1,443 males and 238 females crashed along the route while 783 males and 76 females were road accident victims between January and September 2020. A total of 783 deaths recorded. The Kaduna zone recorded the highest number of accidents in 2018 and 2019, according to the annual report by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC).
FRSC officials confirmed that the state of the road is largely responsible for the record of high casualties along the Kaduna zone. Despite the spate of fatal accidents recorded, most hospitals along the route, including Kura General Hospital, are poorly equipped to attend to emergencies.
“Males are the highest casualties and victims are mostly brought in dead on arrival. This may not be unrelated to the bad road which makes the ride to this place bumpy and slow,” said a medical officer who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of losing his job.
Abuja-Kano Road Project: How it all started
In 2017, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the award of N155.48 billion to Julius Berger Plc, for the construction of a hybrid two-lane-six-lane road network that starts from Abuja through Kaduna-Zaria to Kano. On February 12, 2020, FEC again approved another N867 million for the engineering design to adding an extra lane on both sides of the 375 kilometer road.
Beset with no less than eight major diversions, dangerous potholes, loss of lives and disruption of economic activities, the road has aggravated the sufferings of commuters and residents along the Abuja-Kano corridor. And it also aided bandits who take advantage of the poor condition of the road to carry out their criminal and nefarious activities, including kidnapping people for ransom.
Recently, about nine students from the Department of French, Faculty of Arts, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria were kidnapped along the route while on their way to Lagos for a language immersion program. The students were released about a week later after reportedly paying N1million each as ransom.
Recalled that three final year students of the faculty of Law, Ahmadu Bello University Zaria were kidnapped on the same expressway earlier in August 2019.
On November 15th, at least 15 people were killed on Sunday and many others abducted when kidnappers blocked the Kaduna-Abuja expressway around 5 pm, witnesses said.
It was gathered that nearly 20 vehicles were forced to stop at the bushy and sloppy location when the gunmen laid siege.
“At its height, the road had 10 kidnappings per day with 20 different groups operating on the route,” says police commander Abba Kyari, who heads a special unit fighting kidnappers.
The true figures are likely to be higher, as some families, choose not to report to officials, deciding to negotiate with the kidnappers directly.
This has resulted to the road being deserted by travelers thereby crippling economic activities.
Kantin Kwari Market in Kano is the biggest textile market in Africa with many traders in coming from all parts of the country to purchase goods in bulk with recent development, many would rather not risk their lives again while some have taken to the rail option for their travels but even at that, tickets and space are scarce with about 5,000 commuters packing on to them daily.
Many passengers miss scheduled trips because of the huge demand. This is more so because many of the civil servants who work in Abuja live in Kaduna.
Those who have tickets but cannot find seats have the option of standing for the two-hour journey for the same fee.
Mannir Awal Addo, a trader in Abuja who has family that he visits every weekend in Kaduna, was kidnapped on the Abuja-Kaduna highway earlier this year and held for five days.
He told the BBC in an interview monitored by PRNigeria that he paid his abductors N500,000 for his freedom: “It was a traumatic experience.”
He was affected by polio as a child and said he could not run away when kidnappers attacked the vehicle he was travelling in.
“Since then, honestly I don’t use car transport because I am afraid of the road. It’s better for me to take the train because of its safety.”
A Travelers’ Nightmare
Work was ongoing when this reporter visited in October with 27km of the nearly 400 – kilometres road completed. The breakdown shows that 11km of the 160km stretch of the road between Zaria to Kano had been completed while 6km of the 75km Kaduna to Zaria axis had been executed and 10km of 165km journey from Zuba to Kaduna has been done.
“The road is too dangerous and deadly for us, but we have no option than to ply it that way. Look around, you will see that most of our vehicles either have no side mirrors or have been panel beaten on the side as a result of constant collisions and breakdowns. The diversions and deep potholes causes collisions, summersaults, and in some cases, car explosions,” Ibrahim a motorist who constantly ply the route lamented.
The general state of the road remains a nightmare for motorists and travelers. With its decrepit state and constant degeneration over the years, a journey of less than four hours on average speed of 100km/hr, now take about seven to eight hours.
[Insert photos of fallen truck in the middle of the road and that of road closed for two years]
Findings by PRNigeria showed that Kura to Chiromawa (in Kano), Zaria to Lamban Sambo (in Zaria), Jaji to Kaduna (in Kaduna), Rijana to Gadan Mallam Mamman (in Kaduna) and Audu Jamgwam-Katari-Gidan Busa (along Kaduna-Abuja) are the most accident – prone zones with deep potholes sometimes up to the knee level.
It is estimated that about six people die daily at the Chiromawa hotspot of the road in Garun Mallam Local Government Area of Kano state, residents told this newspaper.
The rate places an immense burden on hospitals and health systems generally, particularly Kura General Hospital, which is a cottage affair and has no capacity to accommodate the daily numbers of casualties.
“We register accident cases every day. Don’t be surprised that before you leave here, a case will come in. Because of the nature of the accidents on the road and the pressure on our facility, this place needs to be upgraded to a trauma center,” said a top medical personnel of the hospital.
Further inspection of the route reveals that a portion of the expressway in Gangarida town, Ikara Local Government Area of Kaduna State was shut down about six months to the 2019 elections. For over a year, that side of the road has not been put to use and that has worsened the suffering of communities on that stretch of the road.
Ibrahim Jar-marmara, a resident of the town, said his business and farming activities has been affected due to vehicular pressure on one side of the road.
“This closure is a nightmare for us as two-way traffic is now concentrated on one side of the road. Accident are horrific and this experience has affected our business, farming activity, and made commuting very uneasy,” he said.
He explained that most of their farms close to the roadside have been abandoned because it is not unusual for colliding or skidding vehicles to derail and instantly crush many on the spot.
Mallam Imrana Kabir, a petty trader and resident of Chiromawa, lamented that the ongoing construction has brought about a disruption in his mode of doing business. He said since transporters can no longer stop to patronize him due to the road closure, he has to risk his personal safety by bringing his wares close to the road.
“We used to conduct our business from a safe distance but now because the drivers can no longer stop and patronize us, we have to bring to them on the road. We witness between five to 10 accidents here daily and sometimes we are victims,” Kabir said.
“A lot of our children have been knocked down here but we still have to continue hustling because we must feed our family.”
Corroborating Mallam Kabir, Ibrahim Mai Kwan Zabi, another resident, blamed the surge in the number of road accidents on the slow pace of work by the contractor, adding that he has witnessed two accidents on the road.
“There was this devastating one that occurred between Bebeiji and Garun Mallam involving a Julius Berger truck and a Hummer bus. I have never witnessed such a devastating accident in my life before, peoples’ bodies dismembered in different parts and so on,” he said.
Chronology of Mortal Accidents
Recently, among many deaths and crashes recorded during the period of this investigation is that of October 6, where nine persons were feared dead and three injured in a ghastly motor accident on Kano-Zaria Road. According to Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Kano State Commander, Mr Zubairu Mato, the accidents happened when two vehicles collided at Imawa village in Kura Local Government Area of the state.
On October 27, no fewer than 13 persons were confirmed dead in a motor accident at Jar-marmara village in Ikara Local Government Area along Kaduna-Kano expressway. Many passengers also sustained various degrees of injury in the fatal crash involving a Kano-bound Marcopolo luxury bus and four other vehicles.
On the same day, about 20 people lost their lives in another ghastly accident involving a Land Star vehicle and three smaller saloon vehicles between Kwanar Dangora and Kunkumi communities along the highway.
Even the rich and influential persons are not spared. In June 2019, a veteran broadcast journalist and Deputy President, Nigerian Guild of Editors, (NGE), Umar Sai’d Tudun Wada, died in a ghastly auto crash in Kura, one of the hotspots along the route, while returning from an engagement in Abuja.
In September 2019, the Department of State Service (DSS) lost two of its personnel at Gidan Busa along Abuja-Kaduna Expressway. The DSS said that the team was heading to one of the seven states in the North-West zone for an undisclosed operation when the Hilux vehicle conveying them somersaulted.
A Road Project Serving Kidnappers
Various motorists plying the routes have testified that the state of the road in itself has contributed to the worsening insecurity in the region, giving kidnappers and bandits a perfect spot to mount their block.
“In some instances, we just have to abandon the car and run for our lives because if you want to escape with your car, where is the road to do so? Not even when the kidnappers sometimes pose as security operatives,” said Farouk, a driver at the Ramin Alkhairi Park, Kano
What is more worrisome for them is not even the pace of construction, but the level of dilapidation along the road.
“We wish they would fill up the potholes for us pending when the job is completed. Take for instance from Tashan Yari to Zaria and from Zaria to Kaduna, if you are not careful in this two places, you either ruin your car or you lose your life,” he said.
Farouk recounted how he narrowly escaped the kidnappers recently.
“ I just summoned the guts, revved my car and zoomed despite the threat posed by the potholes. We have already given up on security they should just come and fill up the roads for us and we will take care of the rest on our own. As I am talking to you my car is with the mechanic for repairs.”
Another driver, Yushau Sale, has a similar experience.
“I have been shot at by the kidnappers while escaping. I have been laid on the ground and trampled on. This my friend (pointing at his colleague) if he will show you his back, you will see where he was hit. If his car was here, you will see where they pummeled it.” Yusuf recounted.
“A Cry for Help” – District Head, Others…
Speaking on the situation, Alhaji Lawan Abubakar Madaki, the district head of Garun Mallam decried the slow pace of construction, noting that it has placed a burden on his community of people.
“From the beginning of this road rehabilitation, no day goes by without us witnessing an episode in this community. Right from Chiromawa down to Duruwan Salau, Yadakwari, Dakasoye and so on, it has always been a gory experience for us, a week hardly goes by without us losing a child of this community to the road,” said Madaki.
All the incidents are on record. “One that occurred in Yadakwari sometimes in May this year rattled me so much. A car skidded and ran into people frying yam and egg, and none of them survived.”
[District Head Photo]
Madaki urged the government to identify challenges responsible for the slow pace of work on the road, and promptly resolve them.
Other residents of the affected communities also called for urgent intervention from necessary quarters adding that the work is excruciatingly slow.
On his part, Muazu Lawal, popularly known as TaBala, a resident of Kura, said the community is in dire need of help as he has lost countless friends on the road, noting that Fridays are the worst.
Long Way to Go…
With barely 30% of the road project completed in more than two years, meeting up with the May 2021 deadline is highly unlikely.
Several attempts to get an official explanation for this proved abortive.
A Freedom of Information, (FOI) request sent to the Federal Ministry of Budget and Planning for details of budgetary allocations and releases on the road project was not responded to after the stipulated seven days. A similar request sent to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing (FMWH) for details of the project completion and projected time of completion got no response.
When contacted, Boade Akinola, Director Press and Public Relations, FMWH, said she was ill and had not resumed work.
She, however, said that the COVID-19 pandemic coupled with the rainy season may be responsible for the slow pace of work.
She then requested questions be sent on WhatsApp for her to forward to the necessary quarters for action. This was done and followed up with a call the next day and she acknowledged that her office is working on the document. However, as at the time of filing this report, there has been no tangible feedback received from her.
However, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, probably provided a hint as to why the construction of the road is dragging when he said in late November that the delay was caused by the need to add extra lanes to the road being constructed.
Speaking at a townhall meeting organized by the ministry in Kaduna, Fashola said that members of the National Assembly requested that an extra lane should be added to the road contract.
“Shortly after we flagged off the road, we received a letter from the senators in the National Assembly asking the federal government to expand the road from two lanes to three lanes, that was not from us, it was from the National Assembly, the senators and they wrote to the president and copied my ministry, the minister explained.
He said further that the government had to redesign the road contract to “accommodate about 40 different bridges on this road to align with the lanes”.
“So, if they are going to expand from two to three lanes, a new design needed to be created. The process for doing that required us to hire a design consultant. We had to follow the procurement process established by the National Assembly,” Fashola explained further.
But the minister corroborated fears that the suffering Nigerians who use the road might continue for a little longer as he said that the process of adding the new components of the contract will take a while.
“So, if they are going to expand from two to three lanes, a new design needed to be created. The process for doing that required us to hire a design consultant. We had to follow the procurement process established by the National Assembly,” the stated.
Mamman Dahiru, an experienced civil engineer, says many factors may be responsible for the delay in the project, including possible corruption.
“A lot of contractors are already aware of how corrupt Nigerian officials can be, so they connive with these officials while deliberately delaying the project,” he said.
According to him, when cases of force majeure come into play during the period of a deliberate delay, like in this Abuja-Kano road project, the blame could be easily shifted to disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“So the project is re-evaluated along with possible inflations, and the revaluation cost sometimes may end up being more than the initial amount approved for the work. This has happened on many Nigerian road projects,” he said, citing the Lokoja-Ajaokuta Road, which he noted was re-evaluated about five times before it was eventually completed.
Meanwhile, Julius Berger, the contractor handling the project, has not been forthcoming on the status of the project. This reporter was denied entry into its headquarters in Jabi, Abuja to see the Public Relations Officer. Instead, he was told to direct enquiries via phone number. Calls placed to the number did not connect after several attempts were made.
When contacted, the Director, Information, Press and Public Relations at the Office of the Accountant General of the Federation (OAGF), Henshaw Ogubike, said that the OAGF office does not concern itself with monies allocated for projects.
“It’s the ministry that issues the certificates that they release money. It is their own budget and they are accountable for their budget. They are accountable to EFCC and ICPC. They have their own directors of finance and accounts. It’s what they have spent that the voucher will now come here finally and we look at it. We don’t withhold payments,” he said.
Speaking on the deplorable state of the road, Kabiru Dakata, Executive Director, Centre for Awareness on Justice and Accountability (CAJA), said under the circumstance, it has become expedient for the Federal Government to direct the Federal Roads and Maintenance Agency, FERMA, to patch up potholes along the deadly zones pending when reconstruction work will reach that point.
“First, the Kura General Hospital should be upgraded to a Trauma Centre with some functional ambulances. Then, in order to check the rising spate of kidnapping, police and military patrol vehicles should be conspicuous at each check points in order to enable motorists differentiate between security and kidnapers.”
Dakata believes this will reduce the series of road traffic accidents and put a check on wanton kidnappings, which the road is notorious for.
* This investigation is supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.