By Arinze Chjioke
In 2021, students of the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture in Abia State protested after Chidinma Ogbonna, a final year student, was killed by a truck driver who was said to have lost control of his vehicle while negotiating a bad portion of the dilapidated Umuahia –Ikot Ekpene highway.
Accidents along the highway-particularly from the Umuahia end have become a recurring decimal. In 2018, a 400-level student of the University, Obinna Chiaha, was also killed by a commercial driver who was trying to overtake a trailer at high speed.
Umudike, one of the communities In Ikwuano Local Government Area which hosts the university, is a beehive of activities. The road is ever busy with students crisscrossing to undertake different activities inside the market. Sadly, both students of the University and other residents of the community have borne the brunt of the dilapidated state of the road, which, apart from having potholes, is narrow, being a single lane. Through protests and letters, they have asked both the State and federal governments to intervene.
In 2019, the Federal Executive Council, FEC approved the emergency repairs of the road. Adimchi Chibundu, who owns a boutique along the road, alleged that the government at the time had told him and other business owners to move their shops as the plan was to dualise it.
“We were ready to remove our shops because we felt that the government had finally heard our cry and considered the economic benefits of the road,” he said. “They also promised to pay compensation”.
The contractor at the time, Desak Construction Coy Nigeria Limited, was not mobilised to the site. Chibundu said he did not remove his shop after he noticed that no work was ongoing and that the plan was not to dualise the road afterall.
Relief at last…
In 2021, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, announced that the re-construction of the 50-km Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Federal Road had been re-approved for funding, now under the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) Road Tax Credit Scheme, to be executed by Hartland Nigeria. The FEC had approved N13.2billion for the project.
Fashiola was quoted as saying that the approval was in response to appeals made by the member representing Ikwuano/Umuahia Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Sam Onuigbo, who had sought the government’s intervention on the deplorable federal road.
The minister urged the lawmaker to prevail on his constituents to remove all structures and crops within the right of way to allow for free and speedy reconstruction of the road.
Managing Director of Hartland Nigeria Limited, Fayez Khalaf confirmed the release of funds by the federal government to enable the company to expedite action on the project during a site inspection in February.
The lawmaker Onuigbo also confirmed that the money had been released.
Khalaf the construction company’s MD was quoted in 2021 as saying that the immediate focus was to rehabilitate the deplorable 10-km Umuahia-Oboro portion of the road to end the suffering of the road users and filling of the failed portions, especially at the Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike.
Same old story…
However, months after the funds for the reconstruction of the road was approved and released, nothing changed. As residents of the community waited for the construction company to resume work, the Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA stepped in and started filling the potholes.
“That is why it is a bit motorable”, said the traditional ruler of Umudike Community, Eze Dike. “We don’t know the essence of having FERMA do maintenance on a road which has been fully awarded and paid for”.
Dike said that each time the potholes open again and FERMA is not on the ground, he gets youths of the community to fill them up with sand during sanitation to prevent accidents.
Residents who spoke to The ICIR said that they noticed some drainage construction work and k ongoing at the Okwe and Ahiekwe end of the road in January. But after some time, the construction stopped.
As the road remains in its bad state, business owners continue to count losses. Because it is ever busy and small, commuters hardly stop by the roadside to buy anything.
A trader who runs a provision store where she sells beverages and snacks by the roadside said she cleans her wares every morning due to dust.
“I am tired of talking about the state of the road because we have complained severally, “she said. “The road is strategic, giving that this is a student community, and so, it is surprising why the government does not want to work on it”.
Chibundu the boutique owner also said he hardly makes sales because dust often covers his clothes on display and those inside his shop.
Fruit sellers and those who deal in foodstuffs always cover their wares to protect them from dust emanating from the road.
“Severally, motorcyclists have rammed into my shop because they are trying to dodge potholes or escape from being hit by vehicles, “said Chibundu who is surprised at how Heartland was yet to resume work after one of its supervisors, Ibrahim Najjar said that the first phase of the work would be a 10 Kilometer from Umuahia towards Ikot Ekpene.
Several attempts to get the lawmaker Onuigbo to comment on the state of the road failed as he neither picked up his calls nor responded to a text message sent to him on September 1.
This reporter could not also reach Hartland Nigeria Limited for comment as the company’s contacts were not available online.
However, a search on the Website of the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC shows that while the company was registered on October 23, 1995, and located at NO. 100, WARRAKE ROAD, AUCHI, EDO, with 280974 A as its registration number, its status is inactive.
Enugu-Onitsha expressway now a money-making venture
Journeying through the Amansea portion of the Enugu –Onitsha expressway has become a source of nightmare for commuters who often get stuck because of its bad state. The situation is worse whenever it rains because one of the double lanes becomes flooded.
Over the years, the road has become a money-making venture for youths who assemble there every day to push vehicles stuck in the mud for negotiated fees, making as much as N10,000 daily.
In 2014, the federal government awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of the Outstanding Section of Onitsha-Enugu Expressway: Amansea- Enugu State Border in Enugu State to RCC Nigeria Limited at a contract sum of N24,243,308,789.82.
While work was expected to commence on the road in February 2015, it had an initial completion date of February 2018.
However, not much progress has been made as only one lane of the road is still being graded, with N3,349,197,054.78 said to have been paid to date. Residents within the area say RCC has been slow with execution.
Food sellers along the road say the situation has affected business as commuters no longer stop by to eat. Now, commercial bus drivers spend more hours travelling from Anambra to Enugu State as they must navigate through internal roads in Oji River.
Abubakar Garba, a motorcyclist who plies the Amansea road, said the situation has increased transport fair as distances that formally would cost N200 now cost between N300 and N400 because the section of the road that is now being used is laden with potholes. It is also common to see trucks trying to negotiate bad portions of the dilapidated road stuck in the mud and some of them lying on the ground.
Road to be constructed under Road Infrastructure Tax Credit Scheme
When contacted, an engineer with RCC who prefers not to be mentioned said that the project is being delayed because it is part of those that had been taken over by MTN under the federal government’s road infrastructure task credit (RITC) scheme.
“We are working with the federal ministry of works to finalise the documentation process for the project, after which it will go to the bureau of public procurement, and then the federal executive council can approve and then we can kick start in earnest, “he explained.
He explained that the major problem has been that of finance. He, however, noted that with the involvement of MTN, there will be no such challenges, adding that the company has been involved in the grading of the road because it is certain about its approval.
“We are trying to keep our machines busy. As soon as the money comes, we will begin serious work, especially as we will soon enter dry season”, the engineer stated.
In August 2021, CEO of MTN Nigeria, Karl Toriola was quoted as saying that the company had plans to reconstruct the expressway under the RITC scheme, which grants income tax credits to companies and individuals that provide funding for the refurbishment and rehabilitation of roads.
In December, Lynda Saint-Nwafor, Chief Enterprise Business Officer, MTN-Nigeria, was also quoted as saying that the telecommunication company was already perfecting paper works to and that once that is done, work will commence on the road.
The RITC scheme is a public-private partnership (PPP) intervention that enables the Nigerian government to leverage private sector capital and efficiency for constructing, repairing and maintaining critical road infrastructure in key economic areas in Nigeria.
In Okigwe, it’s a struggle with potholes
In August this year, Chukwuebuka Frank – who sells Aluminium windows – and his younger brother fell on the Okigwe end of the Owerri Okigwe road. They had gone to one of the markets in the area to buy glasses which Frank claims were worth N45,000.
“As we were returning from the market on our motorcycle, I tried to navigate the potholes on the road, and unfortunately, we entered one of them and fell, ” explained Frank.
His brother, who was carrying the glasses, is still recovering at the hospital after his fingers were shattered. Frank claims he spent N35,000 on treatment and that all the glasses broke as a result.
“If we had a good road, it would not have happened, “he said. “I have suffered several injuries on the road because of how bad it is, and It is usually worse when it rains. We have had cars stuck on the road”.
Like Frank, motorcyclists have borne the pains of the bad Owerri-Okigwe road, particularly at the Okigwe end of the road. Now, they struggle with big trucks on one lane since the second lane has become unmotorable.
In February 2018, the contract for the repairs of a road in Imo was awarded to Lion Unisco Limited at the sum of N127,253,148.75.
The project was among the list of 69 projects published on Monday, August 27 2018 by Nigeria’s Minister of Information and culture, Lai Mohammed, to refute claims by governors of the Southeast that the government had mistreated the zone in terms of the provision of critical infrastructure.
Prior to the award, Uchenna Peter, a motorcyclist, said that the road had always had issues. It, however, became worse after the contractor came with a machine and created gallops on both lanes in 2021 and said that the plan was to fix it.
“Since last year, we have not seen them, and the road is now worse than it used to be, “he said. “Whenever it rains, water is stored on the potholes and the gallops created by the contractor”.
Peter recalls how his colleague escaped death in June this year after he was nearly hit by a truck. He had jumped down from his motorcycle when he noticed that the truck was at high speed.
“Immediately jumped down; the truck crushed his motorcycle, “said Peter. “To be safe, we always veer off the road when big trucks are coming; that is what we have had to deal with since last year because we cannot ply the second lane”.
Peter adds that he has had to fix the bearing of his motorcycles because of the gallops on the road. Journeying through the road, it was noticed that only side drainages are still being constructed, except for the Owerri end of the road, where substantial work has been done so far.
While this reporter could not reach LION UNISCO LTD for comment because its contacts were not available online, a search on CAC also showed that while LION UNISCO LTD was incorporated in LAGOS, Nigeria, with Registration Number 1028512 and registered on 25 Apr 2012, its current status is inactive. Its registered office address is BLOCK3, FLAT17, WESTERNAVENUESURULERE, LAGOS, LAGOS.
Amugo Isiorji road allegedly abandoned
In October 2015, the contract for the rehabilitation of Amugo Uno-Oriemba Market-Amugo Isiorji Onuani Road in Enugu State was awarded to Beks Kimse Nigeria Limited at the sum of N850,575,495.00.
While N127,586,324.25 was said to have been released so far to the contractor, a physical inspection of the roads showed that nothing has been done so far apart from site clearance and the marking of some buildings for demolition. No machines were seen at the supposed location of the projects.
Members of the community suspect that the project has since been abandoned and the funds eaten by the contractor. They say the roads are now unmotorable after they were graded and abandoned.
A member of the community who prefers not to be mentioned said that whenever it rains, water channels are created on the road and they must refill the channels to be able to use it again.
“I don’t know what happened and why the project has not been executed, “he said. I remember when the contractor came and showed the design of the road and said it will be constructed”.
When contacted, one of the workers with Beks Kimse Nigeria Limited, Joseph said that the road project was not abandoned. Rather, it is the lack of fund from the government that is delaying its execution.
He further explained that the current inflation rate has also affected the former price that was agreed upon for the execution of the project and that means that the company will have to renegotiate with the federal government again.
“We are pushing hard to get funds and as soon as we get a response from the government, we will return to sit and continue the project” explained Joseph. “We used the funds available to do some work on the road”.
The head of the highway section at the Federal Ministry of Works Enugu field headquarters, Engineer Steph Oluwadun said that the abandonment of the project by the contractor is connected to the lack of funds since he only graded the road, marked some structures for demolition and left the site.
“Usually when contractors abandon projects, the first thing you suspect is that the project is not well funded, “he said. “Sometimes, we have cases of contractors who abscond with the money for projects”.
He explained that the ministry usually blacklists contractors who fail to deliver on projects even after they have been paid, after which it is withdrawn and given to another contractor.
“We also have the legal department that will take up the case and ensure that the contractor is made to pay up for the project”.
He further explained that the controversy surrounding who should pay compensation-between the federal and state government- when it happens that a road project will affect the structure also delays project execution. He said that the federal government used to pay compensation but decided that the states should take up that responsibility. That is still being debated.