There is not much to show for all the money spent on the Abuja – Makurdi road
Sani Musa, Adamu Yahaya are men who confront death virtually every day. But they are not martyrs or militants fighting a cause. The duo are ordinary Nigerians who eke out a living as commercial motor drivers.
That profession, in Nigeria, where roads are death traps, must rank as one of the most dangerous in the country. However, this is more so for the Makurdi-Lafia-Akwanga stretch of the Makurdi – Abuja road where motorists and commuters literally daily stare death in the face.
This is due mainly to its deplorable state and its meandering nature, particularly at the Akwanga hills. But as commercial drivers who convey passenger from Lafia to Abuja in their taxis daily, Musa and Yahaya do not have a choice but to brace up for the fatal possibilities that the road offers.
Thomas Anajav is not a driver but a public servant who lives and works in Abuja. However, he faces the same risk as he travels to Makurdi almost every weekend to spend time with his family
The three men as well as many other Nigerians constantly stand the risk of losing their lives on this road particularly the Akwanga axis, which has been tagged the “many have gone” stretch, due to its hilly and dangerous curves and the number of lives lost in accidents.
In a bid to reduce the danger to human lives, the federal government, in 2009, awarded a 13.3 kilometer stretch of the road to ENL Consortium at a sum of N3.3 billion for the re-alignment and straightening of the hilly and dangerous curves between Akwanga and Lafia with a completion time lime of 18 months.
As it happens with such projects in Nigeria, three years on, the job is yet to be completed and the people continue to bear the brunt of government inefficiency.
It has become increasingly more dangerous to ply this road now with the many diversions and roadblocks everywhere mounted by the contractor working on it. Indeed, in the last three years, it has become the drivers’ nightmare as it poses great danger to both human and vehicular traffic, Sani laments.
But, in spite of this obvious danger to both his life and that of his vehicle, Sani, who is an indigene of Gako, a small village close to the Akwanga hills, has no choice but to continue to do the only job he has in order to feed his family of six and an aged mother.
He expressed worry why the work on the road is taking so long to complete.
Like Sani, many Nigerians including members of the House of Representatives are raising eyebrows as to why the road contract is taking so long to be completed.
Some even allege that the contractor has abandoned the original job and concentrated efforts at crushing and selling the rocks found at the Akwanga hills to the detriment of some sections of the road that have been cleared but are now been threatened by erosion.
A visit to the site by our reporter revealed that while some sections of the road have actually been completed, others, particularly along the hills and Gako village, are begging for attention as erosion is seriously threatening them.
In an interview with our reporter, the project manager of the contract, Femi Ojo, an engineer, actually admitted the delay in the completion of the job but attributed this to problems the contractor, ENL Consortium, has encountered in the course of executing the contract.
According to him, the first of these was the difficulty of setting out with the drawings they got from the consultant who deviated from government’s brief by about five kilometres. This, of necessity, had to be corrected but they had to get approval from the federal ministry of works in Abuja which took time.
Having overcome the problem of drawings, the company also encountered delay in arrival of the needed equipment which, according to Ojo, was ordered from China.
“This delay was so prolonged that we had to reorder some of these machinery from Ghana but that too had to be delayed at the border between Ghana and Nigeria for almost three months waiting for clearance,” Engineer Ojo stated.
He further noted that at the time these initial problems were overcome, the rainy season had set in so it was not possible to do any serious construction.
“Then there is the problem of the rocky nature of the area and we know that you cannot make as much progress when working on rocks as when working on flat ground.”
But as with similar projects, perhaps, the biggest problem the road construction has faced is the non-release of funds to the contractor by the federal government. Engineer Ojo confirmed the issue of late payments which he said has been a serious drawback to their work.
Giving an example of how non release of fund affects the job, Ojo said that the valuation certificate raised for payments since 2011 was paid only in June 2012.
“So, it is not possible to move as fast as people expect us to yet we are making steady progress,” he lamented.
Asked to state how much of the contract sum has been released so far, the project manager said N1.3 billion out of the total contract sum of N3.3 billion had so far been paid to his company. He, however, observed that by the time the money came it was in the middle of the wet season, so not much could be done.
He, however, gave the assurance that with the weather now becoming more clement, concerted efforts will be made to complete the job even if it means working in the night.
On the allegation that the company is busy crushing and selling the rocks at the site, Ojo denied this saying that it was not true as the rocks along the road cannot be used as they are soft and muddy. He pointed out that the heap of chippings seen at the site was brought from their quarry at Mpape.
This was confirmed by sources from the ministry of works zonal office in Lafia.
Engineer Ojo, however, acknowledged the concern of the House of Representatives committee on works on the road contract adding that both the committee and the ministerial task force on contracts have visited the site to assess the progress and quality of the job.
Sources at the Zonal office of the federal ministry of works in Lafia who would not want to be named confided that only 48.17% of the work paid for had been done by the contractor, which they said is not encouraging.
With regards to the quality of the work done, the source maintained that it met all the required standard and specifications and attributed this to what is called “preventive supervision.”
Meanwhile commuters and youths of Gako including Huseni Muhamed and Moses Daniel Maga who spoke to our reporters are not impressed with what they termed “excuses” and they expressed displeasure at the slow pace of work while calling on the government to find a more competent contractor to handle the road.
They based their argument on the paucity of equipment owned by the contractor. “There is no time you will find more than a few earth moving machines on site,” Maga stated.
A visit to the site camp of the construction firm seemed to confirm Maga’s misgivings as only a few earth moving equipment were seen parked there while two excavators and three tippers were seen working at the most critical section of the road at Akwanga hill.
At the company’s Abuja office, ENL House at AMAC PLAZA in Wuse Zone 3, only a few staff members were seen milling around at the time our reporter called. The senior general manager who received our reporter but declined giving his name said the managing director had travelled out of the country and directed all enquiries to the project manager, Engineer Ojo.
Investigations by www.icirnigeria.org, however, revealed that part of the reason why work on the road has been slow is because the contractor had moved most of its equipment to Lafia, the Nasarawa State capital, where it has a contract to construct many of the major streets in the town.
Several visits to the federal ministry of works to find out why the contractor is taking so long to execute the contract, what government is doing about that and how much the contractor had collected so far failed as the deputy director of highways, North Central, who was said to be the right person to talk said he did not have time to talk.
The last time our reporter tried to speak with him, he was on his way to Lokoja to help create a way around the flooded Lokoja-Abaji-Abuja road.
Information on how much has been spent on the road over the years was difficult to come by but checks showed that N530 million was appropriated in 2012 to the project out of which N170millon has been accessed by the contractor.
While commuters and drivers that ply this road are desperate and cannot wait to see this road project completed, Engineer Ojo told our reporter that the contract completion date has been extended to October, 2013. Independent checks at the supervising ministry, however show that the deadline was only extended to September 2013.
This means those drivers and commuters who ply the road have to endure until 2013, if not beyond, to see an end to their agony.