JUDE OSSAI examines the threats of death by accidents or that of being cut-off permanently which people living in the Southeast face due to the deplorable state of the Enugu-Onitsha Road.
THE Enugu-Onitsha Express way is a major access road to commercial activities in the Southeast geo-political zone and to other parts of the country. It leads to the famous Niger Bridge and then to the northern and western parts of the country. It also links the southern part of the country through Enugu to Ogoja, Calabar, Uyo, Makurdi and some northern states.
For Okoye Anayo, a resident of Enugu, the Enugu State capital, he shuttles between Enugu and Onitsha Road almost on daily basis conveying travelers. He used to do this with joy and enthusiasm for over a decade as a commercial driver.
Today, Anayo sees his first love – driving business – as an unpleasant one and contemplated quitting driving for another field of endeavour just because of the deplorable condition of the Enugu-Onitsha expressway where he used to ply his 508 bus to eke a living.
Findings by this reporter showed that Anayo is not the only one facing the challenge of plying the Enugu-Onitsha Road as motorists and travelers alike complain of the poor state of the federal road as gully erosion has continued to eat deep into the highway.
Okeke Nweke, who travels Enugu-Onitsha daily, said it was amazing that the Federal Government decided to turn deaf ears to the road though people still perform their civic obligations by paying taxes other levies.
Another driver, Nnnna Okafor wondered why the Federal Government had abandoned it.
According to him, in the past, driving from Onitsha to Enugu was sweet, but today, it is no longer rosy as the Umunya -Awkuzu axis is terrible and indeed a driver’s nightmare.
“While people suffer the dust during the dry season, the rainy season appears to be even worse. It has also become customary to find mechanics hovering along the bad portions of the expressway because of their belief that vehicles must break down,” he added.
Indeed, erosion is a serious problem affecting not only Enugu-Onitsha Expressway, but other parts of Igboland.
For instance, the report of the Enugu State Nigeria Erosion and Watershed Management project (EN-NEWMAP), a World Bank assisted project, made available to Nigerian Tribune in Enugu, showed that 9th Mile Corner and Ajali Water Works gully erosion sites were the first to be approved by the state government for NEWMAP intervention.
A visit by this reporter to the Ajali gully erosion site last week showed that work had reached advanced stage.
The Enugu State Project Coordinator of NEWMAP, Mrs. Lechukwu Agatha Uju, during her quarterly media briefing on Friday, said that the two major gullies (Ajali and 9th Mile Corner) had posed serious threat to residential, agricultural and commercial lands, and the only source of potable water supply to Enugu metropolis and a bottling company situated along Enugu-Onitsha Road.
Mrs. Okechukwu said that other sites approved by the World Bank included Umuavulu Abor gully erosion site, while sites under review are Enugu-Ngwo gully erosion site, Agbaja-Ngwo and Udi-Ozalla Road gully erosion.
She also noted that sites under design included Onuiyi-Nsukka-Alor Uno, Imiliki-Etiti, Ngene Owelle-Ohaja and Ayazuru Ohom Orba gully erosion sites.
Perhaps, what is astonishing is that each year, the Enugu-Onitsha Road appears in the Federal budget, yet no successful project has been executed on the road, prompting many especially Easterners to perceive it as part of marginalization against them by successive regimes.
It has been argued that there is no Federal road in the country that has claimed more lives of travelers than the Enugu-Onitsha road. As it is, the deplorable condition of the road has led to public outcry attracting national attention, even from the National Assembly.
For instance, the Senate recently urged the Federal Government through the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing to begin rehabilitation work on the Onitsha-Enugu dual carriageway.
The Senate also called on its Committee on Works to as a matter of urgency, meet with the Ministry of Works and other relevant agencies to fast-track the framework on concessionary matters so as to encourage the private sector to invest or participate in road construction.
Ex-Governor Sam Egwu of Ebonyi State while moving the motion at the Upper House recently noted, “Under normal circumstances, it takes approximately an hour to drive from Onitsha in Anambra State to Enugu, the capital city of old Eastern Region, but at the moment, it takes over five tortuous hours.”
Senator Sam Egwu was particularly worried that “the collapse of this road has virtually cut off the Southeastern states from other parts of the federation, with its attendant negative impact on trade and commerce.”
While seconding the motion, the Senator representing Enugu West and Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, observed that “the story of Onitsha-Enugu dual carriageway has changed from being a Federal road to farmland as people cultivate and harvest their crops on the main road every year.”
Senator Ekweremadu lamented the abandonment of the road by past governments which had led to the state of disrepair and advised the Federal Government to establish a road construction fund in addition to budgetary provisions to handle the construction and rehabilitation of Federal roads across the country.
Particularly, Governor Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi of Enugu State has expressed deep concern over the deteriorating state of Enugu/Onitsha road.
Little wonder, Ugwuanyi, through his Commissioner for Information, Dr Godwin Udeuhele, told reporters in Enugu last week that even though it is a Federal road, his government will commence the rehabilitation of failed portions of the old Enugu-Onitsha road with the sum of N783 million, stressing that the move was due to the hardship commuters were facing on the road.
Dr Udeuhele said that the contract, which covered three kilometers of the 9th Mile-Udi-Oji River-Ugwuoba Road, was awarded to Anbeez Nig. Ltd, adding that several earth-moving machines were already on site. He said that the attention of the state government was drawn to the deplorable nature of the road, which he said, had threatened to cut the state off from Anambra.
He said that economic activities between the two sister states were brought to a halt due to the deplorable condition of the road.
“The complete failure of the dual carriage Enugu-Onitsha expressway has made commuters to ply the old road, thereby causing failure of many portions of the road. This is sequel to the hardship caused by the deplorable nature of the road arising from heavy traffic occasioned by the impassable nature of the Enugu-Onitsha expressway,” he said.
“The entire length of the road covers 9th Mile-Udi-Oji River-Ugwuoba, but we are working at the border between Enugu and Anambra states which has failed,” he said.
Dr Udeuhele said that the state government, had three years ago, invested N4.794 billion on the road, stressing that the state has never neglected its portion of the old road. “The state government did some work on that particular section, but it got bad again when the volume of traffic increased as a result of the complete failure of the Enugu-Onitsha express road,” he said.
He said that government was moved to commence work on the road in spite of its lean resources since that was the only road that linked traders from Enugu and Ebonyi to the main market in Onitsha.
The commissioner appealed to the Federal Government to listen to the cries of the masses and rehabilitate Enugu-Onitsha expressway, which he said, has been neglected for more than 15 years. “Our traders and indeed, other business people move their goods on daily basis through that road and we don’t want to hinder the commercial activities going on in Onitsha.
“The Federal Government should expedite action on the Enugu-Onitsha expressway because we understand the contract has been awarded. They should do their own part,” Udeuhele said.
Speaking at his hometown, Eke, in Udi Local Government Area of Enugu State during the Egwu Abia Festival, the Director-General of the Voice of Nigeria (VON), Osita Okechukwu, who is regarded in Igboland as a confidant of President Muhammed Buhari, also said the present government at the centre will soon commence work on the Second Niger Bridge, as well as the Enugu-Onitsha and Enugu-Port Harcourt expressways, which were captured in the 2016 budget.
He called on members of Indigenous People Of Biafra (IPOB) and Movement for Actualization for Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) to sheathe their swords because their agitation was not in the interest of Ndigbo who are not only doing well in all the nooks and crannies of Nigeria but have the high chance to produce Nigerian president of Igbo extraction in 2023.
Nigerian Tribune observed that of the about100 kilometres from Enugu to Onitsha, the worst stretch is the Awkuzu-Umunya axis.
Ironically, the presence of very important establishments along the about five kilometres stretch, including the orientation camp of the National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), two major abattoirs, permanent site of Tansian University, among others, make it inevitable for motorists to ply the road.
The prayer of most respondents interviewed is that Federal Government should go beyond rhetoric on Enugu-Onitsha road and match its words with action.