Niger Delta: Motorists lament deplorable state of federal roads

EBENEZER ADUROKIYA, ALPHONSUS AGBORH, ONYEMA GODWIN, INIOBONG EKPONTA, and HENDRIX OLIOMOGBE, after inspection of the state of federal roads in the Niger Delta region, bring a worrying tale of a neglected major economic live-wire of the country. 

Perhaps like other regions of Nigeria, the Niger Delta has its fair share of federal roads. In spite of the region’s economic relevance to the nation, the state of federal roads is pitiably unacceptable. From Edo through Delta to Bayelsa, Cross River to Akwa Ibom and Rivers, the roads are not only deplorable but dangerous to ply.

Among deplorable federal roads in Delta State are the Benin-Asaba expressway, Warri-Agbor road and Ughelli-Asaba road. Others are the Warri – Benin highway, Sapele – Eku road and Warri-Yenagoa highway. Over the years, especially since 2015, a common challenge associated with virtually all the roads is the deplorable state of certain portions of the federal roads.

Numerous failed spots, for instance, punctuate the Benin-Asaba expressway and Warri – Benin highway: one of the busiest roads in the country. The terribly bad sections in the Benin – Asaba road  include Abudu/Agbor, Issele-Uku/Ubulu-Okiti, where one of the dualized carriage ways was cut into two until it was recently patched up. Others are Igbodo/Onicha-Ugbo and Okpanam/Asaba/Onitsha Bridge Head.

Failed portions of the Warri-Agbor-Uromi road beat one’s imagination. Described as most disgusting is the Abavo-Urhonigbe-Abraka stretch. The Amukpe-Aghalokpe portion of the Sapele – Eku highway remains a nightmare for users, who often spend nights in the area during or shortly after a heavy downpour. Similarly, between Oghara, Koko and Ologbo, a boundary community between Delta and Edo States, the Benin – Warri highway has been taken over by deep and wide potholes and flooding. Motorists, especially articulated truck drivers, spend nights in that axis of the road despite attendant security risks.

In the views of most Deltans, three federal roads in the state have totally collapsed, posing danger to motorists and communities. The roads are Amukpe-Eku-Agbor road, Asaba-Illah-Uromi and the Warri-Sapele, Koko junction – Ologbo axis of the Warri-Benin expressway while the only motorable federal road in the state remains the Warri- Patani axis of the East -West highway and to some extent, the Benin-Asaba dual carriage way.

The bad spots of these federal roads are also flashpoints for criminal activities as several robberies and kidnappings have been linked to the failed portions of the roads. These roads have adverse effects on the economic activities of the people, especially those in rural communities where agricultural produce are stocked in farms and cannot easily be conveyed to urban centres where they are needed.

A motorist along the Asaba-Illah-Uromi road, Mr. Ifeanyi Olanye, a native of Ajaji-Illah, an agrarian community, lamented that only big trucks were able to navigate the road while smaller vehicles divert to alternative routes for commuters to get to their destinations.

“The road poses danger to motorists as criminals hang around the bad spots to carry out their nefarious activities. Women are terrorised and farmers are exposed to attacks by hoodlums,” he said.

Another regular user of the Benin-Warri dual carriage way, Mr Lekan, said, “The inconvenience is unbearable for road users. That Ologbo axis of the Benin-Warri highway is most deplorable as water usually takes over the section between the boundary of Edo and Delta making it impassable for motorists.”

Delta State governor, Dr. Ifeanyi Okowa, at the 2020 Independence Day celebration, re-echoed the alarm he raised for the Federal Government to intervene on the Warri-Sapele road which, he clearly stated, required a total reconstruction as a result of old age.

According to Governor Okowa, “Between Agbor and Eku, it has been very bad and almost impassable. We have been talking with the Federal Ministry of Works but that road (Agbor/Eku) is already under contract but that contract is slowed down because of paucity of funds at the federal level to meet with the needs of the construction.”

However, all hope appears not lost on the failed roads in the state as the Federal Government planning to fix them amid paucity of funds orchestrated by the current global health challenge.

Controller of Works, Federal Ministry of Works in the state, Engr. Jimoh Olawale, in his reaction, emphasised the need for the total reconstruction of the Warri-Sapele road because it has reached its life span, adding that palliative work was being carried out to alleviate the suffering of motorists.

According to him, “One lane of the road was awarded to Hi-Tech Construction Company which has almost completed the palliative work. The other lane was given to Samchase Construction Ltd. Sapele-Ologbo (boundary between Delta and Edo states) is under procurement and would soon be awarded.”

Olawale further stated that the Federal Government, through the Ecological Fund, intervened on 9km of the Asaba-Illah-Uromi road, adding that the road needed to be redesigned to make it higher because of flood that has taken its worst toll on it.

 

roads
A man using logs of wood to repair an open gap in the Gamo bridge in Oghara axis of the Benin-Warri highway.

Pitiable state of Federal Roads in Rivers State

For Rivers State, the three major road arteries leading in and out of the state are all federal roads and are at various degrees of disrepair that make entry into or exit out of the state a not-too-sweet experience for motorists and travellers alike. The roads include, but are not limited to the East-West Road, the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway and the Isiokpo-Elele-Owerri-Onitsha road. Besides the latter, which was massively reconstructed and expanded by the Rotimi Amaechi administration from the boundary between Imo and Rivers States through Ubima-Elele-Isiokpo, the other two are at different levels of dilapidation.

Many travelling to places like Aba, Umuahia, Okigwe and Enugu, are forced to ply alternative longer routes which are not necessarily good but better than the Eleme Junction- Imo River axis.

For travellers to Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and from there to Lagos, the shortest route is the East-West Road, but currently, that road is no longer the shortest for many of them because of the several failed portions of the road on the Rivers State side.

Some of the other points requiring immediate attention include the Tank/Rumuodara; Rumuagholu; Emohua, Elele-Alimini and Ahoada areas of the road as these segments have been totally washed away by erosion.

The section of the East-West road from Eleme junction to Onne has managed to remain motorable because of periodic intervention by successive state governments including the present Governor, Nyesom Wike.

NDDC, the Federal Government’s interventionist agency in the Niger Delta region, has also, at some points, intervened on that section of the road but because these efforts were merely palliatives, they soon broke down under heavy traffic and keep the road in perpetual state of disrepair.

But as for the Oyigbo-Imo River segment of the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway the Federal Government has been working on the road through a Chinese company. But the pace of work is at snail speed taking several years to complete that short segment of the road.

 

In Akwa Ibom, the condition is not different

Inter-states businesses between Akwa Ibom State and neighbouring states of Abia, Cross River and Rivers have dwindled, following the deplorable nature of virtually all federal roads linking the 33-year-old state.

The affected Trunk ‘A’ roads include the Uyo -Itu-Odukpani-Calabar road, Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road, Obinhe-Azumini, Ekparakwa road and Ekparakwa-Mkpat Enin-Ikot Abasi-East West road.

The Federal Government has abandoned the dualisation of the Calabar-Itu road, which was to commence from the Odukpani (Cross River) portion to the Itu (Akwa Ibom) section of the road, investigation by Nigerian Tribune revealed.

The project, which was handled by the then Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, was titled: ‘Dualisation of Odukpani- Itu (spur Ididep Itam) Ikot Ekpene Road’, and has the Contract Number 6321 with a firm, Design Construct Ltd, as supervising consultant.

The project, which also covers Ekim and Ididep villages in Itu Local Government Area and extends to the Ikot Ekpene – Odukpani – Calabar highway, has been abandoned since April 2019. It was learnt that the project site has been shut down and all construction equipment moved to other locations, while some persons employed when the work commenced, had been asked to leave due to the non-release of funds by the Federal Government to continue the work.

A commercial motorcyclist operator, Mr Uduak Udoh, who plies the Ididep, Ekim Itam, Ekoriko axis of the road, said the potholes had worsened the condition of the road for both motorists and pedestrians.

“The potholes on the road caused by contractor’s equipment have rendered the road impassable for us, especially in this rainy season. The Federal Government told us that the road would be completed within four years. We want them to complete this road for us to use,” he said.

Another resident, Mr Nsikan Peter, said more accidents had occurred on the road since it was abandoned. “We are facing real difficulty because a journey of 45 minutes from Uyo to Calabar now takes a whole day after paying N2,500 instead of N1,000 before now,” Mary Essien, a University of Calabar student lamented.

The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, however, blamed funding as the major reason for the stalling of the project, which he admitted, was awarded to Julius Berger Plc and the Chinese Civil Engineering Construction Company (CCECC), adding that the Federal Government has solicited SUKUK bond for loan with a view to completing the project.

“I have written and I am requesting funding support from the ministries of Works and Housing as well as Finance to assist in securing loan from the Sukuk Bond through the Debt Management Office (DMO),” he said, and urged the people to exercise patience for the road to be fixed.

“When we are going to Aba, the local motorcyclists would take us through the villages where you have to pay some tolls. Sometimes, they would deliberately transport you into the criminals’ den, where you would be dispossessed of cash, phones and other valuables,” Okon Isong, who runs a boutique along Ikpa road, Uyo, lamented.

“In fact, it has become a very difficult work to be a truck driver on this route,” Shehu Danjuma, a tanker driver lamented, as his truck got stuck at the Mkpat Enin failed portion of the highway.

 

roadsIt’s woe along federal highways in Edo 

Littered with potholes and deep gullies, travelling on the Benin-Auchi road which also leads to the university town of Ekpoma in Esan West Local Government Area of the state is now a nightmare.

Commuting to the northern Edo town of Auchi, located about 160 km from the state capital of Benin, which ordinarily is supposed to take one and a half hours, now lasts over four hours as a result of the terrible state of the road.

The smoothness of Sapele road from downtown Ring Road, Benin where it starts, evokes the imagery of a German Autobahn and will surely give a first traveller of the road the impression that it is a cruise all the way to Sapele and Warri until he hits suburban Evbuku.

Built by former President, Olusegun Obasanjo, the road is a perfect study in neglect as it is worsened at the bypass while motorists would have to navigate and meander their way through the highway.

Dualisation work on the Benin-Auchi road which connects Edo State all the way to Okene and Lokoja in Kogi State to Abuja, Kaduna, Zaria and Kano in the northern part of the country which was ongoing, albeit at a slow pace during ex-President Goodluck Jonathan time was completely abandoned for almost four years when President Muhammadu Buhari took the reins of power in May 2015, only for remedial work to start shortly before the last elections.

A journey to Warri which ordinarily is supposed to take less than an hour presently takes over two hours due to the very bad condition of the road and has also resulted in a steep hike in transport fare.

A businessman and owner of Baba Petrol (BP), Alhaji Egele, said that it was now hell moving petroleum products from Warri to Benin and Auchi, adding that on several occasions his drivers have had cause to sleep on the road because of the bad portions.

The oil magnate was furious, saying “We are going through hell on Benin-Warri and Benin-Auchi roads. The roads are in terrible situation. It takes my drivers days on the roads. These are journeys that are not more than one and a half hours. We have lost several vehicles on these roads.”

John, a student of Ambrose Alli University, Ekpoma, added that a thousand words could not describe the agony of the locals who need to go through the Benin-Auchi road which runs through the heart of the town every day.

The coordinator of Ijaw Liberation Movement, Mr. Ezekiel Daniel said that it is vexatious that while President Muhammadu Buhari is planning to build a $1.6 billion railroad to neighbouring Maradi in Niger Republic, the people of the Niger Delta region where the bulk of the money is derived have been abandoned by the Federal Government.

“President Buhari and the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, must immediately do something about the bad condition of roads in the Niger Delta. This is the region that produces the bulk of the wealth of the nation yet the people live in squalor,” he said.

 

2021 budget: We’re funding two roads, a bridge in each geopolitical zone —FG

However, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has said the Federal Government has selected two roads and a bridge in each of the six geopolitical zones for enhanced funding during the 2021 budget year.

Fashola, who spoke during the defence of his ministry’s proposals in the 2021 Budget, listed roads whose completion would be prioritised during the budget year to include those categorised as A1-A9 adding that 18 of such road projects, which have reached appreciable level of completion had been identified across the country for completion within 12 to 15 months.

The roads and bridges, the Minister said, include those leading to the ports and major agricultural hubs across the six geopolitical zones of the country adding that the decision to prioritise those projects was in line with the mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari, whom, he recalled repeatedly emphasised the necessity to focus the Budget on completion of projects.

According to him, other categories of road and bridge projects on which the ministry will focus for completion during the budget year also include those that have attained 70 per cent completion adding that subject to the availability of funds, such projects would be completed as early as possible.

Reiterating that the major challenge of the ministry in completing ongoing projects on time was inadequate budgetary provisions, the minister explained further that aside the fact that the funds were inadequate, there was also the problem of timely release of funds to sustain annual cash flow requirement level adding that although funds from the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund (PIDF) and SUKUK Bond had helped to bring some funding relief, the ministry’s exposure had continued to expand due to annual addition of new projects.

 

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