THE Calabar-Itu highway, a federal link road connecting Cross River and Akwa Ibom states, has become a major eyesore following years of neglect by successive administrations. The deplorable state of the roads, according to some businessmen who daily ply the road from Aba to Uyo and Calabar for food business; garri, yam, rice and other farm edibles majorly produced in northern Cross River State, including Ugep, Ogoja, Odukpani, Obubura and Ikom, has dwindled the volume of trade between the two sister states and other parts of the South-South and South-East regions.
“We have encountered accidents on several occasions along this road trying to get to Calabar, the state capital, while trying to access the northern part of Cross River state, where we buy our farm produce like garri, yams and rice for sale in major markets in other states,” Nwachukwu Nnana, a dealer in farm produce laments.
“Because of the terribly bad condition of the road, bandits have turned the forested areas into their dens where they intermittently come out to attack travellers, cashing in on the fact that the vehicle must go very slowly to be able to navigate the contours and deep gullies that have overtaken the road,” Affiong Bassey, a major garri dealer added.
“An ordinary movement between Uyo and Calabar that usually lasted for about one hour now takes eight hours and this has emboldened the criminals to kidnap, rob and rape women at will”, Nsikak Asuquo, another traveller and student at the University of Calabar (UNICAL) said, soliciting the cooperation of the state and federal governments and urging them to “stop playing politics with the road” while lamenting that “accidents due to the deplorable condition of the road have claimed several lives.”
Speaking on the state of the road at the weekend, the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Niger Delta Affairs, Senator Ita Enang, painted the picture of hopelessness, lamenting that all his efforts at getting the road fixed had been frustrated by governors Udom Emmanuel and Ben Ayade of Cross River State, including serving senators and House Representatives members from the two states.
Senator Ita Enang also slammed Governor Emmanuel and the senators from Cross River and Akwa Ibom states for not joining efforts to attract funding for the Calabar-Itu-road.
Enang recalled that he had been alone in the forefront of the struggle to draw the attention of the central government to the plights of the people of Nigeria plying the road for all purposes, but regretted that the funds, including N6bn, N4.7bn and N3.8bn respectively, scheduled in every budget year ended up being unspent funds because of what he described as lack of implementable commitment by the political actors.
“I struggled from 2015, I got the first N6bn in 2015/2016 budget and when it was to be awarded, it was rehabilitation that was advertised. To rehabilitate the road from Ikot Ekpene to Calabar, I said no. I took the budget to the Bureau of Public Procurement. It was advertised in the Federal Government’s journal that this is not what was in the budget.
“By the time I was able to overcome that fight, the budget had elapsed, the year had gone and the N6bn was gone. I struggled in the following year to have N4.7bn. I split the road into two because if I had not, the amount I got in the budget would not have been able to do the initial mobilisation. I split into two the sections that started from Odukpani T-junction to the power plant in Odukpani. Then from there to Oku-Iboku junction and then start it up to where you have Mba Itam.
“That was awarded to Julius Berger Plc. That is the amount of the money I got for that year that the budget was able to take for the mobilisation and Julius Berger was paid that money but it wasn’t enough for them to wholly mobilise, but we still got some more money for them.
“Therefore, I have endeavoured and tried but I will not surrender because winners never quit and when God sees the burden that the people put on you, it will give you the ability,” Enang said.
He continues: “I want all the members of the House of Representatives from Akwa Ibom, ten of them; I want all the senators from Akwa Ibom, three of them; I want all the members of the House of Representatives from Cross River State, eight of them; I want all the three senators from Cross River State, the three of them to lift up their hands to God and say this is what I have contributed to get this road funded.
“And let the governor of Akwa Ibom State also lift up his hands and say this is what I have done. For the governor of Cross River State, Ben Ayade, I want to speak for him that he has made some efforts for that road with me but it’s Akwa Ibom State that has not”.
He reiterated his earlier position that Governor Emmanuel ought to have plough back the refund of N78.9bn he got from the Federal Government on the road, adding that the refund was the amount invested on federal roads by the previous governments of the state which the governor had received and therefore he should have reinvested same on the Akwa Ibom section of the Calabar-Itu-road.
“This is why you heard me say that when N78.9bn was refunded by President Buhari to the Akwa Ibom State government, that money ought to have been used in handling the Akwa Ibom aspects of the Calabar-Itu road. It was the money that the governments of this state under Victor Attah and under Godswill Akpabio saved for the state by applying it to federal roads which was refunded to this government. This government ought to have applied same on the road,” Enang stressed.
However, the Akwa Ibom State government has stressed the need for the polity not to be overheated by matters that should ordinarily be resolved for the general interest of the people in a round table discussion, explaining that the enormity of work on the highway demands a holistic action plan by all stakeholders towards overcoming the challenge, instead of playing politics and blame game.
The Senior Special Assistant (SSA) on Media to Governor Udom Emmanuel, Mr. Aniefiok Macaulay, blamed Enang over his persistent outburst on a problem that should be tackled jointly by state and federal political actors from the state instead of resorting to political bickering.
“In matters like this, Enang, as a representative of Akwa Ibom at the centre should have consulted with the governor and other stakeholders for a proper framework to be perfected on how to effectively address the challenge of fixing the road instead of playing politics,” he stressed.
In the same vein, another aide of Governor Emmanuel, the SSA in charge of Electronic Media, Mr. Sampson Akpan, lamented that matters of socio-economic developments are always reduced to the ridiculous level of party politics, noting that “human development and problem of poverty do not know whether you are in the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) ruling Akwa Ibom State or the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) at the centre.”
He harped on the need for Enang to rally the three senators and the 10 House of Representatives members of Akwa Ibom extraction, in alliance with their counterparts from Cross River; three senators and eight House of Representatives members to work in tandem in order to crack the political conundrum and other bottlenecks that combined to stall progress in fixing the strategic road by successive governments.
Worried by the untold hardship faced by travellers on the road, successive leaderships of the state House of Assembly since the former governor, Godswill Akpabio’s era (2007-2015), including the current era of Speaker Aniekan Bassey, had embarked on an oversight responsibilities of inspecting the road with a view to taking inventory of the failed portions as reference point for legislative action.
But all of these efforts, according to Akuku Aniekan Udom, a community leader in Ukanafun Local Government Area, would continue to prove unsuccessful because of “selfish political interests”.
“Since the return of democratic political process in 1999, politicians no longer exist for the benefit of the people that voted for them in return for better socio-economic well-being, but for their selfish political interests. That is why, you see that any projects that they are involved in are usually stunted and dragged for a long time before implementation because playing politics with it would translate into the tax payers’ money being diverted into private pockets.
“And the funny thing is that the politicians would only keep the cash in liquid form waiting for the next election because politicians think only about the next election instead of the next generation,” he submitted.
Also, Chief Anwana Esin (Jnr), a retired civil servant of the old Cross River, warned of another round of political conflagration akin to the recent #EndSars’ protests, pointing out that “a time will come when politicians’ houses will be the targets of the restive youths who are completely fed up with empty promises of politicians because many of them cannot account for what they are using their constituency projects funds to do”.
“If you come to Oron, where I come from, you will be shocked to your marrows that the axis that produces most oil and gas resources that make the state to be the number one revenue earner from the Federation Account in the last 14 years has no development imprints, but rather suffers political subjugation and deprivation for its continuous agitation for recognition as oil-bearing communities in the gazette,” he stressed.
According to Esin, a scion of the Esin royal dynasty of the Oro nation, it is time for the political class, religious groups and affiliates and the traditional institutions to rise up against forces that thwart physical developments and urged politicians to deliver on their constituency projects as the nation inches towards another general election year in 2023.
Besides, he canvassed what he describes as “a genuine and patriot synergy between the state government, National Assembly members and the South-South Governor’s Forum” with a view to addressing the infrastructural challenges in the region.
“Because of this sort of fight which is basically fought from party lines, Akwa Iibom has missed a lot in terms of development during the years of the former Managing Director (MD) of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC), Obong Nsima Ekere’s ambition of wanting to unseat the incumbent Governor Udom Emmanuel of the PDP from the opposition APC”, Esin recalled.
“You can’t come into my state to do any project without informing me”, was the usual refrain of Emmanuel during the era leading to a number of ugly scenarios playing out on some road construction sites undertaken for repairs by the NDDC as security agents deployed by the then Commissioner for Works, Akparawa Ephraim Inyang-eyen, were in the habit of chasing away NDDC contractors, accusing them of shoddy job that needed state government’s quality assurance before execution.
“Maybe because of this political infighting among contending forces locally in Nigeria, that is why the Federal Government has to take such a misplaced decision of building road projects in rail to other neighbouring countries, including Niger Republic, when, Nigeria continues to grapple with inadequacy of roads since the return of democracy in 1999,” he noted.
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