18 August 2011

Nigeria: Politics of Enugu/Onitsha Expressway Rehabilitation


Abuja — The sorry state of the nation's roads has been in the front burner of national discourse for quite some time now with the Federal Government paying lip service to the rehabilitation of the roads. The roads have consequently become deathtraps for Nigerians plying them.

Analysts, for instance, cite instance of Diezani Alison-Madueke, who as the then Minister of Works broke down and wept on the deplorable state of the Benin/Ore Road with a vow to fix it. However that vow was never fulfilled before she left office and has not been fixed ever since.

Also grossly neglected is the Enugu/Onitsha Expressway built over thirty years ago. On account of the deplorable condition of the highway, it has become a deathtrap for commuters.

The road is incidentally the only entrance into the South East from the South West and Edo/Delta axis. It also serves as the entry point from the North Central and Enugu states into Anambra State.

By the last count, part of the road is under the threat of being washed off by gully erosion, a situation that has made it virtually impossible for some categories of vehicles to pass through it.

In spite of the fact that the Federal Government had in 2009 awarded the contract for the rehabilitation of the road to the CCC Construction Company Ltd at a cost of N6billion, it is instructive to note that the Federal Government has never shown real commitment to its rehabilitation. It was learnt that the government has only made a budgetary allocation for the project in the sum of N1billion.

This state of affairs, which has lingered for over two years despite all the promises made by the Federal Government to fix the road, prompted Anambra State governor, Peter Obi, to ask Abuja for permission to undertake the rehabilitation of the road to ease the problems being faced by commuters.

Worried by the dilapidated state of the express road and the slow pace of work, Obi wrote a letter to President Goodluck Jonathan seeking the permission of the President to fund the rehabilitation of the road and for monies expended to be refunded to the state later. The letter, incidentally, was one of the efforts in that regard.

The letter read, "Your Excellency, may I sincerely thank you for your commitment to the building of a better Nigeria and respectfully bring to your kind attention the critical situation of the Niger Bridge Head-Awka-Amansea border dual carriage road.

"This road is the only entrance into the South East from the South West and Edo/Delta areas of the South South and from the North Central and Enugu States into Anambra State. The road has so much degenerated that it has become a deathtrap to commuters as it has developed into gullies, a situation which has made it impossible for most categories of vehicles to pass through it." Being a Trunk A Road the Federal Government had taken due notice of the level of dilapidation and had accordingly awarded the contract to CCC Construction Nigeria LTD. But the project is not being properly funded."

Obi further wrote, "Mr. President as a committed leader who is sensitive to the yearnings of the people of Nigeria we appeal for your intervention to stop the continued loss of lives on these roads by directing proper funding of this road.

"Alternatively sir, may I humbly appeal that Mr. President authorises the Government of Anambra State to borrow funds from financial institutions and fund the construction of especially the critical portions of the Niger Bridge head to Ziks Roundabout and from Amansea/Awka to Amawbia. The total sum for these critical areas as per already awarded contract by the Federal Ministry of Works is approximately N6billion. These funds borrowed and expended on this project with your authorisation will be refunded to Anambra State accordingly."

This last letter was written in May but by press time, the Federal Government was yet to react to the appeal to either speed up the pace of work on the road or allow the Anambra State to fund the construction of the road.

It would be recalled that the President had during his campaign made various promises including the total rehabilitation of the nation's highways.

For the South East he had pledged construction of a second Niger Bridge within one year in office. He also promised to ensure the total rehabilitation of the Enugu/Onitsha Expressway, which links between the Eastern part of Nigeria with the Western and northern parts of the country.

With these promises and agreement extracted from President Jonathan by the Governors of the South East they went on to mobilise the people to vote overwhelmingly for the President.

It is on record that President Jonathan recorded his highest votes from the zone. But four months after the April elections, the Enugu/Onitsha highway, is yet to receive any facelift. In fact, as it stands, the condition of the road has further depreciated, especially with the rainy season impacting on it.

Besides the stress, which commuters encounter on the road, it has also become a haven for men of the underworld who take advantage of the failed portions of the highway to wreck havoc on travellers. Virtually on daily basis, there are disturbing reports of commuters getting attacked on the road.

Many have also lost their lives on the road, while some have been maimed due to accidents that regularly take place on the road. In the same vein, properties running into billions of Naira are estimated to have been lost on the highway.

Jude Nweke, a transporter who plies the road, told Daily Independent that accessing the road has become a nightmare to him and his colleagues. Among the challenges they are confronted with on the road, he recalled were robbery attacks, accidents and increasing cost of maintaining the vehicles plying the road.

"We consider it a bonus any day one comes home after passing through the road without visiting the auto mechanics. In the last three months, I have changed my shock absorbers twice, and this was not easy. These were the same shock absorbers that I could use for over a year and half or more. There are other running costs like increase in the volume of fuel burnt, other were wears and tears like brake pads, not including the man-hours lost on one trip. Of course nobody talks of embarking on more than one trip these days as against three or four that we used to make in the past," he lamented.

Bad as the increasing cost of accessing the road is, Nweke added that the greatest danger he and his colleagues face everyday is the menace of robbers who take advantage of failed portions of the highway to unleash mayhem on them. He recounted an ugly experience where he was attacked some metres to Umunya Junction, Anambra section of the road recently, and his passengers were dispossessed of their belongings. The incident, he regretted, occurred barely after a week of his being robbed at Umumba, Enugu State section of the same road.

Indigenes and residents of South East, thus insist that it is now time for the President to honour his promises to the people. Apart from fixing the Enugu/Onitsha Highway, they remind President Jonathan that the pledge is not only awarding the contract for the second Niger Bridge but also ensuring that it is built.

Their demand is on the backdrop that successive government in the past had deceived the people by claiming to have awarded contracts for the bridge when in actual fact there was no design in place.

The President should as a matter of urgency either mobilise the contractors, CCC Nigeria Ltd back to site to immediately commence the rehabilitation of the Enugu/Onitsha Expressway or give Governor Obi the permission to take over the rehabilitation of the road to avoid continued loss of lives, they maintain.

Stakeholders also commend the efforts of Obi who in the last five years of his administration has through the prudent use of resources attained tremendous transformation of the state in the areas of road construction, building of bridges, educational and health facilities.

They add that the Federal Government should not play politics with the welfare and lives of the people, expressing fears that some hawks in the Peoples Democratic Party led Federal Government would want to frustrate the efforts of the governor and would not want him to take the glory of being the one that rehabilitated the road. They recall with pains that the Federal Government is presently constructing the East/West road at a whopping cost of N256billion but finds it hard to do so for the roads in the South East as well as the new bridge across the Niger.

To these concerned commentators, politics should be left in the realms of politics while the welfare of the people should be uppermost in the minds of the leaders.

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