analysisBy Shehu Abubakar
In our October 27, 2012 edition, our reporter recounted his experience on the Jega-Kontagora road from Birnin Kebbi, which many describe as a death trap because of the number of potholes causing accidents on the road. This week, another of our reporters relieve his experience after travelling from Abuja to Yauri in Kebbi State, through Minna, Tegina and Kontagora.
When I set out to Yauri from Abuja, my household saw me off that morning to where I picked a Keke NAPEP (tricycle) some meters away from my house in Gwarimpa estate that will convey me to the Kubwa-Abuja expressway where I picked a bus to Suleja. Usually, my children don't see me beyond the gate of my house whenever I am travelling.
They opted to see me off to the main road believing that by doing so they will impress me and possibly agree to bring a lot of fish and other sea food for them from Yauri. This is because I told them earlier that my colleagues who are from Kebbi state told me when they heard that I was going to Yauri that I will eat the best and sweetest fish from natural water - the Yauri fish. They were worried because I did not hide the truth away from them, "I will make sure I eat remain before I bring for you."
At Suleja, where I met a small Golf car loading to Kontagora, an elderly but friendly man whom I later understand to be an official of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW) walked up to me and politely suggested to me that if I have the means I should pay for the front seat meant for two passengers and stay alone for convenience. I thanked him and did as he said.
The about one and a half hour journey from Suleja to Minna, the Niger state capital, was slow and eventful. It is either the driver is trying to dodge one pothole or the other, or he is clearing at a military checkpoint for questions like 'from where to where? What is in those bags? etc. the construction work going on along the road is also not helping matters.
Musa, the driver of our commercial vehicle, sensing that we were not comfortable with the journey, volunteered to explain; "I do not even know what this company is doing. They came and scraped everywhere, destroyed the road we were managing, for over a year now they have not made any noticeable progress. So many vehicles lost their tyres here."
I asked him if that is the only road linking Abuja with Minna, he answered in the affirmative, "Yes, it is the only one. It is this same road all the retired Generals are using to Minna and beyond. This is the shortest road from Abuja to Kontagora from where you can link up to Ibadan and the rest of the south western states, Zuru to Gummi and access Sokoto and the rest of Zamfara state. From Kontagora it also leads to Yauri, Koko, Jega, Birnin Kebbi and the rest of Kebbi state. There are several Generals, including former Heads of State, an ex-president and so many national leaders from this end, but look at how bad the road is."
As that discussion was going on in the vehicle, we were already driving pass Zungeru, heading towards Tegina, a famous junction leading to Kaduna through Birnin Gwari, Kontagora, Mokwa to the western states and of course the Minna road we were driving on. Few meters to Tegina junction, we suddenly came across a very big ditch that had almost cut off one lane of the dual-carriage way.
"Watch it," I shouted at the driver, who does not look worried even when the very big ditch on the road was just before us. Few inches to the ditch, he stopped the car for the two other vehicles coming from the opposite direction to pass. The ditch was on our lane, so we had to give way. I was really terrified. Our luck was that our driver knew of the ditch because he often passes that road. "What could have happened if somebody passing that road for the first time suddenly comes across that killer ditch?" I asked aloud.
"This is not the only one before Kontagora. There is another one on the center of the road very close to Tegina junction. The biggest is still ahead at a village near 'Rijiyan Nagwamatse' before Kontagora. Most accidents along this road take place at either of those ditches. Those accidents are always fatal. You can see that the ditches are big enough to swallow a car without any trace. So, when one falls in there, the damage is always too bad," Musa said.
I remained worried and thankful to God for saving us from an accident better imagined. The sight of the ditch actually terrified me for long. Thank God, in no distant time we were at Tegina junction where most vehicles passing that road stop to refresh. With two cold sachet water at N5 each, hot fried chicken at a 'thank you' price of N700 for a full one and a N20 cola nut, I retired back to the car still thinking of that narrow escape at the ditch.
From Tegina to Kontagora, it was a road full of avoidable and unnecessary bends. In some places you have houses and structures built very close to the roads with children either crossing in between vehicles or standing just by the road side playing or waiting to obstruct traffic. The road is narrow and in some places covered by sand.
Close to Kontagora, the driver slowed down and showed me another ditch, also taking over almost a whole lane but this time around on the other lane of the road: Kontagora to Tegina. "This one can even contain a bigger car. It is bigger than the other two and yet there is no sign indicating that there is danger except for a volunteer who cut branches of tree that he is using to flag down vehicles.
"Wonderful! What will happen if this volunteer gets tired and leave this place? Who does this job in the night? What happens when it is raining and water covers the place?" I was actually querying Musa as if he was responsible but he simply said, "You need to see how the last vehicle that fell into the ditch last week folded. It took these ditches two rainy seasons to expand to this extent, nobody did anything since then."
Forty minutes later, I had disembarked at Kontagora and boarded another car to Yauri, a 90 kilometers journey that lasted over two hours. I thought that may be the worst potion on that route. Vehicles were leaving the tarred road and passing through farms and road side because they are smoother than the damaged tar. Suddenly, I started feeling severe headache. My blood pressure rose. "How do I return to Abuja from here?" was my major problem.
But by the time I finally settled down in my hotel room at Yauri, the question bugging my mind changed to "Has any serving Nigerian President came this way within the past five years?" Mazi Chinedu Okafor, who said he has been in Kebbi State for over 20 years, said no sitting president visited Yauri within the past five years, adding, "It was Obasanjo that came here last as a President and he came during his first tenure between 1999 and 2003."
In short, the journey to Yauri from Abuja, through Minna, Tegina and Kontagora, can be traumatic, no thanks to the poor state of the roads, which are desperately yearning for government's attention.