The condition of the 375km Abuja-Kano, road which passes through Kaduna and Zaria towns, has continued to deteriorate even as reconstruction of the dual carriage highway is suffering from undue delay.
Different reasons have been given as to why work on the project is sluggish, including alleged poor funding by the federal government occasioned by failure of the contractor, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, to deploy enough equipment and manpower to fast track the reconstruction of the road.
The House of Representatives Committee on Works, led by Abubakar Kabir Abubakar, had last week tongue-lashed the construction giant, which is solely handling the project, for subjecting millions of Nigerians to hardship while plying the road, and threatened to split the contract and bring on board other contractors to hasten completion.
Accidents leading deaths are a recurring decimal along the road which is dotted with hundreds of potholes, diversions and other obstructions.
The Federal Executive Council (FEC) had in December 2017 approved the contract for the reconstruction of the road but work commenced in July 2018.
The contract was awarded at the sum of N155 billion with a completion period of 36 months.
Julius Berger has so far received over N50 billion, representing 32 per cent of the total budget for the road, Daily Trust learnt.
Progress of work on the road is said to be at 26.7 per cent, 18 months into the 36-month completion period.
Our correspondents in Abuja, Kaduna, Zaria and Kano, who travelled over the road and closely monitored the progress, report that while reconstruction work has been slow, the degradation that necessitated the award of the contract had continued due to weather conditions, traffic congestion and lack of maintenance.
Many portions of the road have been eroded with pot holes and gullies forming in the middle and cracks of different sizes across its length and breadth.
Long stretches of what used to be road shoulders have been washed off while large portions have disappeared.
Investigations carried out by our correspondents revealed that there are no less than 3,000 potholes between Abuja and Kano with most of them concentrated between the Kaduna and Abuja stretch.
For instance, between the flyover at the Abuja junction in Kaduna and Olam Farm, our correspondents counted at least 126 potholes of different shapes and sizes.
From Olam to Rijana, there are 114 potholes, 16 of which are very deep. And from Rijana village to Doka village, there are 46 potholes; while from Doka to Katari Junction, there are 159 cracks and holes.
The lane going to Kaduna from Abuja is even worse as there are 170 cracks and holes from Katari to Doka, and 718 potholes from Doka to Rijana.
Our correspondents counted 503 potholes from Rijana to Olam Farm, while from Olam to Kaduna Toll Gate, there are 298 potholes. And from Toll Gate to Gonin Gora, there are 246 holes, giving a total of 1,935 potholes on the two sides of the road within a stretch of 85km.
Motorists plying the routes who were spoken to complained about the effect of the bad road on their lives and the vehicles.
"It is a death trap; the road damages our tyres because if you are not lucky and fall into a big pothole, it will just tear your tyre or force you to veer off the road," said a private driver who gave his name simply as Ben.
One of our correspondents saw three broken vehicles that have broken down between Kakau and Katari. "The problem is not even fixing the vehicle when it has a problem; the road exposes us to security challenges," said another motorist, whose front tyre was cut by a deep pothole around Kakau.
Apart from the reported incessant cases of kidnapping by armed bandits over the years, the gridlock has also become the lot of motorists towards Jere and Zuba due to diversions.
The 200km stretch Abuja-Kaduna road has four diversions with the first at the Kaduna-Suleja junction; then at Baban-Tunga by Royal Ceramics. There is another at Iddah and the fourth diversion located at Issah village.
Some motorists who spoke with daily trust expressed frustration over the slow pace of dualisation work on the road, which they said has continued to cause pain to travellers and motorists.
A commercial driver, Aliyu Usman, whose vehicle broke down at Baban-Tunga village, said the deplorable state of the road has continued to inflict hardships on motorists.
Mohammed Ghali, a resident of Tafa town who washes car off the roadside, said no day passed without a vehicle getting involved in an accident along the axis due to potholes.
"Sometimes I mobilise people to fill some of the potholes with sand, yet vehicles do run into the potholes and have tyre burst," he said.
Abdullahi Abubakar, a resident of Mararaban Iddah junction, said, "Just last week, two vehicles were involved in an accident after they ran into potholes... One of the vehicles summersaulted," he said.
He said 12 people lost their lives recently after a bus rammed into a pothole, saying some Good Samaritans rushed to the scene and rescued those that sustained injuries.
Frustration along Zaria-Kaduna
The Zaria-Kaduna axis of the highway also has its peculiar problem as hundreds of travellers spend hours in gridlocks that often result in accidents, loss of lives, loss of productive hours and damage to goods worth millions of naira.
Investigation by Daily Trust revealed that three parts of the about-70-kilometre road pose serious challenges to motorists.
They are: Kwanar Tsintsiya to Jaji, a segment that is about 35km from Zaria which is described by many road users as "danger zones". There is another trouble close to the diversion point at Birnin Yero village, adjacent the Federal Road Safety Corps' (FRSC) office.
The last trouble spot is the stretch between Maraban Jos and Rigachikun, which is about 10km.
Many motorists who spoke with our correspondent lamented what they called "the snail pace of the reconstruction work."
Alhaji Zakari Sada, who is one of the motorists that was recently caught in traffic gridlock at the Birnin Yero axis, said he spent about five hours in the gridlock before he eventually struggled his way to his destination.
Another motorist who plies the road almost on daily basis, Malam Mukhtar Musa, called on relevant authorities to "push the contractors to speed up the work or open up the completed portions."
The Zaria Unit Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps, Malam Abubakar Murabus Tata, said the command in Birnin Yero is doing its best to ensure free passage of motorists.
Our correspondent observed dangerous potholes on most portions of the Zaria-Kaduna road, especially on the stretches where the road is reduced to single lane.
Kano-Zaria portion a death trap
One of our correspondents who travelled from Kano to Zaria counted two major diversions, several minor diversions and many potholes.
The first major diversion starts from Karfi village in Kura Local Government Area of Kano State as drivers are compelled to use one lane up to Kwanar Dangora in Kiru Local Government Area of the state.
From Kwanar Dangora up to Zaria, drivers use different lanes depending on the portion that suits them.
In Kura town alone, there are three different minor diversions: the first at the entrance of the town from Kano; the second at the middle of the town and the third at the end of the town. There is also another minor diversion at Kadawa village in Garun-Malam Local Government of the state.
Again, shortly after Kura town, Daily Trust observed a place where the road was nearly cut-off by a ditch that always made it difficult for drivers to pass.
A journey from Karfi to Kwanar Dangora that hitherto took drivers 30 to 35 minutes now takes them an hour or more.
The road from Dakatsalle-Gangarida villages up to Kwanar Dangora is terribly bad as drivers have to manoeuvre to avoid potholes.
Malam Ali Sheka, a commercial driver that frequents the Kano-Zaria road, told Daily Trust that they face difficulties plying the road because of the on-going rehabilitation.
"Many drivers and passengers have lost their lives on this road since the commencement of the rehabilitation work," he said.
"I suggest that the company handling the work should from time to time open the blocked portions of the road, especially during festivities, including Mondays and Fridays, because of increased number of motorists," he said.
Daily Trust recalled that while at the National Assembly to defend President Muhammadu Buhari's recent loan request of $22.718 billion presented to the Senate, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said there was no money to execute a total of 524 on-going road projects across the country.
According to him, "524 roads projects are currently being executed. N73 billion was released this year; we have contractors willing to do the work but we cannot pay them," he said.
"We have had deficit budgets for a long time and so, we have to borrow... (for) over 4 years, we have never received full funding for any budget. There is deficit and we cannot finance it. We must find a way to finance these assets. We will be spending money today to secure tomorrow's assets," he said.
Addressing Julius Berger alongside officials of the Ministry of Works and the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), the Chairman of the House Committee on Works, Abubakar Kabir Abubakar (APC, Kano), said the construction company had by its actions and inactions created a situation leading to loss of lives and traffic gridlock on the Abuja-Kano road despite being paid mobilisation of over N50 billion.
He said there are clear indications that Julius Berger will not complete the project within the stipulated 36 months as stated in the contract agreement, insisting that the company does not have the capacity to concurrently handle the various contracts it was awarded across the country.
"We will not shy away from our responsibility in taking hard decisions no matter how difficult or painful the outcome might be," he said.
"What is paramount to us right now is the wellbeing and security of Nigerians traveling on these roads and it is our constitutional duty to look out for the best interests of Nigerians," he said.
Responding, the representative of Julius Berger PLC, Benjamin Bott, who is the company's Regional Technical Manager, said the company is doing everything possible to complete the work as scheduled.
He regretted the loss of lives and inconveniences caused people using the Abuja-Kano and Lagos-Ibadan highways.
Mr Bott said palliative measures are being put in place to reduce the hardship being experienced by motorists on the road by patching potholes and collaborating with the FRSC to control traffic and reduce accidents.
He disclosed that some sections were not opened to traffic as required because they have not been completed.
The Julius Berger official, however, informed the committee that about 60km of the completed section of the road will be opened for use in the next two months while work on other sections is going on.
But in a statement on Thursday last week, Rep. Abubakar said: "The committee doubts strongly the capacity of Julius Berger Plc to deliver the remaining 73.3 per cent in the next 18 months.
"Consequently, the committee directed the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing to consider the option of involving other contractors to handle different sections of the road, so as to ensure that the project is delivered in record time."