Hope Rises for Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road

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The federal road connecting Abia and Akwa Ibom States has collapsed so much that it has become a source of pain for road users. Emmanuel Ugwu captures the excitement generated by the federal government’s move to rehabilitate the road

The sigh of relief was palpable as the people of Ikwuano Local Government of Abia State gathered to witness the flag off of rehabilitation efforts on the Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene federal road. This particular road, like other trunk A roads in Abia, has over the years, degenerated to the point that it became a huge distress for road users. The stretch of the road is dotted with frightening potholes, artificial rivers and swamps. During the rainy season drivers plying the road had to make detours and plough deep into Ikwuano villages in order to avoid terribly bad spots. In fact, the Okwe Ukwu axis where the flag off ceremony was performed was notorious for a long stretch of water nicknamed “Okwe River” that daring motorists had to wade through in order to proceed on their journey. The situation was so bad that a journey that should normally last one hour could take as long as three hours, especially during rainy season. The excitement was so incredible that the traditional ruler of Ajatanigu, King Larry Ogbonnaya Agwu broke protocol during the traditional presentation of kola nut as he veered off and started talking about the distress the poor state of the road has caused road users. “We pity other Nigerians who use this road,” he said, adding that the road had wrecked many vehicles, claimed lives and maimed many people.

It was therefore not surprising but heartwarming as the two federal lawmakers whose constituency hosts the Abia end of the Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene Road poured encomiums on the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, for not only approving the rehabilitation of the road but for the immediate commencement of palliative works. The road falls within Abia Central senatorial district that Senator Theodore Orji represents in the Senate while Hon Sam Onuigbo represents Ikwuano/Umuahia federal constituency in the House of Representatives. Both lawmakers said that they collaborated in drawing the attention of the federal government to the suffering of the people using the road. And so for the two federal lawmakers, it became a dream come true when Fashola gave the nod for the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to start palliative works on the road.

This effort would at least provide relative relief for road users in this yuletide when the volume of traffic would double or even triple. The minister also raised hope that it would not be just a temporary relief as the road would be reconstructed next year. In his directive to FERMA, Fashola said that the agency “should commence repair of the road within the available budgetary provision in the agency’s 2016 budget while preparation would be made towards total reconstruction in 2017.”

To underscore the importance of the Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene Road, the minister further noted that the reconstruction would be carried out “with the possibility of providing rigid pavement (concrete road) due to high volume of heavy duty vehicles plying the road.” Though the road is a direct link between Abia and Akwa Ibom states, it also indirectly links Rivers and Cross River states and even Cameroun hence it is among the national network of roads of huge economic importance.

Before he climbed into excavator to officially flag off the commencement of the palliative work at the flagging off ceremony held at Okwe Ukwu autonomous community in Ikwuano Local Government, Orji commended the federal government for realising the importance of this particular road to the economy of not only the states it links but also the national economy. He said that the road has always been in very bad shape due to the heavy vehicles that ply on it on a daily basis, adding that both him and Onuigbo joined forces to draw the attention of the federal government to the sufferings of road users that travel on this road. The Abia Central Senator, who was the immediate past governor of Abia, recalled that the bad state of the Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene federal road was a knotty issue for his administration. “When I was governor, I saw hell on this road; If you repair it, it soon collapsed,” he said.

However he noted that FERMA had always been making apparently feeble efforts to repair the road, saying, “they (FERMAA) will come, do some magic and disappear and the road would degenerate to worse condition.” He therefore urged FERMA and the contractor (Ferotech Construction Company, FCC) it engaged for the palliative work “to do a very good job” as any shoddy job on this problematic road would create more hardship for those who ply the road. Orji stated that it would not go down well with the people who have been enduring so much pains and loss of man hours just to travel from Abia to Akwa Ibom through this route.

Onuigbo, who hails from Ikwuano where much of the bad portions on the road are located assured that the palliative work was just the beginning of the journey to permanently fix the road, adding that “despite the dire economic situation in the country, which has stalled the execution of capital projects, we have been determined that our people deserve some respite. We are not done yet.

“The road serves as an important channel through which petroleum products, cement and other key economic materials are moved from Akwa Ibom, Cross River through Umuahia to Aba, Port Harcourt and other parts of the country.” He called on the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Fashola, to keep his promise of the reconstruction of the road in 2017 so that “our pains, our sufferings, and our anguish on this road will be a thing of the past.” Onuigbo said that in the course of various representations to draw the attention of the federal government to repair the road, teams from both the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and FERMA had respectively visited and inspected the road. He then followed it up with a motion on the floor of the House hence the road was captured in the 2016 Appropriation Law and after several representations to the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, the approval was given for Umuahia- Ikot Ekpene road to start wearing a new look.

With every finger pointing at FERMA for not doing enough to prevent the road from total collapse, the state director of FERMA, Engr. Abraham Akange assured that this time around the agency would not allow shoddy job to be done by the contractor. He said that FERMA would ensure that quality materials were used, adding that all the materials meant for the road would be subjected to analysis to checkmate constant failure of the road. Akange explained that the problem of the Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene federal road was that it was not built to carry heavy traffic hence the road could no longer cope with the weight of heavy duty vehicles plying on it. He lamented that the absence of haulage transportation has put much stress on the country’s road network and urged the federal government to lay more emphasis on rail transport in order to ease the stress on the roads and make them last longer.

The assurance by FERMA state director did much to assuage the hard feelings of King Larry Agwu. The royal father was blunt, saying that the communities were already frustrated by the ineffectiveness of FERMA to keep the road in good shape. In fact, he confessed that the communities would not have allowed FERMA to do anything on the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road again if not that the presence of the federal lawmakers assured them that something good was going to happen this time around. Apparently mocking the agency for its ineptitude, King Larry said that in the past occasions that FERMA came to repair the road, the agency “used kettle to pour bitumen on the road.” The traditional ruler of Ajatanigu, who spoke on behalf of other royal fathers at the ceremony, told FERMA that the people would no longer tolerate shoddy job by the agency as was the case in the several occasions FERMA did palliative works on the road. However, he said that all the needed assistance and cooperation would be given to FERMA and the contractor handling the job provided they were prepared “to give us quality job.”

As the palliative work on the ever busy Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene Road is progressing, the excitement would continue to heighten more so as Fashola has promised that total reconstruction would eventually commence. Vice chairman of the Abia State chapter of the National Union of Road Transport Workers (NURTW), Comrade Eze Okwulehie, said that the union members, who are mostly commercial transport drivers, were happy at the new turn of events on the road, adding that “everybody using the Umuahia – Ikot Ekpene Road should be happy that the road is receiving federal attention.” From palliative work the journey to smooth ride on the road has started and by the time reconstruction would eventually be carried out the pains and distress of travelling from Umuahia, the capital city of Abia to Akwa Ibom State and beyond would end.