Adibe Emenyonu writes on the harrowing experience the people of Edo and Delta pass through as a result of failed roads
Last July, the Senate Committee on Works led by its Vice Chairman, Senator Clifford Odia, an indigene of Edo State and of the Edo Central senatorial zone extraction led other members of the committee on a fact finding mission on the state of roads under construction in the state.
Though the visit was one of those regular routine visits usually embarked by government officials, it however afforded communities living within the long stretch of the road especially those around the Ewu in Edo Central Local Government Area, and Ekopma, Esan West Council Area to lament their frustration to the Odia-led team on the state of the road which is in the worst stage of disrepair.
During that August visit in the month of July, spokesman of Ewu community, and a septuagenarian, Pa Jerome Idiata, told the Senate committee point blank that they are tired of burying dead bodies occasioned by the increasing rate of road accidents especially along the notorious Ewu Hill axis of the Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi-Okene Expressway.
He told the committee that shortly before the 2015 general elections, his people were full of praises for the federal government in its decision to make the road a dual carriageway. He however expressed the people’s disappointment that what ordinarily should be a thing of joy eventually became a source of sorrow both for commuters and motorists, as well communities living within and along the road.
Pa Idiata is not alone. At Ekpoma, a university town down to Ehor, headquarters of Uhunmwode Local Government Area of Edo State, the story of frustration and utter neglect is the same.
A community leader at Ekpoma, Ojeme Titus echoed the same sentiment when he said the situation in the area was worsening as all the internal road networks have been destroyed due to diversion of traffic to avoid the badly damaged major road.
The consequences of the Benin-Auchi Expressway is that the failed portion has paralysed businesses within the affected areas which some who could not cope with the situation have been forced to relocate due to lack of patronage.
But for the construction of the Irrua-Usugbenu-Igueben-Ujiogba roads in Edo Central district by former Governor Adams Oshiomhole motorists would have opted to pass through Agbor in Delta State to Uromi. Even at that, that section of the road is nothing to boast of as there are bad portions along the Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi Expressway.
Alternatively, motorists now take longer routes to get to Ekpoma and Auchi by navigating either through the Sobe-Ifon in Ondo State down to Uzeba Road for those traveling to Afuze, Sabongida-Ora and Igarra; while Ekpoma, Irrua and Auchi bound vehicles are forced to go through Isi-Ujiogba-Igueben-Irrua.
These options no doubt have increased transport fares from Benin City to towns in Edo Central and Edo North by over 50 per cent. For instance, fare from Benin to Ekpoma that cost N500 now cost N1,000; while Benin to Auchi which previously attract N700 now cost N1,400. Not only that, traveling from Benin to Auchi that ordinary takes one and half hours, takes close to three hours on arrival.
Just as light vehicles are able to move along these alternative routes, the heavy duty vehicles find it difficult to manoeuvre because communities where the new link roads pass through their area now used cross bars to prevent big trucks from plying to prevent them from damaging the roads.
Against this backdrop, youths in some of the towns and villages took advantage of the ugly situation to make brisk business to keep soul and body together. A movement to some of the affected areas one could see the youths carrying out makeshift road repairs to get tips from motorists to enable them pass through. Most times those who prove stubborn pay the price by remaining at a place for several minutes or hours until they are able to pay. And while this is going on, other vehicles at their back would be forced to remain at a standstill.
It was the quest for these alternative roads that led to the death of 20 persons including a family of five in a ghastly accident during the last Eid-el-Kabir celebration day.
According an eye witness account, 16 passengers were said to have died on the spot, as the bus was severely wrecked, while eight others sustained varying degrees of injuries. Unfortunately, four out of the eight injured could not make it as they were pronounced dead shortly after arriving the hospital for treatment.
The accident THISDAY gathered, occurred at about 6:30pm when a commercial bus, marked ABD 206XA on its way to Auchi, but had to pass though Isi-Ujoigba Road had a head-on collision with a truck laden with livestock coming to Benin, the state capital.
Confirming the incident, Edo State Sector Commander, Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) Public Relations Officer, George Otoaviokhai, said the bus had attempted to overtake another vehicle in front of it when it rammed into the truck, marked DRZ347 XA, on the other lane.
He attributed the accident to dangerous overtaking, adding that the incident was avoidable.
“There was a vehicle in front of the bus; the bus was trying to overtake. That was not even needed. The accident was avoidable,” Otoaviokhai stated.
The FRSC official could be right in his observation but Ebhalu Ikhile, an indigene of Egoro Naoka, a community in Esan West Local Government Area however, refused to buy the above reason. He said the accident occurred on that faithful day because of pressure on that particular road following the collapse of the Benin-Auch Expressway.
Ikhile said that very accident that consumed the lives of people including innocent children was uncalled for. “Losing 20 persons in one accident which also wipe out a whole family travelling for the Sallah holiday was most unfortunate because of bad state of the major road,” he lamented, urging the federal and state governments to do some palliative work to make the road motorable for the mean time.
He described the Benin-Ekpoma-Auchi Road as a death trap and nightmare to motorists and commuters plying it. According to him, a journey that could take about 1.45 minutes now takes between 3-4 hours. Besides, he said several lives have been lost while goods worth billion of naira have been destroyed as a result of the bad state of the road without compensation from government who it is their responsibility to repair the road.
The contract for the state for the dualisation of Benin-Auchi-Lokoja Expressway was awarded in September 2014 to four contracting firms namely: Renold Construction Company (RCC), from Benin to Ehor expanding 47.70km; Ehor to Auchi, covering 29.20km awarded to Dantata and Sawoe; Auchi to Okene, stretching 26.70km granted to Mother Cat; while the Okene to Obajana overspreading 40km was assigned to CGC Ltd.
According to then Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, the total contract sum for the four sections of the road was N75.8 billion to be completed within 36 months.
Unfortunately, the three years scheduled to deliver the road have elapsed and the road still remain a death trap, causing passengers and motorists alike, hardships.
In the past three years, the only semblance of dualisation of the road is the Benin axis covering just 14km out 143.6km stretch of road. This however, cannot be compared to other axis like between Ehor and Ekpoma through to the Ewu Hill, Irrua that have completely cut off.
As the time of filing this report, some palliative works are being done by the contractor handling the Ekpoma axis of the road, which many termed as a medicine after death. Motorists and residents of the area have expressed mixed feelings as according to them, the contractor apparently appeared because of the visit of the Senate Committee on Works.
Responding to question, the Project Manager, Dantata and Sawoe disclosed the difficulties facing the construction firm during the rainy season, adding that not much can be achieved. He however, promised that after the palliative measures, they will come back fully during the dry season.
He said work on the dual carriage way became difficult because no mobilisation fee was paid by the relevant authority. According to him, “it is difficult to do major work. As soon as the rains are over, we will come back. What we are doing presently is just to clean up the bad areas in preparation to come back with working materials as soon as the dry season set in.”
Odia however countered, disclosing that the sum of N1.3 billion has been advanced to the contractor as mobilisation, only that the contracting firm refused to do what it’s suppose to have done particularly at the Ewu Hill axis.
“This cannot be true. I’m aware that some amount has been paid. Those sections that are bad is part of scope covering Ewu Hill. If he says the amount is not enough, that I can understand. But to say nothing was paid is not true,” Odia said.
Continuing, the senator disclosed that government directed the firm to come and carry out the palliative work because the communities were angry.
Similar anger is written on the faces of communities living along the Onicha-Ugbo-Uromi axis, another federal road which has remained in a state of disrepair for more than three years.
The state of the road which connected Delta State and Edo State to the Northern axis of the country is another death trap which is also crying for attention.