Death Traps on a Nation’s Highways

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Ernest Chinwo in Port Harcourt and Emmanuel Ugwu in Umuahia write that the highways that connect the East-West Road and that of the Aba-Port Harcourt Road are now death traps that need urgent federal attention

Basic amenities are often regarded as essentials like roads, running water and electricity, that are provided by government and those in authority to make life easier and more pleasant for its citizens.

So when these are not met, it’s the people that are at the receiving end. For many, good roads are one of the bedrocks of any society. Therefore, it’s not surprising that its absence creates a ripple effect that takes a toll on manhour, health, and economy. Sometimes, the toll takes the form of loss of life or even properties.

The highways that connect the East-west Road and that of the Aba-Port Harcourt Road are some of such bad roads. From all indication, those death traps need urgent federal attention.

Death Trap to Nigeria’s Treasure Base

Rivers State is known as the ‘Treasure Base’ of the nation. This is not surprising as the state is one of the highest contributors to the nation’s economy which is largely dependent on oil and gas.The state is home to headquarters of major international oil companies, Nigeria’s premier liquefied natural gas company, two refineries, two sea ports, one international airport as well as the nation’s oil and gas free zone, among other facilities.

By and large the state is strategic to the economic survival and stability of the nation. But the roads to the state, especially Port Harcourt, the state capital, are not only bad but a death trap to users.

The state axis of the East-west Road is in a sorry state. From the boundary with Bayelsa State, the supposed dual carriage way is used in most parts as a single lane with its attendant risks and challenges. Gullies and craters have been created on the roads, rendering some parts impassable and overgrown with weeds. Indeed, at the Nkpolu-Rumuigbo junction in the Port Harcourt axis of the road, commuters are forced to stop, trek to wade through the deep gully on the road to cross over to the other side to board another vehicle before proceeding to their destination.

Also, at the Tank Junction, Rumuokwurusi area, both sides of the road are riddled with deep craters that motorists spend long hours before they manage to pass through. Needless to state that people spend hours in hold-ups and many trucks lose their wares due to the nature of the road. The road has become a haven for kidnappers, armed robbers and other criminal elements. There have been recurrent reports of the abduction of commercial and other motorists, who because of the bad roads, are stopped and abducted by hoodlums.

At the Eleme axis of the road leading to the refineries, petrochemical company and the Onne Oil and Gas Free Zone, efforts of the state government to task companies operating there to assist in rehabilitating the road was thwarted as the federal government asserted its ownership of the road. Yet no appreciable thing has been done to better the fortunes of road users.

The same is true of the Port Harcourt-Aba Expressway. Although under reconstruction for the past three years, motorists are forced to endure nightmares in the use of the road. Indeed, commuters to Iriebe, a suburb of Port Harcourt, and Oyigbo are forced to use motorcycles to manoeuvre through the heaps of refuse and other debris mounted by the Chinese construction company handling the project. The rainy season has not helped matters as the road, in most parts, is impassable.

Worried by the condition of the East-west Road, especially the Eleme section, members of the National Assembly from Rivers State recently took to the streets in protest against the deplorable state of the road. Led by the senator representing Rivers South-east Senatorial District in the National Assembly, Senator Barinada Mpigi, the honourable members, carrying placards, marched through parts of the road before stopping at Aleto/Akpajo Bridge, Eleme.

Other members of the National Assembly present at the protest were member, representing Khana/Gokana Federal Constituency, Rt. Hon. Dumnamene Dekor; member, representing Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency, Hon. Kingsley Chinda; member, representing Andoni/Opobo-Nkoro Federal Constituency, Awaji Inombek Dagomie Abiante; member, representing Port Harcourt Federal Constituency 2, Hon. Chinyere Igwe; member, representing Okrika Ogu/Bolo Federal Constituency, Gogo Bright Tamuno; and their counterpart at the State House of Assembly representing Eleme constituency, Hon. Igwe Aforji.

They lamented the deplorable state of the ever busy Aleto/Akpajo Bridge, stating that the bridge has become very dangerous not just for commuters who on daily basis ply the road to neighbouring Akwa Ibom and Cross River States, but to oil and gas business operators who equally ply their trade at the Indorama Eleme Petrochemical Company, Refineries and the sea port at Onne in Eleme Local Government Area of the state.

Addressing journalists, leader of the protest, Senator Barinada Mpigi, said, “We are here to draw attention of the federal government to the deplorable condition of this road and the bridge. You know that almost everything that Nigeria benefits from is within us here: two refineries, a petrochemical industry and of course, the oil and gas free zone. We’ve seen and you are also seeing what is happening here. It shows that we’ve been abandoned.

“The people of Rivers State have been abandoned. This is a federal government road and not a Rivers State government road. You see that the bridge is shaking and there is the tendency that any moment from now, the total life of people from this area will be cut off from this country. One question we must ask: Are we really part of this country or not part of Nigeria? Are we enjoying our tax payers’ money or we are not? The truth is that we have been abandoned and neglected.”
He said the lawmakers decided to embark on the protest to tell Nigerians that “we have been totally cut off from all we are supposed to gain from this country.”

He noted: “Contract for this road had been awarded to RCC as we are aware. Just to execute. Just to release the fund meant for this road is like we have been abandoned. It’s not about increasing funding or not because there has been existing budget and allocation for this road for a long time.

“We want the job to begin immediately. Once that has been done, we as members of the National Assembly can come back and talk about appropriation because the contract has been awarded and work started but now at a halt. The value of the contract to our knowledge was over N2 billion within the Ogoni-Akwa Ibom axis up to the Eleme Junction, the value for now is not known.”

In his own address, member representing Obio/Akpor Federal Constituency, Hon. Kingsley China, said, “Those of us in the National Assembly have severally protested over the treatment of our people particularly concerning this bridge. We know that this place is the spine of this country. If the country is serious with oil and gas, then the importance of this bridge cannot be over emphasised.

“All the refineries, petrochemicals company, fertiliser company, they are all behind us here including Onne Sea Port and Naval Training School. To access these places, you need to go through this road. But because this is Rivers State, as usual there is graveside silence to issues that pertain to Rivers State. That is why, having brought motion on the floor of the National Assembly, members have supported that the executive arm should quickly ensure that this bridge is taken care of to forestall incidence that might occur that would lead to loss of lives of Nigerians. The executive arm is not sensitive to the resolution of the National Assembly.”

He said the members of the National Assembly were forced to bring the matter to the court of public opinion because of the failure of the Federal Government to repair the road.

“That is why we are now taking it to the court of public opinion. We are here to tell the people that we have been calling on the executive arm to take steps and we pray and hope, though they have been consistently insensitive to the yearnings of Nigerians. We pray and hope that this will sensitize them into action.”

Stating that Rivers people are not the main beneficiaries of the road, he added, “the Nigerian State is the main beneficiary. What percentage do we get from the oil that we process here? How much percentage do we get from the Ports Authority that is here? We are not the main beneficiary, but rather suffer for all these. What we are saying is that the lives of our people are at risk. It’s not just the project. We are interested in what will happen if this bridge collapses and people are on it. Even now that we are on this bridge, anything could happen. That is our interest – to protect any hazard that is likely to occur because of the negligence of the federal government.”

But if the lawmakers have been diplomatic about the road, Rivers State Governor, Nyesom Wike, is blunt. He accused the federal government of deliberately punishing the people of the state for political reasons.

Speaking on the state of federal roads in the state, Wike berated the federal government for deliberately neglecting Rivers State in the recent release of N148 billion for roads. He declared that the action of the federal government is the most shameful act of marginalisation in a federation where Rivers State contributes to the financial sustenance of the country.

He said: “The federal government released N148 billion for the construction of roads and it did not consider even one road in Rivers State. Look at the condition of the East-west Road. Shame on those who say they are working with the current federal government, but cannot protect the interest of Rivers State in that government.

“We are producing oil that finances projects in the country and the federal government can release N148 billion for roads and Rivers State was neglected. You are working with the federal government and you cannot attract projects to Rivers State. Anyone who is in APC and is from Rivers State, shame on you”.

He said as politicians in APC, they should be able to plead with the federal government to site projects in Rivers State to expand their political relevance. “You are there, you cannot even say for my sake help me and give me one road. So I can go home and tell my people this is what I brought to Rivers State.

“What offence has Rivers State committed in this country that this federal government cannot for one day remember the state? They have our son who was their director general. If for nothing, since he was your director general, help him and do one project for his people. Tomorrow you will say Rivers people should vote for you. Which vote. We won’t do that. Nobody is a slave. We are not slaves. We cannot be conquered by anybody.”

Shame of a Nation’s Highway

Separated by a distance of 62 kilometres, commuting between Aba, the commercial city of Abia State and Port Harcourt, the capital city of neighbouring Rivers State should pose no problems in a normal situation. The two cities are linked by a dual carriage expressway running all the way from Enugu. But with the dire condition of the road, especially between Aba and Port Harcourt, movement of passengers and goods have become a nightmare. For the commercial drivers who convey passengers and goods to and fro the two cities on daily basis, distress and agony remain constant companions on the road.

A journey which in normal circumstances should last 30 minutes by car and not more than 45 minutes by bus, now takes upwards of three hours and even a whole day as the case may be. “The road is terribly bad,” was a general response from drivers who narrated their collective and diverse experiences to our correspondent. One of them, Mr. Joe Amadi was so frustrated that he flatly declared that “there is no road from Aba to Port Harcourt”. And he is justified to a very large extent.

From Osisioma axis, the condition of the road progressively worsens and climaxes to most dangerous level at Imo gate, a point where Imo River crossed the road, forming a natural boundary between the states of Abia and Rivers. Indeed the stretch of road presents geographers with veritable study of land features such as craters, gorges, depressions and fissures. With the rains pouring down relentlessly, lakes are also common sights.

On getting to such flooded points like the ones at Ariaria and Asa axis, cars plunge to swim their way out while bigger vehicles wade through. Here, various Olympic recognised categories of swimming are on display. You can see cars doing breaststroke, butterfly and even backstroke swimming to pass the flooded areas along the road. Sadly, no contractor was in sight between Aba and the border with Rivers, at least to provide palliative measures.

The ability of drivers to manoeuvre their vehicles out of the craters and lakes depends on the size and weight of the vehicles. While car drivers relatively negotiate the turns, curves and zigzags, the heavy laden trucks, tankers and overloaded buses spend longer time to trudge out of the bad spots. There is no room for speeding much more over speeding. Every vehicle must obey the enforced speed limit of crawling. The situation gets compounded whenever a trailer breaks down as happens almost on a daily basis.

It was such a situation that forced travelers to pass the night just to get to Port Harcourt from Aba. Johnson Obasi, a commercial bus driver, who operates from Aba, the Enyimba city to Port Harcourt, the garden city recounted one of such experiences that made him reach Port Harcourt by 1.00am after leaving Osisioma park in Aba at about 5.00pm that fateful Friday. “I didn’t bargain for it(sleeping on the road) but it happened, “ he said.

According to the 52 year old driver, a trailer had fallen at a particular bad spot and blocked the entire road, leaving no room for other vehicles to manoeuvre their way out. In desperation drivers clogged every available space with their vehicles of all categories. “It was such a chaotic situation; people shouted and barked, horns blared to no avail while there were exchange of blows in some cases as drivers fought over right of way. “We all resigned to our fate and crawled at snail speed for eight hours to reach Port Harcourt ,” he said.

With no alternative route, drivers and their passengers are condemned to suffer the distress of travelling from Aba to Port Harcourt along what remained of the expressway. “Any time you leave the park after loading you can never predict when you would reach Port Harcourt. If you are unlucky and a trailer or tanker falls, then you just prepare your mind to spend long hours which could extend to the following day,” Chinedu Obumselu, a commercial bus driver said.

The drivers also lament the economic cost of plying the road. Aside the goods that are destroyed when trailers and trucks fall, the man hours lost to gridlocks are unquantifiable. Not only that, drivers claim that the volume of passengers that usually commute between Aba and Port Harcourt has declined of late with the rainy season worsening the condition of the road.

According to Phillip Uzor who said that he has been operating on the Aba-Port Harcourt route for over 10 years, people now feel reluctant to travel from Aba to Port Harcourt to see friends or attend social events. “I think people now prefer to use their handsets to exchange greetings with friends and family members instead of embarking on visitations,” he said. “And when invited to social events like weddings and birthday celebrations, they also prefer to send money across to the celebrant to avoid the agony of travelling to honour an invitation”.

While vehicles originating from Osisioma and other parks in Aba are condemned to use the Aba – Port Harcourt section of the expressway, those from distant cities have found a way to avoid the road distress. It is now common for transporters coming from Enugu, Okigwe and Umuahia to divert on getting to Umuikaa Junction and access Port Harcourt through Owerrinta in Isiala Ngwa South Local Government. As succour appears to have returned to other sections of the Enugu – Port Harcourt expressway that have been rehabilitated the situation on the Aba/Port Harcourt axis remains a cause of distress.