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Federal highways in S’East: What a mess!

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IT couldn’t have been any worse, else dreadful Odysseys may render struggle for living useless in every mortal’s existence. A journey through Opi-Nsukka, Enugu State’s expressway to Amansea, Awka in Anambra State evokes a chilly fear in the mind, that only the extra brave would brace up to repeat a second time given any option.

Once on this road, the heart beats in rapid motion, the stomach churns in awkward rumbles, the mind roves nervously while the head cranks in quaking pounds as vehicles swerve and jolt in the rough jungles of extremely collapsing road, cutting through the hearts of two gateway states in the East of Nigeria, Anambra and Enugu States. Not even the greatest optimists can be certain, the outcome of a journey through this route, while reality is, on this route, death stands next in wait for its new guest. This captures gleamly the endangered state of thousands of Nigerians who ply this road daily for one duty or the other, as this horrid highway presents fortress for unfortunate end to the road users. Indeed, there are expressways in Nigeria and the purpose these roads serve calls for re-examination.

Federal highways in southeast are in shambles but the Opi-Nsukka to 9th mile in Enugu, Ezeagu,  Oji River, Ugwuoba, Amansea sections of the expressway  presents a horrendous escapades to motorists and other users of the road facility.

The dilapidation of this road was never sudden but continued negligence of its repair by authorities concerned over the years drove the facility into its current piteous condition. The situation of this road as it stands today is not a Buhari phenomenon but a collection of failed administrations. The current regime however, cannot as a matter of fact be absolved from blames on the unimaginable breakdown this road infrastructure now suffers, given that the onus is on every responsible government to fix all problems confronting public’s good life.

Time after time, hopes of the masses are raised with pronouncement of contract awards for the fixing of the road. Surprisingly, the same road remains impassable and degenerates into worse condition with the passage of seasons. Government had always inundated the masses with figures appropriated for the fixing of the facility. The contract sum of this road according to sources was put at 10.3 billion naira during ex-President Goodluck Jonathan’s regime and had recently been reviewed upward to 15.7 billion naira by the current government, under President Muhammadu Buhari but this is not much reflected in positive ways, as journeys on this road continue to be nightmarish to commuters plying this road. Indications show that interest of the masses is not on the amount of fund either appropriated or expended on the facility to get to the current stage but more concerns mount on possible immediate practical solution to put the facility back on track. Whatever claimed efforts made so far by the government is not supported by the monumental loss of man hour this facility has presented to users over time. Succinctly put, Nsukka to Onitsha covers a distance of about 144km or 89miles; at the average speed of 80km per hour car speed, one can complete the journey in less than two hours. It then ridicules all reasoning that an average of five and half hours are spent in this same distance today due to condition of the road. This implies that it is a very risky venture to contemplate a to -and -fro movement within this distance as 11 hours may be required to complete this trip. Suffice it to say that a single round trip may take anyone deep into the night to complete, especially when the take off was not done early enough in the morning. Then, how would a trader from Nsukka make it buying his goods at any market in Onitsha and still hope to make it back the same day?

While counting the loss of man hours,  machinery on their part suffers extra pressure in dealing with the challenges of this bad road. Undue wear and tear, culminating into total breakdown becomes inevitable. This increases maintenance burden on investors in transport sector while the multiplier effect goes down to the masses as they are subjected to higher fares from the seemingly capitalist investors.

Regrettably, economic loss is not even the biggest in the chain. Human lives are risked beyond measures in the foregoing. A good number of roads in Southeast geopolitical zone are deathtraps to users. The Nsukka, Enugu, Onitsha expressway is no longer deathtrap but death sentence which only the mercy of God can commute.

Shockingly, there is a national government, as well as other tiers that makeup the governance system. It may be argued that federal government has exclusive jurisdiction of matters involving construction, repair and rehabilitation of federal roads but the state governments must step up their roles in bringing federal government’s attention to such necessities of the people, since these roads cut across the states or as a matter of necessity, provide alternative road network within the state that can truly alleviate people’s plight.

The questions are, do both federal and state governments know the exact number of accidents that occur on this road daily as a result of its poor condition and by extension number of possible deaths? If they know, on what moral ground can they stand to look into the masses’ faces and pop champagnes for living up to expectations on their oath to serve the people conscientiously; provide, protect the citizenry and preserve the dignity of all people?

It is simply preposterous to play politics with citizens’ lives and no government worth its onion would allow itself be dragged into uncharitable bargain with the people’s well being. If there is anything worth upholding by the government, it is the people”s confidence and that cannot be won under dashed expectations and hopes as epitomised in the current state of this road. Citizens are not keen on Public Relations stunt or propaganda mechanism by  any government in Nigeria. They are more swayed by  programs that deliver observable results.

In this regard, the current state of the aforementioned road including others in the same category across the federation not only condemns governments at all levels; federal government specifically, for colossal failure but lampoons its insensitivity to the plight of the electorates whose votes had been de jure ladders through which the leaders climbed to the positions of authority.

It is off the point deploying any blame games in this cause by any of the two principal governments (state and federal)  as both could partner well to evolve a practical solution that will ameliorate the people’s predicament in this engagement, if the will power is there. Therefore,  the people and governments of Enugu and Anambra States cannot fold their arms and let their states collapse, if federal government remains aloof to its responsibility of better welfare to the citizenry in the respective states.

To absolve the governments from criticisms on the state of the road infrastructure, citizens expect more plausible reasons to justify the slow response to salvaging what remains of the road for improved accessibility. It is absurd to hold rain to accounts for suspended works on the affected road since both those that award contracts and the beneficiary contractors are aware of the seasons even before contemplating conditions of the contract.

It would be recalled that the Minister of Works and Power,  Raji Babatunde Fashola affirmed the award of contracts by the federal government for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of that road upon his visit to Umunya section of the road in Anambra State in 2017. Clarifying issues surrounding the project after an Executive Council meeting in Abuja, Wednesdays, August 7, 2019, Fashola said,  “This road was awarded in 2012. Because of the lack of appropriate budgeting and funding, all of these projects could not be completed and there were also failures in implementation, so we inherited it.

This came two years after his visit to Anambra and work is still in progress in less than three kilometers portion of the Umunya, Awkuzu area.

According to a social analyst, George Okoye, “government is doing its best but it seems their best is not good enough. Contracts awarded should be followed with adequate mobilisation and supervision. Nobody has told us why it was not captured in the budget three years into the past administration and four years into the present administration, the problem with the project does not seem to have found remedy. The state of this road is totally unacceptable and government should not wait for the death of a prominent person on the road before it wakes up to its responsibility.”

A road user who identified his name as Fidelis Chidi believes government cannot be exonerated if funding had stalled the speedy recovery of the road from total collapse as it currently looks. This is premised on the fact that prudent management of the nation’s earnings can comfortably hand Nigerians world class standard roads at any given time in history. “It may well be difficult to convincingly explain how revenues are being shared regularly by the tiers of government while critical infrastructure continue to suffer abysmal neglect.”

The policy priority of the government comes under serious scrutiny here, given this development. If a capital program as important as road could be ignored while humongous recurrent fiscal engagements continue to receive diligent attention, Nigeria’s recovery from this slide is not anywhere near and the future is as ominous as the mind could fathom.

The die is currently cast for the authorities to wake up from slumber and confront challenges facing their wards frontally. Government is accountable to the masses and the scorecard in this section ranks too poor to be envied if they are not aware. Citizens love their government and country but their expectations have been far from being met.

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