It`s once again that period of the year when Nigerians of the Eastern origin begin to count their losses amidst the joy that heralds the season. Few weeks from today, the roads leading to the eastern and Southern parts of the country will be a no-go-area. Very soon, the media would be awash with the news of families being wiped out along the Lokoja/Abuja Expressway and the story of journey that is supposed to take six to seven hours consuming a whole day or two all because the government of the ‘days` have decided to look elsewhere while hers citizens are suffering.
A journey to Enugu, which is often called the gateway to the East, by road, will not keep one in doubt of the determination of the federal government not to listen to the cry of the populace. According to Mr Sunday Mba, a driver with Ifesinachi transport company who has been plying the Enugu/Abuja route for close to fifteen years now “If the government were serious they would have completed the dualisation of the Lokoja/Abuja expressway. The problem started with the Obasanjo regime which gave the contract to “yeye” companies.” Mba says it was a deliberate attempt by Obasanjo`s administration to punish some set of people who he perceived as his enemy.
Mba says movement between Enugu and Abuja used to be a thing of pleasure until recently when the road became so busy and maintenance became essential commodity, adding that “on so many occasions I have come close to death on the Lokoja/Abuja expressway.” He emphasised that if only those in the National Assembly could give half of the attention they give to mundane issues like that of homosexuals the road would have been completed by now.
A journey between Abuja and Lokoja which is normally supposed to take about two hour at most, last week Thursday ,took mr Mba about five hour. As he says “I spent three and half hours between Giri and Kuje road junction along the Gwagwalada expressway” The Gwagwalada portion along the Abuja/Lokoja road is synonymous with “hold ups” while the Abaji/Lokoja is notorious for accidents which often claim many lives every week. Almost every family in the west, east and southern part of the country has lost one or two members or friends on the Lokoja/Abuja expressway. No wonder commercial vehicle drivers who ply the road have decided to change it`s name from Abuja/Lokoja road to “point-and-kill.”
While Mba wasted about three and half hours to get to Kuje junction, his fellow driver Mr. Jecob Akpan,who plies Abuja Port Harcourt route took a different option by going through the Kuje road which can be accessed through kuje junction along Lugbe /airport road. The road is not tarred but it`s less busy. Akpan says “It`s to avoid the hold-ups that normally occurs along the Gwagwalada expressway.”He lamented the pace of work on the dual carriage way project of the road, describing it as “Slow men at work” Adding that “If it were to be the aviation industry government would have hurried to finish it because they travel by air.” But mr Akpam may be wrong on the statement that government officials always fly on air because so many of them have lost their lives on that same roads, so no one is protected.
A journey to Enugu may not be so fantastic as a result of the bad roads but one may seem to have respite when you drive pass Lokoja. The road between Lokoja and Ajokuta may not be a dual carriage way but it`s not so busy and it`s well tarred. Mr. Abdul Muhammed sales goat in Enugu and he often ply that route. “This place (Lokoja/Ajokuta road) used to be bad but last year they worked on it, so we thank the Kogi state government for that”.
However, the same can`t be said of the Ajokuta portion of the road.”When we live Lokoja we always enjoy the driving until we get to Ajokuta where the road is very bad. The Itobe bridge(River Benue) is under going some repair but the pace of work is very alarming-one lane of the bridge is closed to traffic. Those who use the road quite often have been wondering why the Kogi state government would not extend the good work they did along the Lokoja/Ajokuta road to the Ajokuta/Itobe road down to Ojodu till Ochadam junction, all in Kogi state. These portions of the road constitute a death trap to drivers because they are in a very poor state.
A journey to Enugu usually witnesses another hitch when one gets to Nsukka in Enugu state. The road is very busy and long overdue for dual carriageway. There`s a lot of potholes on the road which has often lead to many accidents occurring on it. Mr. Chijoke Edeoga hails from Ukehe,one of the towns in Nsukka through which the road passed. A teacher by profession, mr Edeoa says the road is economically viable and needs a dual carriageway or at least proper maintenance. “All these lorries that carry food stuff to the south-south and south-east pass through this road. They come from far north and middle-belt. Here`s the food-basket of the nation (Benue State). They are our neighbour and they transport their food stuff to the eastern part through this road.” Edeoga says apart from all these the road is also the gateway to the University of Nigeria, Nsukka (UNN), which is one of the foremost universities in Nigeria. According to Edeoga, so many of Nigeria`s best brains who were students of the great institution have died on that road.
The journey to Enugu may not be complete if one does not take account of the Nite mile. A terminal sort of for commercial vehicle drivers .Nine mile, as the name goes, is about nine miles away from the city of Enugu. Within this area are located the Nigerian Bottling Company (NBC), Nigerian Breweries Limited (NBL) with there biggest plant in Africa and other mini companies. As a result, the place is a beehive of activities, so also is the vehicular movement on the roads there. Driving from Nine mile to Enugu centre is supposed to take not less than ten to fifteen minutes but due to bad road and “slow men at work”. It takes up to thirty five minutes to complete the journey. Construction work has been on going on this few meter of road (Nine mile/Enugu) for the past three to four years.
While this piece was going Mr Basil Ahionugbe who was travelling from Ekpoma(Edo state) to Enugu sent an SOS to her fiancée in Abuja. The SMS reads: “Ha you did not tell me that the road is this bad. I would have gone with my jeep. It took us two hours to get to Onitsha, but we have been here for the past three hours.” Mr Ahionugbe was on his way to visit his in-law-to-be at Enugu. From Onitsha to Awka, both in Anambra State, a journey of about fifty minutes takes hours as a result of bad road. A journey from Onitsha to Enugu takes four to five ours as against two hours if the roads were good.
But many have continued to ask why the state government can`t step in and put all these roads in order, then get reimbursed by the federal government whose responsibility it is to put the federal roads in good shape.
As the saying goes ”there`s no smoke without fire” the people of the east should make it a point of duty to find out why a journey to eastern part of the country by road should make one begin to believe that the governments at the centre have some axe to grind with the people of these area. As the new minister for works, Eng. Mike Onolememen moves to repair some of the damages caused by the past administration, the wise people of the east expect that he turns, look at their direction and do justice to the roads that lead to the east.