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Death trap roads in South East

I want to start this discourse with this question: did anybody vow that Julius Berger will never work in South East? Of all the political zones in the country it is the South East that holds the record of worst road network. When the secession cries of the Indigenous People of Biafra was loudest about two or three years ago, a section of northern leaders under the leadership of Kashim Shettima, then governor of Borno State decided on a diplomatic shuttle tour to the region. In his speech at the Government House, Umuahia, capital of Abia State, Kashim Shettima told his audience that he and his team had found some reasons why Igbo still talk about secession more than 40 years after the civil war ended.

The first reason he gave was the poor state of the road network in the region. It is instructive to note that Kashim Shettima and his team first landed by air in Port-Harcourt, capital of Rivers State in South South and began the journey into South East by road from Port-Harcourt through Aba, the famous commercial centre, all through other sub-urban centres on the popular Port-Harcourt-Enugu expressway to get to Umuahia. It is important to observe that it was from Umuahia the team moved into other parts of South East before they left for their home states. So Kashim Shettima and his team were already convinced of the terrible state of roads in the South East even before the team could complete the tour of the entire area. Imagine what their impression would have been if there observation had come after the tour.

The Kashim Shettima team about that time was not the only voices on this vexatious issue. About that period some citizens who wanted to win party nominations for the presidential race, were also traversing the zone in search of political support from members of their political parties. One thing they also observed and which they told the people was the deplorable state of roads in the South East. In fact one of them even said that he was strongly advised not to step into South East region by road but he convinced himself that it was necessary since as the President he ought to know his constituency very well and particularly the challenges. He said the state of the roads made it look as if the civil war had not ended. His conclusion was no credit; it was rather manifest indictment on how we ran the affairs of our country.

The baffling thing in all of these is that the inhibiters of the area have been shouting, to the point of shouting themselves into confusion and despondence that often would accompany a confused state. And yet no change came for a very long time and when few feeble attempts were made, rather than bring succour it gave impetus to their thinking that the neglect could be a national policy, put clearly, a punishment for losing the civil war. This feeling is still subsisting and the people seem to say if the misfortune is not deliberate, then interventions when they do happen ought to be massive, sophisticated and magnificent, but that is not what they see, instead low level contractors are engaged to show appearance and disappear. Travelling on most of these roads in the rainy season is more than a nightmare; it is hellish, very excruciating to both human and vehicular traffic.

As observed earlier, the roads are bad, potholes have turned into gullies. Trailers and lorries can hardly make their way, many of them fall and spill their goods on wet roads and in the process causing innocent traders to lose goods, most of them procured with loans from banks and other financial institutions. Some of these vehicles break down leaving occupants and vehicles to spend in some cases several days on the road before repairs could be effected. Cars can hardly make the journey and those who attempt are left with badly dented cars. In the last two months moving from the periphery of Aba, crossing the city and getting into Umuahia, a journey of one hour and twenty minutes, now taks more than seven hours on some very rough days. And that is because that section of the Port-Harcourt-Enugu expressway is in very bad shape.

As you read, many portions of the Enugu-Port-Harcourt expressway are in terrible condition, Enugu-Makurdi a major highway, Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene, Aba-Ikot Ekpene, Umuahia-Arochukwu, Onitsha-Enugu just to mention but a few are in terrible bad state. The general belief is that the situation would not have been what it is, if governments at the centre were mindful of their mission and responsibility to citizens and if there was a resolve to pursue missions with zeal and sincerity. Most of these governments did not understand the mission and when they were alerted to what looked like it, they just jumped into it without clear understanding and sincerity that would have formed part of the efforts.

The few times when the federal government attempted to rehabilitate those roads, the jobs were given to contractors without a track record, antecedents and equipment. It was in the case of the South-East we saw the cases of indigenous contractors being given complex tasks far above their competence. Certainly, it was not about repairing those roads; it was about money and compensation for the boys and of course funding of elections. It was a comical sight for people of the area to see contractors arrive site with few equipment after the Easter celebration in April and disappear one month after, only to reappear again one month to Christmas celebration and for two months they got stuck to 50 yards of road reconstruction after which they would disappear.

In the last two years some genuine efforts have been expended to reconstruct the roads in the South-East; we must give it to President Muhammadu Buhari, he has brought some new initiatives and verve to bear on the effort. The company ‘Arab Contractors’ is his choice of contractor and placed side by side with what happened in the past, they have done excellently well. But the truth is, if you place them against what Julius Berger could do, majority of citizens in the region would have preferred Julius Berger to Arab Contractors. Julius Berger is known for excellent quality job and that is what the roads in South East require. The zone is within the rain forest belt and so susceptible to heavy and constant rains, so construction here requires deep expertise and suitable equipment, these are areas Julius Berger excels over the others.

It is said cost is the issue and that is why South-East governors avoid strong demand on Julius Berger, but if Julius Berger could work in other zones including South-South, why should South-East be an exemption. They ought to insist that the Federal Government brings them here and they too as governors find a means to get them to come here and work for respective state governments. If there is an area that requires the expertise of Julius Berger most, it is the South-East. More than 40 years after the civil war, the relics are still very much with the people and it is taking a toll on national unity and cohesion. It is time to rest it permanently.

Source: Sunnewsonline

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