I was in Imo State last week. Specifically, I was at Dikenafai my home town. Dikenafai is the headquarters of Ideato-South Local Government area. I had gone to join other members of the extended Uchegbu family, and Ugwualla kindred, to observe the rites of passage for Mazi Collins Uchegbu, a retired Federal Fire Officer, who had moved on to a higher plane. Traveling by road was educating for me.
I personally drove. The road from Lagos is becoming good. The Lagos-Ibadan expressway was good after the long bridge. Smooth and wide. Before that, you had a taste of the pain road users always had, meandering through failed sections. The meander got worse after Sagamu. But it was one that you had to endure on the understanding that work on the Ore-Sagamu end was still on-going, as government officials would say, though I did not see any road construction workers at work.
However, it may not be wise to expect much work on the road given that the heavens are still showering us with rains. So, let’s hope for a better deal in the dry season, after all, hope is what keeps the living going. The road from Ore to Benin is good enough for Formula 1. It’s sweet to drive on. It actually started before Ore and would test the courage of a speedster to push down his throttle. Federal government had done quite a lot to ease the perennial heartache that Ore used to be. I enjoyed good road all through to Onitsha sake for a few places on Benin-Asaba where flood had damaged. Why it is not considered a problem yet beats me.
The inward Benin bypass from Asaba is terrible. But vehicles still manage to pull through. The Onitsha-Owerri was smooth till Ihiala where I branched off through Aziz. But before Ihiala, a section of the road was blocked, forcing everyone unto one lane. Cause? Erosion. It had chopped off more than one half of the lane. I am afraid that another heavy raining season would totally wash off the road and make travel between Onitsha and Owerri nightmarish.
From Azia town through Orsumoghu up to Isseke, one felt the impact governance in Anambra State. Good road. The romance with good road sadly ended as soon as I observed the signpost somewhere in Orsu local government area reading ‘Welcome To Imo State’. The Imo State portion on the Olu- Ihiala road up to Isseke junction is in bad shape.
As I meandered through gullies and places where there used to be tarred road, I also observed smaller signposts by the road sides which read ‘FERMA PROJECT’. FERMA means Federal Road Maintenance Agency. It means the road is a federal project. But note that Hope Uzodimma is senator representing Orlu zone where this road is. Off that road at Amaifeke is the sprawling home of AchikeUdenwa, former Imo governor, who had the lane leading to his house, tarred, ignoring the major road.
That road leads through Orlu town where there is sign of government presence until you hit the road in front of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church Umunna. It is in such a terrible state, with flooding problem. Gov. Rocha Okorocha had initiated his signature roundabout there but seems to have abandoned it. I managed through it to face another nightmare on the Nkwerre- Dikenafai road. Off this road, particularly at Umudi, is the newly approved Hezekiah University; yet there is no good road to connect with it from Nkwerre.
If the Ihiala-Orlu road is federal, the Nkwerre-Dikenafai end is state. So? Moreover, I can only imagine the sort of development that Hezekiah University would bring to communities bordering it if aided by good road. Anyway, I did not drive to do a road report. I went for a burial. But my instincts made me venture out once my late uncle was laid to rest. It was for this reason that I drove down Dikenafai-Isiekenesi road to see the devastation caused by erosion. As I write, the section of that road, just before the Isiekenesi market, has one lane completely washed away. Only brave hearts drive on the remaining lane.
A petrol filling station there had closed shop and is being washed off in installments by erosion. The onestorey building housing Nwabosi Microfinance bank is also threatened. A sprawling church complex on the other side of the road is under threat too. It is instructive that Gov. Okorocha’s village is a shouting distance from this erosion spot. Moreover, that is the shortest course between his home and his home council secretariat.
Udenwa avoided this section of the Okwelle- Urualla road. Ikedi Ohakim diverted the traffic and built the Dikenafai- Awalla-Arondizogu road. I don’t not know why they all avoid it. But fact is, the erosion will not stop because governors avoided tackling it even when there is no evidence anywhere that Federal government owes Imo state any money accruing to it as ecological fund.
As I took photographs of the erosion site, I wondered what becomes of people whose homes are within reach of the erosion. I did not stop at Isiekenesi. I also drove into Owerri town. Those who know Owerri town, know that the major roads in the city are Wetheral, Douglas, Royce and Bank Road or Assumpta Avenue. I was on Wetheral and Douglas. Douglas is still without change.
Traders have again narrowed it to a single lane. Street traders, not hawkers, set up movable stalls on a major road and making vehicular movement difficult, and no authority says, or does, a thing about it. The streets bordering Ekeonunwa market are totally impassable by car.
They have been turned into shops by traders. One of such traders told me that they pay daily tax to council officials to trade on the road instead of inside the market. It is difficult quantifying the man hours lost on Douglas Road Owerri due to very bad road coupled with street trading. Yet, the Government House Owerri is not far off Douglas road.
When I aggregate these scenarios, I ask the same question most discerning Igbo people often ask when things get terribly bad –is it that the barber just can’t barb or that the scissors are not sharp enough (O bu n’okpuisi amaghi akpu, ka o bu na agube adighi nko?)
-ACHILLEUS-CHUD UCHEGBU e-mail: email@example.com