– Boniface C E Egboka
Recently, Distinguished Sen. Iyom Uche Ekwunife representing Anambra Central Senatorial Zone moved a motion in the Senate on “URGENT NEED TO REHABILITATE THE ENUGU-ONITSHA EXPRESS WAY WHICH IS IN A DEPLORABLE CONDITION”. One appreciates the efforts of Iyom Ekwunife on her efforts in calling the attention of her colleagues on the shameful abandonment of the expressway. The Enugu-Awka-Onitsha expressway has been abandoned for many years.
One will not be surprised if no one pays attention to what she said for they may regard her motion as useless effusions and the ranting of an ant. Many Federal roads in former eastern Nigeria are left uncared for as a pernicious punishment on the people; negative political gerrymandering through Federal roads. If one goes down memory lane and navigates through the former eastern Nigeria by judging the condition of roads/expressways, one will find most of them in deplorable conditions.
They are unmotorable year-in-year-out, not minding several complaints and cries of the people concerned. These complaints/cries usually-fell on deaf ears of government officials irrespective of who was in power, be they military or civilian. Sometimes contracts were awarded for the construction or rehabilitation of such roads; yet the resultants are riddled with failures and despair. Unlike those other road-contracts awarded in the former western or northern Nigeria, one usually sees positive outcomes from such contracts in form of durable roads.
There are live-roads and expressways that stretch for long distances traversing the northern and western territories while those in the east are a murderous shame and disgrace to nationhood. Such contracts for the eastern roads were awarded to non- Julius Berger-type contractors or to inexperienced easterners who woefully-failed to execute them successfully.
You are then left in a quagmire of who or not to blame. One becomes perplexed and wonders whether saboteurs or just corrupt officials were at work. Sadly though, most of our politicians do not seem to care and hardly make the road problem a case for actions against defaulters. They hardly-put pressures on governments to persuade
them to save eastern roads.
They buy big okwu-oto- ekeleze vehicles to navigate through bad roads into their communities; they hardly-feel embarrassed or ashamed. Some politicians may have known about these non-performing local road contractors and may have participated in the award process.
They never care to monitor or supervise the contractors’ non-performance on eastern roads; one really- wonders if their hands were tied or if they have anything to hide. When these politicians land at Enugu airport, they are forced to travel along these wretched roads and yet they do not care a tuppence on possible remedial actions that ought to have been taken.
They rather mount their high-heel vehicles with heavy police escorts and ride leisurely home. Some dutiful State Governors have tried to tackle the problems of local, State and Federal roads in their States at the same time but their efforts are not even hardly-palliative enough in order to make a change. HEs Dr. Chris Ngige and Sir Peter Obi tried their best to tackle problems on roads in Anambra State; Dr. Willie Obiano is also closely taking up some Federal roads for rehabilitation today; but their combined efforts could not do so much to tackle problems of adjoining and the long-time dilapidated Federal roads.
As a teacher of Environmental Hydrogeology at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, one is virtually- forced to ply through the Enugu-Awka-Onitsha road regularly; travel to Enugu State University of Science and Technology and Enugu Campus of the University of Nigeria and main Campus, Nsukka.
Colleagues from these Universities suffer similar fate in travels to Awka and Nnewi; so also are other travellers like civil servants, businessmen, politicians, transporters, students etc. People as stated by Iyom Ekwunife, must travel through this hazardous expressway regularly; must travel through this nondescript road whether they like it or not as there are no other more accessible routes. The Enugu-Awka-Onitsha Expressway is virtually dead at several locations along the way. The sandy members of outcropping Geologic Formations the expressway intersects at several places have failed in many locations; they have been eroded during the rains.
One is amazed that the Engineers who designed and worked on this road and some other roads in Nigeria did not seem to have taken into serious consideration the effects of soil mechanics and geotechnics of the Geologic environment when they designed/constructed the highway. As a result, parts of the roads are washed away by poorly- channelled floods, soil/gully erosion. Attempts at rehabilitation have failed woefully. When one observes these road failings, one wonders what type of professional education people have got in the Earth Sciences and their field practices.
It is akin to a suicidal venture to travel from the Enugu International Airport to Awka or Onitsha through the expressway during last flights into Enugu at night or travel to Enugu early in the morning to catch first flights at the Airport. These efforts may be suicidal because you may lose your flight because ofthe slow traffic through the highway or you may be stopped, fatally, from travelling by armed robbers; a case of being between the Greek monsters of Scylla and Charybdis.
This is why people are, again, forced to look for alternative roads beyond the expressway for passage. The manageable alternative becomes the tortuous old Enugu-Awka-Onitsha road which the expressway was supposed to replace; today, the reverse is the case as the old has replaced the new. But the change is not really a success story as events have become worse.
Even though the threats from armed robbers have been reduced on the old road because of the presence of many communities and people inhabiting along the road, the old road itself has also physically-failed in places like the expressway. The then hardworking former Governor of Enugu State, Hon. Barr. Chime fully-rehabilitated the entire stretch of the old road thereby making it become attractive for use. It must also be noted that the reconstruction was palliative as it did not take full cognisance of the Geologic and soil characteristics and the implications of potential impacts of floods and erosion besieging the road eventually.
As a critical observer of the activities of HE Sen. Chris Nwabueze Ngige, one is pleased that he was nominated by President Buhari and confirmed by the Senate as a Minister of the Federal Government. One was happy to have worked as the Chairman of the Works Committee that assisted to plan the works activities for the Ministry of Works when he took over as the then Governor of Anambra State.
Sen. Chris did very good work on the Anambra roads for which many communities remain very grateful to him. The then Gov. Ngige personally- went on regular field work with the Engineers and contractors on Saturdays and personally-supervised road-works by himself; he ensured that lengths and widths of roads and drains being constructed were as designed and signed in the Bill of Quantities; he observed and ensured that materials used were the right ones as approved; he regularly-paid the contractors as and when due while ensuring that they did their jobs as contracted; one also accompanied the Governor in some of these trips and witnessed events in situ.
HE Ngige built what may be described as Ngige roads and drainages that are anti-flood and anti-erosion in nature. One is satisfied to observe that all the roads as constructed by the Ngige administration and properly-asphalted, drain-road-to-drain, are still alive, firm and solid up till today. Ngige roads became the panacea and cure for the then bad roads in Anambra State. Even though Senator Ngige is a medical Doctor, he will do an excellent job as Federal Minister of Works of Nigeria.
However, even if Dr. Ngige does not become the Minister of Works, he will still be a robust member of the Federal Executive Council. One is convinced that under his watch and wizened contributions at the Federal Executive Council, the Enugu-Awka-Onitsha expressway and other roads in former eastern Nigeria and other parts of the country will become fully-rehabilitated eventually. Every hand within and outside the Senate should be on deck to ensure that Senator Iyom Ekwunife’s motion comes into positive fruition.
- Prof Boniface C E Egboka,, PhD, UNIZIK, Awka, Anambra State; E-mail: boniegboka@ gmaU.com