Written by Chijioke Iremeka
Potholes, abandoned road project claim lives as contractor blames non-payment
WHATEVER else is being celebrated as Anambra State marks the 20th anniversary of its creation, roads cannot be one of them. Neither the Federal nor state-owned roads are in a good shape, except perhaps, a few in and around Awka, the state capital. The roads in and around Onitsha, a city that is unarguably one of the nation’s most important commercial centres, however, are among the most neglected.
Driving through Onitsha from Asaba, the Delta State capital, is increasingly becoming an exercise motorists would rather avoid.Once past the Niger Bridge, the inevitable bumpy ride starts, since that route through Upper Iweka is the only entrance from Asaba. Several erosion sites and potholes have turned Upper-Iweka into an area, which has gained notoriety for accidents.
Because of the notorious traffic jam between the head-bridge and the Enugu-Onitsha Road or Onitsha-Owerri Road, the inner-city roads and streets through which motorists meander and maneuver to get out of the logjam have become dilapidated. “Anyone who spent money to buy a vehicle would be most careful driving on roads in the Onitsha area,” a businessman, Reginald Maduako told The Guardian.
“The pot-holes are so many and on virtually all Onitsha roads that vehicle parts like shock-absorbers, ball-joints, clutches and wheels are routinely damaged.“Vehicle-owners in Onitsha must be running up one of the higher bills on routine maintenance than their counterparts in any other city of the country”, he said.
Residents say the state of roads in the area has been worsened by the Federal Government’s “nonchalant attitude to the plight of the masses, especially on road construction and other infrastructural development in Onitsha. “How can anyone explain the Federal Government awarding an important road contract to a company that has been known for not ever completing a road project on time.
“This company was awarded the Onitsha-Owerri Road project contract alongside another, RCC Limited. “Of course, RCC had finished its portion, while the company in question is yet to do so, five years after.” It has also emerged that at the time the road contracts were awarded; the ever-busy stretch from the Niger Bridgehead to Zik’s Roundabout was not included in the original plan.
“ This development was said to have been unacceptable to the state government, which made a strong case for the inclusion of the Bridgehead- Upper Iweka- Zik’s Roundabout. “ Five years after this inclusion, the company scraped the road badly, especially at New Parts Market, down to New Tarzan Junction, former Ogbunike Toll Gate and Umunya and abandoned the job.
“They even moved their equipment off the work-sites, claiming they had not been paid for the job they had done and laid off over 600 indigenous staff of the company.” The recent accident at the Umunya section of the road in which over 35 people died and many more injured has been blamed on the poor state of the road. “The victims were trapped and roasted, as their vehicles were trapped in the bad stretch of road, already scrapped but not yet tarred.
A source at the Anambra State Road Safety Commission (ASRSC) told The Guardian that 179 people died last year on the same road, while 276 were wounded.Rather than wait for the Federal Government and the contractor any longer, residents are asking the state government to go ahead and rehabilitate the road and then make a case for a refund. In fact, the state governor, Mr. Peter Obi, is said to have sought Federal Government’s approval to rehabilitate the stretch of road from the bridgehead to former Toll Gate to Amawbia to Amansea and Awka.
A group under the aegis of Concerned Residents of Onitsha (CRO) has decried the deplorable condition of roads in the town and are urging Obi to rehabilitate the roads and seek a refund. The Deputy Minority Leader, representing Onitsha II Constituency in the House of Assembly, Emeka Idu, has also appealed to Obi to urgently repair the roads in the area to ease movement of people and goods.
But the Permanent Secretary, Anambra State Ministry of Works, Mr. Benjamin Umerah said the state government cannot just take over Federal roads as the government could be sued for trespass or denied any reimbursement. In his reaction, the Public Relations Officer of CCC Limited, Mr. Patrick Morgan blamed the slow pace of work on the other part of the road project on non-release of funds by the government
“We need N5 billion to complete the project. We have over N2 billion outstanding certificates pending at the Federal Ministry of Works for job done. “Only N1.2 billion out of the total sum was provided for the project in the 2011 budget by the government. Also, Onitsha-Amansea project was split into Phase I -N7billion and Phase II -N4 billion, but only N2 billion had been released so far.”
Attempts to get officials of the Federal Ministry of Works in Anambra State to comment on that claim and other issues failed.
The Guardian Newspaper