East-West Road still a death trap despite official posturing

east west road

Penultimate year, the Rivers State Governor, NyesomWike, precipitated moves to rehabilitate some parts of East-West Road in Rivers State which had been consuming lives because of its decrepit nature.

While meeting with major stakeholders and investors in Port Harcourt, he told them that the move was aimed at fast-tracking the development of the state’s economy and Nigeria as a whole.

He explained why it had become necessary to develop synergy between the federal government, major investors and the state government to repair a portion of the East-West Road linking the Onne Port Complex and Oil and Gas Free Zone.

According to him, the portion for immediate repairs would start from Eleme junction to the Onne junction.

Wikewas able to convince the companies and investors on the need to carry out palliative measures on some portions of the road, which was impassable and a death trap.

Describing the road to the Onne seaport as critical to the effective use of the port by investors across the country, the governor explained that such a road should not be left to the dictates of official bureaucracy.

To make the proposal effective, logistics giant INTELS Nigeria Limited rose to the occasion by committing N1 billion to it. A few other companies rallied together and in all, N3 billion was realized to undertake the palliative work. However as good as it sounds, palliative work on a strategic road like that is a temporary project.For the governor, the initiative was aimed at ending the loss of man hours on the very critical road to the seaport and also make the port and free zone attractive.

Stakeholders think that because of the strategic nature of Onne Port and the place it occupies in boosting Nigeria’s economy; a thinking government would have given it priority attention.

Onne Port Complex, which is situated on the Bonny River Estuary along Ogu creek, is the first port of its kind in Nigeria that operated the landlord port model devised to encourage private sector participation in the port industry prior to the port reform exercise in Nigeria.

The port, which serves as a hub for the west and central Africa sub-region in oil and gas logistics has an advantage of accessibility, proximity to the Eastern commercial centers like Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba and adequate depth to accommodate large ocean-going vessels in a well secured environment.

Strategically located, the port houses the largest oil and gas free zone in the world supporting exploration and production for Nigerian activities. All the major oil and gas companies have offices in Onne. The port accounts for over 65 percent of the export cargo through the country’s seaport.

The East West road is the connecting link between the Niger Delta and other parts of the country. As earlier expressed, experts believe that the tactical location of the road should ordinarily make it a prime project for execution by the federal government. Apart from serving Bayelsa, Rivers, AkwaIbom, Cross River, Edo and Delta States, where Nigeria’s oil wealth is drilled, the road transverses Ogun and Lagos, the nation’s commercial hub.

But, like most public infrastructures in the country, the road is a virtual death trap, owing to negligence by successive governments. Driving on the East-West road can be agonizing. During the rainy season, craters left behind by erosion torment motorists to no end.Some of the gullies are wide enough to swallow vehicles, leaving owners to groan about the expenses they will incur to repair their vehicles. It can be worse when floods overflow banks of rivers.

When former President OlusegunObasanjo awarded the contract for the project late in 2006 in the heat of violent agitations by youths of the Niger Delta, there was unending joy and euphoria in the oil-bearing region as the road held great promises. Beyond the social and economic importance of the road, Obasanjo conceived it as a means to douse the fire of militancy in the oil region.

A 675km dual-carriageway meant to open up the entire Niger Delta states, linking them one to another as well as with the industrialized South-West region of Nigeria, the East West Road stretches from Calabar in Cross River State to Warri in Delta State, with an additional 23.9km included by former President Goodluck Jonathan to link Calabar with the oceanic town of Oron in AkwaIbom State.

The road was conceived to link all major oil towns, beginning from Oron in Uyo to Calabar across Cross River and the Atlantic Ocean, up to Itu and Eket (AkwaIbom), Port Harcourt and Ahoada (Rivers), Kaiama (Bayelsa), and Warri (Delta), up to Benin. From there, a traveller to Lagos would link up Okada Town (Edo), straight down to Ore, Sagamu, and then Lagos.

It was going to be a great relief to Niger Deltans because before the road was conceived, a traveller from the eastern wing of the Niger Delta would go through Aba, Owerri, Onitsha and Asaba before linking up to Benin and from there to Lagos or any other part of the South-West.

Eleven years after, controversies still trail the project despite huge sums so far sunk into it. The project is far from completed even as road users lament the bad state of several sections of the road.

When Obasanjo approved the road project in 2006 during a heated summit with youths of the Niger Delta, the youths had complained bitterly of neglect by the federal government, having seen wonderful houses and roads in Abuja when they attended a SaniAbacha (for president) rally and insisted on have something close to that in their region.

But immediately after Obasanjo left office in 2007, stakeholders realised that it was an empty award. The first problem discovered was that the road had no design, and experts said it was impossible to execute any engineering project without a design that would assist in estimating the cost.

The next hiccup was that the N211 billion which was the projected cost was not even captured in the 2007 budget, rendering it null and avoid since no such contract award could be realistic without budgetary cover.

When pressure mounted on Obasanjo’s successor, UmaruYar’adua to act, he revealed that there was neither a design nor a budget to fall back on, despite the presence of a Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs created by his predecessor to manage the road project. The whole drama baffled communities in the oil region. The road was to wait through the distressing days of the sick president until Jonathan, a son of the soil came to power in 2011.

When Obasanjo awarded the contract at the cost of N211 billion in 2006, many shouted, saying a normal kilometre of road would normally cost N20 million, and that since the road was 338km, the total cost should have been far less than that.

When Jonathan became President, expectations were high that repair of the road would become a reality. Soon after his victory in 2011, he revised the costs to N726 billion. Officials of the Niger Delta Ministry said the cost reflected the designs which were absent in the 2006 contract sum.

Despite its huge cost, the realization of the project has become a mirage.  A product of violent agitation, the road seems to be the most controversial project in Nigeria.

The cry however seems more felt in some areas than others. Mathew Echezona, a frequent traveler on the road, who lives in Asaba said, “From Okwe Junction, the road is terribly bad. People lament of how they suffer when they are travelling to Lagos. They lament how they spend three to four hours at Okwe junction.”

Another traveller, Asomugha Anthony said, “The problem is that with the bad state of the road and wastage of manpower, there is huge economic loss on that road because delay is dangerous. If the trucks especially from the ports carrying goods which are regular on that roads stay longer than necessary, it may equally affect the delivery of the goods and this will have multiplier effects on the economy.”

He asked the President MuhammedBuhari’s government to fast-track the dualization of the road.

Diamond Emuobor, a cleric and Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Ughelli North Local Government Area, Delta State, described promises to rebuild the road as a hoax.

“It is a deception to the South-South region. Reason is since it was awarded, many other road projects awarded in other parts of the country have been completed and put into use.

“But the South-South region, the Niger Delta, which is the economic hub of Nigeria, has been neglected and I can say the Niger Deltans have been deceived with this white elephant project. What it would cost to complete that project is not more than one month crude oil,” he said.

Many had expected that the project would have been completed under Jonathan, the only Niger Deltan to serve as Nigeria’s President. But after five years in the saddle, the hope was dashed. Now many wonder if the road will ever be completed.

Nigeria’s Minister of Works, Housing and Power, BabatundeFashola recently made promises about active work resuming on the road but until something tangible is seen to be done, the posturing may simply remain another government propaganda or another way of currying public favour without intention of fulfilling the promise.