A harrowing road excursion across Okunland
Continued from yesterday’s back page
The situation is not any more consoling, accessing Okunland from Kwara State and parts of the South West. Sections of the Ilorin-Ajasse Ipo-Oro-Omu Aran-Odo Owa-Eruku-Egbe road have long fallen into miserable disrepair. Pedestrians fare better on some bits of the road, much better than speed cars in the crippling morass called a federal road.
Criminals, robbers and kidnappers, can very easily mount sentry at such intersections, which are usually in deserted areas. Rather than ply this route to their homelands, some Okun people from the Ilorin end, detour at Omu Aran, onto the Ifaki Ekiti-Ado Ekiti-Omuo Ekiti-Ekinrin Adde, into their domains, especially in parts of Ijumu and Yagbaland respectively. This is the manner of rigmarole, of circumlocution, the kind of harrowing experience of travelling home, for the Okun person today.
The governor of Kogi State, Yahaya Bello, was a guest at the recent 17th Edition of the All Nigeria Editors’ Conference of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE), held in Abuja, Thursday and Friday, October 21 and 22, 2he1. The theme of the conference was ‘Media In Times Of Crises: Resolving Conflicts, Achieving Consensus.’ Bello joined other panellists, notably representatives of the governors of Kaduna and Osun, at the afternoon session of Friday, October 22, 2021, to illuminate issues bordering on security challenges and management mechanisms. He rehashed the homily about the encirclement of Kogi State by nine states and the federal capital territory. These will include Kwara, Ekiti, Ondo, Edo, Enugu, Anambra, Benue, Niger, Nasarawa and the FCT. This, he noted, presents peculiar security challenges at various extremes of the state.
He digressed to market himself for the 2023 presidential election, an issue that was not on the agenda of the strictly professional conference. Editors also wondered why his chief of staff Abdulkareem Jamiu Asuku and the accountant general of the state Momoh Jibril respectively, were on his entourage to the event. Both officials it was expected, should be minding the home front for him back home in Lokoja. Responding to Editors’ questions on a number of issues including the preposterous road network in the state, Bello told his hosts that his administration had done exceedingly well in road makeovers, such that the only unmotorable roads in the state are those under the purview of the federal government!
If Bello had restricted himself strictly to the agenda paper of the conference, he would probably have mitigated the post-event inquisition by curious senior editors, who proceeded to authenticate his miraculous, even self serenading magical transformational exertions in Kogi State. Who knows, Bello’s “hardwork” and “success” may just be a possible inspiration for other states. Indeed, on the heels of the NGE Conference in Abuja, was the 2021 edition of the Nigeria National Media Awards (NNMA) hosted in the Kogi State capital, Lokoja a week after the Abuja convention of the Guild, between Thursday, October 28 and Saturday, October 30, 2021. The event was attended by a section of the cream of the Nigerian media across the spectrum, in the confluence town. This same Lokoja, held tremendous promise as the ultimate tourist destination in Nigeria, going forward, because of its abundant and significant natural endowments and Lugardian era relics and memorabilia, when Kogi State was created 30 years ago, August 27, 1991. An interrogation of this will constitute the kernel of another treatise. The jury is out there in Kogi State.
I was only recently added to a WhatsApp platform devoted to the wellbeing of Yagba people in the three local government areas namely: Mopamuro, Yagba East and Yagba West. Named ‘Apapo Omo Yagba,’ the intentions of the sociocultural group are not any different from that of Okun Patriots, in the galvanisation of intellectual and human capital, for the upliftment of Yagbaland. The latter, however, is more broad-based, encompassing members from all six Okun-speaking areas. While following the discussion thread of the platform recently, I observed that in the absence of government intervention to facilitate motorable roads en route Yagbaland, an appeal has been launched, to poll resources for the rehabilitation of crucial accesses into the sub-nationality, from the Kogi and Kwara entries into the area. By the way, the “Apapo Omo Yagba” initiative is very laudable. But then it would fare better as an across-the-board Okun project because Yagba people cannot access their homeland except they traverse other sections of Kabba Bunu and Ijumu LGAs, and vice versa. The idea should be a global “#fixokunroads” agenda. Advocacy and funds driven with this as focus, can be crucial to the promotion of genuine unity, cohesion and development among Okun people, globally.
The appeal fund is generating interest from both Yagba people at home, and in the diaspora. As at the last update, over a million naira has been polled and you cannot but wonder just how much that sum of money can do in the matter of the makeover of critical road infrastructure. It is important to note, however, that this is the kind of desperate cross-bearing that Yagba people have resorted to doing, in the absence of interventions and sympathy by the federal, state and local governments. Reading the lips of government at various levels, they have come to the realisation that they are “OYO” (on your own), as is said in popular parlance. True, the federal government built the “Trunk A” road several decades ago, so it has responsibility for its maintenance. But the state and local governments whose constituents are benefited by the road, equally have a responsibility, to keep the critical infrastructure in passable condition for the convenience of their own people.
Elsewhere, state governments in response to the needs and yearnings of their people, undertake the construction and maintenance of federal government infrastructure, with a clear understanding of relevant Federal Government ministries, departments and agencies (MDAs). As governor of Rivers State, Peter Odili undertook the dualisation of the road linking Port Harcourt city, to the International Airport in Omagwa, on the Rivers to Imo State highway.
Odili built other roads and flyovers within the city, and actually reclaimed parts of the landed assets of the state, from the military, who acquired large parcels of land in the past, for the development of military facilities.
I have noted elsewhere that Nyesom Wike, governor of Rivers State, received the refund of a whopping N78 billion from the federal government, for projects undertaken, over time. More contributions continue to stream into the purse of “Apapo Omo Yagba,” as a measure of total commitment to the road reconditioning project.
The politics of 2023 is up in the air and trust politicians not to spare opportunities and seasons like this for self-glorification. Former member representing Yagba Federal Constituency in the House of Representatives, Sunday Karimi, is eyeing the senatorial seat of Kogi West zone, encompassing the entire geographical space between Chikara in Kotonkarfe LGA, which abuts Abaji, all the way to Egbe in Yagba West, on the outbound extreme, to Kwara State. Karimi is undertaking some palliatives on the Egbe-Okoloke-Pategi road in Yagba West, which leads to Nupeland in Kwara State. The road is one of the security weak points of Kogi State because it is basically an un-policed interstate exit. It is believed that the band of robbers who invaded Isanlu in June 2020, killing eight police personnel and robbing First Bank in that single operation, came through that access. Abejide, incumbent parliamentarian representing the same Yagba Federal Constituency, has flagged off the rehabilitation of the Iyamoye-Igbagun axis of the much longer road which leads through communities like Ife-Olukotun, Ponyan, Ejuku, Jege, Takete and Ijowa.
Specifically, state-owned roads in the state are not any better, and it would be worthwhile to appraise the situation in Lokoja, where Bello has his office. Three decades after the town was pronounced capital of Kogi State and five years into Bello’s administration, Lokoja is everything that the headquarters of a modern state should not be. That town which is the historic intersection of two of West Africa’s largest rivers, the Niger and Benue remains a troubling testimonial to pitiable poverty, screaming squalor, unfathomable underdevelopment, deathly dilapidation, and an eye-popping eyesore. Visitors are received into Lokoja from the Abuja-Kotonkarfe approach, by a rowdy, riotous, squirming village-type contraption for buying and selling, dubiously designated an “international market.” The road network in Lokoja evokes the tearful sympathy of Ajegunle in Lagos.
What with roads like Yamayama (what a name? It’s actually suggestive of rubbish in popular parlance) in Ganaja; Army Signals;” Ibrahim Babangida; Lokongoma Housing Estate Phase Two and “500 Housing Units and Extension?” And how about the roads in Phase One and Extension; Adankolo Market; Hassan Katsina; Paparanda to IBB; Sarkin Noma; Kupolati and Cemetry? This is not forgetting the road from NTA roundabout to GTB junction; the Federal University of Lokoja road and Dunamis junction abutting Adankolo. The Zariagi to Army Barracks road and the Felele to Agbaja roads are other roads underneath the nostrils of the state government in Lokoja.
In Kabba Bunu, there are among others, roads in unbelievable states of rot and disrepair, like the Suku-Taki; Kabba-Edunmo-Ayede-Olle; Olle-Iluke; Olle-Igbo; Ayede-Aherin-Odo Ape and the Odo Ape-Igori roads among many others, who haven’t seen scrapers, graders and compactors in decades. Advancing towards Ijumu LGA, one confronts the ugly spectre of state roads like the Asaya-Ogidi-Ayere-Arima-Ogale- Aduge road; Ogale Ayede- Ogale Idioro-Kabba/Okene road junction; Iyara Odokoro road; the Okoro- Agirigbon Oke- Ayeh- Ayegunle road; the Ayetoro-Gbede-Ekinrin Adde; Iyara-Ogidi and Iyamoye-Igbopin road, among others.
In Yagba constituency, beginning from Mopamuro, how would one describe the physical health of the Effo-Takete Ide-Aghara; Takete Ide- Aiyedayo-Aiyegunle; Mopa- Okeagi-Ilae and the Mopa-Imela- Takete Isao roads? How about the Ijowa- Ejuku-Jege; Iyamoye- Oranre- Ponyan- Ife Olukotun; Bagido-Irunda; Itedo-Ilotin-Iye; Makutu-Oba, all in Yagba East? The story is not any better in Yagba West, where roads like Egbe-Okunran-Isanlu Esa-Okoloke; Egbe-Koro-Ogbe; Odo Ere-Iyamerin-Igbaruku; Odo Ara-Omi, are in various depressing conditions? The only road linking Egbe to Ogbe was washed off by the 2020 rains. The people of Okeri in Yagba West have inaugurated an “Okeri Development Task Force” under the leadership of Sanya Oni, a senior Lagos-based journalist who is presently conducting a fundraiser to rebuild the Egbe-Ogbe and Iyamerin-Igbaruku-Okeri roads. Simply put, the road profile in Okunland, appropriately deserve to be festooned with the medals and bunting of the very worst, anywhere in Nigeria.
An inquisition into the state of roads in other senatorial zones in Kogi State will be the subject of another piece. But for now, this is the trajectory of roads in Okunland, an area whose roads, in the words of the governor of Kogi State, are literally at par with roads anywhere in Europe or America, in terms of the quality of roads. It is bad enough that people have to scrimp and exert themselves to build their homes without any form of official facilitation; provide their own sources of potable water and provide or contribute to the procurement of electric transformers to power their neighbourhoods and homes. It is sad enough that people have to provide electricity backup facilities like generators, inverters and solar systems, and also make arrangements for their security, building skyscraping perimeter fences, nursing Alsatians and enthroning civil guards and armed personnel.
Ordinary folks shouldn’t be burdened with the added responsibility of rebuilding roads, bridges, culverts, drainages and similar infrastructure which should be provided by the government. This is a wake-up call to Yahaya Bello, who, in his recent pronouncements and dramas, supposedly aspires to the leadership of this country. How he leverages federal and state assistance for the rehabilitation of roads in Okunland, and how he empowers the leadership of the local government areas to undertake emergency measures on the state and community roads in their domains, is squarely his responsibility. Except of course, if his presidential bid is just an expression of some kind of ‘awada kerikeri.’
Olusunle, PhD, poet, scholar and publicist, is a member of the Nigerian Guild of Editors (NGE).