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A harrowing road excursion across Okunland

By Tunde Olusunle
17 November 2021   |   3:17 am
Pardon me if my epistlolaries on Okunland, my part of Nigeria which is part of present day Kogi State, have become recurring subjects in my recent public offerings. It may interest readers to note that surprisingly...

Pardon me if my epistlolaries on Okunland, my part of Nigeria which is part of present day Kogi State, have become recurring subjects in my recent public offerings. It may interest readers to note that surprisingly, I was not born, raised or educated in Okunland. Yes, I was introduced to Okunland by my parents in my childhood years, even as they desired that my siblings and I should be acquainted with our homeland early enough. My closest affiliation to my Okun-Yoruba country, however, was my two-year sojourn in Ponyan one of the communities in Yagba East Local Government Area (LGA). I was deployed by my erstwhile employers, the Kwara State Education Management Board (KWSEMB), to teach in that community between 1986 and 1988. Fresh from the mandatory one-year National Youth Service Corps (NYSC), teaching was the only job available to some of us, out of the teeming numbers of graduates at the time.

Intent on mitigating unemployment, the Kwara State government took the radical step of terminating the appointments of foreign teachers in the education sector at the time. This was to facilitate the absorption of some new graduates into teaching positions. Before then, Indians, Togolese and Ghanaian teachers taught science subjects, French and English respectively, in secondary schools in the former Kwara State. Their layoff therefore paved the way for graduates in the sciences and languages, to replace them in the educational system. And that was how I found myself teaching English in Oke-Oyi Secondary School, Ponyan, an experience which richly impacted my appreciation of the culture, customs and traditions of my people.

Of course, I’ve been blessed to have lived and worked in some of Nigeria’s most exciting cities. And I remain very nostalgic and passionate about them, ever following socio-political developments in those cities and states very studiously, even diligently. I’m talking about places like Kaduna, Benin City, Ilorin, Owerri, Lagos, Lokoja and Abuja. Elsewhere, I should be able to stake a claim to citizenship in such places on account of length of residence and contributions to my host cities in every instance. My departed friend and colleague, Adinoyi-Ojo Onukaba in a published tribute to me many years ago, ascribes my cosmopolitanism and free-flowing relational competencies, to these multi-legged experiences and exposure.

My regular resort to expositions on Okunland, derives from my wholesale love, admiration and respect for my land, my people. I recall Nigeria’s President, Muhammadu Buhari exhorting us all during his first coming as a military Head of State January 1984, not to join the ‘Andrew-ing’ group, folks who were fleeing the country because of the harsh and intolerable living conditions in the country, at the outset of his regime. Things are evidently worse on Buhari’s current visitation as Nigeria’s civilian President, with emigration figures smashing records, no thanks to unanticipated social, economic and political hardships perpetuated under his incumbent administration. Today’s Okunland, regrettably, is a study in grim, even grave contrasts: It is an area, a people so highly endowed, so blessed, in human and natural terms, yet so worsted, so neglected, so viciously abandoned. Ours is a homecountry whose name rings across the world, courtesy of the cross-professional exertions and triumphs of its people, which, conversely, is so forlorn, consigned to the backwoods of time.

As against the past when I was a regular traveller to my home state, Kogi, and my homeland the Okun country for sundry programmes, commuting has become few and far between, in recent years and months. There are ever streaming invites to wedding ceremonies, anniversary commemorations, church consecrations, rites of passages, community launches, new yam festivals, political meetings and so on. Of late, however, news and reports of happenings on Nigeria’s roads, have been anything but heartening. The daredevilry of bandits and kidnappers on our motorways and the physical conditions of the roads themselves, have been most discouraging. The economics of it all, particularly the wherewithal to attend to recurring needs and expectations of home folks who perceive their kinsmen in Lagos, Kano, Abuja, Port Harcourt and so on, as being in perennially more solvent situations than them, has equally been a source of discouragement. These are not times to play *Santa Claus.*

At the instance of *Okun Patriots,* a pan-Okun sociocultural body committed to the harmonisation and unification of the people of the Okun nation for the rediscovery and development of the area, however, I had to visit our homeland, early September. The group, Okun Patriots, constituted a committee to visit the College of Education (Technical), in Kabba. Video clips trending on the social media, had highlighted the inventions of  a young fabricator of miniature airplanes and drones, Adedayo Kehinde, 24, who graduated in automobile  engineering from the institution. Opinion on the whatsapp platform which aggregates the members of Okun Patriots, favoured an interface with the young man and the authorities of COETK, to help in guiding his career path. The visitation committee was led by a former acting governor of Kogi State, who was also Speaker of the State House of Assembly, Clarence Olafemi, while I served as Secretary.

The ride from Abuja through Abaji, Chikara, Gegu Beki, Kotonkarfe, Lokoja, Obajana, Odo Ape and thenceforth to Kabba was good. Sections of the Abuja-Lokoja road which has been undergoing reconstruction and dualization since the twilight of the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo, remain undone. Age, weather, wear and tear are equally impacting parts of the highway, with cracks and gullies, here and there. The Obajana-Kabba stretch of the road recently concrete-built by the proprietor of the Obajana Cement Company, Aliko Dangote, is gradually giving way, no thanks to the dead weight of heavy duty trucks regularly ferrying products from the cement plant. Sections of the road have yielded openings and pot holes which require immediate remediation.

The Okun Patriots delegation was well received by the leadership of the College led by its provost, Victoria Olusola Jagboro, at the temporary site of the school. She took us through the gradual strides the institution had recorded since its inception a decade ago, and also let us into its challenges. All the academic courses in the four faculties of the College have been duly accredited by the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE). The student population has also risen from low numbers, to about 1000 students, as more and more people get to know about the quality of teaching in the school.

Physical development of the main campus is progressing rather slowly. There is no access road to the new campus and the footpath into the place has been severed by a stream running through the approach to the College. The luminous land area of the new site is also in dire need of a perimeter fence to keep out trespassers. The visiting team watched demonstrations by the young inventor, Adedayo Kehinde and interviewed him on his plans and vision. He told us that the Chinese Institute of Drones has been talking to him, with regards to offering him a scholarship to train in a Chinese university. ‘Proforce’ an Ogun State-based manufacturer of military hardware, have also reached out to him. The Olafemi team has since forwarded its report with recommendations, to Okun Patriots.

Having gotten as far as Kabba on the Abuja-Lokoja-Kabba-Egbe-Ajasse-Ilorin road, there was the temptation to hop into my hometown, Isanlu, to see our folks back home. Once upon a time, the Kabba-Mopa-Isanlu drive, was a smooth 30 minute ride. If your automobile was being fixed in Isanlu and there were components which could only be sourced in Kabba, you could dash into Kabba, make your procurement and be back in Isanlu in an hour and a half. On this occasion, however, there was no such contemplation. News stories, photographs and video clips on the internet, alluded to the pitiably decrepit conditions of all accesses to various parts of Okunland.

The Kabba-Aiyetoro Gbedde stretch of the road to Isanlu and Egbe, through Mopa, had broken up, around the entrance to the College of Agriculture, Kabba, a federally owned institution affiliated to the Ahmadu Bello University (ABU), Zaria, which transformation into a University of Agriculture, has been the long-time desire of Okun people. The span between Kabba and Aiyetoro-Gbedde is passable, but the Iyah Gbedde-Mopa-Amuro-Ijowa ambience is decrepit. Respite comes between Mopo Isanlu to Makutu, but the Idofin-Ejiba stretch en route to Egbe, is the ultimate test for the fitness of your vehicle. This part of the cross-Okunland road, has depreciated further in recent weeks, because of the breakdown of the Kabba-Iyamoye-Omuo Ekiti road, hitherto preferred by trailers, luxury buses and similar heavy duty vehicles.

Some of these articulated vehicles have succumbed to the treacherous conditions of the road at various parts, falling over across the road in various places and complicating the already terrible state of the road. Commuters are thus compelled to detour through bush paths, to continue their trips. A combination of the support of some federal parliamentarians and well-meaning Okun compatriots, notably Tajudeen Yusuf and Leke Abejide (both members of the House of Representatives) in partnership with local government officials, has provided some palliatives for the Kabba-Iyamoye section of the road to other Okun communities on the Ekiti direction of the area. Such is the trauma, the perspiration, the pain of commuting to Okunland, from the Northern destinations of the country.

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 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, 2021. The theme of the conference was ‘Media In Times Of Crises: Resolving Conflicts, Achieving Consensus.’ Bello joined other panelists, 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 which 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 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. An advocacy and funds drive 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 do, 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 the 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 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 which 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 government. This is a wakeup 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).

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