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Travellers’ tales of woe on Calabar-Itu-Ikot Ekpene road

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The road on a rainy day


For passengers who commute daily on the Calabar-Itu-Ikot Ekpene Federal highway, journeying on the road has become a nightmare. The road, which is about 100km long and links Cross River with Akwa Ibom, is in a state of total collapse.

The attendant effect on livelihoods is only better imagined. While vehicles, especially commercial drivers, spend hours or a day on journeys to and from Akwa Ibom or Cross River, trucks and trailers spend days on the road. For instance, the stretch from Odukpani junction, where the state of the art spaghetti flyover of the Cross River State government starts, to Mkpara near Okurikang junction, a distance of about 50km (half way to Akwa Ibom), is like a newly graded swamp forest road.
 
Often times, passengers disembark in the gridlock to continue their journey on motorcycles, which is also barely able to meander through the long stretch of trailers on the muddy swamp-like road. In the course, countless mishaps occur, with passengers sustaining varying degrees of injury, as was also experienced by The Guardian correspondent while travelling on the road to have first hand experience.

Recounting his ordeal, a motorist who had spent three hours within a short stretch at the time he was fielding questions from The Guardian said: “It is a shame that for over 20 years, this road has been like this. Indeed, we have no government but a bunch of insensitive people in office.”

Another passenger names Emmanuel said he spent over six hours for a journey of an hour fifteen minutes from Calabar to Uyo and had to pay more than double as transport fare with the Akwa Ibom Transport Company (AKTC). “Even at that, at one of the bad spots, I had to alight to take bike, paying another N1, 000 to a point where I could get another vehicle to Uyo. On the return journey, it was the same thing. We got stuck at Mkpara for hours and I had to get a bike to take me to Odukpani junction, a journey of about 50km, paying another N1, 000 as transport fare.”
 
For Effiong Ekanem, a commercial bus driver, it is also not a palatable experience. According to him, “for over 20 years, I have been driving on this road and nothing serious has been done. They just do cut and join, put money in their pockets and disappear. I have been on this trip for two days with my bus yet I cannot move. It is always like this every year. What is the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) and the Federal Ministry of Works doing?

 
“For the first time, we heard a dualisation contract was awarded by President Muhammadu Buhari’s government last year. But up till now, we have not seen anything. The entire road is horrible. If you look at the entire road of about 100km, you cannot find up to 20km put together that is tarred. Everywhere has collapsed. Everyday, we visit the mechanic and the spare part dealers for one problem or the other occasioned by the bad road.”
 
The Calabar-Itu road was constructed under the regime of General Yakubu Gowon as head of state and Brigadier Udoakaha Esuene as Military Governor of South Eastern state but was completed and commissioned by the government of General Murtala Mohammed as Head of State and Col. Paul Omu as Governor. Initially designed as a dual carriage road, things were altered by the new government.
 
However, about 20 years ago, the road started deteriorating. Commuters cried out to government to save the road before its collapse but successive government failed to respond. Occasionally the NDDC, FERMA, some companies and even individuals in affected communities carried out remedial works on sections of the road. From time to time, the locals also broke stones and got sand to fill portions of the bad stretches in return for financial token from motorists.

The Buhari regime had awarded the reconstruction of the Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpene (Calabar-Itu) with Section I of Odukpani-Itu Bridge to Julius Berger at a contract sum N54.17 billion through the 2020 SUKUK funding, with payment of N3 billion so far. The current completion level is 1.82 percent.

In different reactions, stakeholders have called on the Federal Government to urgently intervene and save the hordes of commuters, whose daily lives are adversely affected by the poor state of the road, from the ordeal.

Coordinator of Peace Point Development Foundation (PPDF), Mr. Umo Isua-Ikoh, who lives in Calabar, decried the poor state of the road, saying, “Travellers are currently spending eight to nine hours to cross from Odukpani to Akwa Ibom, which ordinarily is a journey of an hour thirty minutes. When will politicians stop using this road project as an avenue to perpetuate corruption and provide the needed services to the poor masses? Before the last general elections, Julius Berger pretended to be working on the road but when the Presidential election was over, all their equipment disappeared.” 
 
Another group, the Niger Delta Activists Forum (NDAF), in a statement dated June 25, said “seven months ago, issues surrounding this same Odukpani-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene road was on the national spotlight as the forum agitated, vigorously and mobilised a massive protest against the Federal Government and the Minister of Works quickly released the sum of N3 billion for immediate mobilisation to site.” 
 
The statement, signed by the National President, Success Jack, National Treasurer, Bernard Okori and Chairman, Cross Rivers State Chapter, Paul Abang Ajie, said, “We engaged further with him and the entire Ministry of Works, and on December 24, 2019 in Abuja, a truce was brokered and some of the agreements reached stated that: “That all ongoing federal road projects within the Niger Delta region would be completed within the 2020 fiscal year save for a few with overlapping design timeline. That Federal Executive Council approval would be sort for the Odukpani-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene road.

The Odukpani-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene road would be placed on the list of projects to benefit from priority funding. Meaning that execution was to draw monies from SUKUK bond, which the Federal Government would be accessing by January of 2020 and work was expected to commence before the end of February 2020.”
 
They stressed that, “regrettably, the Minister for Works, Babatunde Fashola and the Ministry of Works deliberately chose to prioritise and fund other projects, forgetting that oil flows from here. The immediate environmental consequences are borne here and not in those places they have prioritised over our region. The road in context has now become a national wreath of sorrows, tears and pains on our people and an emblem of shame.

“The Federal Ministry of Works and the Federal Government must urgently devote funds to this project and save us this untold pain. We demand that the Minister quickly allocate the next tranche of cash inflow to address the Odukpani-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene road. Failure to undertake these actions within the next 21 days, the Niger Delta people will respond in the loudest way possible, including but not limited to sustained mass action.”

 


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Ekpene road
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