Conditions worsen as dualisation of Benin-Auchi-Okene highway stalls
Non-payment of compensation, relocation of structures/buildings on the right of way, as well as, delay in payment, top the list of factors that are responsible for the very slow pace of work on the ever-busy Benin-Auchi-Okene Federal Highway in the Edo State axis.
But disoriented commuters and motorists, who are peeved by the harrowing experience that plying implies are now calling on the Federal Government to work towards ensuring that the pace of work on the project improves so that it would be delivered this year as scheduled, and before onset of the rainy season. Road users particularly singled out Ekpoma, Ewu, Jattu and Okpella axis as playing host to some of the failed sections found on the road.
Contract for the dualisation of the road project was awarded in 2012 by the President Goodluck Jonathan-led administration. Six years after the contract was awarded, even though work is ongoing on the Benin to Okene stretch, the dualisation work is going at snail’s speed and this has been blamed for the high rate of road crashes, which lead to avoidable deaths.
During the 2018 Yuletide, the high volume of vehicular traffic further aggravated the condition of the road, making it almost impossible to go for more than three minutes without encountering potholes and craters.
While on an on-the-spot assessment tour of the road recently, the Minister of State for Works, Power and Housing, Mustapha Baba Sehuri, directed contractors handling the Auchi – Okene axis of the dualisation project to expedite action in order to avert further carnage and loss of lives.Sehuri, who deplored the slow pace of work by the contractors, mandated them to stick to the completion schedule.
The three contracting firms handling the project are Reynold Construction Company (RCC), Dantata and Sawoe, and MotherCat Limited. But findings by The Guardian indicated that speeding up the pace of the job might not be as easy as the minister wants it.According to the Project Manager of MotherCat, Joubran Saadah, issues bordering on payment of compensation and relocation of structures/including buildings on the right of way, were responsible for the delay.
Saadah, who solicited for more funds from the Federal Government to enable the company enhance the progress of work, said his firm was mobilised to the tune of N3b in 2017 out of the total contract sum of N10.7b.Other contractors working on different sections of the road also lamented inadequate release of funds, insisting that it contributes to the slow pace of work on the project, as well as deadly accidents on the highway.
One of such incidents, a multiple crash occurred along the Ewu-Auchi axis of the Benin-Okene-Lokoja road a few days to the New Year.
Edo State Sector Commander of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Anthony Okoh, who described the incident as “sad and avoidable,” attributed it to the slow pace of work on that section of the road, which traffic has been reduced to a single lane. Okoh who disclosed that a total of eight vehicles were involved in the crash, urged the Federal Government to speed up work on the project to avert future carnage, especially around the Ewu Hill, which is accident prone.He also warned that the use of a single lane is not capable of carrying the heavy traffic on the busy highway.
The FRSC boss said 10 persons were injured and another three killed in the process.Speaking further, he said: “The problem is that this part of the road needs to be dualised without further delay. Construction work is going on there, but it is at snail’s speed. If it is not dualised within the shortest possible time, accidents will continue to happen just like what used to happen along Gwagwalada-Abaji-Lokoja in those days.
“The single lane being used cannot carry the huge volume of vehicular traffic, especially the type that was seen during the Yuletide,” he said.Road users and groups have also expressed grave concerns over the slow pace of work, especially at Section One and Section Two (that is Ekpoma to Okene), which is being handled by MotherCat and Dantata and Sawoe respectively. On different occasions, Ekpoma Stakeholders Forum have called on the Federal Government to immediately release funds for the completion of the road project in order to make the Ekpoma section of the road motorable again.
The forum, which is a coalition of professional groups, trade unions, farmers, market women, civil society organisations in Edo Central Senatorial District made the latest call at the end of a strategic meeting of Concerned Ekpoma Stakeholders Forum at Ekpoma, Edo State.
It decried the abandonment of the dualisation of the Benin-Auchi section of the road with about 10 kilometers cut off at Ekpoma, a development, which led to the destruction of feeder roads in the university town.Furthermore, it accused the Federal Government of failing to maintain the road, which was constructed in the 1970s, resulting in untold hardship being experienced and stifling of socio-economic activities in the area.
“We recall with nostalgia that the Benin/Abuja road was constructed in the early 1970s. Without necessary maintenance and repairs works over the years, the people have now been subjected to untold hardship. The Benin/Auchi axis of the road at the moment is in its worst state and almost impassable. This has equally affected the socio-economic activities of the people.
“The axis, which billions of naira worth of contract was awarded for its dualisation/repairs has not seen any meaningful job being done. Consequently, the slightest downpour normally leads to serious traffic buildup, which usually span for up to 10 kilometers. “Sequel to this, articulated vehicles carrying petroleum products, mineral resources and farm produce to and from other parts of the country, and other road users are forced to divert to feeder roads within Ekpoma town, thereby causing further damage to the roads,” the statement said.
While calling on the Edo State government to immediately commence the reconstruction of feeder roads in Ekpoma and it’s environs, the stakeholders also challenged government to tackle the security challenges confronting Ekpoma, as their women can no longer go to the farm alone for fear of being raped and murdered.The statement read: “The Federal Government should immediately release the budgetary allocation for the repairs and dualisation of the Benin-Auchi axis of the Benin/Okene Federal Highway.
“The Federal Ministry of Works, Power and Housing should direct the contractor to immediately return to site and speed up works to avoid carnage. “The state government should immediately commence the repairs and construction of the feeder roads in Ekpoma and its environs.“The Edo State government should put necessary measures in place to fix the roads and guarantee the security of lives and properties.”
Abdullah Inusa, a trailer driver, who said he had been on the road for three days on his way to Funtua, in Katsina State, appealed to the government to ensure that contractors take their work seriously. When The Guardian visited Ekpoma, several broken down trailers were sighted, while others spent days trying to navigate past sections one and two of the highway.
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