Enugu-Onitsha Expressway: Strategic, important…yet neglected!
• Residents Plead With Govt, As Rainy Season Looms
The Enugu-Onitsha expressway connects the South East and South South, through the Niger Bridge, linking Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi States, as well as the North, via Benue and Kogi States. Over the years, this all-important road, home to heavy vehicular traffic, has been in a very deplorable state. How the Trunk-A highway went from bad to worse is still a puzzle to many road users. Though rehabilitation commenced before the last general election, it was eventually abandoned, and contractors have since left the site. But for intervention by the Anambra State government under Peter Obi to salvage a section of the road, the situation might have been unimaginable.
But after few years of rains, the section of the expressway from Odumodu Junction to Akwuzu Junction has become an eyesore, especially towards the Anambra State NYSC (National Youth Service Corps) Orientation Camp, Umunya. It began with a lane, which broke down. With articulated vehicles constantly plying the route, the collapse of the second lane was a certainty waiting to happen.
Accidents, meanwhile, have become frequent. Trucks and fuel tankers meandering past the failed sections risk overturning. On a rainy day, the situation is worse, as the road is flooded due to lack of drainage.
How Corps members manage to access the Camp remains a mystery. “I’ve been hearing of bad roads in the east, but coming here is an eye opener for me. Look at the road; we don’t even have a place to stand and wait for a bus. This entire place is bush; you are in the middle of nowhere. Government should fix this road,” said Corps member, Muhammed Yusuf.
From the Awkuzu Junction end, driving on the road is a lot better; one of the lanes is still usable, even though it is fraught with dangerous potholes. The rough ride continues to Abba Town, Enugwu Agidi, Abagana and further on to Amawbia Junction, where the phase two of the rehabilitation started by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State has reached an advanced stage.
To enhance free flow of traffic within the capital, the state government came up with three flyover bridges at Amawbia, Kwata and the popular Aroma Junctions, all within Awka, the state capital. These flyovers meanwhile, have changed the skyline of the city, even as the double lanes from Amawbia Junction to the Agu Awka end of the expressway have been rehabilitated and fitted with streetlights.
From Agu Awka, towards the Nnamdi Azikiwe University and further down Amansee Bridge into Enugu State, however, the situation is terrible. Commuters are forced to avoid the expressway. Currently, the old Enugu-Awka Road, rehabilitated by the Sullivan Chime administration in Enugu State, is the only safe route into Enugu.
“I was on that road, this year, as I returned to Lagos; it’s in a very terrible state, with craters everywhere. Umunya in Anambra to Mile 9 used to be a journey of less than one hour. Now, we spend more than two hours. Ugwuoba used to be a major stop for truckers. This boosted business transaction in that area. Today, the truckers prefer to take the narrower old Enugu-Onitsha road. All the markets along that expressway have become deserted due to lack of patronage,” said Enugu indigene, Ikem Okuhu.
Umumba, a community is Enugu State, used to be famous for its fresh palm wine; it enjoyed patronage from travellers. But with the terrible state of the road, the community’s economy is no longer at ease. “If you go to Umumba, before Mile 9, people coming from Lagos, who have taste for Igbo palm wine, usually stopped there to buy the delicacy and other foodstuffs. They are completely out of business, now, because, vehicles no longer follow that route.”
Okuhu blamed Igbo political leaders for the fate of the highway. He said: “I don’t think the Federal Government would deliberately not want to construct a road of such relevance. Rather, I think it’s a result of weakness on the part of Igbo leaders, to make a case for the project. Most people, who represent us at the National Assembly or at the federal level, don’t talk about the problems we have here. If people understood the economic viability of that road, you wouldn’t need to remind a senator or a minister to put pressure on government to fix it.”
For Dr. Chinedu Mbalisi, a lecturer with Paul University, Awka, the Federal Government must step in urgently to repair the death trap. “That place is terrible; it’s not a place for anybody to move on. They have almost abandoned that road. If you want to risk your life, use the road. If armed robbers attacked you on that road, they would rob you comfortably. If your vehicle spoils there, you are in the middle of nowhere. If there are 10 trailers on the road, it’s doubtful four would arrive safely at their destinations,” Mbalisi said.
“I had expected that during last year’s dry season, the government would have repaired the road. But as we are talking, both the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA) and the Federal Ministry of Works have abandoned the road; they’ve closed their eyes to it. They’ve left the people to wallow in their own problem. The rainy season will certainly worsen the difficulties already being experienced,” Mbalisi said.
Fares have skyrocketed, as a result of difficulties faced by transporters on the route. Awka to Enugu, which used to cost N300 is now about N700. With the current fuel scarcity, the price sometimes hits N900, a journey less than one hour!
“We are not finding it funny because we are constantly changing auto parts. Though some people are making use of the old road, we are still plying the expressway because of communities along the road; they need to go home,” said Chris Nnaji, a bus driver.
Expectedly, filling stations along the road are experiencing tough times due to low patronage. But for the ones operating around Amansee, Ezeagu and towards Mile 9, most are out of business.
Recalling how trade along the road has dwindled, Mrs. Gloria Nnamchi said: “I was able to send my children to school from the money I made selling abacha (African Salad); I doubt if that would be possible today. Look at our market; it’s scanty. Now, we are forced to go to other communities in order to sell. In the past, we sold everything along this road. I wonder why government is not doing anything about it,” she said.
According to the Senior Special Assistant to Anambra State Governor on Media, James Eze, the decision by the state government to intervene on the road was borne out of a desire to alleviate challenges encountered by residents. “The road is actually being handled in phases; the previous administration handled the part that began from the Bridge Head in Onitsha to Umunya. Then, the present administration started from Amawbia to Amansee. It’s a process of expansive extension, which incorporates the three flyovers with all the road furniture,” he said.
The decision by the state government to embark on rehabilitation of the road using state resources has, however, been criticised, with some residents accusing the governor of wasting scarce resource on a federal project.
But Eze said it would be naïve of anyone to suggest the state government should not handle projects critical to the survival of its economy. “That road is critical to the survival of half of the eastern part of the country, because it’s the same stretch that connects Anambra, Enugu and Ebonyi States. So, if it’s allowed to rot continuously, like that, the people might as well surrender their lives to eventual extinction. It’s a very critical road and any responsible government will not fold it’s hands and watch it wiped away. That’s why Obiano’s administration is battling to see how it can salvage it,” he said.
Eze said the Federal Government owes Anambra State government a refund of N32bn for job done on the road from Bridge Head to Amansee, expressing confidence that the Federal Government will pay.