Like a procession, cars and trucks of various sizes lined up in a long stretch, going up and down, left and right to ease a movement that should last about half an hour.
It is nothing new when travelling through Okene-Ajaokuta-Itobe Federal Highway. As you move across the Ajaokuta flyover heading towards Itobe, the misery begins. It gets worse as you proceed beyond Ofunene Junction. Asphalt surface is completely gone and the muddy terrain, blasted by torrents of rainfall, has created circular depressions of varying diameters along the road. It is a frustration to Nigerians of all classes plying that road, a key link between Abuja and southern Nigeria.
Budgetary allocations spanning five years have not been able to resolve the problem. While some dots of earth movements appear in parts of the road, the project has been largely abandoned. The contractors, SCOA Nigeria Plc, are not seen anywhere. Some of their abandoned equipment still lie near Ajaokuta.
A review of several federal road projects in Kogi State has shown the roads were abandoned after payments had been made by the government. The examination was done by PREMIUM TIMES and its partner organization, UDEME
The dual carriage way runs from Okene to Ajaokuta and across the Itobe Bridge before narrowing into a single lane as one approaches Itobe. But to the driver plying the road, it is not a dual carriage way as vehicles are forced into one fairly usable lane because the other lane is completely impassable.
By the time the road hits the Ajaokuta flyover, heading towards Itobe, the road is perpetually a single muddy lane, while the other one is closed due to its complete failure.
The Federal Ministry of Works and Housing awarded the contract for the construction of the Ajaokuta-Okene axis to SCOA Nigeria Plc in December 2014 with a commencement date of February 2016. The rehabilitation of the entire stretch of the road was supposed to be for 18 months, but after an initial mobilisation and few earth movements, the project was abandoned.
At Ogunpo village shortly before Ajaokuta, the road has been devastated by gully erosion. Vehicles, including heavy trucks, ride through the ditch to navigate the bad portions. To make matters worse, the trucks often pack at both sides of the road at one of the lanes in creating only a narrow path for oncoming vehicles since the other lane is so bad vehicles prefer to avoid it.
The Okene-Ajaokuta-Itobe Road is a nightmare to motorists. Although this road would have been the shortest route from Ajaokuta to Okene, drivers prefer other routes, even though longer, to avoid the impending damage to vehicles.
“I wonder how we can abandon a road so useful as this one,” said a passenger who identified himself as Samson. “We left it and allowed it to be destroyed, the people will suffer and after the damage we will start looking for money to repair it.”
PREMIUM TIMES learnt that due to the condition of the road, travelers are prone to robbery attacks there. There was no security patrol or checkpoints through the length of the road between Ajaokuta and Okene.
However, from Otukpa through Ayingba to Itobe, the single lane from Otukpa is maintained with patches and filling of the potholes. This remedial work which makes travelling easier to Kogi East and through the Benue, terminates at Itobe bridge.
The section from Otukpa to Ajaokuta which is about 150 km was rehabilitated by Moulds Nigeria Ltd and the work was completed in 2013. The Federal Roads Maintenance Agency routinely carry out maintenance works on the road.
However, the rehabilitation of Itobe Bridge which is over River Niger, has just been scheduled for commencement, even though the project was listed in the 2017 budget with a sum of N446.3 million. Officials of the federal works ministry confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES that contract for the rehabilitation of Ajaokuta Interchange to Itobe Bridge over River Niger had been awarded and work will begin soon.
Damaged and abandoned
At the opening of the road at Okene, things appear to be smooth. However, after driving 5kms from Okene, the change from one lane to the other begins.
Although PREMIUM TIMES could not ascertain the total value of the contract at its award in 2014, the company was supposed to collect a total of N1.125 billion as approved advance.
Boade Akinola, Director of Information at the Ministry of Works and Housing, said the contractor had collected N932 million, which is about 82 per cent of the advance payment.
“However, the contractor was only able to execute works to the tune of N128,201,642.53 (about 11.3 per cent completion) before abandoning the site,” Mrs Akinola said. “The contractor is attributing their non-performance to difficulty in accessing funds from their bankers.”
Due to the lack of commitment to the execution of the project, the contractor was issued two warning letters followed by a 14-day notice of intention to terminate the contract in line with the standard condition of contract.
In spite of the warnings, the contractor did not return to site and its reaction was negative. The ministry said it was in the process of terminating the contract to enable it to re-award the project to a contractor with the requisite capacity to execute the project.
PREMIUM TIMES made several efforts to reach SCOA Nigeria PLC, but none was successful. An official who responded to a phone number on the company’s website said he could not comment on the project. He gave two numbers to another personnel he said was responsible for SCOA’s road projects. Both lines did not connect.
Murtala Muhammed Bridge
In 2017, N446 million was provided for the rehabilitation of the Murtala Muhammed Bridge which is a major bridge along the Ajaokuta-Okene highway. Besides the rehabilitation of the bridge, the expansion joints were to be completely replaced. But our findings showed that no rehabilitation work was done on the road, just as the expansion joints have worn out needing urgent replacements.
Some parts of the bridge’s joints showed serious wear and dilapidation posing a great risk to users of the bridge. The Ministry of Works and Housing said the project was “under procurement.”
Other abandoned access roads
Awo Ankpali-Awo Atukwo Road
Awo-Ankpali is a quiet agrarian community situated in the north of Ankpa Local Government Area, in Kogi East Senatorial District of Kogi State. Its population is a little above 5000, with most of its women and youth engaging in cassava farming. The crop, which is the major ingredient for garri, is their major source of income. The only road to Atukwo market, where the product is sold, runs from the old Otukpo Road through Ankpali to Awo Atukwo. The 10km road is dotted by other smaller villagers along the way-the only one in and out of the area.
In spite of the need to move large quantities of farm produce and other food items to the weekly Atukwo Market, vehicles cannot ply the road. Motorcycles that are able to ply, suffer a lot as the road has become washed into deep gullies. The rains have made things worse even for pedestrians.
The road is another abandoned project. The contract for its construction was awarded by the federal government but abandoned by the contractors in March 2019.
Work actually started on the 10km road project sometime at the end of 2018 even though it was introduced in the budget in 2017. According to reports by residents, the contractors, Abikaish Resources Limited, quickly did a drainage which covered less than 100m. A member of the community and also a serving NYSC member, Yinusa Amodu, noted that project was abruptly abandoned shortly after it started, and the contractors left site and never returned. Budget provision for the project in 2018 was N97million.
“We are still expecting them to come, they promised, they are yet to return,” he said.
The Ministry of Works and Housing claimed the project was not under its supervision even though the project signboard clearly showed the inscription of the ministry on it. “This is not a Federal road and therefore not under the purview of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing,” Mrs Akiola told PREMIUM TIMES.
Another similar failed project is the Ajobe-Awo Road. Besides the sign board detailing the particulars of the project, which was mounted since 2017, there was no sign of any engineering work on the road. Adamu Adamu, a resident of Ajobe, who conducted PREMIUM TIMES along some parts of the road, said work was thought to have started two years ago, but that work never took off and the road was never built for the communities.
The length of the road is 4.8km and it was awarded in 2017 as a constituency project under the Ankpa, Omala, Olamaboro federal constituency. A budget provision of N43 million was made for the work to be done. It was awarded through the Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority under the Ministry of Water Resources.
“Now that it is raining, no vehicle can pass through, not even Okada can go through that road without encountering serious impediment,” lamented Mr Adamu.
He added that even when people decided to walk through it, they would have to walk through muddy and marshy places that would eventually turn their clothes reddish due to stains. Only in the dry season do vehicles manage to go through the dusty path.
The communities use a longer route which is also not very good to get to their homes.
The Onicha Igo-Ugbamaka Rural rehabilitation project was also expected to help the residents of Onicha Igo link the townships and connect it with Ugbamaka, which is on the Otukpa expressway. The project which is in Olamaboro Local Government Area is yet to see the effect of a grader, despite the N40million provisions made in the budget in 2018. This is also in spite of the fact that it is being supervised by the SDG’s in the Presidency.
A former member of the House of Representatives who represented Ajobe-Ankpa-Olamaboro federal constituency between 2015-2019, Hassan Omale, facilitated the Awo-Ajobe road. He told PREMIUM TIMES that the Onicha Igo Road was not his project, even though it was under his constituency.
On the Awo-Ajobe road, Mr Omale said poor funding of the project had resulted in the delay in its completion. He however said the drainage works on the road had been done.
“Even now something was provided for the project in this 2019 budget,” he said. “I have spoken to the contractor if he will not continue with the job, I will tell the Lower Benue River Development Authority not to give him anything and I have already spoken to the authority.
“I have told the contractor that since he is expecting payment, he should return to site. The contractor has opened the road to some extent, but he needs to laterite it, so that there would be no hindrance.
“The funds is one of the factors affecting the project, because when you have N50 million appropriated and at the end of the day only about N10 to N20 million is released, that has been our problem.”
The Okuhapa –Obangede road
This is a muddy road left abandoned after about a 50m graded path and culvert was concluded. This is far from completion and the residents are in high expectation that the work would be done soon.
The 2018 project was awarded to Mudpha International Limited and supervised by the Ministry of Water Resources through the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority. The project is worth N10million; however, no serious work has been done.
A resident said the work stopped abruptly since last year, just immediately after it was started, and no sign of the contractors had been seen since then. The access road is creating a lot of trouble for commuters who are daily plying Okene. The extended parts of the road leading to Okene is largely old and dotted with potholes of varying depths.
Eika Adagu Road
This is a 3km access road with a specification which includes the construction of culverts and drainages. A vote of N40million was made for it in 2017.
Work started on this road but was later abandoned inexplicably. The road opens into the community from the Okene-Lokoja Expressway and from the tarred expressway; from there, the muddy and denuded road can be seen.
A member of the youth association in the community, who gave his name as Abdullazeez, said the contractors had no reason to leave, because they came to site with materials to do the road, but midway, packed and left with the building materials, and to suggest that they were no longer coming back, removed their machineries.
Another resident who would not want his name mentioned said the contractors actually sold the remaining building materials to rich members of the community who used the materials to build their own houses within the said community.
“We actually subsidised the project, because we youths actually came out to work to ensure that the project succeeded, but we were surprised that the contractors just packed and left the road undone,” Mr Abbdullazeez explained.
“We are certain that the contractor was paid, at least we saw materials for work, but they packed everything and left, you can see how the road is now, we are suffering especially during the rainy season.”
Efforts to reach the Lower Niger River Basin Development Authority which awarded the Okuhapa-Obangede and the Eika Adagu Roads, was not fruitful. An email forwarded to the agency by PREMIUM TIMES was not responded to for over five weeks.
It was the same story with the Lower Benue River Basin Development Authority. A call to the agency was picked by a male official who did not give his name, who directed PREMIUM TIMES reporter to send his inquiries through the agency’s email published on its website. For over five weeks, the agency did not respond to the email.