From the Central Park in Aba South Local Government Area, the tricycle moved gently through a crowd of impatient traders. The road is littered with potholes, prompting this reporter to mutter a few words of complaint about the poor state of the road. The tricycle rider, apparently amused by such complaint, looked the other way, smiling. He told PREMIUM TIMES that the Central Park roads are some of the best roads in Abia State. Soon, the tricycle hit the notorious Obohia Road.
A dangerously narrow road, the first sign of palpable decay was the presence of an erosion-ravaged U-turn located at the beginning of the road. Soon, as the journey progressed, what began as tiny potholes turned into deep gullies. As the tricycle moved past damaged vehicles and abandoned tricycles, different Keke riders were seen on the road calling for help over one mechanical fault or the other. On both sides of the road, there are fly-infested gutters oozing of the stench of abandoned waste.
“This Obohia Road route is one of the most difficult places to work in Abia State,” began Ochuko, the commercial tricycle rider. “It’s why we collect N150 from Park rather than the usual N100. But even at that, what we spend on repair of Keke for plying this road is huge compared to how much we charge. Many of our people riding Keke always avoid this road. It is pathetic.”
Mr Ochuko, who declined to provide his surname, had barely concluded his remarks when the tricycle journey came to an abrupt end at a flooded spot along the road. He quickly signalled to this reporter and other passengers to alight as he would not go beyond the flooded spot.
“You will have to join other people, cross that ‘river’ with your leg and continue the journey,” he said, pointing at the flooded pathway ahead. There are dirty, stinking waters on both sides of the spot the trip ended. Some metres ahead, right in the middle of what was originally meant to be a motorable road, a mountain of refuse lay amidst flowing dirty water. This reporter would later join others to cross the ‘river’ and begin what turned out a long journey along the dirty, stinking, dilapidated Obohia Road.
“We don’t have a government in Abia,” said a furious passer-by who identified himself simply as Igwe. “The worst roads in the South-east are in Abia State. From here to Ohanku, to Ogbor Hill, to PortHarcourt Road, to Obingwa, to Umuahia, the roads are bad.”
PREMIUM TIMES investigation across the state later confirmed the terrible state of roads in the state.
NDDC AND TALES OF BROKEN ROADS
The Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) was established to intervene in the lives of the people of the Niger Delta region, which includes Abia State. The commission was created largely as a response to the demands of the population of the Niger Delta, a populous area inhabited by a diversity of minority ethnic groups. The vision of the NDDC is to provide a “…lasting solution to the socio-economic challenges of the Niger Delta Region” while its Mission Statement is “to facilitate the rapid, even, and sustainable development of the Niger Delta into a region that is economically prosperous, socially stable, ecologically regenerative, and politically peaceful.”
But despite the presence of the NDDC, roads in Abia State are in deplorable conditions. The poor condition of roads in the state is quite palpable that government officials are not oblivious of the reality and its attendant effect on the lives of residents.
Last October, the Abia State House of Assembly brought to the fore, the deplorable state of roads across the state and called on federal lawmakers from the state to draw federal government’s attention to them.
The house also urged the state government to mandate the Abia State Road Maintenance Agency (ABROMA) to apply some palliatives on the failed portions of the roads, pending the reconstruction and rehabilitation of the roads by the federal government. The house listed the dilapidated roads in the state to include the Umuahia-Ikwuano Road, Umuahia-Bende Road and Ohafia-Arochukwu Road, among others.
Although the state assembly focused its attention on federal roads in the state, PREMIUM TIMES investigations found that most of the roads under the jurisdiction of the state are not better.
NDDC’s ‘Poor Quality’ Roads
A report by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on revenues, deductions, disbursement, and application of funds by NDDC showed that the agency allocated about N7, 979, 578,000 for construction of roads and bridges in Abia State between 2007 and 2011.
PREMIUM TIMES’ checks across the state showed that many of the roads said to have been renovated by the agency are in terrible conditions.
For instance, in Aba South Local Government, Asa Road, Jubilee Road, Azikwe Road, Cameron Road and Hospital Road said to have undergone “renovation” according to records from the NDDC are in different states of disrepair. When PREMIUM TIMES visited the areas, residents complained about the shoddy jobs done on most of the roads.
“They repaired them but they didn’t last long,” said a trader on Cameron Road, Julius Uzor. “Most of the roads they repaired here are now in bad shape, causing serious pain for us residents.”
On the Ogbor Hill end of Ikot-Ikpene Road, there are huge craters and dungeon-like potholes on both sides of the road. When PREMIUM TIMES visited the area, residents and commercial transport workers complained bitterly of the poor state of the road. The same was the situation at Opopo Junction as well as roads in Obingwa area. A short distance from the dilapidated Ikot-Ikpene road lies NDDC’s Aba Office, located along the Park-Ogbor Hill Road.
“You can only move around here with Okada; you should not try driving here as you can see,” Mama Oyibo, a petty trader, told this newspaper at Ogbor Hill Junction. “We have lamented for decades yet nothing has been done. The state government is doing nothing; NDDC too has done nothing. And their (NDDC’s) office is just down here. It is very bad.”
Apart from NDDC’s own abandoned and poorly renovated roads, Abia state is littered with numerous dilapidated roads which residents said the NDDC could help fix as the state government has remained helpless. One of such is the Port Harcourt Road.
“Since the state government has shown no sign of competence even in its own areas, only an agency with a deep purse like NDDC can fix this road if we have the right set of people in power,” Sunday Abrahams, a businessman and policy analyst based in Aba told PREMIUM TIMES during a tour of the road. Mr Abraham explained that the road has become terribly bad that the state government can do little to fix it.
PREMIUM TIMES observed that the road is not only damaged and broken, but it is also littered with dirt, rubbish and faecal materials.
At the Crystal Park end, a mountain of refuse lay in front of what residents said was the entrance of a renown public school on the road. Many businesses and offices have had to relocate from the area due to the poor state of the road.
“Very, very bad” Ohanku Road
By far the NDDC’s most controversial road project in Abia state is Ohanku Road. The road, which has been a subject of controversy between the state government and the NDDC, is a complete mess. When PREMIUM TIMES visited, the road is literally flooded and damaged from the Ngwa Road end to the express road axis.
PREMIUM TIMES’ check revealed that the road project was first handled by a contractor named Herbertech Nigeria Ltd, which failed to complete it due to reported case of inadequate funding. The road has since been abandoned, drawing pain and lamentation among residents, with no sign that contractors would return to site any time soon.
In 2017, the Abia State Governor, Okezie Ikpeazu, complained to the management of the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) over the abandonment of the road project by the contractor and called on the commission to, as a matter of urgency, look into the plight of the residents.
The governor who described the condition of the road as “very, very, bad” called on the NDDC to intervene in order to alleviate the pains and sufferings caused by the commission’s inability to ensure the completion of the road which it awarded before the coming of his administration.
In another press statement posted on the state government’s website, the governor said the Abia State government cannot help the situation in the case of Ohanku Road because it cannot take over the construction from the NDDC.
Mr Ikpeazu also decried what he called “poor quality jobs” being executed in the state by NDDC contractors. When PREMIUM TIMES visited in October, the situation had worsened.
Although it is considered one of the most strategic roads in the state, there is no proper drainage on both sides and that has resulted in flooding of houses located few metres away from the Ngwa Road end of the road. On other sections, there are huge craters and potholes filled with stinking waters housing different forms of animals. On the express-way end of the road, two petrol stations have shut down operation due to what residents said was the poor state of the erosion-ravaged road.
When contacted, Charles Odili, NDDC spokesperson, declined comments on the poor state of roads handled by the agency in Abia State.
But the agency in a statement on December 6 pledged to complete the 46-kilometre road linking several communities in Ukwa East Local Government Area of Abia State to the commercial city of Aba.
The NDDC Acting Managing Director, Joi Nunieh, made the promise while inspecting the Obohia-Ohanku-Aba Road stalled at Ndiegoro community. He also assured that the project would be tackled “as a matter of urgency.”