Ever since he became a bus driver at Wema 448 Motor Park, Ibadan in 2002, Sunday Oke, 67, has literarily been living from hand to mouth with his wife, a local trader, and three children.
However, things got worse in 2013 for the Ibadan indigene, who plies the Osogbo-Ibadan route, due to the never-ending construction work going on in the Osogbo-Gbongan axis of the road.
”My expenses on the vehicle is far beyond the money I realise,” Mr. Oke said almost moved to tears.
“I spend a minimum of N20,000 on this vehicle monthly. The steering control unit that could last for one or more years if the road is in good condition, now takes just a month to repair. The hardship is so tough that the microfinance institution has become my saving grace for countless times. I lend money for repairs and maintenance from ‘SEAP.’ I usually reimburse every other month after borrowing.”
Mr Oke’s experience captures the major challenges bus drivers and private car owners have to contend with since the Osun State Government commenced work on the Akoda-Gbongan axis of the Osogbo-Ibadan road in 2013.
When the Osun State Government kicked off the construction of the 30km Gbongan-Akoda road, named Omoluabi Motorway, and the Adebisi Akande Trumpet Interchange Bridge in Gbongan, Ayedaade Local Government Area in June, 2013, motorists and residents alike jubilated on the prospect of safe travel on the road that leads the state capital to the expressway that links Ibadan, the largest city in West Africa.
The 30km road project, which includes construction of a dual carriageway and bridge was awarded to RATCON Construction Company Ltd at N29.3 billion. It was proposed to be completed within 18 months. It is now over 50 months.
The project tagged, ‘road revolution’ by the state government was borne out of the need to transform Gbongan/Akoda city from the neglect experienced under the past administration of Governor Olagunsoye Oyinlola to an economic beehive, Governor Rauf Aregbesola said.
”Bad roads regrettably are responsible for many road accidents that claim lives and leave hitherto able-bodied individuals permanently incapacitated, an avoidable depletion of our valuable human resources. Bad roads also have health cost, besides the possibility of road accidents. People are loath to travel on bad roads because of the possible challenge to their health after the trip.
”Good roads, on the other hand, will enhance economic and social activities, bring down the cost of goods and services and reduce the wear and tear on vehicles,” Mr Aregbesola said while flagging off the road project in June, 2013.
According to information on the official website of Osun State Government: www.osun.gov.ng, the road is intended to have four pedestrian bridges, street lights, two layers of asphaltic surface with 60mm and 40mm thickness, reinforced concrete side drain, culverts and ditches, reinforced retaining wall, earthwork landscaping and road marking and signs.
However, contrary to this vision, the road is laced with ditches, huge potholes, failing drainages and bare ground in most parts, thereby making life unbearable for commuters.
But why has the Gbongan-Akoda road construction been delayed since the award of contract? PREMIUM TIMES sought answers.
WE SUFFER ON THIS ROAD – DRIVERS
Commercial bus drivers at the Gbagi motor park, Ibadan, have deserted the road due to the high rate of car maintenance fees incurred by them.
One of the drivers, who spoke with this reporter said that the Gbongan-Akoda way has been degraded to a ‘road less taken’ as many drivers prefer to abandon their vehicles rather than travel.
“Why would we ply the road only to return and make a cheap money-venture for mechanics on expenses such as shock absorber, spring board, steering control unit, brake shoes among others?” he queried.
”Only motor park buses available for regular drivers and who have no choice ply the road since the maintenance cost isn’t on the driver himself. We haven’t scrapped out the route on our travel map because of the consideration to meet the needs of some passengers,” he added.
Omolewa Sikiru, a driver at the Olaiya /Aregbesola Motor Park in Osogbo said that despite the increased cost of vehicle maintenance, the transport fare has remained the same due to the country’s economic situation.
“The pain we bear is excruciating and personal. For over four years now, the transport fare is still fixed at same cost. We can’t place a stiff-necked cost on passengers because of recession in the country but I, for one, run a mechanical check-up on my vehicle at least two times weekly.
“Honestly, I cannot accurately calculate my cost on weekly basis but a close example is one of my colleagues who just spent N40, 000 on the accumulated faults on his vehicle. This is how expensive it is to repair our buses. It’s so harsh but I have to do it because I can’t watch my family starve,” Mr Omolewa lamented.
For Musa, a commercial driver at the Wema 448 Motor Park, Ibadan, the project was more attention-seeking and with political undertone.
”I have been plying this road for the past 20 years and I can say that the road has never been as bad as it is in the last four years. The intention to dualise Gbongan -Akoda wouldn’t have been perceived to be such laced with selfish political interest such as campaign to harvest votes, if it had been completed as at when due.
”Now, the work has not even reached half. It harbours risks for the users. For the record, two of our road users from another garage have had fatal accidents on this road. I spend a minimum of four thousand naira on my vehicle every time I visit my mechanic, all of these defied the intention behind this huge project.”
He said the Osun State Government shouldn’t have initiated the project when it wasn’t buoyant enough to complete within stipulated time.
HOW WE MANAGE TO DRIVE ON THE ROAD – NURTW
Investigation by this reporter revealed that the government financed the project with an initial mobilisation fee of 15 per cent payment in 2013. Evidently, a component of the project, the Trumpet Bridge, is near its completion.
But the dualisation is yet to fully commence as the path for dualisation has only just been channeled at the Morakinyo route to RATCON yard, with works undertaken by compactors and bulldozers.
An officer of the National Union of Road Transport Workers, NURTW, at Wema 448 zone, Adeagbo Segun, reveals how members of the union have been managing to travel on the road.
Mr Segun said that while they travel on an average of 80 kilometres speed because the road is bad, negligent drivers of private cars, who rarely travel along the route ram into them in their bid to avoid potholes, thereby making accidents inevitable.
“There are measures in place to control the speed of our workers on the road. If any of our drivers is reported by his co-driver on the highway or affected passenger to have oversped, we either warn such driver if it is his first-time or seize his vehicle for certain days and weeks,” he said.
LACK OF FUNDS DELAYING US – ENGINEER
A site engineer of RATCON at the Gbongan road, Patrick Ijalaye, told this reporter that the delay should not be blamed on the contractor.
“There are only two factors that cause delay in road construction, either flood as a result of heavy rainfall in its season and unavailability of funds to run project. In this case, it’s the latter,” he said.
“It’s not our fault that work is dragging and halted sometimes. We temporarily put work on hold after expending the fund remitted to us. When there’s enough money to work, we will only have little or none to urgently deal with other contingencies.”
He hinted that the road construction will take at least a year more to complete.
On whether he could provide paperwork for the past payments made by the Osun government, Mr Ijalaye said only the State’s Ministry of Works and Transportation was in capacity to divulge such information
Meanwhile, another top official of RATCON disclosed that fund wasn’t the only factor responsible for delay on the construction.
He explained that the former contractor in charge, Dany Boumikhael, a Lebanese, died early into the project.
“Most of us working on the project now weren’t part of the team that started the work in 2013,” he said. “As a matter of fact, the first contractor died before coming back from Christmas break. Since then, staff management and work supervision have not been stabilised because it even took three months before another contractor could be transferred for the Gbongan project.
STATE GOVERNMENT KEEPS MUM
All efforts at getting the reaction of the state government on the current status of the project was frustrated.
At midday, November 9, 2017, our correspondent reached the office of the Permanent Secretary of Osun State Ministry of Works and Transportation, Nurudeen Adeagbo, after being scheduled for an appointment.
After the reporter waited for over an hour, the official declined granting the interview.
The same evasive attitude was put up by the Special Adviser to the Governor on Information and Strategy, Semiu Okanlawon, who after initially agreeing to speak denied the reporter an interview.
Meanwhile, the state Ministry of Works and Transport did not respond to a Freedom of Information request on details of the project.
Mr Adeagbo told a PREMIUM TIMES journalist in a meeting he insisted must hold before replying to the FOI request that he will only release the information if the journalist ‘liaises’ with the Ministry of Information.
When reminded about the provision of the FOI act and that the request had been submitted since January 2018, Mr. Adeagbo insisted on his stance.
He also declined to facilitate the ‘liaise’ with the information ministry and failed to explain how this journalist would go about it.
DRIVERS CRY FOR HELP
With Mr Aregbesola’s tenure as governor coming to an end in November, motorists fear the road will be left in its terrible state till a new administration comes in.
“In reality, Governor Aregbesola’s government cannot complete this project again,” Mr Oke, the bus driver, said.
Also, Muyideeen Olaoye from Segelu motor park expressed doubt on the completion, saying it will only be good if the incumbent government can, ”sincerely ensure proper handing-over” to its successor.
”I am only hoping that the next government in Osun State will take this project as priority as soon as soon as its gets inaugurated because as it is, the current Osun Government will not finish that road,” he said.