As the Federal Government hastens to fix the failed sections of the Abuja-Kaduna highway ahead of the closure of the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, some regular users of another federal road in the same axis are biting their lips over what might have been.
The government is shutting down the Abuja airport from March 8 until April 9 to repair the runway. During that interval, government is diverting air traffic from the airport to the Kaduna Airport and is fixing the highway so that passengers who will have to use it to link the two cities can at least enjoy smooth rides.
The announcement by government of its plan to temporarily close the Abuja Airport was received by many with outrage. Some international airlines reacted to the plan by altogether cancelling flights to Abuja while the repair lasts.
For motorists who use the Suleja- Minna road in Niger State however, the anger was over the Minna Airport being overlooked for the air traffic diversion from Abuja. For them, it was a golden opportunity lost to drag the urgent attention of the federal government to the fallen 103 kilometre federal road that links the state capital to the federal capital.
Esther Agida works in Minna but her family lives in Abuja.
“I hardly travel to Abuja to visit my family because of the condition of the road between Minna and Suleja”, she told PREMIUM TIMES.
“I fall sick and have to go to hospital every time I pass that road.”
According to Mrs. Agida, she now goes to Abuja only when she cannot avoid the tortuous trip.
Sani Muhammed, a commercial bus driver who hails from Minna and operates the Minna-Abuja route, does not have the luxury of withholding trips between the two cities.
He said it used to take him about one hour to drive between Minna and Suleja before the road fell into its current state.
“Now it takes us about two and a half hours because of the potholes from Suleja, Lanbata, Kwakuti, Farindoki to Minna city.”
Although it is a federal road, Mr. Mohammed recalled that the administration of former Governor Babangida Aliyu had awarded a contract for its repair in 2011.
“The road (contract) was awarded in 2011 during Talba’s (Governor Aliyu) time but nothing was done. Now this new government is here now and they are not saying anything about it.”
He blamed the abandonment of the road on alleged corruption by the people in government.
“They have stolen all the money. That is why this road has not been constructed to date”, he said.
When this reporter travelled on the road in January, he noticed some tractors and workmen grading a portion of the road. It was gathered that the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Babatunde Fashola was about to visit the state.
But Mr. Mohammed apparently was not expecting much from the exercise.
“This grading you are seeing is just eye service”, he said contemptuously.
“They have divided the road into Phase A and B. They were grading Phase A sometimes ago but they have not even done anything. Yet they jumped to the second phase because they have information that the minister will be visiting the state”.
A resident of Minna, who would not provide his name because he is a traditional title holder, also alleged that corruption was responsible for poor infrastructure in the state.
He said many things had gone wrong in “a state that has produced two heads of state”, stressing, “it’s a big shame!”
He argued that though the road is a federal road, the state has a big role to play in its rehabilitation.
“Niger State is known as the Power State but we hardly have electricity or water, let alone good roads”.
According to him, he had written several articles in newspapers on the state of infrastructure in the state but got no attention from the authorities.
“We cannot succeed as a state if things continue this way.
“The government is not mindful of the people that put them in office. They forget that they owe the people a duty. They just embezzle public funds. We have produced two heads of state; it is just a shame that we are still like this”.
A passenger in the same vehicle with this reporter, who identified himself as Abubakar Halidu, said the state government would have made a better case for Minna Airport as a temporary alternative to the Abuja Airport if the road between the two cities was in good shape.
“Minna is not far from Abuja. If the road was good it would have been considered the best option”, he said.
It was gathered that armed robbery and accidents occur regularly on the road as a result of the many bad portions.
Speaking with PREMIUM TIMES on telephone, Niger State Commissioner for Works, Usman Cheche, said the government was not unaware of the plight of motorists and residents in communities along the road.
“Yes we are aware of the concern of the people, but it is the responsibility of the federal government to repair that road.
“The state only assists the federal government to carry out some minor repairs”, he said.