INVESTIGATION…Federal roads in South-East remain death traps despite Nigerian govt’s claims
The Federal Government’s denial of allegations of neglect by the South-East governors in critical infrastructure, especially provision of roads, prompted ARINZE CHIJIOKE to investigate both the allegation and the rebuttal. His findings, after weeks of painstaking investigation, unveiled shocking revelations about the roads in question, government’s commitment and even the contractors.
Uzoeto Dickson had just finished saying a prayer with selected members of his community when this reporter called at his house on a sweltering Wednesday afternoon in early September. The prayer was a demand for the rains to go away to let the dry season set in. He is the Palace Secretary to the traditional ruler of Awo-Idemili, one of the communities in Orsu Local Government Area of Imo State, through which the federal road connecting Ihiala in Anambra State and Orlu and Umuduru in Imo State passes.
While members of other communities naturally were happy each time the clouds gathered, residents of Dickson’s community would prepare for the deafening sounds of vehicles navigating their way through internal roads in the community.
“This has become a ritual each time it rains, as our road becomes unmotorable after the rains, “he said, adding, “We always pray to get to October and the rest of the year when the road will dry up.”
In 2018, the Federal Government awarded the contract for the emergency repair of Ihiala-Orlu-Umuduru Road to Samchase Nigeria Limited at a contract sum of N98.5 million. When Dickson heard of the government’s plan to rehabilitate the road, he was excited. The entire community was too. It was thought that the days of hearing the deafening sounds of vehicles and trekking long distances from Awo-Idemili to Ihiala had finally come to an end.
The road had become unmotorable with most of it riddled with potholes. Whenever it rained, the potholes are filled with water, and each time commercial drivers and, sometimes, vehicles get stuck, some for days. They usually resort to the inner roads in the community as an alternative.
Sadly, three years down the line, nothing has changed for the people of Awo-Idemili as their section of the road remains as dilapidated as it has always been. At present, more vehicles ply the internal roads in the community than the major ones. The project has been abandoned except for the Ihiala section where some palliative works were done to make it motorable.
Dickson said: “On two occasions, they have destroyed the bridges we built for ourselves. They know where the roads are, and we cannot stop them from using the roads.”
Now, people find it difficult to transport their farm produce to their homes. Most often, they trek long distances because commercial drivers, motorcyclists especially, do not accept to carry passengers coming towards the Awo-Idemili section. The bad state of the road has harmed businesses along the road.
“Even those that used to bring Yam and other farm produce to our community from Aguleri and other parts of Anambra State have stopped coming because of the bad state of the road,” he said.
Gloria Chimezie, a provision store owner, sells alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and snacks by the roadside. When the road was still in good shape, commuters used to stop by to buy from her, but since the road failed, it became difficult for them to stop at her shop. It was worse when it rains because they would just want to drive past the community to where the roads are good.
She said: “Even those walking on foot find it difficult to stop by my shop and buy things. Most times when I restock my shop, I take time to sell before going back to the market.”
Business venture for children
But not everyone in the community complains about the bad road because the situation has created a business enterprise for some youths in the area. As soon as each day breaks, they come out in their numbers and spread themselves into groups. While some of them remain on the major road, usually inside the potholes, others go into the roads inside the community. Those inside the community show commuters travelling from Orlu where they can follow through to escape some of the deep potholes where vehicles often get stuck.
Some stand on the major road, directing drivers on how to manoeuvre their way after which they are paid. At the end of each day, they come together and share the money among themselves and pray for more the next day.
Federal Government’s claims
Before the general election in 2019, governors of the five South-East states, including Enugu, Anambra, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi, alleged that the Federal Government had for long treated the zone unfairly in terms of the provision of critical infrastructure, especially roads. Prof. Simon Otuanya, who was at that time the Director-General of the South-East Governors Forum, made the allegations when he presented a monitoring report on the performance of the 2017 federal budget in the region.
To refute the allegations of neglect, the Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, said that there were a total of 69 roads and bridge projects ongoing across the five states in the South-East. While attending a function in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, the minister described the allegations as incorrect and unfair in the face of available evidence and followed it with a promise to publish a full list of the roads and bridges ongoing in the zone. The list was released on Monday, August 27, 2018.
He said that the projects, including the rehabilitation of the existing second Niger Bridge, had gulped N680 billion and were at different stages of completion as of 2018. The minister said though the contracts for many of the roads were awarded before the advent of the administration, they were either poorly funded or not funded at all, hence work on the roads had lingered.
He said that the projects would have remained abandoned but for the funding sourced by the present administration from budgetary allocations, the Sukuk Bond, and the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund.
Contractor allegedly mobilized
Engr. Ezeala Chidi, who works with the Federal Ministry of Works, confirmed to this reporter that the contract for the emergency repair of Ihiala-Orlu-Umuduru Road had been awarded and the contractor mobilized. He, however, added that the rains were stopping the contractor from moving to site to commence work and that there are some minor survey works currently ongoing on the road.
While noting that the contractor was already establishing his site at Isieke, hoping to commence work as soon as the rains stop, Chidi said that work on the road will commence from the Imo section since the Anambra end was motorable.
He said: “There is hardly anything the contractor can do on that road now because of the rain. The road has a major problem of not having places through which you can discharge water properly.”
Residents and owners of businesses along the Oba-Nnewi Road heaved a sigh of relief in 2019 when the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved an additional N519 million for the rehabilitation of the Oba-Nnewi-Okigwe Road.
A resident of Oba, Lucky Goodluck, said the road was almost impassable because of its poor state.
“There were potholes everywhere. Each time it rained, we hardly came out of our house because there was no way to go out”, he said.”
The contract for the rehabilitation of the road in Anambra State was first awarded to CCC Construction Nigeria Limited on May 14, 2009, for N3.8 billion. The Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, at the end of the FEC meeting on September 18, 2019, said that the contract sum for the rehabilitation was revised from its initial sum to N4.3 billion to cater for changes in the cost of materials and enable contractors to continue work.
Although the project has been completed, unlike others that were being investigated, some sections had already developed potholes and residents feared they might return to the days before the contract was executed.
Road project remains in bad shape
Chioma Egbo has spent three years doing business along the Amansea- Ebenebe Road. In all those years, it had been difficult for her to make enough sales due to the bad state of the road that runs from Amansi in Anambra State through Ebenebe, Agba and Umana-Ndiagu in Enugu State. Each time it rains, Egbo, who sells nylon bags, takeaway plates, and rubber footwear, said people hardly come to her shop to buy anything because the road was often flooded and impassable. During the dry season, she could not display her wares for fear of dust.
She explained: “The condition of the road during the rainy season makes it difficult for me to go to the market when I need to buy anything for my shop because motorcyclists cannot even run on it.”
The situation was the same for other business owners and residents who live along the road.
FEC approved the project
Like the Oba-Nnewi-Okigwe Road, the FEC, at its 27th meeting on August 15, 2018, approved N15.73 billion for the rehabilitation of the road linking Agba Umana, Ndeagu -Ebenebe-Amansi-Awka with a spur to Umumba road Enugu State. The project, which was first awarded in 2012, at a contract sum of N10.4 billion was captured as “Rehabilitation of Umana-Ndiagu-Agba Ebenebe-Amansi Akwa with a spur to Umumba Road.” The contract was to be executed by CGC Nigeria limited.
While briefing State House correspondents at the end of the FEC meeting presided over by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, then Acting President, at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, Fashola said that the project, which was to serve six different communities, suffered failed implementation due to lack of funding. He added that the upward review of the project was among other things to provide for erosion control.
“The memorandum that was approved today was for the augmentation of an existing road contract. That road is a series of roads captured as Umana Ndiagu, Agba, Ebenebe, Amansi, Awka and a spur to Umumba Road in section two in Enugu State.
“There was also the need to provide for erosion control measures and drains. That has led to the revision of the existing contract awarded in 2012, from N10.3 billion to N15.734 billion. So, it is that revision to enable the contract to be completed that was presented and approved by council today.”
Sadly, despite the huge amount set aside for the construction of the roads linking the six communities, most of it remains in bad shape, making life difficult for business owners’ residents of the communities and motorcycle riders who often ply the roads.
“On several occasions, we have seen people coming to take pictures of the road and making promises that they will work on it. But nothing has happened, and we continue to suffer” Egbo, who spoke of the Amansi section of the road, said.
Journeying from Amansi through Ebenebe in Anambra State to Agba Umana and Ndiagu the Enugu State section of the road, it is common to see both commercial and private vehicles stuck on the road, either abandoned or with their owners making efforts to get them working again. This is due to the sections of the road that have only been graded and abandoned, making it easy for the rains to create potholes.
Among the roads approved and awarded for construction, only the spur leading to Umumba in Eziagu LGA in Enugu State has been fully completed with drainage systems to control erosion.
While the road in Amansi has only been graded and abandoned, some parts of the road in Ebenebe have been constructed with drainages. The same thing applies to the road in Agba Umana where some part of it was only graded and some completed with drainages but beginning to develop potholes. The road in Ndeagu was only graded too and abandoned.
A motorcyclist who plies the road, Victor Joseph, told our reporter that it was one of the shortest routes through which commuters get to Enugu. He however regretted that the sorry state of the road made it difficult for the user, especially motorcyclists like himself.
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He said: “If you buy a new machine and drive it on the road, it becomes old. Every day, I go to the mechanic to fix issues and wash my machine. Because of how bad the road is tricycles no longer ply it.”
The bad state of the road made transporters increase fare by about 100 per cent. Formally, people travelling from Amansi to Agba Umana paid N500. But now, they must pay N1,000 and sometimes N1,500 to get to the community.
Controller of works reacts
When contacted for his reaction, the Federal Controller of Works in Anambra State, Adeyemo Ajani, said that the projects have either been abandoned or not done because the contractors have not been fully mobilized or controversy surrounding them. He noted that the Umana Ndiagu Road, for instance, was a Federal Government/state-funded project and that the state was expected to fund the project while the Federal Government remits the money after the project was completed.
“There was an agreement with the state government to work on the road”, he said. “We have paid some part of the money to them. But they have refused to work on it. We have done some interventions and intend to take over the project.”
He noted that most states have failed to work on roads in the state capitals, leaving everything to the Federal Government, a situation which was often overwhelming.
“Handling some of these local roads often weighs down the budget of the Ministry of Works because there are always many. We cannot move ahead, except the FG shelves some of these responsibilities”, he said.
According to him, it was necessary to restructure to allow the states and local governments the power to have control over some of these roads because “sometimes, the Federal Government does not get to fully release the money earmarked for certain projects and that is why they stop halfway.”
Reacting to the Okija-Oguta Road, Ajani said the contractor was still owed some money and that was why it had been abandoned. He confirmed that a section of the road, from the Okija end, had been completed already. On the pothole-riddled Oba-Nnewi Road, he said it would have been because of the misuse of the drainage system that allowed water flow into the road, which usually affects the foundation of the road.
“We ensure that specifications are met. But when such situations arise after the project has been completed, we hand it over to the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to maintain the road,” he said.
He explained that during the handover, a joint inspection is usually held by FERMA, the contractor handling the project, the state ministry of works and the federal ministry of works to ensure that the project was in good condition before FERMA came in.
Uncompleted Okija-Oguta road forces families to relocate
Some of those living along the Okija-Oguta Road have had to relocate because of the bad state of the road. This was even after the contract for the rehabilitation of Okija-Oguta-Imo State Border (19km) Route 406 was awarded to Roudo Nigeria Limited for N599,926,404.
Each time it rained, residents found it difficult to leave their homes. The road becomes unmotorable and difficult for pedestrians to use. Like the situation in the Ihiala- Orlu Road, marketers along the Okija-Oguta Road hardly make enough sales daily because owners of vehicles plying the road no longer made a stopover.
Just like the other roads, the government said that the rehabilitation of the Okija-Oguta-Imo State Border Road was ongoing. But a visit showed that work was done and abandoned on the Okija section of the road. Residents, who spoke to this reporter, said a group of people had come to take pictures of the road as well as measurement, promising to work on it on several occasions.
Usually, when trucks and small vehicles plying the road get to Umueze, one of the communities worse hit by the bad state of the road, they are stuck inside water. To get them out, their owners pay N4,000 or sometimes more to youths who help them.
Michael Sunday, a motorcyclist who often plies the road, told our reporter that the state of the road had increased transport fare by 100 per cent as distances that formerly cost N250 now cost N500 because motorcyclists often seek alternative routes, usually internal roads.
“There are times when we don’t even agree to carry people coming to this place, except we decide to navigate through roads inside the communities,” Sunday said.
An elder in the community, who preferred not to be named, said they had cried to their representatives in government to help push for the repair of the road. He, however, said that no positive result had been recorded.
He said: “We have suffered for over three years now, yet there is no hope as to when the road will be constructed. Some of our leaders ply the road. But they are not pushing for it.”
Works ministry denies reporter access to contractors as companies share fake contact addresses
To get through to the contractors handling the road projects, this reporter sent a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, requesting the contract details for the road projects on October 8.
At the expiration of the seven days required by the 2011 Act for organizations to make the information available, the ministry failed to respond. A search on NG-Check, a database for registered companies in Nigeria, showed that while the companies were registered, their status were unknown. No contact details of the companies were seen on the database.
It was discovered that while Samchase Nigeria Limited was registered on November 16, 1987, CCC Construction Nigeria Limited was registered on April 24, 2002. Master Holdings Nigeria Limited was registered on April 28, 1984, while Roudo Nigeria Limited was registered on December 14, 2000.
While the office address for CCC Construction Nigeria Limited was given as 22A, Gerrard Road, Ikoyi, Lagos, by NG-Check, investigation showed that the company does not exist in the given Lagos address. A google search, however, showed that the company which also has offices in both Maitama, Abuja and Asaba, Delta state, was involved in building construction. When this reporter called the phone number given by the company on its website, it was discovered to be non-existent, although Truecaller identified the names registered with the numbers to be that of a worker with the company.
Although the registered office address for Samchase Nigeria Limited was 28, Anigbajumo Street, Oshodi, Lagos, with Olusesi O. Sowanle serving as director, its activities are unspecified. When this reporter called the phone number provided by the company, a young man picked the call and said he had no idea about any project and that it was a wrong number.
The activities of Roudo Nigeria Limited were also captured as unspecified on NG-Check, with Mr. Chukwuma Nwachukwu serving as Coordinating Director. The company’s registered office address was 2, Eyo Street, Ibeno, Akwa Ibom.
However, after a long search for the company’s address in Ibeno, it was discovered that the address Roudo Nigeria Limited published online does not exist.
Residents of Ibeno told our reporter that they are not aware of the existence of the company in Ibeno neither does Eyo street exist in the oil-rich local government area. They explained that if Eyo street was in existence in Ibeno, it would be named after Mkpanak or Upenekang.
“Ibeno local government area is basically divided into Mkpanak which is the axis Exxon Mobil terminal is located and also Upenekang,” said Itoro Benson, a youth leader in the area. “All streets are named after these two divides and If you cannot find that in any address given, just know that it is fake”.
While a search on NG-check gave the office address for Master Holdings Nigeria Limited as 17, Ogui Road, Enugu, a google search showed the office was located at 1 Bent Lane, GRA, Enugu.
To confirm this, the reporter visited the two locations and discovered that the company had its office at No 1 Bent Lane off Abakaliki road, GRA Enugu. But no one was willing to discuss details of the project. One of the workers seen at the office said he had an idea about the project but that the state controller, federal ministry of works, was in a better position to provide answers to issues surrounding the project.
“Nobody is available to give you any information about the project”, he said. “I only know about the project because I heard discussions about it and I also have friends at the ministry”.
Our reporter had earlier sent an email to the Deputy Managing Director of Master Holdings Nigeria, Kenneth Nebe, demanding to know what had happened to the Agba Umana, Ndeagu -Ebenebe-Amansi-Awka road project but received no response. While searches on both contactout and linkedin showed he was the deputy director of the company, contactout had his email address.
* This investigation was supported by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and the International Centre for Investigative Reporting.
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