In Ekiti State, farmers face losses as they are unable to move their produce from their farms to the markets, as a result of the unmotorable roads in their areas. This contributes to the food scarcity in the country, also pushing the prices of food upwards, PEACE OLADIPO reports Peace Oladipo
With tears welling up in his eyes and frustration etched across his weathered face, Elder Ajayi Olaiya stood amidst his bountiful cassava harvest, a harvest that now seemed destined to wither away untouched by the market’s embrace. Just a year ago, he had ventured boldly into the world of farming, fueled by dreams of not only repaying his loan with interest but also reaping the rewards of his hard work. But now, all he saw were shattered dreams and dashed hopes.
In the community of Itapa-Ekiti, situated in the Oye Local Government Area of Ekiti State, as in numerous other communities across the state, farming stands as the predominant occupation. Agriculture serves as the primary livelihood for the people of Ekiti, serving as a major source of income for a significant portion of the state’s population. In fact, agriculture contributes to the income and employment of over 75% of residents in the state.
However, the issue of bad roads has made farming increasingly challenging for many, especially in Ekiti. The Itapa-Ijelu-Omu road mirrors the experiences of numerous farmers, echoing Elder Ajayi’s narrative.
“Due to the poor road conditions, the crops on our farms often go to waste before we can transport them. As farmers, we take out loans to invest in our farming ventures, but unfortunately, nearly half of our harvests spoil due to the difficulty in transporting them to market. It’s a situation where there’s no gain, only loss,” Elder Ajayi said with agony.
He explained that Kaduna’s yam and orange seasons don’t match Ekiti’s, but bad roads hinder crop transportation, affecting everyone, including motorbike transporters, leading to accidents. This forces him to stop transporting cassava to Lokoja and Abuja due to high motorbike costs, creating significant difficulty.
Farmers in Agony
In the village of Ijelu, situated alongside Itapa, a man in his mid-50s named Sunday Owoeye, recounts the hardships caused by the poor road conditions. His farm boasts an array of crops, including groundnuts, cassava, and maize. However, the pressing question remains: how can they effectively transport these crops to the market?
“All the benefits one should get from the sale of the crops are exhausted on transportation. Only bikes can get into this area and sadly they don’t have the same capacity as a motor car and they charge higher. I have a car at home but it will break down on this road if I bring it,” he said.
Emmanuel Atagba, a Benue farmer who relocated to Ekiti, with his family of five, due to the fertility of Ijelu’s land, now laments his inability to secure profitable sales for his crops due to the complexity of transportation.
“Normally, I ought to be sending my farm produce to Lagos, Kwara, Abuja and other places but the bad road has limited me. This is one of the reasons food items are costly and scarce in the market. The crops here spoil so many times.”
While Emmanuel was harvesting groundnuts in his farm and listening to songs in his dialect, he recalled an incident when a car somersaulted due to its inability to navigate the deteriorated road. Additionally, he mentioned that motorbikes now charge ten times their usual rates for transportation.
As per the Food and Agriculture Organization’s report, between June and August 2023, approximately 25 million Nigerians face a high risk of food insecurity. This coincides with the alarming rate of food inflation experienced by Nigerians, one of the leading causes from the difficulties farmers like Emmanuel are currently enduring.
Mrs. Sola Ajiboye, a female farmer residing in Omu-Ekiti, which happens to be the final town connected to the proposed road network, expressed, “Transporting my farm produce to the market involves a significant amount of physical and financial strain due to the poor road conditions. Ideally, vehicles should have easy access to the farms for efficient crop transportation.”
According to the Federal Ministry of Agriculture & Rural Development, women constitute 75 percent of the farming population in Nigeria, a category that includes individuals like Sola.
Unfortunately, the poor road conditions in her village have significantly impeded overall development and have had a detrimental effect on their local economy, as farming is their primary occupation here.
Mr. Oke Babatunde, the Youth President of the Ijelu community, emphasized that the youth have often worked on improving the road due to the poor condition of all the roads connecting to the community. This situation significantly hampers transportation, leading to frequent vehicle breakdowns. These challenges are having a detrimental impact on the local economy, and he earnestly appeals to the government for intervention to facilitate better business opportunities.
“And countless times, we have visited the people in governance to express our desire. The three kings, in Itapa, Ijelu and Omu went together to the local government and state government to ask for their help but we have not seen anything.”
The youth leader in his early forties mentioned that the communities had been requesting the road construction from the government even before his birth.
He proceeded to express the notion that the government might have employed it as a means to encourage us to vote for them, “Last year in June, we observed the construction company’s arrival. They began work in September, which brought us joy, especially during the election period. However, they departed in December and have not returned since.”
Deserted Hospital: no patient, no staff
In a similar vein, road construction has also impacted the health clinic along the Ijelu road, which serves the three connected communities.
An on-the-spot visit to the health clinic in Ijelu-Ekiti, this reporter observed that the facility was vacant, despite the presence of wards, beds, and clinical equipment.
The male nurse, Marcus Seun, expressed that the hospital is facing severe challenges due to the poor condition of the road.”Because of this road, there are no staff in this hospital, I am the only staff here as big as the hospital is. Medical staff posted here leave because of the bad road and bad electricity. Medical students can’t even think of this place,” he said.
Mr. Akode, a bike man, mentioned that a significant number of individuals have faced unfortunate accidents and lost their lives due to the poor condition of the roads, which has prolonged the journey to the hospital. Additionally, some patients who required referral to another medical facility have also lost their lives due to these road conditions. “Consider the scenario of using a motorcycle to transport an emergency patient,” he said.
Discussing the unfinished road construction, the nurse mentioned that the engineers wanted to take a break for the December holidays, but it appears that the Christmas break hasn’t ended even in August.
It’s undeniable that the residents of Itapa, Ijelu, and Omu are included in the 60% of Nigerians lacking access to primary healthcare services, as the National Primary Healthcare Development Agency (NPHCDA) reported.
Improved road infrastructure has the potential to lower food inflation – Expert
Akin Alabi, an Agricultural business coach and co-Founder of Corporate Farmers, emphasizes the vital role of local farmers in ensuring food security,”For any economy to grow there is a need to properly influence and impact the local farmers. There should be provision for them. There is no prosperity or future for a nation if its government doesn’t take agric business seriously.”
He proceeded to delve deeper, into the pivotal role that a good and efficiently functioning road network plays within the agriculture sector, explaining how this infrastructure is not just beneficial but truly crucial for its growth and sustainability.
“We have an agricultural value chain, which transportation and distribution is part of, that connectivity between the farm base and the market is very essential. Once there is a break between the connectivity to the market then it is difficult for any country to ascertain food insecurity. And once farmers find it very difficult to transport their food to the market, there is a high cost on the produce. Due to the money spent on transportation of the crops to the market, there is food inflation,” Akin said.
In summary, he emphasized the government’s vital role in securing food by calling for improved road networks in rural areas, particularly noting the widespread issue of inadequate roads in many southwestern states..
One billion, eight hundred and seven million naira was awarded to stop this misery
In 2022, the government of Ekiti state awarded one billion, eight hundred and seven million, ninety thousand, six hundred and ninety-four naira (#1,807,090,694) for the rehabilitation of the Itapa—Ijelu—Omu Road in the Oye local government area.
The road project was under the supervision of the Ministry of Works and Transportation and assigned to Delko Holdings Nigeria Limited, would turn away their activities like a dream if it were to be well executed.
Nevertheless, when Udeme first visited the project site in April, it became evident to this reporter that work on the interconnected road had been abandoned.
When this reporter visited the palaces of the three villages to discuss the dire condition of their road network with the kings, she encountered their absence.
In all three communities Udeme interviewed, the farmers consistently appealed for government intervention. “We will appreciate it if the government can help us finish up this road. And we have shouted several times about this issue. We have made our yearnings known through popular radio stations in Ekiti but it seems they are deaf to our cries for help,” Mr Sunday lamented.
However, an investigative effort spanning six months by this reporter has revealed that the project’s progress has been hampered by delays in contractor payments.
It is raining – Contractor
The rehabilitation of the Itapa-Ijelu-Omu road was awarded to Delko Holdings Nigeria Limited by the Ekiti state government. Unfortunately, after checking the Corporate Affairs Commission portal, we found that the company is currently inactive because it hasn’t submitted updated annual returns as required by law. This means that the company hasn’t met its legal obligations by paying the necessary taxes and fees to the government within the specified timeframe.
According to the Part IV Ekiti state procurement law subsection 16(3) article a-d stated that the contractor must have fulfilled all its obligations to pay taxes, pensions and social security contributions by submitting documentary evidence or other information considered necessary as proof that the bidder is qualified in accordance with this Act.
However, when the Director of Delko Holdings Nigeria Limited, Engr. Aluko O.O, (a number on the website) , emphasized that they have not stopped the road construction. But after being confronted with the reporter’s findings he said “Right now, it is raining. Much work can not be done in the rain and we are still waiting for the government to make payment. The road has not been abandoned and it has been announced on the radio severally that it will be continued. But the rain is just too much, there is nothing we can do during the rain, we have to wait for one week or two weeks to continue.”
When questioned about the absence of rain earlier this year, he responded, “This project is government-funded, not private. We were only given a mobilization fee which we used for the first work and we await the rest to continue” he said.
He mentioned that he cannot disclose the specific amount that was released. For official information, he suggested, “Please contact the Ministry of Works as it is the official source for such matters.”
The Ministries involve..
When this reporter contacted the commissioner of transportation about the project, Mr Kehinde Ajobiewe, “Let me do my thorough findings before giving you my response. I will ask my counterpart.” he said.
Also, he clarified that the project falls outside his ministry’s jurisdiction. His personal assistant, who the reporter reached out to, also indicated that the Ministry of Transport was relatively new and suggested contacting the Ministry of Works for accurate information.
It appears that the Ministry of Transportation now operates independently, separate from the Ministry of Works, following the commencement of the new government.
When the reporter reached out to Adesola Adebayo, who had been reinstated as the Commissioner for Works, he stated that he was unaware of the road’s current status as he had not yet had the opportunity to review all the files.
“We paid the mobilization fee before I left the office. And I was out of the office for ten months”.
He mentioned that the new project would resume in the near future. However, he didn’t specify the amount released, but he did mention that only 15 percent of the awarded funds had been disbursed, making it insufficient to complete the project.
“Let me find out what is going on”, Adesola said, “We understand our responsibilities, but road construction is not like going to the market to buy suya; it is a costly endeavor. We need money. Therefore, please inform the people you are representing that we are actively addressing this issue. It’s just a matter of time.”
This report was produced under the Udeme project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development (CJID).
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