• Tony Igele

Death Trap called Benin-Auchi-Lokoja Highway

The Executive Director of the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice, Revd David Ugolor, is yet to get over the harrowing experience he had the last time he travelled by road from Abuja to Benin. A journey that would have lasted four hours became a nightmare that lasted over 12 hours. Rev. Ugolor left Abuja at about 6am and got to Benin at 9pm.

The Abuja-Benin express road is now an eye sore. The Ekpoma axis of the road that has been causing motorists nightmare for the past two years is nothing compared to other axis of the road, such as between Iruekpen and Benin, the Ewu hill known as the hill of deaths and Okpella axis.

Vehicular traffic on the Abuja-Benin express road has reduced. This is because motorists now prefer to use longer routes to get to Owan or Auchi before heading to Abuja. Motorists either travel through Ondo State via Ifon community or they use the new roads constructed in Edo Central during the administration of Governor Adams Oshiomhole The roads that link Esan West, Esan Central and Igueben local government areas enable motorists avoid bad portions of the road between Benin and Iruekpen and the Ekpoma axis.

For the construction of the Irrua-Usugbenu-Igueben-Ujiogba roads by Oshiomhole, motorists would have opted to pass through Agbor in Delta State to get to Auchi. The option of taking long distance routes have increased transportation from Benin City to towns and villages in Edo Central and Edo North by 50 per cent Benin tô Auchi that used to cost N800 is now N1200.

Heavy duty trucks are now mostly seen on the Benin-Ekpoma axis of the road because communities that the new roads linked used cross bar to prevent heavy duty trucks from plying the roads. Some bus drivers that still ply the route had to navigate through mud roads and bushes whenever they are stuck in traffic along the road. Youths in some of the villages are seen on the road carrying out repair works to enable one truck or tanker pass through at a time and in return get some tips from the drivers.

Between Iruekpen and Ehor, several bad spots were noticed on the road and they are developing into a deep gully. The villagers had to saw woods into logs from nearby bushes which they placed on the road for trucks to pass through but at a very slow pace.

The contract for the dualisation of the Benin-Lokoja express road was first awarded in September 2014 to four contractors. Section I, which covers 40 kilometers between Obajana Junction-Okene in Kogi State, was awarded in favour of Messrs CGC Nigeria_ Limited. Section II, which covers 26.70km between Okene in Kogi State and Auchi in Edo State, was awarded in favour of Messrs Mothercat Limited. Section III between Auchi-Ehor which covers 29.20km in Edo State was awarded in favour of Messrs Danata and Sawoe Construction Company Limited while Section IV between Ehor-Benin and covers 47.70km was awarded to Messrs RCC (Nigeria) Limited.

Former Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, had said the contracts would take 36 months to complete and that the four sections of the road were awarded at a cost N75.8 billion. The 36 months scheduled for the completion for the dualisation of Benin-Lokoja road has passed and the road is still a death trap and a cause of worry to travelers and motorists alike.

During the visit of the Senate Committee on Works led by its Vice Chairman, Senator Clifford Ordia, residents of Ewu community in Esan Central local government cried out that they were tired of carrying dead bodies off the Ewu axis especially the Ewu hill along the Benin-Auchi express road.

Spokesman for the community, Pa Jerome Idiata, told the Senate Committee on Works that the number of deaths recorded on Ewu axis of the road due to accidents was under reported.

Pa Idiata stated that the community was agog when they the contractor working on the road shortly before the 2015 general elections but they were now surprised that the road has become a trench where people now die.

His words: “Go and see the carnage on the road. Our people now take bush path to where they can take vehicle to their destination.

“We want this road to be done. The Ewu hill section is not good.”

At the time the Senate Committee on Work inspected progress work on the Lokoja-Benin express road, the contractor handling section iii, Dantata and Sawoe was at Ekpoma to do palliative work on the failed portion in the axis.

The presence of the contractor did not elicit any positive reaction from Ekpoma residents and motorists as they expressed mixed feelings that the contractor was only present because they might have been aware of the coming of the monitoring team from the Senate.

Project Manager for Dantata and Sawoe, Roy Hungushi, said the firm would return for major work repair on the road during the dry season and said work on the firm’s section was slow became no mobilization fee was paid.

His words, “We are trying to clean up the bad areas in preparations to come back with working materials during the dry season. We want to make the road motorable for the time being.

“It is difficult to do major work. As soon as the rains are over, we will come back.”

“This particular section that was awarded to us, no mobilization fees has been paid. It is difficult to move to any work site without mobilsation fee.”

But Senator Ordia said N1.3bn has been paid to the contractor and that the contractor didn’t do what was supposed to be done on the Ewu hill section but that they have been told to reduce the vertical alignment to reduce number of deaths.

He said, “It cannot be true that no mobilization has been paid. Some amount has been paid nd that I know. This section that is bad is part of the scope covering Ewu hill. We have paid some amount but what he would say is that it was not enough.

“Government has directed that they should come here and carry out some palliative works. You can see the community members are angry. Government is doing much to fix the road”.

Ekpoma residents told our reporter that they were not sure whether the ongoing repair work would alleviate their suffering as they have seen several bulldozers in the past two years. Business owners located along the failed portion lamented that they have lost patronage and recorded poor sales.

A restaurant owner who gave her name as Rita said the failed portion of the road has paralyzed her business. She said repair work on the road would not help them as various persons have carried out palliative work on the road.

Why worsen the situation in Ekpoma is that the internal road network has been destroyed due to diversion of traffic.

A community youth leader, Andrew Ikhajangbe, said they want the Federal Government to fix the road and not palliative work that the rain would damage.

“You can see vehicles moving into the town. All the internal roads are now damaged. What we are asking is that the federal government should focus on the road,” he said.

However, the dualisation of 14 kilometers of the road from Ramat Park axis in Ikpoba-Okha local government area has been completed. The section of the road used to be a nightmare for motorists as the contractor left site after the 2015 general elections. The completion of the 14 kilometers has stopped federal government agencies like the Federal High Court and the Court of Appeal from being heavily flooded.

Revd Ugolor in a chat with our reporter said the Lokoja-Auchi-Benin express road represents impunity in the country.

His words: “People get contracts and they don’t deliver. Government insensitivity to the plight of the people is bad. It is shameful that those at the helm of affairs fly alll the time. It is not their business about conditions of our roads. I left Abuja 6am and got to Benin at 10pm. We got to Iruekpen and had to take through the bush. Particularly Iruekpen to Benin. It is very bad. What is unfortunate is that tax payers money are used to award contracts and nobody is held responsible.”

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