Like the Lagos–Ibadan Expressway in the Southwest Nigeria which connects Lagos and other parts of Nigeria, the East/ West road is the connecting link between the Niger-Delta and other parts of the country.
The strategic location of the road should ordinarily make it a prime project for execution by the federal government. Apart from serving Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo and Delta States, where Nigeria’s oil wealth is drilled, the road transverses Ogun and Lagos, the nation’s commercial hub.
But, like most public infrastructure in the area, the road is a virtual death trap, owing to negligence by successive governments.
Driving on the east-west road can be agonizing. During the rainy season, craters left behind by erosion torment motorists to no end.
Some of the gullies are wide enough to swallow vehicles, leaving the owners to groan about the expenses they will incur to repair their vehicles. It can be worse when floods overflow banks of rivers.
This year, for example, flood severed the road at Umeh junction in Patani area of Delta State. Travellers ended up in vehicles for days, while some were forced to make a detour, following a long diversion through Asaba to Onitsha. As expected, business transactions between Lagos and Asaba came to a rapid halt while the rampaging floods lasted. Even in the dry season, commuters are easy prey for men of the underworld who lay siege at deplorable portions of the road to dispossess them of their valuables.
Before the road degenerated to this sorry state, Labaran Maku, Minister of Information, had assured that government was making progress to assuage the suffering encountered by those who ply the road. In February last year, Maku, in tandem with Zainab Ibrahim Kuchi, Minister of State for Niger Delta told journalists that government was redesigning the road. The redesign included width expansion and inclusion of shoulder, an engineering feature that was missing from the earlier conception. Work was projected to be concluded next year.
But as it stands, that dateline may just be a mirage. Contract for the construction of East/West Road was first awarded to the construction giant, Julius Berger in 2006. Due to the abduction of the firm’s workers by militants in the Niger Delta axis, the road was abandoned. In 2009, the contract was re-awarded to Setraco at the initial contract sum of over N138 billion. It was reviewed to 245 billion last year. On ground, the paper work has not begun to bear meaningful fruits. The supposed “landmark intervention of the federal government on infrastructure in the Niger –Delta region,” has not fulfilled the purpose. Rather, the regular traffic gridlocks, robbers, accidents and deaths have made travelling and life generally nightmarish for the people.
Again, the recent death of Governor Patrick Yakowa of Kaduna State and former National Security Adviser, General Andrew Azazi and others in a helicopter crash is instructive. It is believed in some quarters that were the East/ West road in good shape, they may not have required a helicopter to airlift them to Port Harcourt from Bayelsa. The journey from Port Harcourt to Bayelsa or vice versa on a smooth road can be made in less than two hours.
Now that the rains have gone, there is need for government to try to redeem its pledge of completing the project next year. The contractor should be adequately mobilized so that work can commence in earnest.
Supervision should be stringent to ensure that the job done meets specification. The governments of the key Niger Delta states have a role to play. They must continue to pile pressure on the federal government to fix the road, so as to assuage the pains that their people feel daily.
Security agencies should be coopted into the team to keep kidnappers at bay. In this way, construction workers can work at ease. Kidnapping is rampant, and can deter any genuine contractor bent on executing his task in the area. But if this is checked, lazy contractors won’t have ready-made excuses for failing to honour their obligations It is very likely that if the East/West road is fixed, the people will be relived from their present agony while deaths, wastages and hardships will be curtailed.