3rd December, 2012
With its deplorable state, the Calabar-Ogoja highway in Cross River State may well be Nigeria’s worst road
The two men were not exactly in a boxing ring. But as they exchanged fisticuffs, one could mistake them for top-flight amateur boxers contesting for, probably, a Commonwealth belt. One of the men, as the jacket he was wearing announced him, was a construction worker with the China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC, and was on a rescue mission at the scene. His opponent, a road user, was venting his anger on him because of CCECC’s inability to rehabilitate the road on schedule, which has resulted in countless gory, fatal accidents. Beside the fighters lay on its side a 911 Mercedes truck loaded with cartons; its two bloodied occupants had just been evacuated to the hospital. Blood scenes, a passenger who witnessed the scene with this reporter noted, have become commonplace on the road.
The contentious road is the only expressway, if it could be called that, linking Calabar to Ikom, Ogoja, Obudu, Obudu Ranch Resort, and the major towns in the central and northern senatorial districts in Cross River State and Vandekiya in Benue State. Travelling on the long, windy, single-lane stretch which runs through the entire Cross River State is risky. Built in the 1970s, the road lacks proper engineering quality. The rough surface, littered with craters, makes driving such an agonising experience. Drainage channels are absent. The bridges over streams, rivers and gutters are very narrow, and the bends here and there so sharp that they call for extreme caution when negotiating. Like many other public infrastructure in the area, the road has suffered from poor maintenance. Rusty billboards erected by the defunct Petroleum Trust Fund, PTF, and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, purporting the road was being attended and the deplorable state of the road speak volumes of exercises in futility.
The ugliness of the inter-state road begins to manifest fully soon after a traveller departs Ugep, headquarters of Yakurr Local Council, about 80 kilometres from Calabar. Ekori, a nearby community, hosts deep potholes that leave motorists groaning after driving through. The situation in Obubra is not different. At the gate of the former Cross River College of Agriculture, now a faculty affiliated to the Cross University of Technology, CRUTECH, craters, deep enough to swallow a vehicle take up the entire breadth of the road. A few kilometres away lies the nightmarish Alesi Bridge. Iyaraosuwa Oshii, a driver who plies his trade on the road, explained that the spot could determine one’s mood on the road. “Sometimes, you could pass through the other bad spots thinking that you will get to Ikom soon. But you may spend a whole day or more in this place because of the narrowness of this bridge,” he told TheNEWS. Two-thirds of the bridge has collapsed, leaving a narrow muddy lane, which hardly accommodates vehicles coming from both directions.
After a slight relief in Ikom metropolis, one returns to the agony on the road at Beneghe-Nkim. From this point through Edor, home of a military barracks, to the popular Abuochiche junction in Bekwarra local government, the degradation is all too apparent. In some portions, the road has completely failed, with erosion eating it up and leaving large, scary gullies as relics. On the day this magazine journeyed through the road, it rained heavily. At least, five trucks and three cars either somersaulted or were stuck at different dangerous portions.
On the outskirts of Calabar is a huge death trap. On both sides is a ravine. This magazine reported recently how movement ground to a halt because a truck fell on the road blocking passage. It took days to get the wreckage off the road, by which time the stench of corpses had filled the air.
The poor state of the road has been harmful to the state’s economy. Iye Adah, a trader who buys foodstuff from Ogoja and environs and sells at the popular Watt Market in Calabar, said the prices of market produce are sky-high in the capital because of transportation problems. A large proportion of food items consumed in the capital are cultivated in the upper part of the state. Some residents of Calabar who spoke with this magazine corroborated that prices of food commodities have, indeed, spiralled because of a dismal supply rate from the hinterlands.
Some travellers blamed the state government for the decrepit state of the Ikom-Ogoja highway. Although it is a ‘Trunk A’ road, which falls under the care of the federal government, many of the road users believe that the road remains bad because of the state government’s lack of pressure on the federal government to rehabilitate it. “Top government officials and the rich travel to Ikom and Ogoja by air via the Obudu airstrip. Why do you expect them to care about what happens to this road? They don’t care,” an angry commuter fumed.
Besides the economic implications, users of the road are also concerned about the threat to their lives. They emphasised that driving at night there is dangerous, as incidents of armed robbery are rife. The craters provide opportunities for men of the underworld to strike their prey when drivers are compelled to decelerate. The large forest area also provides the hoodlums cover from law enforcement agents. Apart from robbers, the military personnel deployed to provide security on the highway wait at the bad spots to extort money from travellers.
The child-hawking indices in villages along the road have risen. This reporter observed numerous children selling goods to passengers who disembarked at gridlocks occasioned by bad spots.
While the CCECC footdrags on completing rehabilitation of the road, its users continue to suffer. Soon, one part of the state may be severed from the other, no thanks to government’s insensitivity.
—NKRUMAH BANKONG-OBI, Calabar/TheNEWS magazine