It is a major road that links Umuahia, the capital of Abia State, to the furthest part of the state, Arochukwu and even to Akwa Ibom State. For decades, citizens of the state have cried and crowed over the poor state of the road to no avail. Contracts have been given by different state and federal governments for its rehabilitation/ reconstruction. But sad is the state of the road as Igbeaku Orji, reports from Umuahia
Among the critical infrastructures that define the development trajectory of any nation, durable road network is at the forefront. No nation will relegate to the background the issue of durable road network, which is a serious agenda of economic and social advancement.
Road and electricity infrastructure inexorably underpin sustainable economic growth. Unfortunately, Nigeria suffers perennial deficit in these critical sectors. The country appears to still have to wait much longer for the magic wand or the intellectual capacity to unravel the huge existential paradox of a country so richly endowed, yet so poor. Measures, efforts, steps aimed at addressing the myriad of challenges are almost always antithetical to genuine and desired outcome. A case where contractors milk the government of huge sums and abandon the project and still walk the streets free is inexplicable.
At the end of the day, the people bear the brunt of the burden of misrule of the political elite. The Umuahia-Bende-Ohafia- Arochukwu Federal highway is a vital arterial route that links the state capital with Bende, Ohafia and Arochukwu Local Government Areas out of the five in Abia North senatorial zone. The road is one of the Federal Government roads in Abia State but definitely among the worst in the country with the attendant loss in economic and social engagements. It is undoubtedly the least among the federal roads slated for comprehensive reconstruction like the Umuahia -Ikot Ekpene road.
For upwards of four decades, the Umuahia -Bende-Ohafia- Arochukwu federal highway has received little attention. For these number of years, it has been used without comprehensive rehabilita-tion /reconstruction. At best, what is done is isolated patchwork.
The development has made the users, who have no option, resigning to what has been accepted as their fate. One of the commercial cab drivers who has been plying the road, Elder Kalu Ina, said with a shrug of the shoulders, “what can one do? We are so used to it that we take it for granted as our lot. We are tired. We continue in the transportation business under this condition because there is nothing better to do. “ Ina lamented that the state of the road has become the reason for the exorbitant fare charged to Abam communities but which passengers erroneously blame on the drivers. Not only that, the condition of the road is also responsible for the frequent breakdown of the commercial /passenger vehicles that ply the route.
The dilapidated state of the road has forced the traffic from Ohafia to take the longer Uzuakoli route to Umuahia. On the road are two bridges at Igwu River, Ozu Abam and Mmuri at Ebem Ohafia. The palliative measures taken so far to keep the Mmuri River passable has failed to stand the pressure. The measures buckle almost immediately under the volume of traffic. The construction of the Igwu River Bridge on the other hand, has been abandoned for about four years now, leaving commuters with the old narrow bridge that takes only one user at a time. Another commercial taxi operator on the route, Mr Jehu Kalu, corroborated Ina’s view. He said that unlike their colleagues who ply Ohafia, they have no alternative route.
They must use the Umuahia – Bende road no matter how bad. This, he said, has taken its toll on the vehicle, making them regular visitors to the mechanic workshop. “The worst is that the passengers now blame us for the high transport fare,” Kalu said, adding, “you know the situation of things now; yet we must survive. My car has been in the mechanic for four months and there is no guarantee that it will last on the road this time around before another breakdown.” Mr Onwuchekwa Ogwo, a bus driver, described the road as a nightmare to drivers, especially the Bende end of the road. The isolated rehabilitation has always skipped Bende town.
The approach to Bende from Umuahia on the Inyang River Bridge through the little hill at Onu Inyang into Bende town and the descent and ascent of the hill after the local government headquarters up to Idima Abam junction, is the worst driving experience anyone can have. Every day on that portion, there is one breakdown or the other. From Umuahia to Bende, the road has been cut in several places.
The peculiar nature of the terrain does not help matters. The numerous hills, valleys, curves and bends make the Umuahia end prone to landslide. The Umuahia to Bende road is on the tremour belt that has threatened many houses in Ameke and Amuzukwu Ibeku. The rehabilitation of that area of the road therefore requires special expertise.
The present use of local ill equipped contractors will not do. There are deep and dangerous life threatening gaping cuts along the road and too sharp for unsuspecting road users to maneuver. The journey from Ndi Ojiaku to Ozu Abam is another nightmare.
That stretch is dotted with chain potholes that terminate at the Igwu Bridge head. No vehicle, even SUVs travel on that three kilometer stretch with its bolts and nuts intact. But the journey from Ozu Abam to Ebem Ohafia is better avoided than to bear the irreparable damage to the vehicle. That is why those traveling to or from Ohafia will not dare to use it though, it is shorter to or from Umuahia. A region of the country that has been sidelined in the distribution of critical infrastructure and still neglected in the basic infrastructure like road, gives credence to the strident mantra of marginalisation.