By Alfred Ajayi
“I don’t know what our people had done to offend the Government of Anambra State, to have neglected and abandoned us this way. The Governor is working across the state. But, for us here, we feel disillusioned, disappointed and in fact, abandoned”.
A stakeholder and Traditional Prime Minister (Onowu) of Ebenebe, Chief Joe Nwegwu, lamenting the abandonment of Amansea-Ebenebe-Ugbenu-Ugbene-Awba Ofemili road project, almost fourteen years after commencement.
Awarded in 2007 at the initial the cost of six hundred and fifty million naira, the contract sum was later reviewed to seven billion, eight hundred and six million, five hundred and ninety thousand naira.
Flagged-off by former Governor Peter Obi on May first, 2007, the people anticipated an end to decades of utter neglect and sufferings. But events afterwards proved them wrong.
Onowu Ebenebe continued: “When it was flagged-off, we were so joyous, thinking that that the promised eighteen months completion period was real.
But unfortunately, the project grounded to a halt for over thirteen years while many others roads started years after our own had been delivered. The government lacked the political will to complete our road”.
The road is strategic linking food producing areas of the state and serving as a connecting route to Enugu state, through Ezeagu Local Government Area.
Therefore, its abandonment even by the administration of Governor Willie Obiano, which at inception in 2014, professed agriculture as the number one pillar of its economic development, was particularly worrisome.
The Amansea axis (the beginning point of the road project), asphalted some years ago, has collapsed totally with almost no trace of asphalt, while the stretch from Ezu bridge in Ebenebe to a point close to its Community Secondary School, is fast failing.
Erosion taking over some portions of the abandoned Achina-Onneh-Agbudu-Ogboji road scaled.
Consequently, journeying through the road presents a torturous experience one never prays to have regularly.
No wonder Mr Francis Ekpone, who hails from Ugbenu, submitted that there is virtually nothing to be happy about on the project. “The project was initially awarded by Governor Chris Ngige and later re-awarded by Governor Peter Obi over thirteen years ago. I don’t think there is any reason to be happy. Government only needs our people for elections. Once elections are over, they forget everything about us”
A first time visitor who recently passed through the road, Mr Innocent Augustine, could not hide his disappointment.
“We went for a traditional wedding in one of the communities after Ebenebe. My brother, it was a bad experience. It seems those people are not part of Anambra State. Even with bike, we were still struggling to enter the communities”.
The deplorable condition of the road had precipitated unreasonable rise in transportation fare, as commercial motorcyclists prey on the hapless residents to make brisk business.
The journey from Amansea to Awba Ofemili, costs between two thousand and two thousand, five hundred naira or even more.
Agriculture has suffered unprecedented setback with records of post-harvest losses resulting from lack of storage facilities and big markets. The people, despite the drudgery associated with subsistence farming, have little or nothing to show for their diligence.
“We cannot evacuate our farm produce to urban centres. Even the markets here would have developed beyond the present state if there is road. The whole food we produce waste away. Completing this road will boost our economic base and the government will also generate more revenue from here” Ekpone submitted.
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According to a young lady from Ugbene, Stella Nwankwo, public health care system in the affected communities is at its lowest ebb, with common stories of losing the sick and pregnant women in the course of evacuating them to urban centres for medical interventions.
“For rainy season, motor no fit enter Ugbenu, Ugbene and Awba. We no get good road. Our women wey get pregnant, dem dey suffer for the road. If they wan come hospital for Ebenebe or Awka, some of them die on the road. There are those who give birth while on transit. Only the lucky ones survive”.
Some of the residents could not hide their frustrations with the exodus of able-bodied men from the communities, in search of greener pastures in other parts of the state, the country or the world. One of them said: “We are losing our able bodied youths to rural-urban drift and that affects the growth and progress of those communities”
Consequently, the development of those areas had been badly retarded because the cost of developing landed property there is higher compared to the situation in the in areas with good network of roads.
“For instance, getting building materials to any of those communities, costs more than average residents can afford. This explains the slow pace of development you see there because developers are not encouraged to access the communities”
After several futile efforts, the Director of Brecco Nigeria Limited, the Construction Company handling the project, who would not give his name but is popularly known as Gabby, simply dismissed the reporter asking him and all, who seek clarifications on the status of the project, to approach the Ministry of Works.
“I have no relationship with any individual in that place. My relationship is with the Ministry of Works. Let them go to the Commissioner and ask him every question about the road. If the Commissioner asks me to go back to work today, I will do that without delay. So, I am not in a position to start talking to you on why and how the project had gone”.
The story of abandonment affects other roads across the state, including: the Okpuno-Isuaniocha-Urum-Amanuke-Achalla road and Ezira-Enugu-Umuonyia-Achina-Onneh road.
Greater portion of the seven point five kilometer Achina-Onneh-Agbudu-Ogboji road, awarded on 22nd May, 2014, at the cost of seven hundred and ninety million naira, is now a death trap.
According to Mr Aloysius Ezulike, who was seen trekking to a neighbouring community, regretted that their previous pleas to the government never yielded positive results.
“After years of sufferings on the road, the Government of Anambra awarded the job and the contractor started the work from Achina, stopped at Orie-Achina and left the site for many years. Now, farmers cannot evacuate their produce. I, moving now on my foot will probably reach my destination before the person who drives through communities in other local government areas. Let them come and take away our sufferings”.
Also, a disenchanted resident, Mr Chuks Evaristus, recounted how work on Ugedo road in Nnewi, stopped around Edorji village, several years ago.
“Governor Obiano campaigned with this road for his second term. During rainy season, even pedestrians find using it difficult. The menace of dust is unbearable as you can see on my house. Children and adult fall sick regularly because of dust while several shop owners had been forced to close them. How I wish that government will come to our rescue”.
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Why are capital projects like roads abandoned?
Several reasons had been adduced for the culture of abandoning projects by successive administrations in the country. One of the major factors is politicization of projects meant to serve public good.
A Development Experts, Mr Greg Anyaegbudike, mentioned corruption among other reasons that trigger abandonment of capital projects by various governments in the country.
“You cannot divorce abandonment of projects especially in Nigeria from corruption. Sometimes, government refuses to pay for the work done by the contractor.
Failed portion of Amansea-Awba-Ofemili road from Amansea Junction scaled.
There are times too when government will even pay the contractors, but because of the long queue for kickback, the contractor is left with little money that cannot even do the job. He goes home with the remainder.
Mr. Anyegbudike also blamed the situation on faulty procurement process, which was a major concern in the state until recently when the Public Procurement Law became operational with the establishment of the Bureau for Public Procurement and the constitution of Public Procurement Council.
“At other times, projects are awarded to firms that have no capacity for execution. That points at faulty procurement process. Government is said to be a continuum but the reality in Nigeria is different. Change of government is always a good reason for project abandonment. Every administration wants to start and complete new projects, without recourse to the inherited ones, which are well-conceived and are meant to serve public good. The situation is worse when a new party takes over”. Mr Anyaegbudike submitted.
We have not abandoned any road – Commissioner for Works
The cries of residents of Amansea, Ebenebe, Ugbenu, Ugbene and Awba-Ofemili and others were taken to the Commissioner for Works, Engr Marcell Ejiofor, in August 2020, to seek his reactions to them.
The Commissioner dismissed allegations of abandonment but assured that work will commence on some of them during dry season.
“We have not abandoned any road. We still have nearly two years to go. We have about two hundred active sites, those inherited from past administration and those awarded by this administration. We have not forgotten the Amansea-Awba-Ofemili road. They are my people and I assure them that road will be completed.
“The Amansea-Awa-Udiukwuenu-Ufum road, the contractor mobilized to site but was compelled by rain to demobilize. They will go back to site immediately the rains are over. On Achina-Onneh-Ogboji road, let them be assured that we are going to come back better on the road during the dry season”.
Despite the assurance, nothing had happened on the Amansea-Awba-Ofemili road as at Tuesday, 29th December, 2020 when this reporter visited.
One of the adverse consequences of delayed capital projects is that the government ends up spending higher than initially budgeted for such projects due to volatility of the exchange rate.
But the Commissioner said the state government has been very prudent in its spending.
“We are hard bargainers. If any contractor comes for variations, we must be sure they are reasonable and we must get value for every kobo we are spending”
The Commissioner also reacted to the allegation of politicization of execution of road projects under the present administration.
“His Excellency has been fair to all parts of the state. Whether awarded by present or past administration, the roads are for Ndi-Anambra. So, we don’t take politics into consideration”.
Some road projects have been completed
However, the government has been commended for many for its giant strides on road construction and maintenance.
Some of the road projects had been delivered by the present administration including: Amawbia-Arroma-Awka expressway with three flyovers, the Saint Peter’s University-Onneh roads, internal roads within the Saint Peter’s University, Diocesan Hospital road, Amichi, Igbariam-Nando road and SARS Awkuzu-Nteje-Nando road.
Others are: Ogbunike Cave-Saint Monica’s-Umudioka link roads, different roads within the commercial city, Onitsha, the Okpuno-Mgbakwu road, link roads within Aguleri, Umueri and Nteje.
Bridges completed by the administration are those on Umunya-Umudioka road, Nengo bridge Nteje, the bridge on Awkuzu-Nteje-Nando road and the longest bridge in Aguleri linking with the Anambra oil fields with roads.
Those inherited and completed included: Nnewi-Oraifite road, Nteje-Umunya-Umudioka road, Isuofia-Nanka road.
However, there are those projects at various stages of completion such as the Anambra airport dual carriageway Nteke (70% completed), some roads within Onitsha, Isu-Urum-Amanuke-Achalla road (80% completed on road section), Mbosi-Azia-Ukpor road (80% percent completed).
N150bn Naira needed to fix Anambra roads
In what sounded like a subtle message to those calling for attention to their roads, the Commissioner for Works, Engr Ifejiofor, in October 2020 disclosed that the state needed up to one hundred and fifty billion naira to fix all the roads across the one hundred and eighty one communities of the state.
He noted that lack of attention to some of the roads was due to dwindling economic fortunes, which is not peculiar to the state.
“With N150 billion, the state roads will be in order. Most of the roads are suffering because of lack of enough money to put them in order. People will always accuse the government of not doing well but they do not care to find out the amount accruable to government”.
One major effect of delayed or abandoned projects is associated with the volatility in the exchange rate. For instance, when the Amansea-Awba-Ofemili road project was awarded, the exchange rate was hovering between one hundred and thirty and one hundred and forty naira per dollar.
With the current exchange rate of almost five hundred naira per dollar, huge sums will be needed to deliver the road project.
However, it is the earnest prayer of the people of Amansea, Ebenebe, Ugbenu, Ugbene and Awba-Ofemili, that the state government would spare some thoughts about their helpless state and complete the road in no distant time.
For them, the greatest legacy the present administration can leave behind is completing the road which has become a selling point for politicians during electioneering campaigns.
This Report is supported by the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre) and John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foudation.