The nightmare experienced by commuters along federal highways in the South East and South South geopolitical zones has generated great concern as the roads have deteriorated to a national disgrace, shame and embarrassment.
For instance, the Calabar-Itu Highway and Ikot Ekpene-AbaHighways, constructed during the military era in the 70s and the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Highway are presently in deplorable conditions and unmotorable. While Ikot Ekpene Aba Highway has totally collapsed and is an abandoned route by commuters, the situation on the Ikot Ekpene-Umuahia and Calabar-ItuHighways constitute serious challenge to vehicular movement in some sections of the two federal roads, especially in rainy seasons as this, with attendant economic setbacks.
The importance of these federal roads play out when considering the critical roles they play in economic activities in Akwa Ibom, Cross River and Abia States, apart from being gateways to the north, the Republic of Cameroon and Equatorial Guinea. These roads are also very strategic for high economic activities. They serve as economic nerve centres between Akwa Ibom and its neighbouring states in the South East and South South Regions.
Although contract for the reconstruction of failed portions on Ikot Ekpene-Aba Highway was awarded in 2009 to Brent Investments Limited by late President Umaru Yar’Adua’sadministration at the cost of N2.9 billion with a completion period of 20 months, the project was stalled by inadequate provision of funds, which has contributed significantly to the near collapse of all federal roads in the South South and South East.
Stakeholders in road transportation subsector and road users have argued that it was not enough for FERMA to patch federal roads. Rather, they called for award of contracts for complete revamping and dualization of the three federal roads that links Akwa Ibom to Abia and Cross River as their present condition are far beyond mere patchwork.
Recently, the National Union of Petroleum and Natural Gas Workers (NUPENG) had decried the loss of its members and property to dilapidated roads, and threatened to go on strike until the Federal Government fixed these roads. But, the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC) appealed to the union to shelve the planned strike and accepted to rebuild some of the roads.
As a result, the Federal Executive Council (FEC) at a meeting presided by Vice-President Yemi Osinbajo on Wednesday, October 27, 2021, approved N621.2 billion for NNPC to fix the 21 federal roads, including the dualization of 73km Aba-IkotEkpene road in Abia/Akwa Ibom States; rehabilitation of 49km Umuahia (Ikwuano)-Ikot Ekpene road: Umuahia-Umudike in Abia State; rehabilitation of 21.9km Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpeneroad in Cross River State Section I: Odukpani-Itu Bridge Head in Cross River/Akwa Ibom states; dualization of lot 2.32km outstanding portion of Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpene road; and dualization of 28km Oku-Iboku Power Plant Section of the Odukpani-Itu-Ikot-Ekpene road in Cross River/Akwa Ibom States.
According to the minister of works and housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, the approval was in line with Executive Order No. 007 of 2019 cited as the companies income tax (Road Infrastructure Development and Refurbishment Investment Tax Credit Scheme) Order, 2019 (“EO7 of 2019” or “the Scheme”), signed by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Much as the federal government approval is a welcome development, it is necessary to mention that this is not the first time the federal government is approving the construction of these roads. In early 2019, the federal government approved the sum of N43, 946. 019, 070.06 for the rehabilitation and dualisation of the 74-kilometre Aba-Ikot Ekpene Road in Abia/Akwa Ibom States and the construction and rehabilitation of Umuahia (Ikwuano)-Ikot Ekpene Road, with a completion date of 48 months, with a view to improving transportation infrastructure and restoring the country’s road network as part of the government’s Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
However, as at December 2019, construction work on many major roads in the six geopolitical zones of the country stopped. Media reports showed that the contractors stopped work because of poor funding by the Federal Government.
It becomes more imperative for the federal government to promptly release funds for the roads, in addition to close supervision of work done to avoid substandard jobs and ensure they are delivered before the terminal date of this administration.