•Commuters groan as gridlocks, robbers take over collapsed Benin-Ore Road
By COSMAS OMEGOH
There is no let up to the avalanche of problems still plaguing the Benin-Ore Expressway. Commuters, using that facility are once again back to the familiar turf of sorrow and pain. Death, distress and robbery remain the major worries commuters have been left to deal with. Following the resumption of the rains after its annual break in the third quarter of the year, the road has continued to ail. The renewed intensity of the rains has forced some portions of it to fail.
And now, the commuters are bearing the brunt of the debacle which, many insist, is a recurring decimal. As the potholes resurface on the facility which once was a national pride, the days of long hours on the queue are back. And going by the fillers reaching Daily Sun, the commuters are spending very long time at the same spot before they could be free.
And this may last as long as the rains and the bad portions on the road persist. Commuters who have been experiencing the problem first hand say a journey from Lagos to Benin City by bus now lasts for seven hours or more. Ordinarily, Lagos to Benin by road is a three-hour drive.
But motorists whose vehicles are incapable of manoeuvring through the numerous adjoining bush paths to avoid some of the failed portions are facing a tall mountain as they get rooted at the same spot for hours unend. A commuter, Mr. Obioma Nwogu told Daily Sun that the Benin-Ore Expressway in recent times has continued to deteriorate. He said traffic gridlocks on both sides of the road are now commonplace.
The intensity of the rains and the attendant flood have washed off some portions of the road and opened up gapping craters at every turn. This worsening condition of the road is being aggravated by the pressure and presence of heavy duty trucks competing for right of way. Millions of those trucks carry several tons of hard and soluble goods from the west to and fro the mid west and eastern parts of the country annually. Narrating his experience on the road while on a recent journey to the East, Obioma said: “Indeed, the Benin-Ore axis of the road once again is in bad shape.
Many motorists now using that road go through hell. People are spending lots of hours, particularly between Ore and Okada. This is a huge problem that ought to have been dealt with for long considering that, that road has been a problem for some time now. I travelled to the village recently and my experience on that road was nothing but pain and anguish. “We left Lagos at 7.00am, hoping to get to the village later in the afternoon, but that didn’t happen.
As we approached Ore town, I noticed a long queue of big trucks; I observed that the road was totally blocked. There was no form of movement. Heavy duty vehicles were all ahead of us. After a while in the traffic which was moving at a snail speed, our driver reversed the bus and began to drive back to Lagos. Then I became alarmed. I was more alarmed when the driver joined some other smaller passenger vehicles veering off into a particular track leading into the bush.
For minutes, we were meandering through village paths. We even got stuck at some point because there was also heavy traffic even inside those villages as most motorists preferred those alternative routes to escape the torture on the main highway.” Continuing, Nwogu said: “It was a huge relief when we hit the main road again after close to an hour in the bush.
Then our driver began to press for Benin City. But as we were getting close to Ofosu in Edo State, I sighted noticed a similar problem ahead. We remained at the same spot on the queue for quite a while before our vehicle once again made a detour into the bush to escape another bad portion on the road. So we had another round of the same problem to deal with and that lasted for close to one and half hours or so.
During that period, we were moving around in the villages. Some of the villagers who thought the motorists were taking advantage of their area, erected barricades to avoid vehicles completely destroying their land. At some places, they were even collecting tolls.
I find it difficult to believe that in Nigeria of this century, we are still grappling with the same Benin-Ore road after many years that it has been in the news.” Corroborating that account, Kalu Maduabuchi, who returned from a journey to the east some days ago, said the pains of commuters on some sections of the Benin-Ore road were hard to bear.
Maduabuchi, who said the commuter bus he travelled in spent hours on two separate failed portions, lamented that some of the travellers even had robbery incidents to deal with. “We left Lagos early in the morning in a commercial bus (owner’s name withheld) hoping to get to Aba before dusk. But we were halted for a long time at two separate places on the popular Benin-Ore road. First it was at Ore. There was a deep cut on the road which every motorist must pass through. I guess in the beginning, it was small but heavy duty vehicles plying that road helped to widen it.
So it got deeper and deeper every passing day, thus making it difficult for the rest of the vehicles to pass through. Now given the number of vehicles plying the road, you can understand while there is a long queue,” he said. He noted that following the emergency of bad spots on the road, banditry is now commonplace. Criminals now waylay and rob vehicles which have been condemned to ply the numerous bush paths in the villages as a way to escape the bad spots on the highway.
“When we got to the bad spot, we were surprised that out driver queued behind those trucks, which are mostly the vehicles still using the road. Everybody, including the children among us, was hot, but there was nothing anyone could do about that. When the passengers began to urge the driver to join his colleagues who were plying the village roads, he vehemently refused, informing us that the management of his company warned them never to use alternative roads no matter the weight of the temptation. He said three of their buses were earlier robbed by thieves while trying to go through short cuts. It was then that we realised that apart from the bad road we could be robbed if we were not careful. So we had to endure long hours on the queue.” Daily Sun gathered that apart from the two very notorious spots on that road which for long had endured as a national embarrassment, there were other spots too. A commercial bus driver plying the Lagos-Benin route, who identified himself simply as Igumbor said in smattering English: “Bros, when we get to those bad spots them, we dey always use one way. If you no fit stay on the long queue, you must use one way. Na so we dey do am so that we go fit reach on time.” When reminded about the risk involved in plying one way, he said: “Bros leave matter, anything wey go happen go happen.”
However, in the past, there had been records of head on fatal collision involving some vehicles and many lives were lost. In one of such accidents, a luxury bus belonging to a transport company which has office in Jibowu, Lagos, sometime ago smashed a Benin bound 18-seater passenger bus. Both of them had collided on a hill. No fewer than 15 passengers were killed in that fatal accident. Recently, a coaster bus conveying 21 passengers from Ogun State to a location in Edo State, allegedly plunged into the river while trying to avoid a bad spot on the road at Ogbere village near Ijebu Ode.
A good number of the passengers either died from the crash or got drowned in the river. While efforts were made to retrieve the wreckage of the bus, there were no details of any survivors. But that is not the end of the ordeal which many commuters are still grappling with on the same Benin-Ore road which for long has continued to dominate the media space for the wrong reason. Now, the same question many have been asking for long is, ‘when will rehabilitation work on that busy road which once was a symbol of national pride be completed?’ That indeed, is the multimillion dollar question the federal government and all who have a stake on that road are yet to answer.