By Iheanacho Nwosu, Abuja
Members of the House of Representatives Committee on Works, who went on inspection of roads in the South-east last week got more than they anticipated. And they did the unexpected: broke down in tears. It was not that the lawmakers, who were led by Hon. Toby Okechukwu, were unaware that the roads in the zone were in bad shape but they clearly did not know that they had got to a point that even cows and other animals die trying to pass some portions. The drama played out at Lokpanta along Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway.
For more than an hour, the legislators watched as hundreds of cows fell on one another trying to cross the bad spots. Uncountable number of vehicles were pack on both sides of the roads. “How can one see a thing like this in this modern age? This is despicable, I need to do a documentary on this “a member of the team, Hon Bimbo Daramola said. “This is an eyesore , this is unbelievable “, another member, Hon Badamosi Ayuba yelled out.
“The situation of the road is a rolling calamity, it is heart wrenching “, Okechukwu said . The lawmakers toured all the states in the zone. Except in few instances, they displayed anger and frustrations at all the project sites. The tour was kicked off at Enugu on Monday last week. Unfortunately the first site they visited was to spoil their day. That was the Enugu- 9th mile Road being handled by the CCC, a foreign firm.
The legislators did not hesitate in lashing out at the firm for what they called lackdaiscal attitude to the project. Okechukwu said that it was inexplicable that a contract that was awarded in 2009 was yet to be executed to 40 percent in 2012. He said “this is a clear case of unseriousness, I don’t know why it is only in the South east that we see all this type of nonsense.” He threatened that the committee will recommend a review of the contract if there was no improvement in the execution of the project.
In the same fit of anger, Daramola lamented that whereas CCC has collected more than 80 percent of the contract sum it is yet to do any meaningful thing with the money. He said “ tell us what you have been doing with all the money you have been collecting, nothing here justifies the money and it is wicked, it is a shame”. At Achi-Oji Road, the lawmakers almost broke down in tears as the road was cut into two. Okechukwu asked the contractor, SETRACO to immediately fix the road so as to reconnect the three local governments that have been severed by the collapsed road.
“This is unthinkable, something has to be done fast. Right now people from the three councils cannot access communities within their towns”, he lamented But the shock was not to end there. Inspecting the Enugu-Abakaliki Road, the lawmakers came face to face with a life threatening situation. A bridge known as Kilometre 7.35 at Emene, was almost caving in . Again the lawmakers came close to tears as they watched vehicles ply the bridge. There was no other alternative . Okechukwu said the situation has gone beyond tolerable level. The bridge links Ebonyi and Enugu states. He lamented that the residents have been subjected to a horrible experience as a result of the poor state of the bridge which was constructed in 1972. He called on SETRACO which is handling the road construction to quickly fix the bridge to end the nightmare being experienced by motorists.
He said “Look, there are fundamental engineering standards that should be met in executing projects of this nature. Engineering ethics suggest that jobs paid for must be done well.” “The House of Representatives will not give its support to the idea of paying for substandard jobs. The House will see to it that whatever action is required to ensure that maximum quality is recorded ,is taken.” Similar threat was given to Niger Construction Ltd handling the rehabilitation of Onitsha- Enugu dual carriage way section 11. The company had complained that the state of soil affected the time line for the completion of the rehabilitation. The claim angered Okechukwu and Daramola who asked the contractor to spell out the grounds upon which the contract was awarded. The Ministry of Works was later blamed for not carrying out soil tests before awarding road contracts in the South-east. However, a little smile came to the face of the lawmakers when they inspected the rehabilitation of Owerri – Umuahia road section 1,11 and 111 being handled by Zerock Nigeria Limited. They said work done by the company clearly showed that it is a serious minded firm . “So far, we have seen a company that has shown that it has the capacity to do what it collected money for. Nigeria needs to do business with such a company”,
Okechukwu said. He quickly cautioned the firm that “ we will not hestitate to tonguelash you any day we see that you are no longer doing the right thing. You are paid to do a job, and you must do it satisfactorily”. The praise was to last for just few minutes. The deplorable state of the road at Isiukwuator elicited tears from the legislators. Gully erosion had split the road into two forcing users to ply a bushy path.
The sight of the spot evokes tears. Although there was a sign board and heavy duty vehices around the area to indicate that a construction firm is working there, the situation didnt look like something that would be addressed in the next few weeks or months. Ayuba said “this is like what is watched in movies. How long will this community live with this kind of thing. My heart is bleeding, I cant even imagine that it is a real life experience.” “The people here have been paying their tax, they are part of this country, and deserve the attention of government.” Okechukwu added. He stressed “when the House of Representatives is talking about full implementation of the budget it is because we know it is only things like this that can be handled as quickly as possible.”
The lawmakers in the eight days they toured the five South-east states inspected 37 ongoing federal road projects. But their verdict at the end of the tour was damming . Daramola said “ the experience is better imagined . I can say that the only good road in the South-east is the Onitsha -Owerri Expressway. It is a pity that government would allow the situation to get to what it is today. For me, the firms that are handling road projects in the zone have no business being there because most of them don’t have the capacity to handle the projects.” Ayuba submitted “It is wrong to leave things the way they are in the zone right now. For a long time what I saw will linger in my mind. If the roads are left the way they are, it is as good as telling people from the zone and other Nigerians that visit there on a daily basis that government has approved that they should go and die. Roads that animals like goats and cows cannot cross tell you how bad they are”. For Okechukwu, the blame on the bad state of roads in the zone should go to many quaters. Like Daramola, he slammed most of the firms as lacking the capacity to handle the road projects for which they were paid.
He also decried the poor release of funds to contractors handling the road projects. The lawmaker said “There is sufficient blame to go round. There are three problems there. One has to do with the government’s releases. You have duly certified certificates since last year, around November last year that is being paid by October this year. It is not a good situation, contractually that is wrong. You wouldn’t expect a contractor to perform in that situation, if he does his work, you pay him. “Two, there are issues that have to deal with the technical realities of the South Eastern roads , I am talking of the topography of the area, the type of soil, the geophysics of the area.
You have put all these in context before you undertake a design. We have seen roads that were designed, but they couldn’t go because there are pilings. Enugu-Onitsha Road is a good example Enugu. Port Harcourt is another good example. “In that instance, you can say that it is a technical problem which the Ministry of Works ought to have taken care of before awarding the contract. Thirdly, there is a situation where you have contractors that completely lack capacity, they are incompetent. As stated, there are Ministry engineers at site, who are not supposed to be there in the first place. So you see these contractors lasting in projects three, five years, earning money without exiting from it.” On the import of their tour of the South-east, Okechukwu said “It was a wonderful opportunity to have gone to the South-east with my colleagues in the House committee on Works. It is a constitutional mandate which the House exercises from time to time,.
“We want to see both in law and in facts that the responsibility of the House with regards to oversights is done. We went to the South-east and saw an apparent bad situation in the South east. The situation of roads there is a rolling calamity. I wouldn’t say I ‘m satisfied. It is a bad situation.” With the inspection now over, the public is waiting to see if that would end the misery of the South East road users.