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•Thousands of commuters stranded; travellers in desperate search for food, water
•We need help from FG, Niger govt cries out
By Adams John, Minna
The Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa road is one of the busiest highways in the country. Over 300 trailers and tankers and other smaller vehicles ply the road daily, as it is the only major link between the North and south western parts of the country. Goods – mostly foodstuff, cattle and other items from the North – are usually transported to the South West through this road. In return, finished items from the South West, including fuel, are transported to the North through the same road.
Yet, it remains one of the most neglected federal roads in the country.
Over the years, the road’s deplorable condition has been a nightmare to commuters using it. Every successive administration had paid lip service to it. The result is that gridlock remains a common feature on the road, with travellers lamenting their frustrations each time.
Investigations revealed that the worst portion of the road lies between Ilorin and Bode Sadu village in Kwara State. It also stretches up to Mokwa in Niger State, covering a distance of nearly 60 kilometres.
On account of this nightmare, travellers on this portion of the road hardly know when to arrive at their destinations. There is always constant blockage caused by either tumbling or even broken down vehicles.
It was learnt that the only major maintenance carried out on the road was in 2010. Then, only the Jebba to Makera end of the facility benefitted. But because of the poor quality of work done and coupled with the number of heavy vehicles, plying the road, it soon failed.
Although the present administration has commenced the rehabilitation of the road from Ilorin end, no appreciable progress has been achieved due to the slow pace of the work. Only a stretch of about 60 kilometres of the road, it was gathered, has so far been completed.
Since the rain started two months ago, users of the road have been telling tales of woe. They have been lamenting and expressing terrible frustrations. The climax was attained days ago with the collapse of two bridges on the road, one at Tatatu village, about 15 kilometres from Jebba just before Mokwa, and another at Bakani, which lies between Mokwa and Tegina.
First to collapse was the bridge at Bakani, which was washed away by the heavy floods recently. According to Alhaji Mohammed Dan Lawal, a resident of the village, the rain lasted for close to five hours.
While the villagers were able to create a diversion for vehicles to pass after paying some token to the young men in the area, the worst happened days after, this time around at Tatatu village when an articulated vehicle loaded with scrap from the North fell on the collapsed bridge after a heavy rain.
The collapsed bridge at Tatau, it was learnt, was constructed in 2012 after the old one collapsed in similar circumstances. This was the revelation made by some trailer drivers, who spoke to the correspondent.
It was learnt that the collapsed bridge had shown signs of failure. But the villagers said that although the rain was the heaviest in the last two years, they didn’t believe it was enough to cause the magnitude of disaster, which led to the collapse of the bridge the way it did.
Mallam Shehu Nda Liman, who said the rain washed away his entire maize farm, told the correspondent in Hausa that the rain actually fell very heavily on that day but he never expected that it would cause such havoc.
“We didn’t know that the bridge collapsed until in the morning when we saw trailers and other vehicles lined up; the drivers said there was no way for them to pass as the bridge had collapsed. We were surprised that the flood could cause such a disaster,” he said.
When the correspondent visited the scenes of the collapsed bridges, over 1,000 vehicles, mostly trailers and tankers, and other smaller vehicles, carrying scores of passengers were seen stranded for days.
Some of the vehicles were carrying perishable food items like tomatoes, fish and fresh okra, among others things, which were being transported to the South.
Apart from the bridges, the rain also washed away the rail line, linking the North and South West.
This development, Daily Sun learnt, led to the temporary suspension of train shuttle between Minna and Ilorin, leaving a number of passengers stranded at the two locations.
The development caused untold hardship to the travellers, with most of them running out of food, water and money. Prices of food and drinks had instantly shot up astronomically where they were available.
Motorcyclists were cashing in on the situation to make quick cash by going to Jebba to buy essential things, which they sold at exorbitant prices. For instance, at Tatabu, a sachet of water was being sold for N20, while a bottle of any soft drink sold for N150. Loaves of bread that were hitherto sold for N100, N150 and N200 were selling for between N200 and N500. They were even in short supply.
A resident of Jebba, Mallam Jibrin Ladan Zakari, told the correspondent that besides the travellers, residents of all the villages along the road were suffering the nightmare, as a result of the condition of the road. He said that the situation had caused heavy vehicular traffic and disrupted the villagers’ daily routine.
“Like what happened in the past five days (referring to the collapsed bridge), we cannot do anything or move out of our houses because these trailers and other vehicles have blocked everywhere.
“In fact, since Tuesday, everything in Jebba here like food, bread, drinks and water have been exhausted because the people, who were stranded had bought everything. A sachet of water now sells for N30; mineral water now sells for N200 in places you see it to buy. We don’t have food here anymore; everything is finished.
“You can see people sleeping outside since Monday, even in this rainy period. They are suffering because some of them don’t even have money to continue on their journey. Some of them have their ATM cards, but there is no bank here for them to make withdrawals.”
Meanwhile the Niger State government has visited the scenes of the collapsed bridges to ascertain the extent of damage with a view to providing temporary solution and reducing the suffering of the people.
The state Commissioner for Information, Mr. Jonathan Vatsa, who was at the scene, described all the federal roads in the state as death traps.
He lamented that the roads in question had not been given any attention in the past 20 years, regretting that every successive administration had paid lip service to the facilities.
“There is no guarantee of safety of lives on these roads. What has happened now has further worsened the already bad situation, which commuters had been facing for years now,” he said.
Mr. Vasta appealed to the Federal Government to, as a matter of urgency, intervene and reconstruct the collapsed bridges without delay.
“We don’t have the capacity to carry out the work, considering the level of destruction to the road and railway line,” he said.
“We are, therefore, calling on the Federal Government to urgently intervene by awarding the road contract to a competent company that can do some good work.”
Vatsa revealed that the Minister of Works, Power and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Raji Fashola, had been informed about the development and was expected to visit the scene of the disaster.