~ Deplorable road condition hinders movements of farm produce, others- residents
~ Analysts describe governments action as wasteful, unconstitutional
~ Project not abandoned, to continue with new design- Contractor
By Alfred Ajayi
“Last week, I carried somebody to Umueze-Anam and on our way, we met some people carrying a corpse. When they came to the end of the tarred road, they came down from their cars and carried the casket on their heads and trekked to Umuenwelum Anam,” said Ogbonna Onwe, a commercial motorcyclist, describing the adverse effect of the deplorable condition of the Otuocha-Nzam-Inoma-Iheaka-Abaji road in Anambra West Local Government Area of Anambra State.
That encounter, and other experiences justified the motorcyclist’s initial hesitation to ferry this reporter and a fixer on an assessment tour of the road. “If not that I see chief with you, I cannot put my bike on this road,” he said, acknowledging the fixer.
The Otuocha-Nzam-Inoma-Iheaka-Abaji road is a 30-kilometre road that was awarded on December 3, 2009 by the administration of then President Umaru Musa Yar’adua. Residents of the LGA had then described it as a Christmas gift and were jubilant that the Federal Government had decided address their greatest worry.
Awarded to Niger Construction Limited at the initial cost of N5,804,811,747.04, the completion period for the project was put as 24 months. The project had raised the hope of residents that their local government headquarters, Nzam, would soon measure up to others.
“Our people were very happy because we have stayed for many years without access road. We were in the dark, cut off from other parts of the state,” Dr Mike Ozoemena, a resident of Umudora Anam, a community in the LGA remarked.
“So, with the project awarded, we were hoping that one day, we would be connected to other parts of the state,” he said.
But not long after work commenced, their joy was cut short as the project was stopped. “Our hope was cut short and our problems got compounded. We continued with the Israelites kind of journey to Awka or Onitsha before heading to Abaji. So, a journey of one and half hour now takes about 5hrs or more,” Mathias Ameke, a resident of Mmiata Anam, another community in the LGA, recalled.
Apart from its huge economic potential for Anambra State, residents say the road, when completed is capable easing the evacuation of farm produce from the benefiting communities.
How poor state of road affect communities
After the long and torturous journey that lasted more than 30 minutes, a welcoming signpost ushered this reporter and a fixer to Oromaetiti Anam; a beautiful and serene community in Anambra West LGA. But as earlier threatened, the motorcyclist ended the trip abruptly at the boundary between Oromaetiti and Umuenwelum Anam marked by a small flowing Ora-oroma River, where residents were seen taking their bath, washing clothes, as children splash the water while others washed their motorcycles.
At the riverside, Okwuota Ifediora, a septuagenarian spoke of the hardship of evacuating farm produce due to the condition of the road. “See my children there suffering to cross the yams. After suffering to plant, you hardly see buyers,” she lamented.
Farmers like Ifediora attest that the deplorable condition of the Otuocha-Abaji road and others, traversing agricultural belts across the country threatens food security.
The case is worsened by lack of storage facilities in the area, explained Ifediora, adding that “We eat the much we can and the rest get rotten or we sell often at giveaway prices. For those who try to evacuate their harvested crops to nearby markets, they do so at a higher cost and at the end, there is little or no gain.”
The septuagenarian narrated how the deplorable state of the road affects access to health care services stressing that many pregnant women and sick persons have lost their lives while being carried out of Oromaetiti for medical care.
“Our primary health care centre is not functioning well. Sick people and pregnant women prefer to go to chemist shops. The greatest desire of our people is having this road constructed by the Federal Government,” she noted.
With vehicles constantly breaking down on the road, Ifeoma Kingsley, another female farmer said they have nothing tangible to justify the labor associated with subsistence farming. “Farming here is suffering from tilling, ridge making, planting and weeding. At the end you harvest but no road to evacuate. We sell at giveaway prices,” she said.
Based on this, Dr Mike Ozoemena urged President Bola Tinubu’s administration to construct rural roads for easy evacuation of farm food produce.
N3.4billion already spent
Apart from other releases to the contractor in the early days of the project, data from the Govspend portal hosted by the BudgIT Foundation, a machine-readable replica of the Federal Government’s Open Treasury portal, revealed that N316,666,666.66 was paid to the contractor on October 2, 2018. The contractor received another ₦148,452,119.92 on January 14, 2019 while ₦26,197,432.92 was paid on 9th May, 2019. Cumulatively, records from the Federal Ministry of Works shows the contractor had received a total of N3,433,445,808.05, which is more than half of the initial project cost.
“I don’t know why government would decide to award a contract, start the project and then abandon it. If government was not ready to do this road, why start it?” asked Samuel Jemigbola, a former President-General of Ukwualla community in Anambra West LGA.
At the starting point of the project, this reporter was greeted by obvious deterioration, forcing repeated refusals by several commercial motorcyclists (popularly called okada) to take him on an assessment tour of the area.
The Commercial Manager of Niger Construction Limited, Julien Shahinen, told this reporter that they were able achieve first binder asphalting of 7km out of the 30km road before the project stopped. However, residents in the LGA regretted that the asphalted part of the 7km said to have been achieved by the contractor started failing less than one year after construction. It was observed that the road shoulder is being eaten up by consistent flooding.
This reporter observed that from the terminating point of the asphalted portion of the road lies the nightmare for road users. With the rains at their peak, it was observed that the road was waterlogged, making movement difficult for even pedestrians.
The project to construct the Otuocha-Nzam-Inoma-Iheaka-Abaji road was awarded to Niger Construction Limited, a subsidiary of the C.A.T Group, covering various sectors such as oil and gas, energy, utilities, civil, infrastructure and buildings, was registered in Nigeria on November 2, 1961 with registration number 2760. Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC search showed that the company is run by a seven-man board of directors. They are: Alsayegh Roger Gerges (Lebanese), Col Iheanocho Lambert Ogbonna (Nigerian), Sir Odhegolo Henry Orioko (Nigerian), Dr AnthoinePapadopoulo (Lebanese), Dr Aziz Michel Bassoul (Lebanese), Hanna Georges Miled (Lebanese), Omeru Mike (HRM) (Nigerian).
Its shareholders are C.A.T. International Limited, Ministry of Finance Incorporated, Imo State, Niger Construction Limited Employees Trust Fund, and Ministry of Finance Incorporated, Delta State. The Company Secretary is Marina Nominees.