Persistent Agony on Umuahia-Ikwuano-Ikot Ekpene Road Engenders Concern About Work Pace

When the contract for the rehabilitation of the 49-kilometre Umuahia – Ikwuano – Ikot Ekpene federal road was awarded in 2019 hope rose high that the agony on the completely collapsed interstate road would end.

Down the line not much has changed in the condition of the road and with the onset of yet another rainy season, concerns are growing in Abia and elsewhere over perceived slow pace of work on the strategic road that links Abia and Akwa Ibom States.

The delay in completing the reconstruction of the road has also generated insinuations that the project might eventually be abandoned going by past experiences with federal road projects in the state.

The downpours being witnessed almost on a daily basis have made the Umuahia-Ikwuano section of the inter-state road almost impassable. Road users plying the road groan as they are tossed around inside vehicles that unavoidably jump in and out of gaping potholes.

At present it has become an excruciating task even to make a less than 10km journey from Umuahia, the capital city to Michael Okpara University of Agriculture Umudike(MOUAU), located along the deteriorating road.

Part of sections of the road waiting for attention.

The reconstruction of the highway was facilitated by Hon Sam Onuigbo when he  represented Ikwuano/Umuahia federal constituency in the National Assembly. But work on the road was initially delayed due to poor fundng.

However, expectation of speedy pace of work was rekindled when the dilapidated road was included among the federal roads placed under the funding of the Nigerian Petroleum Company (NNPC) Limited through the Road Tax Credit Scheme in late 2021.

The dire condition of the road and its attendant economic losses and negative impact on health of road users had been highlighted by Onuigbo when he moved a motion in the Green Chambers of the National Assembly drawing attention to the condition of the road.

He also followed it up with series of letters he wrote to the then Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola which eventually resulted in the inclusion of the Umuahia-Ikwuano-Ikot Expene road on the list of NNPC-funded roads.

Hon. Onuigbo: Still monitoring progress of work after facilitating road reconstruction.

The condition of the road has prompted a constitutional lawyer and human rights activist, Dr Monday Ubani to call for mourning in Ikwuano to draw attention to the untold suffering of people plying the road.

Ubani, who is the Chairman, Section on Public Interest and Development Law, NBA-SPIDEL, said that “we need to declare mourning in Ikwuano to see what can be done to activate the conscience of the contractor to speed up the job”. He even questioned the competence of the contractor handling the project.

But the Federal Controller of Works raise in Abia, Engr. Tochukwu Onwubiko disagreed with Ubani, saying that “a lot of people don’t understand the difficulties involved” hence they heap blames on the contractor and start raising issues about competence.

While he acknowledged that the project was not moving at the expected speed, Onwubiko  blamed the delay on certain challenges, including cost compensation, mobilisation and rainy season.

He explained that, prior to the NNPC takeover, the contractor was faced with the hurdle of inadequate funding which led to reduction in activities on the project site.

The controller admitted that some areas on the road were bad but he noted that they were the portions the contractor was yet to work on due to mobilisation challenge.

According to him, the inability of the government to compensate owners of  structures that would be demolished in the course of expanding the road is posing a huge challenge to the project.

He said: “You can’t touch some part of the road until this issue of compensation, which runs into billions of naira, for those whose shops, houses, and crops will be affected, is sorted out, because if not, they will take you to court.

“That is why sometimes we do some palliatives – finding a way to patch, instead of the main construction”.

Onwubiko also explained the way the project is being funded in order to  “correct the impression people have about the contractor being funded”. He pointed out that “there is no money anywhere to be carried.You work, we evaluate and you get paid”.

According to him, “before fund is released, the contractor gets Advance Payment Guaranty(APG) from banks, adding that “the banks have their engineers to evaluate your work and they will be giving you that money in bits, while ensuring that what you get is commensurate with the work.”

The 49-km Umuahia-Ikwuano-Ikot Ekpene federal road project was awarded in 2019 to Hartland Construction Company Limited, at the cost of about N13.2 billion with completion period of four years.

With the issue of funding resolved, the construction firm is now under intense heat to expedite action on the reconstruction work and save road users the harrowing experience they encounter on the road.

But the public relations officer of Hartland, Grace Gbagi, said that the company was not slow on the job, adding that work has been progressing consistently since NNPC took over the funding of the project.

She said that those alleging slow pace of work were doing so due to “lack of understanding of the technicalities involved in road construction”, adding that the construction firm just returned to site last year after the NNPC funding intervention.

“Our team is currently working at the Ikot-Ekpene axis and because of weather (rain), right now, we cannot do earth movement jobs,” she said.

Checks at the project site show that the Ndoru – Okwe section of the road has been fixed but its impact has not been significantly felt. This is because of the deplorable condition of the larger portion of the road, especially between Umuahia and Ikwuano.

Completed portion of the road.

Meanwhile, the facilitator, Onuigbo has said that some progress has been made on the road but added that he would have loved the contractor to expedite action though rainy season could cause delay.

Onuigbo had during an inspection visit to the road project site with some journalists in April, vowed that he would continue to keep a tab on the progress of work even after leaving the National Assembly.

While appealing for patience on the part of road users and concerned stakeholders, the former federal lawmaker, who bowed out after completing his second tenure early this month, expressed confidence in the contractor to deliver on the project.

According to him, the job done between Ndoru and Okwe was enough to make a sincere assessor appreciate that the contractor has capacity to do the job.

“I drove to Ikot-Expene the other day, I saw that they were working on that axis and they have asphalted a lot areas that are stable,” he said.

“Between Ndoru and Okwe which has now been fixed used to be the worst section that neither cars nor trucks could drive past because it was covered by a pool of water,” he added.