Despite the billions of naira earmarked for the construction of the East-West Road in Nigeria’s South South region, which crosses through many states, the project has failed to be realised while the road remains a death trap.
President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration awarded the 188km East-West Road, from Warri in Delta State to Oron and Eket in Akwa Ibom State through Kaima in Bayelsa State and Ahoada, Port Harcourt to Ogoni in Rivers State.
In other words, the road, which was conceptualised in the early 70s to boost the economy and easy movement in the oil reach Niger Delta region, cuts across Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-Ibom and Cross River states, but the road currently ends in Oron, Akwa-Ibom State as the last phase that will cross the bridge to Calabar in Cross River State has not yet been constructed.
The East-West Road contract was awarded in four sections and the Eleme-Onne axis section of the road has become a nightmare to road users.
Each successive administration – from Obasanjo to the late Umaru Musa Yar’Adua to Goodluck Jonathan and the immediate past Muhammadu Buhari – have given assurances with little or no results.
Although Jonathan reviewed the contract sum upwardly, that was not enough to break the jinx as the project became a white elephant one.
Sections I and II of the roads, covering Warri to Kaima and Onne Port Junction to Eket township have been completed, but Section IIIA, covering Port Harcourt/Eleme Junction to Onne Port Junction, which is just about 15 kilometres, has been neglected, despite lofty promises by each administration through the ministers of Works and Niger Delta Affairs.
The collapsed section of the road is very significant in the economy as it plays host to over 300 oil and gas companies, making it a huge industrial hub which generates a lot of wealth and resources for the federal and state governments.
The Eleme-Onne axis of the road leads to the Onne oil and gas free zone, which houses over 200 oil and gas companies, including Orleans Invest Africa Limited, Total Premier Services, as well as several other key federal government establishments like the Nigeria Ports Authority (NPA), the Nigeria Customs Service (NCS), Indorama, Port Harcourt Refinery.
The huge oil and gas activities in that section of the road, as well as other activities involving heavy-duty trucks plying the road daily has worsened the state of the road, making it a nightmare to commuters. Several lives have also been lost, with residents and road users often sleeping along the road due to its impassibility. A journey of less than 30 minutes now takes about seven to 10 hours or even more.
The poor state of the road elicited protest two years ago as indigenes of Ogoni ethnic extraction, including youths, senators and members of House of Representatives from the area staged a protest and raised motions to attract the attention of the federal government on the poor state of the road.
During the protests in 2020 and 2021, the then minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio, disclosed that N10 billion was approved by former President Buhari to fix the Eleme axis. Regrettably, the money has not been reflected in the construction of the road, even after some portions of the popular Aleato Bridge, the only bridge that leads to the above-mentioned companies, collapsed. Nothing tangible was done.
The only minor remedial work was carried out on the orders of Akpabio and didn’t last up to three months, as the area has returned to its deplorable state.
Although the federal ministry of works is said to have mobilised to site as remedial works have commenced on the road, road users are not comfortable with the poor state of the road.
A truck driver who plies the road on a daily basis, Akpa David, said the poor state of the road has become a nightmare for motorists.
“The poor state of the East West Road, especially the Eleme/Akpajo axis of the road, is terribly bad. We spend hours on the road and this has cost loss of man hour. Lots of lives have been lost on the road while properties worth millions of naira have been destroyed. All we hear is that billions of naira have been spent on the road without commensurate result,” he said.
An indigene of Ogoni and Executive Director of Youths and Environmental Advocate Centre, Fyneface Dumnamene, said despite the huge investments and contracts awarded by past and present administrations to address the deplorable state of the road, it has remained bad.
“The story of the East West Road is gradually becoming like that of the nation’s four refineries in which the more money is sunk into them, the more stories you hear and nothing comes out of it. The money that has been spent on fixing the East West Road is even more than enough to construct a fresh and virgin road of the same kilometres, just as the money so far spent on the four refineries in the country is enough to build new ones.
“That road has remained a racketeering project that is awarded and re-awarded but never done because the contractors seem to be receiving the funds and not doing the needful. The part from Eleme Junction in Rivers State to the Trailer Park area towards Onne remains a dead trap with many dying on the road weekly and nothing has been done about it despite promises by previous and present administrations and alleged release of funds.”
“I call on President Tinubu to ensure that fixing the East West Road is addressed under his administration.”
Some commuters and residents of Bayelsa State, who spoke with Daily Trust, lamented the deplorable state of the road, especially the Bayelsa axis of the road, as well as economic hardship the situation of the road has brought to the people of the region.
A commercial driver plying Yenagoa-Warri route, Mr Keme Josiah, said the condition of the road has made their work difficult, as well as caused the hike in transport fare.
According to him, since last year’s flood which blocked both sides of the road, causing some portions of the road to collapse, nothing has been done to remedy the situation and ease the suffering of the people of the Niger Delta region.
He lamented that despite the huge taxpayers’ money budgeted for the road, nothing has been done to complete the road or fix the failed portions.
He said: “There is no time I do not spend money fixing my car because of the state of the road; it is worrisome that the road started over 50 years ago cannot be completed, despite all the money sunk into it.
“Look at the difficulty the people of the Niger Delta are being subjected to, even when the bulk of the resources are coming from this region. The government of President Bola Tinubu should look at the situation of this road and remedy the situation,” he said.
Another commercial driver plying Bayelsa-Port Harcourt route, Victor Hanson, lamented that anytime from now, some portions of the Bayelsa-Rivers axis of the road may collapse because last year’s flood damaged most of the portions and the government is not doing anything to fix it.
A civil rights activist, Comrade David-West Bekinwariy, expressed worry that despite the fact that the bulk of the wealth of the country comes from the Niger Delta, the only road that connects the region is being allowed to collapse.
He said: “I am very much concerned with the nature and status of the East-West Road on which shoulder the economy of Nigeria lies. The wealth of Nigeria is domiciled in the South South and it is from this East-West Road that resources from the region are moved to other areas, but it is unfortunate that up till this time, the road is still an eyesore.
“The inflation rate we are talking about is also caused by the deplorable state of the road because this road leads to Akwa Ibom, Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta and Edo States. The road is so bad that transporters increased the fares because drivers always service/repair their cars after plying the road.
“So, for me, I think the East-West Road is long overdue, that is why I call on President Bola Tinubu to, if possible, take a ride to the East-West Road and see things for himself and help us out.”
Daily Trust Saturday reports that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the sum of N506 billion for the reconstruction of the East-West road in 2022 under former President Muhammadu Buhari.
The approval was made to work on the stretch of the road, leading from Ahoada, Mbiama to Bayelsa state, which was cut off, due to the flooding events that ravaged the country last year.
The allocation was an increase from the initial N246bn.
The then Minister of Works and Housing Babatunde Fashola, had presented a memo that showed the federal government’s engagements in resolving flooding and bringing succour to victims.
The former minister explained that “ the approval was for a variation order for the East-West road project sections 1-4 from Warri to Port Harcourt, Eket, Oron, including Oron-Eket bypass in the sum of N260 billion, thereby increasing the total contract sum for the outstanding sections 1-4 of the East-West road projects from the sum of formerly N246 billion to N506 billion.”
Before then, the administration had allocated N10bn for the dualisation of Section I-IV of the East-West highway project in the 2022 fiscal year.
The appropriation bill signed into law by Buhari, had another N25m allocated for ongoing access management and mitigation action plan for the road project.
Similarly, the current administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu in its 2023 supplement budget committed N33bn to commence work on the Eleme-Onne section of the East-West road in Rivers State.
The current Minister of Works, Mr David Umahi, made the revelation during his inspection of the project and various other federal government Rivers State.
Umahi, speaking from the Eleme-Onne road construction site, conveyed that President Bola Tinubu had tasked him with a working visit to evaluate the ongoing work.
When contacted on the progress of work done on the road and the fund released, the Assistant Director of Press and Public Relations, Clem Ezeorah, said he could not comment on the matter as he had no information on the work that has been done so far.