New Telegraph

BENIN BYPASS ROADS: Commuters, Transporters In Despair, Beg Government For Attention

•We Are Dying In Instalment The Situation Is Moving From Bad To Worse –Transporter
•Edo Govt: We Are Doing Something, Though The Road Is Concessioned To Private Company

Benin, the capital city of Edo State, is dreadfully distressed at the moment. All entry points of federal roads into the ancient city are presently in bad shape. Travellers and motorists plying these roads are not only traumatised but are lamenting their dilapidated state. For some journeys that are supposed to take less than one hour, for instance, motorists and travellers now endure harrowing experiences that last many hours and even days as reported by our reporters.

For most travellers, Benin City is a nightmare. The transporters are also crying their eyes out over the terrible state of the Federal Road linking the ancient city to many other states across the federation. The deplorable state of federal road, which is also the gateway to other states, has made Nigerians to call to question the achievements of the former Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, SAN, after eight years in office.

As Lagos State governor, Fashola was a celebrated achiever and many believed he would replicate his magic by fixing the federal roads as a minister. But that was not to be as Nigerians now say that his performance during the eight years he spent at the federal level was unimpressive and uninspiring, judging, for example, by the state of the roads.

Dave Umahi, the current Minister of Works, took a tour of some federal roads across the country, immediately he was appointed. What he saw was not pleasing as he lamented their deplorable state. Umahi, who is an engineer, concluded that some of the roads no longer have “just potholes but boreholes.” The minister was also not happy that in spite of the staggering N14 trillion debts inherited by the current government, the roads have remained an eye- sore.

He particularly mentioned some major roads such as the Benin-Auchi Highway, Benin-Warri Expressway, Ibadan-Ilesha Expressway, Abuja-Lokoja Expressway, Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, Calabar-Itu Road, Obollo Afor-Makurdi Road, and many others that were left in deplorable state. Indeed, the Benin bypass roads in particular have become a nightmare to road users.

Long stretches of trailers and other heavy duty vehicles have not only worsened an already bad situation, but even commercial shuttle buses popularly referred to as ‘tuke-tuke’ with frustrated looking passengers, are caught up in the bad spots of the roads. Though the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), had in many instances, intervened to cushion the sufferings of commuters, its interventions have not been successful.

Despite the worsening situation, the Edo and Federal governments are at daggers drawn over allegations and counter allegations over the repair, while the masses are left to suffer the effect of deep gullies and almost impassable roads. Frustrated residents have even staged protests at the Benin-Sapele, Benin–Agbor roads, Ekpoma and Uromi roads, calling on both the State and the Federal governments to come to their i m m e d i a t e rescue.

For the past 10 years, the roads have been in deplorable state, giving room for criminal activities to thrive. A journey that was supposed to take two to three hours now takes four to five days due to the bad situation of the roads, particularly the four entrances to Edo State. Due to heavy traffic caused by the bad spots of the roads, travellers coming from the East, North, and South into Edo State now navigate their way through a bypass in Sapele Road to enter Benin City.

This, in turn, has increased traffic jams in the city making life unbearable for both travellers and residents. From the beginning of Sapele Road up to the Ologbo Bridge, boundary between Edo and Delta states, the degree of deterioration continues to increase every year without government attention. Now it has reached an alarming point in which people sleep on the road for days endangering their lives.

For instance, in Edo State, those coming from the North through Auchi, from the East, and from Delta via Ologbo into Benin City are usually subjected to unending hardships, spending days before getting to their various destinations. Sometimes they do not get to their destinations because of the activities of criminals, who oftentimes capitalise on the situation to perpetrate crime.

So, many drivers and passengers have lost their lives in the process. At Ologbo, giant potholes filled with muddy water have made the road impassable, causing massive gridlock that stretches for kilometers. The situation is compounded by load-laden trucks, tankers and trailers falling on their sides, as the drivers’ manoeuvre the failed portions. Hundreds of vehicles are trapped with no way forward or backward, leaving many with no choice but to stay out of the dangerous gridlock.

Nnamdi Akabunma, who spent six hours at the Ologbo spot, described that situation as harrowing, fearful and dangerous. Akabunma would have missed the wake of his late mother in Akwukwu-Igbo, his village in Delta State, had he not travelled a day earlier. He told one of our reporters that he spent over five hours on that spot at Ologbo, from 8am to about 1 pm.

“The state of the road and the risk involved is huge – trucks loaded with fuel struggling for space with smaller vehicles, it is horrible. If there’s carnage, it’s going to be terrible. For a strategic federal road to fall into such disrepair, with no measures in place, is unacceptable. “People are risking their lives; some spend the night on the bad spots. People were on the road overnight for a journey of less than an hour or so from Benin.

Some told me they slept overnight, and I realised how lucky I was on that fateful day,” he added. Before now, a trip from Benin to Onitsha was usually not more than two hours. So smooth, accident free and little fare charged as it encouraged some traders to leave their homes as early as 6am to board a commercial vehicle to Onitsha.

They often returned to their base by early evening hours of the same day. But a recent journey undertaken by one of our reporters from Benin to Warri in Delta State revealed the sufferings of commuters on that road. Moving inch by inch, bumper to bumper as the situation permitted, Andrew, the man behind the wheel sweated profusely.

He cursed silently at no one in particular as the vehicle moved at a snail speed. As the situation on these roads become worse, many of the jobless youths are seizing the opportunity of the prevailing circumstance, in the affected communities, to devise dubious means of making quick money from the motorists, praying the situation never abates.

To beat being stuck in the several gullies and ponds, some travellers now have to cross over on motor bikes to a safer point before re-boarding their vehicle, to continue their journey. The motor bikers charge a minimum of N1,000 as the case may be. Hawkers of all manner of consumables have also cashed in on the opportunity the situation avails them to do brisk business.

In the same vein, the prevailing situation coupled with the increase in the pump price of fuel, transporters have in multiple folds increased fare. From Benin to Warri which used to be about N500 years past, now goes for between N3,500 to N5,000 depending on the available volume of passengers, while from Auchi to Benin has increased to N8,000, and Benin to Asaba is now N5,000.

Also, the time of arrival on these roads has become unknown. The people lamenting the multiplier effect of the bad roads passionately appeal for urgent attention of the Federal Government. However, the immediate past Minister for National Budget and Planning, Clement Agba, in June, was quoted to have said that the Federal Government was committed to the reconstruction of the road.

However, several months after such reassuring words, nothing concrete has happened in terms of interventions on the roads. As the driver, who our reporter was travelling with on a fact-finding mission, got to a junction where some of the youths from the community mounted an illegal tollgate by placing barriers to impede movement of vehicles, he was forced to stop, and pay a mandatory N200 fee before they allowed him to continue his journey.

His attempt to beat down the charge to N100 was met with harsh words from the fierce looking and ready to fight youths. “Give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar” was chorused by some of the passengers, who obviously were tired and worn out, while others raised objection to the illegal tollgate mounted by the weird looking, hemp-smoking youths. The driver ended up passing through five of such illegal toll-gates paying N200 at each of the points which were placed some 100 metres apart before he was allowed passage.

As the journey progressed, in some portions of the bad road, it was noticed that some articulated vehicles that had broken down right in the middle of the road were contributing to the ‘confusion’ on the highway. A community leader, who refused his name in print at the Sapele bypass, said they may be forced to embark on a protest to further draw attention to the “disgraceful” state of the road.

He said: “The condition of the road is being worsened by the presence of heavy-duty trucks plying it. Some of them usually fall, especially during heavy rainfall and the Federal Road Safety Corps are not always there to immediately remove the trucks and control the traffic for other road users.” One of the passengers, who also begged not to be mentioned, appealed to the Federal Government to immediately come and fix the bad spots, saying that the situation on the highways has affected commercial life of the already pauperised citizens.

“A journey that should last two hours from Benin to Warri now lasts over seven hours. We had to divert through some communities to link the expressway before proceeding to Warri. This is unacceptable in a country like Nigeria,” he added. Alex Omelu, a banker with one of the new generation banks, also said: “Everyone is blaming the government, but we all have our individual roles to play in making this country a better place.

“Yes, it is the primary responsibility of the government, but the government has a procedure to follow; it is not like an individual thing where you put your hand in your pocket and you pay. “If these procedures are not followed, the media will be the first to raise an eyebrow. Edo State has always been blessed with ministers for works; now tell me what they did during their time as ministers.

“Now you are blaming PMB and Bola Tinubu. No my brother, go to the North, you don’t get roads like this. We Southerners are the problem of ourselves. “All these roads we are talking about are federal roads. We have senators representing Edo and Delta states, what is their job? Why were they voted for? “I have been at this point for eight good hours, a journey that was supposed to be one hour. God will help us. We are in a deep mess in this country.”

A transporter, who spoke on condition of anonymity, also lamented the effects of the deplorable road. “We are dying in instalment. The situation is moving from bad to worse. Since this road got to this stage it has been one problem after the other and the governments (Federal and State) seem not to be showing much concern about solving the problem. “Journalists have been coming here to interview us here but that’s where it ends.

The government has remained adamant, never responded,” the transporter said. For Kate Oliha, a petty trader: “Tell the government that we are suffering at this bypass. We have been completely forgotten. Before now I know how much gain that we make daily. The story at the moment is quite different. “We are living by God’s grace. Our stuff is getting spoiled and we have no choice than to throw them away as we don’t get patronage any longer.

To say that we are dying is not a lie.” Ngozi Ahamefule also told one of our reporters that the Benin-Onitsha Road is the worst she has ever seen in this country. She added: “I have been here for four days, trapped in this traffic. I’m conveying goods from Bayelsa to Lagos, now I can no longer continue my journey because of the bad road. This is killing our business. “Do we still have governors or governments in this country?

It is a big shame. Our leaders are flying planes up and down but look at our roads.” Meanwhile, the Edo State government through the Commissioner for Roads and Bridges, Ethan Uzamere, said: “As you are aware, we just completed most of the repair works on the Sapele Road axis, and we are moving to the Benin – Onitsha bypass as we speak. “You must be aware also that it is very financially consuming work in that area. One of the issues that we are having is that the road is officially concessioned to a private company.”

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