By Akanimo Kufre, Akwa Ibom/Cross River Correspondent of The New Diplomat
Amidst the challenge of bad roads that fun seekers may have to deal with, the Calabar Carnival Commission has hinted that Sunday, 15 December 2019 will be the last dry run (rehearsal) leading to the 2019 edition of Africa’s biggest street party — Calabar Carnival.
This year’s carnival scheduled for 26th – 31st December is expected to showcase cultures from 20 participating states in Nigeria and 35 countries including Brazil, Kenya and Italy.
Unfortunately, as the Calabar carnival approaches many tourists outside the Cross River State capital who hitherto have been attending the carnival complained that the deplorable condition of the roads to Calabar may stop them from attending this year’s edition of the annual event.
The bad condition of the road linking Calabar to neighbouring states may deter participants during this year’s Carnival if not quickly rehabilitated within few days.
The nearest city to Calabar is Uyo, Akwa Ibom State capital which links the carnival city to south-south and South west Nigeria is within geographical distance of only 46km (28.6 miles), 25 nautical miles and about 81km on road.
Before now, travelling to Calabar would take 50 minutes and 1 hour at most, but for a greater part of this year, the journey now takes more than five hours or more. Sometimes, it takes days if there is gridlock or fallen truck along Akampka quarry, fuel depot or the port.
Tourist from Lagos, Benin, Port Harcourt, Aba and Umuahia could only access Calabar through Uyo. But if they insist on going by road and avoid Calabar – Itu road, the only choice will make fun seekers to follow an exhaustive turn northward to Afikpo road in Ebonyi State to get to Cross River north then Calabar.
The numbers of failed portions make journey on the road a nightmare. Some accounts has it that merchants spends days on the road losing perishable goods. For such reasons, so many do not travel unless for a very sensitive issue. And at that, a large number will prefer to get to Oron in Akwa Ibom State by water. For obvious reasons, a lot of people have phobia for water transport, perhaps due to the fragile nature of the common means-speed boats.
For Glory Sylvester, a UNICAL student, going home to Ikot Ekpene was always a weekend fun with the family but travelling the road has become too risky and unpredictable. “I now stay back for months in Calabar even after academic work is over. I follow the waters to Oron once and I don’t think of trying such again.” Glory said.
AKTC transport manager in Uyo also shared his experience of low numbers of trips and excessive damage to vehicles in their fleet plying Uyo to Calabar.
Mr Sammy Okon a manager with petroleum product marketing company said it takes days to get product from Calabar depot and each trip will cost the company a fortune to repair trucks.
“The bad road has damaged truck increasing expenditures through repairs. At times the vehicles will not return for days due to failed portion of the road. This affects punctual supply of petroleum products to consumers as well as turn over.”
The similar complain goes with stone base and chippings suppliers. The cost of transportation of these quarry products has almost doubled in recent months. “The transport fair is now N110,000 against N85,000 because the 30 ton truck has to go to Ikot Ekpene first to get to Uyo.
Also you can’t go to Uyo from Akamkpa and return the same day as before, my last job took 4 days.” Ini Assang, a stone merchant lamented.
Sometimes last October, there was a gridlock that lasted for more than 8 hours. This was observable when yours truly reached a particular spot about 10 a.m along Itu axis of the road. A Road Safety Marshal confirmed, “The trucks and trailers have been here on this line since past 3 a.m and we were notified, that’s why we came alongside these military men to control the situation.”
Many people in this part of Niger Delta feel betrayed by the federal government for ignoring the Calabar- Itu road for so long. Despite contributing about 85% of the country’s exchange earnings, Nigerians from this part of the country have blamed selfish politicians and corruption persons for their woes.
Just before filing in this story for publication, a report came in of protest by an indigene groups led by Niger Delta Activist Forum, Cross River State chapter.
They said enough is enough complaining the plight of the people to include deaths, rape and robbery due to the poor nature of the road.
“We pleas for our right, we plead to survive, we plead to pay for their rights. We plead for their mistakes, we plead to survive in Nigeria even when they government is wrong. The useless law enforcement officers who forgets to fight for the citizens stand in that same bad road and check your car for road worthiness, but never allow us to check if the roads are worthy of our cars, tyres wheels and others are bursting each day.” Comrade Success Jack, The group spokesperson lamented.
The group decried non budgetary provision for the road and promise to continue the protest until Akpabio, Minister of Niger Delta; and Fashola, Minister of Works come to meet them.
The former Transport Commissioner in Cross River State, Hon. Saviour Nyong complained of having been a victim of the bad road. He calls on the relevant authorities to restore the road as the situation is pitiable.
“To the best of my knowledge that is a Trunk ‘A’ road meant for federal government (maintenance), the state governments have tried on that road, I am also a victim because it has truncated my movement between Uyo and Calabar. It’s pathetic to have such road in this 21st century. It will surely affect the holidays in Calabar, for once you are sure to sleep on the road. So why should you attempt the journey! Even if you are to pass you will spend days. For holidays you need to use your vehicle for ease of movement but for the fear of spoiling it you will not come to the carnival. Where there is no access road it brings negative impact on the economic life of that community. Both Cross River, Akwa Ibom State and going beyond are having a whole lot of negative impact economically.”
The Special Assistant to the president on Niger Delta, Sen. Ita Enang, was in the eye of the storm recently because of the Calabar Itu Road saga. He was alleged to be dubious with information on the award of contract and completion status of the road without balancing the fact on ground and documented fact.
However Enang was justified with recent visit and detailed explanation on the road. He had to mobilize heads of the relevant agencies and departments to hit their boots on the ground with a tour on Calabar – Itu road.
Sen. Enang explained that the road which begins from Odukpani in Cross River State and terminates in Aba, Abia State, has only 22 kilometres awarded. He added that of the N54 billion naira costs, only N7 billion was released which he said was not enough for the company to carry out the project.
“Fortunately for us, the chairman of the committee on FERMA is Senator Geshom Bassey from Cross River South. I have been working with him so that FERMA can do some emergency work on the road.
“The essence of this assessment is for us to join forces in terms of recourses to provide intervention on this road. FERMA will take its part, the NDDC will take its part and the Federal Ministry of Works will take its part.”
Four agencies of the federal government of Nigeria have reached an agreement to collaborate in providing palliatives on the dilapidated Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpene-Aba road.
The agencies include the Federal Ministry of Works, Federal Emergency and Road Management Agency (FERMA), the Niger Delta Development Commission, (NDDC) and the Federal Road Safety Corps, (FRSC).
Arising from a coordinated assessment of the road, after parts awarded to Julius Berger was abandoned for non release of funds, the agencies on agreed to intervene so as to ease vehicular movement, especially at the Yuletide season.
Major failed portion of the Calabar – Itu road. From Uyo to Calabar route only excluding Ikot Ekpene axis. Note these major spots are considered to be between 75 meter and up to a kilometre in some cases.
AKWA IBOM SECTION
1. Ntak Inyang
2. Ekim junction
4. Enen Atai
5. Ikot Itu Ekpan
6. Mbak Headquarters
7. Mbak Atai
8. Afaha Itam
9. Workshop’ Oku Iboku
10. Oku Iboku 2
11. Bridge head
CROSS RIVER STATE SECTION
12. Esuk Odot
14. Okoyong 1
15. Okoyong 2
16. Okoyong 3
18. Ekemokpon 2
19. Ikot okon