HAS WORKS MINISTER ABANDONED ARONDIZUOGU FEDERAL HIGHWAY?
Mike Onolememen, a professional architect, the current federal minister of Works of the Federal Republic of Nigeria was made a cabinet level member by President Good luck Jonathan soon after the current administration coasted home to victory in the year 2011 general elections.
He immediately came into the general consciousness of the Nigerian reading public when he toed similar line of media showmanship that was created by one of his predecessors who is the current minister of Petroleum [Mrs. Deziani Alison-Maduekwe] when she was made a minister of Works and she drove to the then deteriorated Lagos/Benin/Onitsha Federal Highway and was photographed/videoed in most local electronic and print media while she shaded tears [crocodile or genuine] regarding the bad sate of road and promised to fix that road.
She left without doing anything to improve the condition of that terrible road alongside others across the country and especially in the South East and South South geo-political zones thus making most rational thinkers who watched her shed tears to conclude those were mere crocodile tears displayed for purposes of propaganda to score cheap popularity from a largely gullible crowd.
But unlike his female counterpart in the current cabinet, the current minister of woks [stoutly built] did not betray emotion when he visited the seemingly unending construction site at the Abuja/Lokoja federal High way awarded over a decade and several tons of public funds released in their billions without any remarkable progress.
The current minister of works rather than cry like a baby, mustered 'masculine' [pardon my use of this word since I am not a male chauvinist] courage and pledged that before long, that bad road alongside many others including those in the South East and the South South geopolitical zones will be fixed.
He also promised equity in the construction of key federal roads to all zones of the country. One year after this public media show which was done during the peak travelling Christmas period of last for maximum publicity, the Federal Government has not only failed to deliver some of these vital and critical road infrastructure but to the chagrin of most Nigerians many more Federal Highways are also abandoned even when the funds required for such roads have either been released to these contractors and these fees required to complete these critical roads like the Arondizuogu Federal Highway abandoned since three decades are much less than a hundred million Naira. At the last count, the media reported that during the Chief Olusegun Obasanjo-led administration, over N300 billion released for construction of federal roads disappeared into private pockets.
Sadly, members of the National Assembly's committees on Works are either sleeping on their duty or have connived with these dare-devil failed contractors to corner Nigeria's commonwealth. Sadly, still, the organized civil society is sleeping on their advocacy duty of shouting to high heavens and keeping these failed contractors on their toes until the anti-graft agencies bring them to face the full weight of the law.
Last weekend, I was going through the Nigerian media and one story attracted my attention regarding the comments credited to the current minister of Works on the recently conducted local council election in Edo state whereby the minister who hails from that state was quoted as criticizing the governor Comrade Adams Oshiomhole for working against democracy by frustrating smooth conduct of that election.
I then asked myself what in this word is the business of a federal cabinet minister in charge of a serious beat like the works ministry be doing with the local council election even when the jobs he ought to be doing as a constitutionally assigned federal minister of Nigeria are either half done or left abandoned like the major road I just cited which was abandoned a whole thirty years back and yet these people from Arondizuogu and other densely populated communities voted actively for the current government?
Same last Week, it was therefore with pleasant surprise that I read a thoroughly investigated story on this Arondizuogu federal High way done by one of Nigeria's finest national newspapers. I said pleasantly shocked because Nigeria's newspapers hardly cover activities taking place in Nigeria's seriously marginalized rural communities.
Mr. Mathias Okwe, an assistant editor [business] of The Guardian newspapers who is originally from Cross River state and works in the Abuja bureau of The Guardian visited Arondizuogu community [my place of birth] and saw for himself the incredible situation of this abandoned federal road and reported that although some releases have been made to the contractors but the said contractor and the federal ministry of works have more or less left the people [including yours faithfully] to their fate and the economy of these once vibrant communities are suffering. Nigerians who have followed my media advocacy over the years would have noticed that I deliberately avoided writing about my neglected community of Arondizuogu just so as not to be accused of parochialism but now that an outsider so to say has focused on the obvious regarding my hometown, charity which ought to begin at home demands that I add my little voice to call on the minister of works to do the needful to salvage the waning image of this government by ensuring that transparent and qualitative job is done on this road.
Mathias Okwe expertly reported thus; "ABANDONED for more than 30 years, the Oba-Nnewi-Arondizuogu-Okigwe federal road has become a nightmare for commuters and a source of concern to the people of Arondizuogu in Ideato North Local Council of Imo State, whose economy has been rendered prostrate due to the poor state of the road".
The road played a key role during the civil war, as illustrated by relics of the Biafra war like the Uga Airstrip and Ojukwu Bunker, which at a time served as the Biafra operational headquarters.
Arondizuogu town, known for its industry, is equally home to some of the brightest brains the South East has produced such as Chief Mbonu, Chief K.O Mbadiwe, Lady Onyeka Onwenu, and the author of the iconic Igbo novel OMENUKO among several other industrialists.
The town is now dotted with relics of a once virile cottage industry and hotels that have wound up due to poor sales attributed to lack of good access roads. Commuters prefer to take alternative routes to adjoining cities like Okigwe down to Cross River and Rivers, though it is a longer route.
Some of the companies that have closed down as a result of the bad road include: Jolly Jones Vegetable Oil, Safari Vegetable Oil, Safari Hotel, Arondizuogu Rice Mill, LNO Obioha Motel and Chimon Hotel Limited.
For a trip that would normally last about 40 minutes, commuters spend over three harrowing hours navigating through broken down vehicles. There is also the fear of attacks by armed robbers and kidnappers, who have suddenly turned the spot into their favourite place to attack hapless citizens. At some spots, passengers have to disembark to allow the vehicle snarl through the deep mud-filled potholes.
On a recent trip through the route, Mathias Okwe of The Guardian ran into a protest staged by the Arondizougu people to demonstrate against the marginalization of the town by the Federal Government, who they accuse of abandoning the road since construction began in 1982.
They carried placards with several inscriptions, some of which read: Nnewi-Oba-Akokwa-Arondiozogu-Okigwe is now a death trap; Okigwe-Onitsha Road, a blessing or curse? Help us, our industries are dying; Arondiozogu, are we part of Nigeria? And we cannot convey our rice to the market, among others.
Leader of the group, the traditional ruler of Ihieme Izuogu community, Dr. Kosmann Ndubuisi Kanu, said: “We have suffered so much on this road. For over 15 years, this project has been ongoing and nothing is being done about it. What we hear is that the president has approved that the project should be completed. We don't know why the contractor has not moved to site or what is delaying his mobilization”.
“This road is very important as far as Nigeria is concerned. It connects
Cross River, Rivers, Abia, Ebonyi and Anambra states. The president should monitor the project so that the contractor would not vanish into thin air after payment has been made. Five months ago, a trailer load of cement plunged into this place, killing everybody involved due to the bad road.”
Investigation revealed that for 2012, N49 million was appropriated for the project, while this year, a provision of N20 million for engineering design for the same project is contained in the budget.
The Budget Office and the Federal Ministry of Works in Abuja were visited by the reporter to know the status of releases to the contractor, officials were not forthcoming.
Director, Fiscal at the Budget Office, Barrister Etuk explained that the Budget Office does not deal with contractors as it only releases money to the line ministry, in this case the Federal Ministry of Works for disbursement to contractors upon satisfactory completion of projects.
He explained that the lean provision for projects monitoring was deterring his office from visiting every project. He, however, promised to ensure that the specific project would be monitored in the next quarter monitoring exercise.
At the Federal Ministry of Works Headquarters, Mabushi, Abuja, the Director, Highways, in charge of the South East, Mr. Godwin Eghieyu, gave insight to the delay of the project but declined to disclose how much had been released to the contractor.
“The project is about 14 kilometre. They have repaired about 4.5 kilometres on one side, on the other side. The work was not very good and the contractor was told to stop work during the rainy season, because the quality of any work done during the rainy season might not be guaranteed.
The contract was awarded to a firm that was not handling the project to our satisfaction. Due to queries,another firm was brought in to complete the project,” he clarified.
As a son of Arondizuogu I can testify that most rural dwellers are into farming but these bad roads have compounded their economic adversity as they are usually unable to convey their farm produce to the nearest markets and if this current government is particular about agricultural transformation agenda then the Government must as a matter of national urgency attend to these roads.
Can someone please advise the government especially Mr. President to ask his minister of works to face his national assignment and stop his frequent local trips to Edo state to play local politics at the cost of huge public fund. This brings us to the critical question of why the President will use political affiliations rather than merit and competence to determine who emerges as cabinet level ministers. If we ever hope to create a better society, then the President must appoint only statesmen and women into his cabinet and must stop appointing politicians who would milk Nigeria dry and use public fund to pursue their parochial and pedestrian political interest.
+Emmanuel Onwubiko is Head Human Rights Writers Association of Nigeria and blogs @www.huriwa.blogspot.com; http://www.huriwa.org