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By NBF News
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On July 14, 2012, Dennis Udenze, an Enugu-based petty trader, left the coal city at about 6.a.m for Aba in Abia state, through the Enugu-Port-Harcourt expressway, to attend the wedding of a bosom friend. He had calculated that the journey would take at most, four hours. The trip was relatively smooth until the bus in which he was travelling in ran into a traffic gridlock at the Lokpanta sector of the expressway.

Both lanes of the expressway were virtually blocked by big trucks as well as several light vehicles. This followed the collapse of the two sides of the road at various points. The column of vehicles trapped in the traffic-jam stretched for about five kilometers-making vehicular movement on both sides of the road not only difficult but nearly impossible.

All the passengers were forced by the ugly situation to disembark from their various buses and cars. And with no visible hope of continuing their journey, they walked aimlessly up and down both sides of the road.

The time was 4.00 pm. The vehicles had started crawling again due to the intervention of men of the Nigerian Army. But Udenze thought it was unreasonable to continue the trip to Aba since the wedding ceremony might have ended by that time. He returned to Enugu wearing a long face.

This is not an isolated case. Many commuters on the Enugu-Port-Harcourt expressway had had to spend longer hours before getting to their destinations due to the collapse of the road at various points. And though the federal government had awarded several contracts for the repair of the collapsed portions of the road, many of such contracts were either poorly executed or not executed at all.

But today, the story is different. The road which was almost impassable for most part of last year, has become the delight of motorists as well as travellers following major repair works carried out at various sections of the road. 'Nobody ever believed that this road will be repaired and that passengers could make a jolly ride to their destinations', said Chinyere Nwagboso, a passenger in an Enugu-Aba bound bus'.

The rehabilitation of the road followed a directive given late last year by President Goodluck Jonathan, to the effect that all federal government-owned roads across the country, must be rehabilitated before the commencement of last Christmas and New Year celebrations to enable commuters have a hitch-free ride to and fro their respective towns and villages.

LEADERSHIP checks last week showed that the failed portions of the road at Lokpanta – which lies between Abia and Enugu states, have completely been repaired.

And moving forward, all the failed portions of the road from Okigwe in Imo state and Umuahia in Abia state, have equally been repaired. Before now, motorists travelling to Aba or Port-Harcourt from either Enugu or Okigwe, were compelled by the bad state of the road to make a detour to Uturu-Umuahia, before connecting the expressroad again.

For the first time since the road was built in the late 70's, Julius Berger, the road construction giant - alongside other major road construction companies – were mobilized to effect rapid rehabilitation of the expressway.

Also, the failed portions of the road between Umuahia and Aba have been rehabilitated – especially the bad portions of the road between Umuikaa junction and Aro-Ngwa . Though work is still ongoing on this part of the expressway, vehicle traffic has remained unimpeded since the last three months.

Johnson Agu, a shoe-mender at Aro-Ngwa, expressed joy last week over the rehabilitation of the road. He thanked the Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA, for insisting that contractors do a quality job on the road, unlike in the past when they mixed cement and chippings that got washed away almost immediately.

Ayogu Eze, chairman, senate committee on works, and member representing Enugu North Senatorial District in the upper legislative house, promised that the National Assembly would insist on the rehabilitation of all federal government roads across the country. He said the aim was 'to minimize the level of carnage on the roads, as well as boost movement of goods and services'.

He specifically said that the federal government was committed to making the roads in the South-East motor-able, stressing that already, his committee has full knowledge of the present condition of all federal roads in the country.

He revealed that the committee has commenced plans to change the funding of the road sector from the annual budget to a rolling plan, adding that the changes have become necessary in view of the disruptions that occurred in previous years over procurement.

'We will continue to do our best to ensure that we change the funding of road sector from the yearly budget cycle to create a rolling plan where capital budgets can go for three or four years at a stretch, so that these disruptions that occur as a result of procurement are halted', he said.

He said further that the committee would also find other sources of funding the road sector by involving the private sector.

'We have to design a funding architecture that will give sovereign guarantees to people who want to invest in the road sector, so that we guarantee that they get their investment back at the appropriate time', he said

On the planned reintroduction of toll gates, Eze said it was necessary in order to put the roads in good shape. 'We need our roads to be in a continued good shape. If we want good roads, we pay for the good roads.''

He explained that the principle of toll gates was to create a secondary road for those who do not want to pay tolls. He said the senate would insist that before the toll gates became operational, people would be given option of using secondary roads.