The Calabar-Itu Highway project, which was abandoned by the Federal Government, has cut off Akwa Ibom and Cross River states, the NEXT EDITION can authoritatively report today.
Experts insist that the road, which was constructed in the 70s when the two states were under the former South Eastern State, has long expired.
Records show the road was constructed shortly after the Civil War when late Brigadier General Udokaha Esuene served as the military administrator of the erstwhile South Eastern State.
It was built as a Trunk A-4 Highway to link Calabar which was then and still is the state capital to what was then called the Mainland part of the state.
Now, the road connects not only Cross River and Akwa Ibom states but also Aba, the commercial nerve centre of Abia State, all in the oil-rich Niger Delta region.
About forty years after it was opened to traffic, the forces of wear and tear have set in and badly too.
Except for the Nkim Itam-Uyo spur, which former Governor Godswill Akpabio dualised in 2009, almost every section of the highway is now dotted with long and deep craters, deadly gallops and uneven patches.
Video of a hanging vehicle along the dilapidated Calabar Itu Federal Highway (Video by Ibanga Isine)
Tears and sweat of commuters and residents
Living along and travelling through Calabar-Itu Federal Highway in the past three years have become frightening experiences, especially during the rainy seasons.
But the situation has worsened in recent months as travellers spend more than six hours in a journey that should ordinarily, take about an hour.
The calculated flying distance from Calabar to Uyo is twenty-eight miles which is equal to forty-four kilometres.
However, the driving distance between the two cities is approximately ninety kilometres.
Running at an average speed of 112 kilometres per hour, a traveller from Calabar can conveniently arrive Uyo under 50 minutes.
But that was in the past when the road was in its top form and commuters often boasted of going to “Calabar or Uyo by air.”
Today, the deplorable state of the highway is further compounded by unruly drivers, who constantly struggle to manoeuvre through relatively good spots on the highway.
Many heavy-duty truck drivers conveying cement and stones stubbornly go against the flow of traffic thereby causing avoidable accidents and total blockade of the road.
And the result has been tears, sweat and untold hardship for commuters who have to spend hours trying to link the two states and or get to Rivers and or Abia states.
In the course of this investigation, our correspondent, who went from Uyo to Calabar and back on a Saturday witnessed firsthand, the difficulty faced by commuters and people living along the dilapidated highway.
Our correspondent, who set out from Itam Market Flyover on a Toyota Pickup Van at about 10 am on Saturday (November 9), spent over two hours to go through Ntak Inyang diversion where gully erosion had cut off the road.
After escaping from the gridlock at the diversion, the vehicle was again trapped in a village located less than five kilometres to Mbak Itam, the headquarters of Itu Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State.
Hundreds of vehicles including heavy-duty trucks, commercial buses, private cars and siren blaring convoys of top government functionaries waited for hours.
The sight of this gridlock was most disturbing as vehicles conveying people who were going for weddings and ambulances conveying corpses and mourners got stuck as time ticked away.
A former member of Akwa Ibom State House of Assembly, Ayang Ayang, whose vehicle was trapped at the location, blamed the Federal Government for the deplorable state of the road.
Mr. Ayang said he had been trapped for over three hours
“I begin to wonder whether we are still in this country called Nigeria because as far as I am concerned, federal roads in these parts are nothing to write home about.
“We got so disappointed when the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola said roads in the country are not as bad as people talk about.
“I remember some time when a presidential aide was on the radio talking about the award of contract for the construction of Calabar-Itu-Ikot Ekpene Highway. He was also talking about a spur to Ididep.”
Laughing loud, he continued, “I don’t know whether that spur to Ididep has been constructed because I haven’t seen any road done here or anywhere. It is sad when our people are going through this kind of suffering and politicians are still dishing propaganda.”
Another commuter who gave her name simply as Eno bares her frustration, “We’ve been stuck here for over 45 minutes without movement. We are going to Itu for a wedding.
“We have been hearing on the news that this road had been awarded by the Federal Government but I haven’t seen any construction work going on here.
“The Federal Government should do something urgently to solve this problem. As you can see, cars, buses and trailers are stuck here and people can no longer get to their destinations on time.”
A truck driver, Lucky Udo, lamented the suffering on the road and called on the relevant agency of the government to fix the road.
“I drive chippings along this road and I have been doing this for a long time. But since this road got so bad, it has not been easy for us. I loaded these stones on Thursday and today is Saturday. I am still stuck in this ‘holdup.’” Mr. Udo lamented.
“I appeal to the government to repair the road so we can move freely. Before now, I normally load in Akamkpa and get to Port Harcourt same day and upload the stones and return to Akamkpa the next day.”
“Now I can only do one trip in a week because I spend almost four days trying to pass-through this bad portion of the road on my way to Port Harcourt and back.”
It was at about 3 pm that our correspondent arrived in Calabar, a journey that could have taken less than an hour if the road was in good shape.
However, the return trip was scarier as more vehicles got trapped at Nkim Itam, a situation that led many drivers to attempt the impossible including meandering through very deep gullies.
Some of the vehicles could not make it out of the gullies, thereby worsening the already bad situation of the road.
The traffic started moving after soldiers and some concerned commuters started pushing broken down vehicles out of the way while police officers controlled vehicular movements.
Our correspondent, who left Calabar at 4.05 pm was again trapped at Nkim Itam village and only arrived Uyo at about 11.45 pm.
Stranded commuters on the failed highway expressed their frustration to our correspondent.
Audio report from the road produced by Ibanga Isine
Akwa Ibom State intervention
Currently, Akwa Ibom State Government through its Ministry of Works has intervened at the Ntak Inyang gully erosion site which cut off the dualised portion of the road.
Our correspondent reported that Nigerpet Structures Limited has since mobilised to the site and is constructing underground drainage in the area.
Unfortunately, the Federal Government which had awarded a contract for the dualisation of the road from Calabar to Ikot Ekpene with a spur to Ididep in Ibiono Ibom Local Government Area had abandoned the project.
Weeks before the last general elections, the federal government had announced the award of a contract to Julius Berger for the construction of the highway.
The construction giant had immediately moved some equipment to the site and started excavating some damaged parts of the highway.
Not long after the elections were concluded, Julius Berger was said to have abandoned the project and moved its equipment from the construction site.
Video of commuters helping a driver pull out of a vehicle trapped in a dangerous ditch along Calabar Itu Highway (Video by Ibanga Isine)
Speaking while inspecting work at the Ntak Inyang intervention site, the Akwa Ibom State Commissioner for Works, Ephraim Inyangeyen lamented the neglect of the federal roads in the state.
He argued that if Ecological Fund was made available to the state, it would have been used to check the gully erosion that led to the collapsed of the dualised highway.
You can see that this is an environmental problem. It has happened and it has taken this road. If we were to have access to the Ecological Fund like other states, we would have used it to tackle the problem.
We are going to find a way to stop the erosion from cutting away the road. I wish that the Federal Government will consider Akwa Ibom as a part of Nigeria and get the Federal Ministry of Environment to make Ecological Fund available for us to handle this kind of problem.
Asked what the state is going to do in view of the Federal Government’s directive that states should no longer construct its road, Mr. Inyangeyen said Akwa Ibom is yet to get full refunds for the dualisation of the road.
“I heard Senator Ita Enang saying the other day that N78 billion has been refunded to the state.
“I want to state before all Nigerians that I was the one the governor sent to receive the money and I processed and approved N78 billion. But they have only given this state N20 billion. Where we are standing is one of the roads they were supposed to do the refund.
“Are we saying that Akwa Ibom State Government should be silent and allow the erosion to cut off the road so that our people will suffer? The Calabar-Itu which this road links has been closed and the same person that N74 billion had been released to Julius Berger.
“At the time I had said the contract was awarded because of the election. Today, Julius Berger is gone and nobody is saying anything.
“All the federal roads constructed in Akwa Ibom are done by the state government. I want the Federal minister of works to refute what I am saying here.”
“There is no federal road project anywhere in Akwa Ibom State. Not even one. But we are contributing at least 41 per cent revenue to the Federal Government,” Mr. Inyangeyen said.
The Chief Press Secretary to the Cross River State Governor, Christian Ita, also lamented the deplorable condition of the federal road and called for urgent intervention by the Federal Government.
Asked whether it is possible for Akwa Ibom and Cross River state governments to redesign and construct the road, Mr. Ita answered in the negative.
“It is a federal road and as such before the two states can do anything on it, they must first get the permission of the Federal Government,” he argued.
“Let me state that the idea of the two states coming together to fix it, is an idea that is not new. The reality is that it involves a lot of money, which a state like Cross River may not be able to afford.
“The other option would have been to bring in investors to fix the road and then toll. But that too is almost impossible as you can toll a road that is the only one available to commuters.
“Thirdly, how come roads in other regions are being fixed by the federal government and ours can’t be fixed. Are we any less Nigerians? So place the responsibility where it should be placed; doorsteps of the Federal Government. It is unhelpful when you seek to shift responsibility,” Mr. Ita argued.
He said the state government has consistently carried out remedial work on the road for which the Federal Government was yet to make refunds.
When contacted, the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta Affairs, Ita Enang said the contractor handling Calabar-Itu Highway had abandoned the project due to lack of funds.
Mr. Enang, however, insisted that a total of N78 billion has been refunded to Akwa Ibom State Government and advised Governor Udom Emmanuel to plough to the funds to reconstruct Calabar-Itu Highway.
“I can tell you that the Federal Government has refunded over N78 billion to the Akwa Ibom State Government. Instead of waiting for the Federal Government to fix the road, the state government can plough part of the refunds to construct the road based on the design and terms agreed to by the Federal Government.
“Why is the governor not using the money so far refunded in working on the road instead of waiting for the Federal Government? The essence of the refunds was partly that the state government will plough it to reconstruct the road and get refunded later,” Mr. Enang argued.
As the dry season sets in, many residents of the two states and commuters are calling on the Federal Government to reconstruct the road and save the economy of the two oil-producing states from imminent collapse.