Reports by Jungle Journalist South East Correspondents; Additional information by Monday Onuorah
The Ugbawka-Nara-Nkerefi road network is one important road in south eastern Nigeria, being a major federal highway connecting Enugu, the capital city of Enugu State with several inroad communities in Nkanu land. It also connects into Uburu town, in Ebonyi State.
It also acts as a major food distribution outlet for 85 percent of the people in these numerous Nkanu East Local Government Area communities, who are mainly farmers.
But despite being a strategic highway for the survival of these farm communities and their receiving markets, the Ugbawka-Nara-Nkerefi road has suffered the bitterest form of neglect from the federal government of Nigeria.
Stretching from Agbani, the headquarters of Nkanu West local government area, the highway measures a paltry 56 kilometres, and a traveler who took off from the Gariki motor park in Enugu town should not spend more than 25 minutes to get to Eke market in Nkerefi. But due to the bad nature of the road, travelers have had to spend over two hours as drivers have to maneuver their way through the numerous potholes making up the road.
The bridges are no better, as the four major bridges on the road- Ojorowo, (between Ugbawka and Nara), Ovu(between Nara and Nkerefi), Enuogu Nkerefi Bridge, and Evuna, (between Enuogu Nkerefi and Imeoha Nkerefi) used to be engineering masterpieces of the Nigerian Army, built back in 1968! These four very narrow bridges are made completely of wrought iron. The frames have managed to survive the traffic, but not so the metal sheets that make up the flooring of the bridges.
The bridges have become torn and pulled apart in the past, and at times, vehicular movement have had to be suspended to avoid accidents. During rainy seasons too, some of the loose metal sheets have slipped and fallen into the rivers below, and once in a while, a good spirited fellow from some of these communities would replace the missing metal sheets, and weld them into place, making the road motorable again.
Credit must be given to individuals like Prince Lawrence Ezeh,(the Prince of Mburubu) who is the chairman of Buzuzu Construction Company. He would usually commit personal funds to the fixing of these bridges and parts of the road, year in year out.
Also, some stakeholders in Nkerefi have had to contribute personal funds for the repair of parts of the bridge to ensure that there is free flow of traffic on the road.
Earlier in 2021, flash floods had overwhelmed the Ovu bridge, and travelers were forced to stay on both ends of the bridge for several hours, before the bumbling flood receded to allow vehicles pass. The incident has become a common occurrence which a responsible government needed to look into and make life easier for the people.
In 2020, the Nkanu East Local Government Area Council began the tall task of building new bridges to replace the old, dilapidated ones. Unfortunately the job has been dragging for a while now, and it is very clear that the task requires adequate funds and quality materials.
However, of the major bridges that are on the stretch of this very important highway, only two-Ojorowo and Ovu are receiving the attention of the local government.
The more obscure, Enuogu-Imeoha Nkerefi bridge, which has never received any government attention in the past luckily, falls under the purview of the traditional ruler of Imeoha Nkerefi Autonomous Community, Igwe Luke Ogbuta. This is the bridge that connects two Nkerefi communities that are at the boundaries of Enugu and Ebonyi States. To this end, the Igwe has taken full responsibility of the bridge, and renovated it to the best of taste.
The Enugu State Government had also in 2015, began a three kilometre road maintenence project. Within Nkerefi, it stretches from the Umuogbii axis of the community down to Umunama. The project has since been stretched further by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, all the way into Imeoha Community.
Contracts unlimited, bad roads unlimited
The patchwork roads maintenance style started in 2016, following a roads maintenance contract under the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, which is handling some of the sections.
What FERMA is doing on the road is a very shoddy job, whereby low grade repair materials are put to use and sections of the road are fixed, leaving other sections. The result is that when one drives on the road, he or she is forced to wonder what kind of road maintenance job is going on.
According to the contract boards sighted by our corespondent at different locations of the road, the Federal Government has given different sections of the road to different companies to fix.
Messrs Skecc Nigeria Limited, of Number 12 Bissau Street, Wuse Zone 6 Abuja is handling contract number -FERMA/GM/CV/20-67.
Another section of the road, numbered as Km 19+000-Km21+300 is under the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. The contractor in charge is Bostan Enginnering Company Limited, Plot 1111 Emeka Anyaoku Street, Area 11, Abuja.
Yet another section also under the Ministry is bing handled by Phocon Construction Nigeria Limited, Chime Avenue Enugu.
With these different contractors fixing parts of the road, apparently according to the specifications given to them, it is no wonder why we have such level of shoddiness and poor quality of work. Merely looking at the patched sections of the road, one does not need a professional to know that the road won’t last very long before it collapses due to substandard materials used. It is also important to note that the bridges were not even captured in the said contracts.
Earlier this year, one of the beneficiary communities, Nkerefi decided to write to the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing. Apparently, the people were tired of the bad jobs being executed by the contractors. In the meter, they said the Ministry should pay attention and ensure that the money being spent for the project is justified, as the results from the contractors were far from ideal. According to information from the community, no response has been given by the ministry till date.
The Patchy Road Network
The road between Ugbawka and Nara have been repaired at different times by various construction companies who would take a certain number of kilometers, fix it and end its work. After that zone, what you get is another long stretch of completely unattended road. This is a road that was built last around 1979-1981, and several years after, it is receiving such half-hearted attention. So, for those who have never been there, you can imagine how terrible these patches are.
The sections within Ugbawka have received attention, but not so the area around Nara. From Special Science School Ugbawka, just after the Ojorowo bridge all the way to Orie Market in Nara, the road is terrible. However, here and there, there are patches of the road constructed, which does not in any way whatsoever play any major role in easing the stress of traveling on a bad road for drivers.
Bits of the road have also been fixed between the market and the last village in Nara, and from that place all the way to the Ovu bridge, the road is in a very terrible state of disrepair. Same goes for the road between Ovu bridge and all the way through Mgbanaocha village in Nkerefi town.
Apart from these communities on the highway, the other communities that are connected to them are also suffering due to the fact that zero road development has been their lots, and transporting farm produce out of these communities is no mean feat. There is Mburubu, and there is Ezza Nkerefi, and from there all the way to the boundary between Enugu State and Ebonyi, no sign of government presence is seen in the road. It’s a stretch of disrepair, mud, slime and sorrow for travelers who use the road.