When The Necessary Meets The Unnecessary
THE three flyovers along the Enugu-Onitsha expressway are among the very first projects Governor William Maduabuchi Obiano embarked upon, shortly after his inauguration. These flyovers are at Aroma, Kwata and Awawbia junctions. And for effect, perhaps owing to the strategic positioning of the projects, some sycophants in the new administration started printing billboards with the inscription: “Willie Is Working!”
Starting from the government of Dr. Chris Ngige, the present Minister of Labour and Employment, Anambra State covered a lot of mileage in the area of road infrastructure, such that the state achieved rural integration in so short a period spanning 11 years (2003 -2014). Under Ngige, even federal roads were not spared, as the state dabbled into construction and rehabilitation of the most dilapidated of such roads.
Governor Peter Obi, who took over from Ngige, was challenged by the nature of road network constructed by his predecessor. With refunds of money spent on federal roads, Obi continued the tradition of fixing roads. Taking over, therefore, from Mr. Peter Obi, pressure was on Obiano to show he could take up the gauntlet. It was in that vigour that the present administration initiated construction of the three flyovers, which are now drawing criticism in the state.
Many people wonder why the governor would take on the flyovers in the face of dwindling revenue from the federal purse. Others worry that the design of the projects are so antiquated; hence they would gulp a lot of money.
Kelue Mbachu, a bus driver who plies the Awka-Onitsha axis of the road daily, told The Guardian that the flyovers have become a source of new problems on the every busy but badly dilapidated expressway, adding that the manner the embankments are being done would provide hiding places for criminals.
A civil servant, Uchenna, said instead of embarking on flyovers along the expressway, the state government should have constructed big roundabouts at the junctions. He explained that in addition to improving the beauty of the capital city, the roundabouts would help to moderate traffic.
“I do not know why the government was in a hurry to construct flyovers on a federal road at this time when money is hard to come by,” he said, adding that the amount of money being invested on the projects could have made greater impact on state and rural roads.
At inception, the cost of the flyovers was put at N5bn. But the decision of the government to vary the cost by 300 per cent raised eyebrows in the state. At a state executive council meeting where the issue was debated, Obiano and his deputy, Dr. Nkem Okonkwo, disagreed openly. While the deputy governor reminded the cabinet that the law guiding variation stipulates that the expected increase should not exceed the original contract sum, the governor was said to have declared with imperial finality: “Deputy, your objections are noted, but variation approved!” It is only left to conjecture whether the three wasteful flyovers would be completed at the present cost of N15bn.
Attempts to get the reaction of the state government through the Commissioner of Information, Dr. Uju Nwogu, were not successful, as she did not take calls to her mobile phone or respond to the SMS requesting confirmation of the variation and details of understanding with the Federal Ministry of Works.
Recently, a section of similar flyovers constructed by Peter Obi around the Nkpor New Motor Parts Market, caved in. This damage has raised the issue of quality and standards.
Some people in Awka now describe Obiano’s flyovers as “bottomless pits of waste.” The washed out nature of the expressway contrasts with the huge amount of money being sunk at the never-ending flyovers, which construction sites compound the ugly experiences motorists face along the road. As motorists now resort to the old Awka-Enugu road, the argument is that the state government should have used part of the money being sunk on the flyovers to expand and rehabilitate the old road, given the volume of traffic it currently bears.
While flagging-off rehabilitation work on the damaged portion of the Nkpor New Parts flyover, the Commissioner for Works, Chief Law Chinwuba, said Anambra State government decided to rehabilitate the failed section of the bridge, hoping the federal government would make a refund later. The Commissioner recalled that the government had similarly carried out remedial intervention at Kilometre 24, Onitsha-Owerri Road at the spot where another bridge was threatened by erosion. He noted that given the importance of the roads to commuters, especially those travelling from the western part of the country to the east, all efforts must be put into saving the roads, adding that the Nkisi end of the road, which was also dilapidated, had been fixed. According to him, “We intervened and restored the road; everybody is working. The Umunya section is one of the areas we will also work on before Christmas.”