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Drama as 23 vehicles, corpse stucked on Calabar/Itu highway despite FG’s N56Bn contract sum- Invesitgation

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By Joseph Kingston, Calabar

 Despite the Federal Government awarding a N56 billion contract to Julius Berger for the reconstruction of the Calabar-Itu-Ikot Ekpene highway, motorists and commuters are still spending between five to ten hours a day to get to either Calabar or Uyo depending on road-users directions.

 Trailers, trucks are the worst hit as they find it difficult to meander through the dangerous and numerous gully-like potholes that adorn the about 100km stretch of the bad road. Our reporter, who was on ground to monitor the reconstruction works last weekend counted not less than 23 broken down trucks or stucked trucks and some cars/buses without any hope of making it to their destinations.

Recall that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had in May 2018 approved N54 billion for the reconstruction works. In May, this year, Julius Berger accordingly mobilised men and equipment to site works along the Odukpani and Ibiono axis of the highway in Cross River and Akwa Ibom states after compensation were paid to affected persons for residential houses and economic trees.

The Chairman Senate Committee, Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FERMA), Senator Gershom Bassey, in a chat with reporters had expressed happiness that at last something was being done about the highway which can best be described as a death-trap.

But the euphoria which greeted the reconstruction efforts seems to have died down as the road has now become practically impossible to access thereby beckoning for immediate remedial measures from the construction giant, Julius Berger.

Due to the outcry from commuters, the Cross River Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), last week at its June 2021 congress, condemned the slow pace of work on the said highway.

A communiqué, endorsed by the State Chairman, Victor Udu, and the Secretary, Mr Oka Ibor appealed to the Federal Government to mount pressure on the contractors handling the reconstruction of the road “to expedite work on the project and ensure its timely completion to reduce the high rate of carnage on the road due to its current deplorable condition”.

The NUJ argued that if additional push is given to the contractors and the road is made passable, “it will reduce the plight of commuters and improve economic activities as it is a major inter and intra State evacuation corridor.”

Also speaking, the National Publicity Secretary of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, PFN, Bishop Emmah Isong, said, “anybody that wants to rule this country and preside over our affairs in this part of the country should drive through Calabar-Itu Road then come back and talk of why we should vote for him.”

Besides, motorists have cried out for an immediate action from both the government and the contractors handling the road project.

In an interview, a commercial bus driver who simply gave his name as Johnson said, “it is hell driving or travelling on this road. Between Calabar and Itu there is no section that is good. Some drivers have abandoned this route for other routes. We visit the mechanics almost every two days.

“Some passengers going to Oron or Eket axis now prefer to go by water using speed boats and we as commercial drivers are losing. Most taxis have withdrawn and I will advise any motorist with a low car not to attempt driving Calabar-Itu road, it is a disaster. We are begging the contractors and the government to hasten up on the work. We know they will use the rainy season as an excuse for the slow pace (of work) but contract for this road was awarded two years ago”

At one of the bad spots, there was a mild drama as stranded commuters decided to carry on their shoulders corpses which were meant for burial that day since their ambulances could not pass through the blocked traffic. While the action generated laughter from some passers-by, others described the situation as pitiful.

Speaking to our reporter, a relation to one of the mourners who gave his name simply as Inimfon said it was when it dawned on them that the possibility for burial of their late brother was becoming remote that they decided to do on the unthinkable.

“We decided to remove our late brother’s casket from an ambulance and as you can see, our people are carrying them on their shoulders to the other end where vehicles are waiting to convey us to our destination”, he said.

It was also observed that with the collapse of some failed portions of the road, those who could not penetrate the thick traffic had to walk for about 4 kilometers with their luggage across the two ends to where they could board vehicles to their destinations.

A resident at Odukpani told our reporter that some pregnant women who were close to labour and were rushing to see their doctor in their respective hospitals were also stranded at the failed spots with intense pains and that desperate measures were explored to save the lives of the pregnant women.

However, in a chat, one of the site supervisors, who pleaded anonymity, he told Orient Daily that “contract was awarded since last year but we were mobilized to site in May this year after compensations were paid to affected persons. For now, we’re doing earth work and piling. The rain too is slowing us down but we are working.”

He called on commuters to be patient with the contracting firm, Julius Berger, and promised that the firm would do everything possible to remedy the current situation and that when the work is completed, everyone would have reasons to smile.

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