By Inem Akpanso, Guardian
OVER the years, Madam Ekaete Idongesit had made a reputable name and prosperous
living dealing in two agricultural products-bitter kola and the popular local vegetable called Afang, which thrives in her native Akwa Ibom State.
She usually goes into the hinterland to buy the goods from her residence in Uyo and then transports them to Aba, the vibrant commercial centre in Abia State to a ready and lucrative market.
But things have taken a negative turn lately as Madam Idongesit has been unable to get her vegetables and bitter kola to the market because as she puts it: "The road to Aba is very bad. "
If Madam Idongesit and other traders and businessmen are having difficulty getting their goods to markets outside Akwa Ibom, those from outside are also lamenting over their dwindling fortunes following their inability to reach the markets in Uyo, Ikot Ekpene, Abak and elsewhere.
A yam merchant from Makurdi, Benue State, Aku Joseph, recently complained that he had lost many of his customers in Uyo and Ikot Ekpene following his inability to deliver consignments of yam, as had been their arrangement.
He has not been able to do so, as according to him: "Three lorries fully loaded with yams sank in the muddy, pot-hole filled stretch of Ini- Itu- Mbonuso-Arochukwu and Ikot-Ekpene-Aba Roads a little more than a month ago.
"Before I could arrange to evacuate the lorries and pull them out of the mud, hoodlums came the second night, ransacked them, stole the yams and even injured one of the drivers.
"I do not think it is worth the risk anymore trying to do business through those roads because the loss I incurred the last time was quite heavy."
Recently, the National Executive Council of Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) met in Uyo.
Many of those who went by road regretted ever making such mistake.
Some of them missed or were late for some of the most of the programmes because of delay caused by bad roads.
What the foregoing clearly indicates is that the pain caused to Nigerians by the deteriorated state of Federal roads cut across the country and that it is possible Akwa Ibom State may lay claim to being one of the states most adversely affected.
All over the country, in practically all the geo-political zones, but particularly in the South-East, South-West and South-South, the sorry state of Federal roads has attracted national and international attention.
The reason for the outcry is obvious.
The roads have become death traps; economic development has stagnated, as the Federal Government seemed oblivious to the situation.
In the South, the impetus good road network provides for economic development has suffered. Because of the poor state of federal roads linking the South West and South East, the South South and South East, farmers and traders have found it impossible to do business.
When they manage to overcome the obstacle of poor road network, the extra costs are passed on to the beleaguered consumer.
At present, all the Federal roads into Akwa Ibom are in a sorry state.
The road from Aba to Uyo has failed.
So have Ikot Ekpene-Umuahia Road, Abak- Azumini Road, Aba -Ekparakwa- Etinan as well as Ini - Itu Mbonuso - Arochukwu Roads.
The road to Arochukwu in Abia has completely collapsed.
Road users terminate their journey at a point; walk across the lengthy failed portion and then board another vehicle to continue their journey.
Same is the situation along Uyo-Aba Road where traders have taken to bush tracks to avoid bad spots and are often robbed and raped by hoodlums.
As a result users of these roads pay higher fares, or spend four hours and more on a journey that used to take between 45 minutes and one hour.
Most of the farmers in Benue, Plateau, Taraba, Nassarawa, Gombe, Bauchi, Adamawa and other food-producing states in the north with huge markets in Akwa Ibom and other states of the South-South and South-East are unable to come because of these bad roads.
Even the Calabar-Itu Road, the major link between Akwa Ibom and Cross River State and traders from the North to Akwa Ibom State, has also collapsed.
Little wonder then that the National Assembly Caucus members from Akwa Ibom State led by the Chairman and Chairman Senate Service Committee, Senator Effiong Bob, recently embarked on an on-the-spot assessment of the situation.
Displeased with what they saw, they called for a quick remedy to the situation, which they blamed on the neglect of the area by the federal authorities.
To the Akwa Ibom representatives, the condition of the roads was unacceptable because there was no justifiable reason for the state, which produces oil, the major lifeline of the nation, not to benefit from the wealth it helps to create.
They attributed the situation to neglect by appropriate authorities in terms of repairs and maintenance and reasoned that if such steps had been taken, the roads would not have turned to the death traps they have become.
The poor condition of the roads has also exposed the lives of road users to considerable danger. There have been stories of traders being waylaid on the bush-paths and track-roads they divert into as alternative routes by robbers and hoodlums.
"In the past, traders, including women travelled in the early hours to Aba, Umuahia or Arochukwu to sell vegetables, fruits and smoked fish. But that is risky these days," Madam Idongesit, said.
She continued: "There had been instances where they were attacked by robbers and their goods and money stolen. Some were even raped. That is not good at all.
"Such bad things now happen because the roads are in a terrible shape. Unfortunately, it did just not happen. The roads deteriorated gradually and nobody did anything to arrest the situation."
When the Federal lawmakers asked for explanations from the Chief Engineer, Federal Highways, Akwa Ibom State, Mr. Ihenacho Umeh, he said the roads were the responsibility of Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) to maintain.
He also tried to sooth the frayed nerves of the caucus members by explaining that, the Aba - Ikot Ekpene -Itu - Calabar Road have been pre-quantified and contract would be awarded in lots to cover the whole area before the year runs out.
This, however, did not satisfy the representatives who wondered why the roads would have been left to deteriorate to death traps before contracts for their repairs were awarded.
According to them, year after year, huge sums of money given to FERMA as allocations, yet nothing had been done on the roads.
Corroborating the stance of Akwa Ibom representatives, their Abia State counterpart, Senator Abaribe, condemned the poor state of roads in the two zones, attributing the situation to neglect
In fact, the story of roads would have been worse if the Akwa Ibom State government had not decided to rehabilitate some Federal roads in the state.
Roads so repaired include Ekim Itam-Ekom Iman Road, once a death trap before the state government dualised it,; Uyo- Oron Road, Abak-Ika-Etim-Ekpo-Iwukkem Road and Itak-Oko-Ita-Use Ikot Amama Roads, among others.
Residents of these areas who spoke with The Guardian commended the state government for the relief the repairs brought them, particularly for reconstructing Cardinal Ekanem Road, Ikot Ekpene, which is now used as diversion for vehicles going to Aba from Uyo.
The Senate Caucus Leader, Bob said: "We appeal to the Federal Government to come and help us. People can no longer travel to do business in Calabar, Aba or even Port Harcourt because of the deplorable state of the roads leading to theses states. This development has affected the economy of the state.
" Agricultural produce from Ini Local Council, one of the food baskets of the state, cannot be brought to market for sale. There are no roads for students to go back to school, no roads for traders from other states of the federation to come into the state.
"We are appealing specifically to President Umaru Musa Yar'Adua and the Minister of Works to, as a matter of urgent national importance, initiate action towards the rebuilding of these roads during he next dry season."