Sunday, December 20, 2009

Roads To Hell


Travelling by road in Nigeria is still a nightmare as the roads are in terrible condition despite the huge expenditure on their reconstruction and maintenance.

The condition of our roads, both the major arteries of this country and the roads in most of our major cities beggars imagination. And here I must ask the question do our government, ministers and leaders who travel often and see the condition in other countries ever feel embarrassed by the condition of roads in our resource-rich country? Do they notice the large potholes that litter the roads and even bridges?”

Those words, coming from Emeka Anyaoku, former secretary general of the Commonwealth, vividly captures the dismal failure of the Nigerian state to maintain its roads. The diplomat, who gave the damning verdict on the state of the nation’s roads at a recent public lecture in Abuja, said the consequence of such has been the soaring rate of accidents which have turned them into “a huge slaughter slab where human lives are worth little or nothing.”

Indeed, Anyaoku has bluntly spoken the mind of almost every road user in Nigerians. He has lent his weighty voice of courage and candour to the cries of most Nigerians who have had harrowing experiences while travelling on some of the roads that are in critical conditions across the country. Recent investigations by Newswatch revealed that, although the federal government has spent more than one trillion Naira on contracts for the rehabilitation of these roads in the past ten years, about 30 of the major federal roads are in deplorable conditions.

Some of the federal roads that have collapsed include the Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway, the Ibadan-New Ife-Ilesha-Akure expressway and the Lagos-Ibadan expressway in the South-West zone. In the South-East zone, the roads that have so many failed portions are the Onitsha-Enugu expressway, the Enugu-Abakaliki highway, the Enugu-Port Harcourt road, the Onitsha-Owerri highway and the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road. The roads in the South-South zone that have collapsed are the East-West road, the Calabar-Itu-Ogoja-Katsina Ala road, the Aba-Ikot Ekpene road, Aba-Ekparakwa-Etinan road and the Ini-Ekpe-Ikot Nkon-Arochukwu road.

There are also some roads in dilapidated conditions in the northern part of the country. They include the Okene-Lokoja-Abuja road, Okene-Ajaokuta-Anyigba road, Kaduna-Jos road and the Kano-Azare-Damaturu road.

One federal road that has remained a nightmare for motorists is the Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway. In spite of several reports in the media about the bad state of the road, which is the major link road between the western and eastern parts of Nigeria, its situation has not improved. At the inception of the administration of President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, Diezani Allison-Madueke, immediate past minister of transportation, had visited the road. She was there on August 6, 2007 and wept because of its dilapidated state. “I am actually very, very unhappy today at what I have seen. I am very displeased that this road was allowed to degenerate to this level. I want to apologise to Nigerians for the deplorable state that I found this road in. This is inhuman and unacceptable,” Allison-Madueke said.

However, more than two years after the former minister of transportation’s lamentation over the sorry state of the road which raised the hope of many Nigerians of a quick solution to the problem, the condition of the road has continued to deteriorate. When Newswatch visited the road last week, the failed portions of the road still had craters wide enough to swallow vehicles. Commuters who were travelling to the South-East and South-South zones of the country for Christmas had harrowing experiences, as they had to spend several hours at the failed portion of the road between Ore and Ofosu in Ondo State. This was as a result of the serious traffic gridlock on the road as the vehicles tried to wade through the failed portions of the road. Some of the vehicles had to divert through the bush path in Ofosu in a bid to beat the gridlock.

Sampson Raymond, one of the drivers, caught up in the traffic jam, told Newswatch that he left Lagos at about 8 a.m. on that day enroute Okada in Edo State. Unfortunately, he ran into the traffic gridlock at Ore by 11:30 a.m. By 3:30 p.m. when Newswatch met him, he was still trying to manoeuvre his way out of the jam which he attributed to bad spots along the expressway.

Emeka Nwokeke, a driver of a luxurious bus conveying passengers to Aba, told Newswatch that he spent more than five hours in the gridlock. “I left Lagos at 7:30 a.m. for Aba and you can see where we are. There is no way I can get to Aba today. You can see that the traffic is not flowing at all. We have been stuck in this traffic for the past five hours,” he said. Eberechukwu Anyanwu, one of the passengers on the bus, could not control his temper as he rained abuses on those in power for allowing the road deteriorate to the point that it has become almost impassable thereby making those travelling home for Christmas to pass through hell. “You can see how bad it is and yet we have people who claim to be our leaders. This road could be best described as Nigerians' expressway to hell,” he told Newswatch.

Worried by the hazards the deplorable condition of the Ore axis of the Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway and other highways across the country have constituted for transporters, the Association of Luxury Bus Owners of Nigeria, ALBON, met in Lagos recently to deliberate on the issue. In a communiqué issued after the emergency meeting, the governing council of the association threatened to withdraw their vehicles from the roads unless the federal government instituted a programmed maintenance on all the major highways in the country.

In the communiqué jointly signed by Prince Ejike Okoli and Frank Nneji, national president and secretary respectively of the association, they drew government’s attention to the need for an “urgent intervention programme on the Shagamu-Ore-Benin road to ensure that normal flow of traffic is restored.” The luxurious bus owners were concerned that though this road is one of the busiest arterial roads in the country, government has not accorded the maintenance of the road the priority attention it deserves. They frowned at the situation whereby motorists sometimes spend as much as 12 hours on that stretch alone due to its dilapidated condition.

The association stated that the abysmal state of roads across the country has resulted in the depletion of its fleet due to constant damages leading to high cost of maintenance. “In the year 2000, we had a capacity of 6,000 buses but these have been depleted to less than 1,500 buses with over 80 operators being forced out of business because of harsh operating condition.” The governing council of ALBON passionately appealed to the president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria through the minister of works to come to its aid and the aid of other Nigerian road users who daily suffer untold hardship on major Nigerian roads.

ALBON also urged the federal government to separate funding for road maintenance from the budget for road development, rehabilitation and reconstruction because “the two are clearly distinct.” The group noted that it is common for thieves to rob the drivers and their passengers at the failed portions of the roads where the vehicles virtually come to a halt.

Okoli told Newswatch last week that ALBON was compelled to take such an action because the deplorable condition of the roads has taken its toll on their vehicles as it now costs them so much money to maintain them. He explained that most luxurious buses now strip their vehicles of the overhangs of the front and rear fenders, because they usually hit the surface of the bad roads and break whenever the tyres sink into the ground or run through large potholes. “The impact of the bad road not only lead to heavy maintenance costs, but ultimately reduces the lifespan of the buses,” he said. He explained that because of the failed portion of the Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway, some luxurious buses travelling from Lagos to Owerri, Enugu, Port Harcourt and Uyo spend two days on the road before reaching their destinations.

According to him, the association often bought truck loads of chippings and brick objects with which its members tried to repair the failed portions of the road. He lamented that the wear-and-tear the bad roads have constituted for their vehicles is so much that some transporters had contemplated leaving the business since it was no longer lucrative. “We spend so much money repairing knocked engines as a result of the bad roads. The engines are at the back and when the rear keeps hitting the ground, the oil drains away and could spoil the engine if the driver could not notice it in time. It costs as much as N1.3 million to repair an engine of a luxurious bus,” Okoli told Newswatch.

Corroborating Okoli’s position, Nneji, who is also the managing director of ABC Transport, described 2009 as the worst year for transporters. “It is only in 2009 that you have vehicles leaving Lagos and never got to the East until after 36 hours,” he said. He attributed the problem to lack of proper management of the roads by the government. He explained that some of the roads have not been rehabilitated and reconstructed as they ought to. He believes that the federal government should treat the issue of roads as an emergency because if the nation’s economy must grow, the transportation infrastructure have to grow too.

Apparently taking a cue from the leadership of ALBON, Patrick Obahiagbon, the lawmaker representing Oredo federal constituency in the House of Representatives, early this month threatened to lead a mass protest over the poor state of the Benin-Ore road. He, however, gave the federal government a “reasonable period in 2010” to fix the road or face mass protest. “I have resolved as the representative of the good people of Oredo federal constituency in Edo State who have suffered a great deal on the collapsed Benin-Ore-Lagos road to tackle the gauntlet posed by the exigencies of the times to compel the federal government to act expeditiously in fixing the road once and for all,” Obahiagbon said.

In response to public outcry over the deplorable condition of the road, Hassan Muhammed Lawal, minister of works, housing, and urban development, recently visited the road. He was accompanied by Olusegun Mimiko, governor of Ondo State, who suggested outright reconstruction of the road.

Coincidentally, on the day of their visit, they were caught in the traffic gridlock that had become a common scene on the road. Lawal, who was overwhelmed by the traffic jam and the complaints of commuters, acknowledged the fact that the road has expired and required reconstruction. “We are all witnesses to the congestion this afternoon. There are several stages of fixing a road. It could be repaired; it could be rehabilitation and it could be outright reconstruction. The road was repaired, now they are doing rehabilitation and like he (governor) suggested, there is need for outright reconstruction of the road and I couldn’t agree with him more. However, I want to reiterate the need for patience,” he said.

In the wake of the mounting public complaints over the deplorable state of the road, the federal government, last month, awarded contracts to the tune of N12.2 billon for the reconstruction and rehabilitation of two sections of the road. The multinational civil engineering companies commissioned to execute the contracts are Reynolds Construction Company Limited, RCC, handling the Ajebandele-Ofosu road axis, and Borini Prono and Company Limited repairing the Shagamu-Ajebandele-Ore-Benin section of the expressway. While RCC’s contract is worth N9.7 billion, that of Borini Prono is put at the cost of N2.5 billion. When Newswatch visited the road last week, the two construction companies had already commenced work on their respective sections of the road. While RCC was given 30 months to complete its contract, Borini Prono is expected to complete its job within 18 months. Officials of the two companies at the site refused to oblige Newswatch with details of their plan to beat the target.

Like the Lagos-Ore-Benin expressway, the Ibadan-New Ife-Ilesa-Akure road is also in a deplorable condition. The first noticeable bad portion of the road is by Oludare block industry, about five kilometres from Ibadan metropolis. However, the bad portion has been graded by RATCON Construction Company handling the rehabilitation of the road under the supervision of the Federal Road Maintenance Agency, FERMA. Another failed portion of the road is in Asejire, also in Oyo State. This failed portion begging for rehabilitation is 53 kilometres from Ibadan. Equally in a deplorable state is the portion of the road at Ikoyi junction in Osun State. At Ikire town still in Osun State, there is another failed portion of the road.

The road is dualised but one side of the road has been closed for maintenance and motorists are forced to use one way. Samuel Adesina, a driver who plies the Ibadan-Akure route, told Newswatch that motorists have been encountering problems on the failed portion of the road for six months now.

At Gbongan, there is another failed portion of the expressway. For instance, between Gbongan and Akinlalu, a distance of 10 kilometres, Newswatch counted five failed portions of the road. Tayo Azeez, an Akure-based driver who plies the road, told Newswatch that traffic congestions is a daily affair on the road. Azeez added that accidents are regular occurrences on the road because of its poor state. Unfortunately, there is no ongoing rehabilitation work on the road.

On Saturday, December 1, there was a fatal accident at Onimu village in Gbongan. According to an eye witness, the accident occurred when a driver of one of the buses who was on high speed attempted to dodge a bad portion of the road and rammed into the on-coming vehicle. The collision of the two vehicles ignited fire and they were burnt with all the passengers on board. Adesina, who witnessed the accident, told Newswatch that it was a gory sight as they watched human beings roasted to death like goats.

Although the Ife-Ilesha road is relatively motorable, at least up to Oloko where the dual carriage way terminates, the same cannot be said of Ilesha-Akure road which is a single narrow road. From Arakeje, where Joseph Ayo Babalola University is located, to Ilaramokin, there are several failed portions on the road. Indeed, Newswatch gathered that traffic congestion is a common phenomenon on the road which makes users spend longer hours to get to their destinations.

In the South-East, many federal roads are still in deplorable conditions. Although the contract for the dualisation of the Onitsha-Owerri highway was awarded in 2002, some portions of the road are still in a state of disrepair. Not even the splitting of the contract between the Consolidated Construction Company, CCC, and Julius Berger PLC has facilitated the construction of the road. The contract for the dualisation of the entire stretch of the 90.3-kilometre road was initially awarded by the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo to CCC at the cost of N24.5 billion with a three-year completion period.

However, due to the slow pace of work, the former president had in 2005 approved extra N20 billion for the project and directed Julius Berger to handle the Owerri end of road up to the boundary between Imo and Anambra states. CCC was then asked to concentrate on the Onitsha end of the road while the contract sum was increased to N36 billion.

Adeseye Ogunlewe, the then minister of works, had promised that with the involvement of the two construction companies in the project, the dualisation of the Onitsha-Owerri road would be completed within 18 months. But three years after the federal government’s promise, work on the Onitsha-Owerri road is still progressing at a snail speed.

Julius Berger has done substantial work on its own part of the contract. When Newswatch visited the operational base of the German constructions giant at Njaba bridge, the dreaded bridge which had caused several accidents in the past was wearing a new look. The bridge had been completed and opened for use by motorists. Chijioke Nnanna, a commercial driver who plies the road regularly, told Newswatch that transporters were glad that Julius Berger built a solid and standard bridge across the Njaba River. “I am very happy with the fantastic job done by Julius Berger on the Njaba bridge. Before now, the bridge was a death trap because of the winding nature of the road, but today, we have an ultramodern bridge and we thank the federal government for awarding the contract to a reputable construction firm,” Nnanna told Newswatch.

The construction giant has taken the work beyond Awo-Omamma and is now grading the portion of the road at Mgbidi, the boundary between Imo and Anambra states. A supervisor with Julius Berger who spoke to Newswatch on condition of anonymity said the company was determined to complete the contract early next year.

Like Julius Berger, CCC has also made some progress on its own part of the road. Despite the delay in the construction of the Onitsha end of the road, the CCC, which is from Greece, did a standard job on the areas it has so far covered. The CCC has constructed the road from Onitsha to Ihembosi in Ekwusigo local government area of Anambra State and provided good drainage system on both sides of the road. The company has also graded the road from Okija junction to Ihiala. It has tried to cover some of the gullies on the road. However, the portion of the road graded is constituting problems for motorist because it is very dusty.

Newswatch learnt that before the dry season set in, the portion of the road that was graded was so slippery that many vehicles avoided it. Some of the vehicles coming from Onitsha had to divert to the Okija community through the junction from where they come out at Ihiala junction. Consequently, this has led to the dilapidation of the local road in Okija built during the Chinwoke Mbadiniju administration. Vehicles coming from Owerri had to divert to the old road leading to Nnewi and come out at Ihembosi. Sylvanus Ike Nweme, former chairman of Ihiala local government area who hails from Okija, told Newswatch that although CCC could be said to be slow in handling the contract, the people of the South-East are happy with the quality of job they are doing. “I must confess that we are very pleased with the quality of job CCC is doing. The work is progressing irrespective of the nature of Okija area. The topography of our area is one factor that is slowing down the job. It is not a table land. That is why the job was delayed from Ihembosi to Ihiala,” Nweme said.

The Onitsha-Enugu expressway is another road in the South-East that is in a poor state. However, the people of the area heaved a sigh of relief when the federal government recently awarded contract for the reconstruction of the road to CCC and Nigercat. While CCC is handling the Onitsha end of the road up to Awka, Nigercat was awarded the contract for the construction of the road from Ugwuoba part of the expressway leading to Enugu. Ugwuoba is a border town between Enugu and Anambra states.

For Boniface Egboka, a professor of environmental hydrogeology and vice chancellor, Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, there is nothing to celebrate yet until evidence of work is seen. He recalled that the bad condition of the Onitsha-Enugu road recently led to the death of many people at Umunya.

The accident at Umunya was nothing short of a tragedy because it involved no less than nine vehicles and reportedly led to the death of more than 50 persons. The accident was said to have been caused by the bad portion of the highway at Umunya which is no different from the situation in many other parts of the dual carriageway in both the Enugu and Onitsha axes.

The Onitsha-Enugu road is replete with potholes, bad patches and gullies from Upper Iweka to MCC junction. This extended to New Spare Parts Market, Umunya, Awka, Ugwuorji and 9th Mile Corner. Indeed, the Onitsha-Enugu road is anything but an expressway. According to Mike Udah, chief press secretary to Governor Peter Obi, governor of Anambra State, “nightmare” is a word that best describes a journey on the road.

Paul Okoye, a commercial bus driver, agrees. He told Newswatch in Awka, last week, that the Enugu-Awka expressway is bad and full of potholes. Another accident happened last week in Umunya due to the bad road.

Cyril Ike, a commercial bus driver who plies the road, said the potholes on the road destroy tyres and shock absorbers, cause accidents and make travelling very unpleasant. Eugene Chime, a staff of the Onitsha South Mass Transit who plies the Enugu-Onitsha route, told Newswatch that the road is so bad and often causes “accidents because when you try to avoid the bad spots, you might mistakenly run into the bush.” His view was buttressed by Ejim John, a commercial bus driver, who recently escaped death by the whiskers because of the bad road. He complained that there is a place at the 9th Mile Corner that has a lot of potholes and armed robbers take advantage of it to rob passengers. Although John is happy that the contract has been awarded, he wants the companies working on it to increase the pace of work to alleviate the suffering of commuters on the road. He said he wants the highway to return to its former state of the early 80s when it was first constructed. He traced its deterioration to long neglect. “It became worse about four years ago and we kept hearing promises about repairing it but nothing happened.”

When Newswatch visited the road last week, CCC officials were seen working on the expressway from the Onitsha axis leading to Awka. But no work has commenced on the Onitsha portion yet as evidence of work could only be seen at the nearby Nkpor and the expressway linking the former toll gate. The company closed down a portion of the expressway near the toll gate which it is currently working on. That, however, is already a source of concern to some residents of the state who are afraid that closing down a part of the road might pose a problem for road users.

Like the CCC, Nigercat also closed a part of the expressway it is currently working on and this has resulted in traffic congestion.

Enugu-Abakaliki expressway is yet another road in terrible shape. The road needs rehabilitation. Beginning from Emene, Enugu, many parts of the one-lane highway leading into Abakaliki, the capital of Ebonyi State, are in bad shape. Emeka Nwokike, a commercial bus driver, told Newswatch that the Enugu-Abakaliki expressway is in a sorry state despite some “patchings” done in some parts of the road two months ago. He appealed to the federal government to show seriousness on the road project.

But the condition of the Abakaliki-Enugu expressway is not as bad as some others in the state. For instance, Ladan Umaru, a commercial driver, said that the Ogoja-Abakiliki road is horrible. “The road has been bad for a long time. Now that there is no rain, we spend three to four hours from Abakaliki to Ogoja. During the rainy season, it is five to six hours,” he told Newswatch. Ben Perni said that recently, when he travelled to Calabar from Abuja, they spent longer time on the journey due to delays experienced on the Ogoja axis of the road. “Under normal circumstances, the journey from Ogoja to Calabar is supposed to take five hours, but we ended up spending seven hours.”

Adenike Yesiru, a transporter, gave his own verdict on the Abakaliki–Ikom route. “The road is bad. Before now, we used to spend one hour, forty minutes, but now, its three hours plus and that is for a sound vehicle. There are so many bad spots on the road,” he said.

Paul Okorie, Ebonyi State commissioner for works and transport, told Newswatch that most of the federal roads, especially in the South-East, have become death traps. One of such roads is the Abakaliki-Ogoja-Manfe-Cameroon border road which Okorie described as probably “the worst road in the country.” Others include the Enugu-Port Harcourt road, Enugu-Afikpo road, Okposi-Amasiri-Ota-Nguzu road and the Abakaliki-Offerekpe road. Okorie, however, said that recently, the federal government awarded contract for the reconstruction of the Abakaliki-Ogoja-Manfe-Cameroon border road to the China Civil Engineering Construction Company, CCECC, just as the Abakaliki-Afikpo road was awarded to Bulletine Nigeria Limited.

The Enugu-Port Harcourt expressway is not without its challenges. Many parts of the expressway linking Mgbowo to Isuochi in Abia State to Amaorji and Okigwe in Imo State have failed. But one of the worst roads where the commuters experience a lot of hardship is the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road. On December 15, when Newswatch visited the road, some caterpillars were seen working on the Obot Akera part of the road with “caution” sign belonging to FERMA displayed. Even then, it was no fun driving through the one-lane expressway due to the bumpy and dusty nature of the road.

Godwin Ben, a driver with Akwa Ibom Transport Company, told Newswatch that during the rainy season, drivers often diverted to some villages to avoid the deep gullies on the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road.

However, on scale of degradation, the Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road is no match to the Uyo-Calabar highway. There are many failed portions of the expressway around Odukpani local government area and Okoyong, begging for attention. In view of the bad road network in these areas, Nsiebong Etim, a commercial driver, wants the government to make road repairs a top priority. He told Newswatch at the Etim Edem Park, Calabar, that “the roads are very bad, whether it is Aba road, the Ikot-Ekpene road or Umuahia road, they are all bad and deserve to be rehabilitated.”

The East-West road which cuts across the South-South states including Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers and Akwa Ibom is equally in deplorable state. Contract for the dualisation of the 337-kilometre road was initially awarded to Julius Berger in 2005 at a cost of N220 billion. However, in 2008, Julius Berger pulled out after two expatriates working with it were abducted and later killed by militants. At that time, only six percent of the job had been done. The federal government then directed Julius Berger to refund N6.1 billion being balance of the job not executed. The contract was then reawarded to three other construction companies namely Setraco, Reynolds Construction Company and Gitto Construction Generalli. The section of the road from Warri in Delta State to Kaima in Bayelsa which is 87 kilometres was awarded to Setraco at the cost of N64 billion and is expected to be completed in August 2010. The 101 kilometres of the road from Kaima to Ahoada and Port Harcourt was also awarded to Setraco at the cost of N74.7 billion. The third section comprising 99 kilometres stretching from Eleme Junction in Rivers State to Eket in Akwa Ibom was awarded to RCC at N35.6 billion and is expected to be completed in April 2010. The fourth section, which covered 50 kilomtres, stretched from Eket to Oron in Akwa Ibom and awarded to Gitto at N26 billion with April 2010 as completed date. When Uffot Ekaette, minister for Niger Delta affairs, inspected the projects recently, he expressed satisfaction with the work being done by Setraco and RCC but frowned at the slow pace of work by Gitto.

However, when Newswatch visited the East-West road last week, the progress of work by Setraco from Warri to Port Harcourt was not quite encouraging. But Chidi Lloyd, majority leader, Rivers State House of Assembly, whose constituency falls on the East-West road, told Newswatch that the slow pace of the work was to enable the contractor do a good job. He explained that since the contract was initially awarded to Julius Berger, Setraco would have to go back to the drawing board, study what is on ground and then proceed with the job. He urged the people to be patient. “We know that our patience may have been overstretched but we also have to thank the administration of President Yar’Adua for awarding the contract,” he said.

In the northern part of the country, the federal road linking Okene to Ajaokuta, the location of the nation’s ill-fated steel industry, is in a terrible state. Hilary Abuh, a lorry driver, told Newswatch that his vehicle fell into a gully while trying to avoid the failed portion of the road.

Murtala Momoh, a father of five, said he narrowly escaped being burnt to death recently when a tanker conveying fuel fell on the failed portion of the road and caught fire. Three houses around the area were gutted by fire but no life was lost.

Another federal road in bad shape is the Lokoja-Abuja road which has recorded a lot of accidents in recent times. Yomo Ashanghan, sector commander of the Federal Road Safety Commission, in Kogi State said the road records an average of one accident daily. He attributed this to overspeeding and bad nature of the road. “If the roads were good, accidents would have been reduced,” he said.

Yaguda Ali, secretary general, National Union of Road Transport Workers, Kogi State chapter, urged the government to dualise the road from Abaji to Kabba junction. However, the contract for the dualisation of the road from Yongga to Abaji is now being handled by RCC. The rehabilitation of the road from Abaji to Kotongarfi is being handled by Bulletine while the road from Kabba Junction to Kotongarfi was awarded to Dantata and Sowoe. However, these companies have only graded the roads.

The Kaduna-Minna road is equally bad. The failed portions of the road are the Suleja junction, Minna Park and Shiroro junction. It has so many potholes which often cause accidents. The situation is the same in some portions of the Kaduna-Jese road, especially Saminaka.

The deplorable condition of the federal roads across the country has led to a lot of avoidable accidents. The recent statistics released by the FRSC on the spate of accidents on Nigerian roads is mind-boggling. According to the FRSC, the number of reported cases of road accidents on the country’s highways between January and October is 8,553. About 4,120 persons lost their lives while 20,875 others were seriously injured in the accidents that involved 11,031 vehicles across the country.

Egboka, vice chancellor of UNIZIK, believes that these accidents would have been avoided if the roads were in good shape. He is very sad that despite the huge amount of money voted annually for the Nigerian roads, they are still horrible. “I had to travel to Ilorin from Awka by road, it was horrible. I suffered. My waist suffered. Travelling to Lagos now by road is like going through hell. I love travelling because I love seeing the environment. But my experience has been terrible. Accidents all over the place because of bad roads, potholes, dangerous bends... It is most saddening and regrettable,” Egboka told Newswatch.

Reported by Emmanuel Uffot, Dike Onwuamaeze, Anthony Akaeze,Godfrey Azubike and Pita Ochai

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Nigeria needs a revolution now -- Umeagbasi

Emeka Umeagbasi is the Chairman, Board of Trustees, International Society for Civil Liberties and the Rule of Law (INTER-SOCIETY). He spoke with TONY OKAFOR and a few other journalists on the state of the nation.

Nigerian Compass


What is your take on Nigeria’s budget since 1999?

It was Edwin H. Sutherland, a famous American criminologist, who in his 1940 book, “White Collar Criminality,” defined criminality as illegal acts committed by middle or upper-class persons in conjunction with their ordinary occupational pursuits.” He listed such illegal acts as fraud, embezzlement, price-fixing, antitrust violations, income tax evasion, and misuse of public funds, contract inflation/abandonment and abuse of public and legal powers. The foregoing, in addition to fiscal irresponsibility or recklessness, have marred our budget regimes since 1999. The stark truth is that what science is to philosophy, logic to philosophy/mathematics, reasoning and argumentation to science of logic is what white-collar criminality is to corruption in Nigeria and corruption to our electoral and budgeting system. Since 1999, budgets worth trillions of naira had been made, yet meaningful and verifiable, tangible and intangible benefits have eluded the over 140 million Nigerians, whom the budgets are traditionally meant for. Our unemployed graduates might have exceeded 25 million. In 2000, according to the Federal Office of Statistics, there were 20 million unemployed Nigerians. Out of this figure, five million and six hundred thousand were graduates of our tertiary institutions. Despite the multi-billion dollar or multi- trillion naira budgets, Nigeria, with a population of over 140 million, is still grappling with 103 public and private universities, in addition to dozens of polytechnics and colleges of education, while the USA, with a population of about 300 million is having over 5,700 universities and Japan with a population of about 127 million, has over 1,200 universities. Out of over one million candidates that sat for the universities entrance examinations yearly in recent times, only about 300,000 were offered admission yearly by the universities and about 50 per cent of this figure graduate on annual basis with poverty/unemployment passports issued to them. Our health sector is also nothing to write home about. Tens of millions of Nigerians are still drinking acidic water from unprotected sources. Our agriculture is steadily drifting towards pre-subsistence level. The Malaysians and Indonesians, who came to us in the 1960s and 1970s, so as to be taught the secrets of palm tree cultivation, weeding and harvesting, have not only mastered them, but also they have mechanised the palm industry, which now earns them billions of dollars annually and feeds millions of their skilled and unskilled nationals. As at 2002, the government of Indonesia was earning about $5 billion from her mechanised palm produce.

Do you have the statistics to buttress your points?

From the 2008 to 2010 budget regimes, Nigeria had budgeted a total of over N10.9 trillion. In 2008, it was N3.3 trillion (main and supplementary budgets). In 2009, it was N3.55 trillion and another sum of N4.0079 trillion, excluding the expected supplementary appropriation, has been budgeted for the 2010 fiscal year. Over N1 trillion had also been channeled into the foreign and domestic debts servicing, while over N500 billion was supposedly channeled into transportation, with road transport taking the lion share. Till date, the true positions of Nigeria’s foreign and domestic debts have remained sketchy. Also, the microscopic view of the three budget regimes showed that the recurrent expenditures, which are funds meant for about 17,500 Nigeria’s political office holders and some 500,000-man federal civil service had continued to take a lead over the capital expenditures, funds for the infrastructural developments and other welfares of over 140 million Nigerians, including the beneficiaries of the recurrent expenditures. For instance, in the proposed budget of N4.0079 trillion for 2010, over N2.2 trillion is set aside for recurrent expenditures, while about N1.2 trillion is for capital expenditures.

For want of time, we shall only enquire into the state of federal roads in Nigeria with respect to over N500 billion budgeted for transportation in the last three budget regimes. Reliable statistics showed that there are 195,000 kilometres of Trunk A (federal), B (states) and C (local governments/ communities) road network in Nigeria. The Federal Government’s share of this road network is 65,000 kilometres. In Anambra State, for instance, there are about 14 federal roads. Statistically, among the three tiers of road network in Nigeria, federal roads are the most failed and deplorable. States’ roads or Trunk B roads are the most asphalted and most motorable. Presently, Anambra State has the best Trunk B road network in the entire South-East, thanks to the illegal regime of Dr. Chris Ngige, which unevenly started it, and that of Mr. Peter Obi, which silently, but evenly, revolutionalised same. On the other hand, Trunk C road network across the federation is far better than Trunk A (Federal) roads. Though Trunk C roads are least asphalted, but they are very motorable and passable because they receive constant attention from communities’ and local council authorities. Furthermore, it is a known fact that a good number of federal roads in Nigeria have either been rehabilitated or reconstructed or are being rehabilitated or reconstructed by the various state governments. In Anambra State, for instance, Ngige rehabilitated the Onitsha-Niger Bridge-Upper-Iweka portion of the all-important Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way. The failed portions of the said road, until recently, had also been rehabilitated by the Obi administration. Presently, the Government of Anambra State, under Obi is reconstructing Onitsha-Nnewi Old Road and Onitsha-Enugu Old Road, which are all federal roads. Ngige and Obi jointly reconstructed the all-important Igbo-Ukwu-Ezinifite-Uga-Umuchu- Umunze federal road, with a spur to the Enugu- Port Harcourt Dual Carriage Way. Also, the all-important Atani-Ogwuikpere-Ndoni federal road is being reconstructed by the Obi administration, though the quality of work being delivered on the road by the Inter-Bua Construction Company is very horrible. These federal roads as mentioned are few of such roads being reconstructed by the present government of Anambra State. Apart from the foregoing, most of the busiest and uttermost important federal roads in Nigeria are acutely deplorable. Some of them are: Benin-Ore Road, Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way, Enugu-Port Harcourt Dual Carriage Way, Ninth Mile-Nsukka-Benue Road, Owerri-Port Harcourt Road, Agbor-Ekpoma-Auchi-Lokoja-Abuja Road, to mention but a few. The horrible state of federal roads in Nigeria is worst in the South-East, followed by the South-West, then the South-South and then the North-Central.

Our questions now are: where did the over N500 billion budgeted for transportation since 2008 go? And where did all the trillions budgeted at least since 2008 go?

If we are to hazard an answer, then choice properties magically springing up in some alleged corrupt foreign capitals such as Dubai may be the answer. Such choice properties are also springing up in some of the Nigeria’s rich capital cities, in addition to privately-owned refineries in foreign lands. Nigerian traders who transact businesses in Dubai, the United Arab Emirate, have been giving first hand accounts of sudden flooding of the kingdom with high cost boutiques and other shopping malls possibly by Nigerian white-collar criminals. We are not surprised at the ongoing baptism of criminality through budgeting. What do you expect in a country where a senator reportedly receives N15 million monthly or N180 million yearly in the form of constituency project? What do you expect where a Rep reportedly receives N156 million yearly for constituency project? What do you expect where the House of Reps allegedly squandered a whopping N52 billion on foreign trips in the past two years and “attracted” $1 billion or N150 billion foreign investments from the Republic of Turkey? Till date, the Federal Republic of Nigeria does not have a 100 per cent-owned functional commercial airline industry. This is unlike Air Italia for Italy, Air I for Israel, KLM for Holland, British Airways for Great Britain, PAN American Airline for USA, etc. The corruption termites had eaten up the Nigerian Airways more than 10 years ago. The N52 billion allegedly wasted on foreign trips, which the House Speaker had admitted and later denied, can comfortably build five to 10 sound conventional universities in Nigeria, going by experts’ opinion. Can we ever expect anything good from our leaders, more so when our foreign reserves had depreciated steadily from over $60 billion in 2007 to about $42 billion in 2009 and our excess crude oil sales reserves dried up? Whereas China’s foreign reserves had increased from about $700 billion in 2006 to $2.3 trillion in 2009, despite the global economic recession. Our currency, the Naira, has further been devalued from N142 per dollar in January 2009 to N150 per dollar in November 2009, a difference of N8 in a period of just 10 months.

By the way, how much is Nigeria’s investments abroad? Do we have any?

China is now the highest foreign investor in the USA Bond Market. The condition of this country is acutely pitiable. White-collar criminals with beastly idiosyncrasies are on rampage. They have run riot in the sacred altar of our commonwealth. Whenever a N5 billion road contract is awarded in their zone, they will ambush the contractor with utter alacrity, muzzle N4.5 billion out of his or her hands and leave him or her with paltry N500 million. With this, the contractor now settles by the roadside where he or she burns bitumen in a drum with charcoal and settles for work with shovels, diggers, measuring tapes and head pans, in company with his or her “Ogbo-mmanu” labourers. This explains why most of the federal roads rehabilitation projects such as the Onitsha-Enugu Dual Carriage Way, Onitsha-Oba-Nnewi-Okigwe federal road have been reportedly hijacked by “10 percenters” and white-collar criminals.

What is the way out of this?

If a revolution truly means “an abrupt political change not within the contemplation of the existing constitution, but with fundamental political changes and a new legal order,” then its imminence in Nigeria’s polity is a matter of time. Angelic democrats, wherever they are in Nigeria, must buckle up to effect a peaceful or quiet revolution before the patience of the angered elapses. Lagos, Edo and Anambra States must sustain their quiet revolutions. We also see a similar revolution coming the way of Imo State very soon. Nigeria must be saved from the hands of the buccaneers, the mentally deformed and the white-collar criminals, otherwise we will be doomed irreparably. It is deeply sad that the three tiers of government in Nigeria (federal, states and local government areas) have nothing to show for a whopping N32 trillion received and shared since 1999, out of which the Niger Delta region got a whopping N8 trillion, most of which were ferried away to foreign safety vaults by their leaders with utter impunity.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Intellectual Rumble Over Igbo Origin

By Mazi Ebuzeme, Sun News Online

One Dr. Charles Ujah granted an interview on 19th August 2009 to the sun newspaper making claims on Ibo Jewish origin and that the Yoruba was founded by the Ibo with Oduduwa as Oduduwa (meaning last born in Ibo) e.t.c. His claims are based on the bible and probably linguistic and cultural similarities.

In a rejoinder of September 18th , 2009 published by the sun newspaper, one Dr. P.J Eze challenged and dismissed Dr. Ujah’s Claims as false and unintellectual.

He even called it ‘Red Herring’, but I call it Ujah’s postulation for the purpose of this exercise. However I attribute their intellectual face off to the philosophy of a late highlife maestro Rex Jim Lawson.

Hear his lyrics ‘Am Green turtle, me clever turtle, for clever turtle, me no get equal. For wisdom me sabi pass all animal, for clever, me clever pass everyone; for cunning turtle, that same green turtle, for green turtle me no hate anyone’. So this is Dr. Ujah’s red bearing and Dr. Eze’s green turtle. I thank both of them for their thought and efforts in teaching us new things. It is noteworthy to appreciate Dr. Eze’s intellectual set up over what he called a fiction from Dr. Ujah’s postulation on the Igbo race.

The Claim that Oduduwa means Odudunwa is not realistic especially to the Yorubas. It is euphemistic to think so just like the myth surrounding several other origins of nations. The false start in Dr. Eze’s rejoinder is his prognosis without complete diagnosis.

History: In his book” The Origin of Ibos”, Dr. Ujah mentioned historical traces which he equally obtained from different other writers and religious book. The book “sight on the scripture – a watch Tower research publication has some section on the origin of nations and I recommend that to Dr. Eze. There are several other postulants and references of the historical traces of Ibo’s having Jewish or Canaanite antecedents. One of such books is the Sephardic revolution by Yitzak David Israel, a Sephardic Jew.

Archaeology: I suggest that Dr. Eze should take a trip to Aguleri and some other Ibo enclaves and see the artefacts and other interesting discoveries pointing towards the direction of Dr. Ujah’s postulation. On September 25th, 2009, another postulant, Eng. Ayodabo Esuola , another Nigerian researcher claimed that the earliest Jews were Africans in his book “Tourism and Hidden Treasures of Nigeria”. Hope Dr. Eze would read this also before condemnation. In addition, how would Dr. Eze treat the issue of myth e.g. that the Ibo progenitor fell from the sky, the way Oduduwa is believed to have evolved? Corrected or condemned, one cannot erase the myth in people’s psyche which had come from several generations. Some archaeological findings are mentioned in Dr. Ujah’s book.

Ethnography: some of us are yet to see or read about some physical parameters mentioned at the time of creation, where colour, ethnicity, morphology, phylogeny. Some people today believe the theory of the egg before the chicken or that God first made the female who gave birth to the male. It may not be regional or place but all in the mind. Ethnographic descriptions of mankind are regional or geographical, racial and migrational. See references in “Insight on the scriptures, origins of Nations.

Comparative linguistics: This is the area of intellectual interest to this Igbo relevance to Ujah’s postulation and Eze’s correction and condemnation. Dr. Ujah may have made some sweeping statements along the line of claim but those I attribute to some emotional exuberance in his conviction. May I ask, can anyone intentionally go wrong intellectually of the knew what is right? Dr. Ujah may not be wrong after all if he has positive references for his research work. Don’t be surprised that a lot of Nigerians including linguists get excited to discover the similarities of Yoruba and Igbo languages with the Jewish antecedents.

Just recently a book on how Yoruba and Igbo became different languages was launched. The author Bolaji Aremo was formerly of Obafemi Awolowo University. There are other writers who even go beyond Yoruba and Igbo by adding Hausa language similarities despite its extraneous phylum or family. Similarities in lexicostatistics both in basic and non basic vocabularies are available. Relevant statements come alive in unique forms e.g. “ Me nini ka ce” – Hausa and “ma nini ka iche” – Igbo meaning what do you think or what is your opinion. “ci gaba”- Hausa and “si gaba” – Igbo meaning advance, proceed or progress.

Basically we expect the experts like Dr. Eze to assist us in this area too. We want to know the way we are or have been in the area of languages. When non formal linguists come up with some thought provoking research findings, they are easily prejudiced. The formal linguists fail to realize according to Aubrey T De Vera that “prejudice which sees only what it pleases cannot see what is plain”.
Let us consider some of those words used by Dr. Ujah in his interview and the corrections cited by Dr. Eze discredited the word jenisisi in Igbo for Genesis used by Ujah as Hebrew, the Hebrew for the semantics go to the beginning.

The first book of the Septuagint (Pentateuch) is bereshith, according to Eze. Genesis is Greek but one may question whether the word Genesis in Greek or something similar was borrowed as a language universal from Hebrew or the other way round with similar semantics. Eze as an anthropological linguist will have to help us further with the root source.

However jenisisi in Igbo may have been a co-operation by its phonotactic similarity rather than semantics. Nevertheless, there were Grecian Jews even among scripture writers who spoke both Hebrew and Greek hence the possibility of vocabulary transformation from one tongue to another. Ibo land is not where God first made man and since there was no spontaneous generation there, everybody came from somewhere. Remember that the word Ibo as a name, race and language arguably existed in ancient time.

If as true, is it not possible that such an express equally existed? As a name “Ibo” existed because in 219 AD, there were some Babylonian Jews who went to Palestine to study in the academies under a Jewish Rabbi called Juda Ha Nasi. One of such Jews was by name Abba Ben Ibo. Ibo was Abba’s last or family name. For further story one this, see the research Watch Tower magazine of May 15 1998 under the caption “what is the Talmud.” So the name Ibo as a word or person and Igbo as a vernacular is very ancient. Remember also that Ajayi Crowther who coined the Ibo alphabets said in 1864 that Ibos are Igbos.

The Hebrew word “Bereshith” is Eze’s correction agreed, but I recall that Dr. Ujah used the expression “Mbido ni ishi.” In one of his details but then Eze has not read the book to see this. However the word Bereshith has no cognate with the Igbo language but can be pronounced as “Mbido ni ishi” when one stammers.

When speaking with difficulty, repeating sounds and syllables and making frequent pauses it can phonotactically broker. A curious syllogism can be language existed before 219AD as testified by the antecedents of Abba Ben Ibo mentioned earlier. Dr. Eze chronicled the Septuagint to be between 250 to 100BC. So these events were close in time. Do not forget that the new testament of the Bible was written long time after Jesus’ had left the earth. The word Ibo existed even before the compilation of the book.

Another cited by Eze as dissimilar is the Hebrew for eye as “ain” and the Igbo anya/enya. He was emphatic on the palatal nasal [NY] in Ujah’s explanation of Hebrew with anya in Igbo. Many see no wrong in that if the semantics are similar. After all the palatal nasal [NY] is a way of speech developed overtime. In the U.S New York natives- not immigrants pronounce the city as “Nyew Yorq” retaining the nasal palatial in question.

Another contention is the Igbo word isi and the Hebrew for head which is rosh, Arabic Ras. Ujah refers to the Bible for his similarity of the word. As a third party, the Hebrew “Rosh” is just a compounding or blending of two distinct root words in KWA languages of Yoruba and Ibo, or rather a Hebrew word factor that yields the phonemes of the words for head in Yoruba and Ibo. Applying clipping as a language universal “Ro/Sh” to give “Ori” – Yoruba for head “Ishi”, Igbo for head. Integrating them into Ro + Sh – RoSh, (Ori + Ishi -> Orishi sounds like Rosh). Another Hebrew word in this category is Ru’ach – Spirit which is upon clipping yields several vocabularies in Yoruba and Ibo languages. Further details see Bolaji Aremo – Yoruba and Igbo – 2009.

The next word is Hebrew “bara”, to create, which Eze has introduced to our advantage. Yes to create is “ike” in Igbo. In euphemistic etymology, the word blood has been used as creation both in the bible and the Koran. In several languages, blood is akin to life, even the word is used as to create, to mate to copulate especially in animals when paired. Take the Hebrew word bara, add a prefix vowel “o” and you obtain “obara” – blood in Igbo. Apply the clipping mode ba/ra and you get Yoruba word “ba” to mate and Igbo “ra” to mate or copulate.

The “ba” in Yoruba is “gba” in Igbo where “b” comes as “gb” as in the word Ibo and Igbo, Also “gba” is Igbo to copulate among animals. Another Hebrew word for blood is dam – Arabic dam also. When the word is clipped as Da/m or D/m because the letter “a” is an infix vowel , the root letter “m” is same in Igbo as “mme” – blood. It is called etymo-scrabbling. In the book “fundamentals of Islam” by P.J. Stewart, a college fellow at oxford, he posits that vowel elimination or addition leads to variation of words and meanings. Changes in the pattern of vowels are used together with prefixes, infixes and suffixes to indicate variations of meaning thus the Arabic root for example SLM gives “Salam - peace, (Hebrew Shalom, Igbo Challum- yield, Solum- respect or submit), Sallam – he grants peace, Islam-submission Muslim one who submits.

I wish to suggest to Eze as a scientist that 100% is sometimes unattainable even in nature. There is always a fraction and even precision machines are constantly calibrated to maintain a balance. So it is with panthenic totem in Igbo land. It differs as the Igbo dialects differentiate. Dr. Ujah’s efforts are not in vain as Eze may think. There are several other authors that have equally expressed Ujah’s postulation.

He cannot be crucified for his attempts to do what some linguists have refused to do. Just recently Professor Catherine Acholonu came up with evidence about the Jews. Hear her as published in daily sun of October 6 2008 - Jews inherited Ibo traditions. “When you find words with the same meaning, 3, 4, 5, 6, 10, 11 times between Igbo language and another language, it means there are some relationship. In comparative linguistics, most scholars do not explore the benefits of language
universals in their search for roots to similarities in lexicostatistics. Languages do not have to agree in syntax, grammar, phonotactics e.t.c. before they can be seen as similar, otherwise why are they separate languages.

The phonemes and semantics are strong attributes of word similarities. According to Dr. Bolaji Aremo, “orthography may differ due to modus loquendum (mode of speech)”. In Dr. Eze’s environment, he must have heard a child say “tea and biye” in request for tea and bread. The child’s mother understands “biye” to mean bread. Even in one’s family there can be differentiation in words.
Dr. Ujah’s claims are still subject to further investigation and Dr. Eze should please help rather than condemn. Quod erat demonstrandum (QED).