For a week, I traversed the entire South Eastern states of Nigeria during a private visit to my countryside. South East of Nigeria is home to Igbo Nigeria’s strategic member of the national tripod just as others are Yoruba and Hausa. During my visit to my home, I came face to face with systematic neglect of federal roads. It is no longer news that of the entire country, South East suffers from serious infrastructure deficits. There are a thousand and one causative factors for this deteriorated state of infrastructure particularly with those services and infrastructure that should of necessity be built by the national government. One of the most disturbing causes is systemic failure of the central government to rebuild the devastated assets belonging to both the individuals and the Eastern region soon after the thirty months fratricidal civil war. The next most important cause is corruption on the part of the political representatives of the South East to vigorously canvass and deliver quality projects for their people over the years. This state of dysfunctionality is noticed majorly on the roads infrastructure.
The long stretch of Federal Highway linking Enugu, Ebonyi, Abia and Okigwe in Imo State has virtually collapsed. The expansive two lanes of the usually boisterous and very busy road has become a shadow of itself following the total collapse of one of the lanes. I observed regrettably that all the vehicular movements flowing in from all parts of Nigeria heading towards Abia from Enugu, Imo, Ebonyi and Rivers states are now forced to rely on the only lane that has yet to collapse totally.
To understand the enormity of the rot and consequential dysfunctionality, a traveller only needs to get to Lokpanta in Abia State whereby the northern population of cow sellers live to witness the epochal decay of the road infrastructure coupled with the stinking environment made up of decrepit structures and wooden huts whereby hundreds of Nigerian citizens of Northern extraction live and transact their daily businesses with most of them selling foodstuffs and other edibles along the only portion of the lane that hundreds of vehicles ply on a daily basis. Lokpanta along the Enugu/ Okigwe Federal Highway is not only an eyesore but is an epidemic waiting to implode.
To make matters worse, on reaching Lokpanta in Abia State, on Friday last week, I noticed the ubiquitous presence of heavy duty trucks from big companies and many big trailers ferrying petroleum products which were deliberately but strategically parked at the middle of the only functional lane out of the two lanes of that Enugu-Okigwe Federal Highway. Again the hundreds of vehicles plying that road go through untold pains.
As if the decay you noticed about strategic national road infrastructure in the South East is limited to the Enugu-Okigwe highway, the moment you veer off the highway from Okigwe and you drive towards Owerri, what confronts your sight is perhaps the most criminally neglected national road infrastructure of all times. I have never seen such criminality on the part of government targeting the ordinary populace who are deliberately subjected to traumatic experiences just to commute through that Okigwe to Owerri highway.
That extremely narrow one lane Federal Highway leading from Okigwe to the Imo State capital has all but collapsed making movement from Okigwe to Owerri a spectacle in hazardous travel. I have never in my entire life seen such a scenario. This is because a traveller is then compelled to meander through Umuna junction and go through the ordeals of using the small state built road through Isiala Mbano before finding his way back to the only portion of the Okigwe-Owerri Federal Highway that is yet to collapse around Akabo town before making it to Owerri but not without swimming through several flooded areas on that same road which has been eaten up thereby forcing commuters to swim through the muddy and dirty accumulated flood water. The general picture that steers you in the face is that you are in a war-torn territory.
Perhaps, what may give you the impression that the inhabitants of most states in the South East are populations under police siege are the ubiquitous presence of gun-wielding police operatives in every fifty meter space in almost all the roads.
In Imo State and especially around Okwelle, in Onuimo local government area, we came face to face with some badly behaved police operatives who were busy and openly demanding and receiving small bribes from all the road users and most especially those vehicles conveying foodstuffs.
Then coming from Aba to Owerri is another hard time with these bribe-guzzling armed security forces. The immediate consequence of the criminal extortions by the police is the skyrocketing of cost of living generally in the South East. Commercial drivers who are extorted daily simply transfer the financial burdens to passengers. Business people who go to rural areas and neglected local government areas in the South East to buy freshly produced farm products are therefore forced to pay huge logistical cost which are simply transferred to the end users who are impoverished.
Unfortunately, the local government officials are not competent enough to ensure that such criminal activities of the police operatives do not happen in their areas of jurisdiction. The local government areas are shadows of what a dynamic and vibrant grassroots administration should be. The observation made by the former Nigerian president Chief Olusegun Obasanjo on the issue of lack of local council autonomy is factual.
But for eight years that he served as president, he failed to deliver local council autonomy. His failure cannot invalidate the accuracy of his postulation in any way. Former President, Olusegun Obasanjo accused Governors of routinely stealing the money meant for the Local Governments.
My nearly one week tour of the South East of Nigeria revealed the factuality of this top level accusation against state governors vis-a-vis the broad daylight robbery of funds meant for the development of local council areas. Former President Obasanjo said the theft by governors of council fund has rendered the Local government areas incapable of performing even the basic functions for their people. Making more revelation, Obasanjo said that the governors pilfer Local Governments’ funds through the nebulous “joint account.”
He said that this was why the governors have remained antagonistic to the agitation for Local Government (LG) autonomy.