In no distant future from now, lovers of fun and excitement shall converge in Calabar, the Cross River State Capital in order to feel the joy that the yearly Calabar Festival brings.
To be précise, November 30, 2012, after 12 midnight, the skies of Calabar, expectedly, shall be lit with fireworks and other symbolic events associated with the opening ceremonies.
The festival itself is growing and getting bigger in leaps, both in content, organisation and implementation.
As it grows, the expectations from both the host State (the Chief Organiser), as well as those who had experienced the festival’s excitement and the first timers would be full of high hopes
The first timers for instance would be looking forward to savouring and participating in the flagship of the Christmas Festival programme, which is the Calabar Carnival.
The familiar and the usual participants on their part would be looking forward to seeing or experiencing innovations, novel and sometimes crazy ideas that people hardly understand, but appreciated all the same.
While the would be participants (both the old and first timers) are gearing up to be part and parcel of the yearly celebration, the Government and people of Cross River State, as explained by Chief Akin Ricketts, Commissioner for Information, are having sleepless night.
The Government, personified in Liyel Imoke and his lieutenants, his foot soldiers and organisers of the yearly event may not be having sleepless night ,not because of inadequate organisational and creative ability to translate ideas and dreams into reality but because of the deplorable federal roads that link the State to the other states and vice-versa.
Before we form crazy opinions about the assertion that the Government and the people may be having sleepless night over the fast approaching Calabar Festival, it is pertinent to point out that bad roads have direct negative impact on the frequency of commuting.
The implication, as explained by Chief Ricketts, the Commissioner for Information, is that bad roads may impede people from travelling.
He was, however, quick to point out that the State Government is not resting on its oars to ensure the roads are properly fixed before the festival commences.
The reason, according to him is that majority of the expected participants are Nigerians from the 36 states and the Federal capital Territory Abuja. Based on previous researches, conducted by tourism experts, those who usually travel by road to the Calabar Festival constitute over 80% (eighty percent) and a mere 20% (twenty percent) come in by air, and a very negligible number by sea.
The reason why the bulk of the people who participate in the Calabar yearly festival prefer to travel by road is largely economic.
If one considers the cost of travelling by air, vis-à-vis feeding and hotel accommodation, especially for people who come with their love ones, it makes more economic sense for such people to travel by road and save some money to take care of extraneous demands or requirements, during the festival.
Perhaps, it was in a bid to make driving into and out of Cross River State safer and less problematic, especially as the yearly festival is coming up that the Cross River State Government embarked upon massive rehabilitation of federal roads within the State.
INVESTIGATION shows that, since 2005 the Cross River State Government has paid out a total of N13,554,801,938.13 to four construction companies handling the rehabilitation of federal roads and bridges within the State.
Notable among the federal roads are the Odukpani Junction – Itu road, Ikom – Obudu and Calabar – Ugep – Ikom – Ogoja, which spans a distance of 300 kilometres.
The other notable interventions of the Cross River State government to make commuting in and out of the State pleasurable is the construction of a 240-metre long Idundu bridge.
In addition, the Government has embarked upon the dualization of the Calabar City gate to Adiabo Junction and the Calabar Airport – Ikot Ekpo by pass road, a dual carriage way with provision for flyover at Ikot Effanga axis. When completed the road will greatly decongest traffic within the city centre and provide alternative route to people coming in and going out of Calabar.
The four contracting companies that are handling the rehabilitation/construction of these federal roads are Messrs Arab Contractors, Messrs CCECC, Messrs Bulletine Nigeria ltd and Messrs Sermatech Nig. Ltd.
Arab Contractors is handling the dualization of a five- kilometre City Gate/Adiabo Junction road, while CCECC is handling the construction of Idundu bridge and the rehabilitation of Ikom – Obudu road, which spans a distance of 116 kilometres.
Messrs Bulletine Nig. Ltd. is handling the patching and asphalting of failed road pavements along Odukpani Junction to Itu Bridge, covering a distance of 35 kms while Messrs Sermatech, Nig. Ltd is handling the rehabilitation of six critical sections of the Odukpani Junction – Itu road, in addition to handling the constructing of the Calabar Airport – Ikot Ekpo by pass.
Before the intervention of the Cross River State Government, the sordid state of the federal roads within the State was a sharp contrast from the beautifully asphalted inter and intra-city roads constructed by the Imoke administration, including over 1000 kilometres of rural roads under the state Rural Development Agency, RUDA and the Cross River Rural Access and Mobility Project, CR-RAMP.
The Cross River State Government, with an average monthly allocation of just a little above N3b is expending this much on the rehabilitation of federal roads amidst massive natural disasters like flood and erosion that have over the years ravaged the State.
Out of the 20 erosion sites identified, the State Government has been able to tackle only few due to paucity of funds. Some of the erosion sites that have been tackled headlong include the Beebosco, Ayanaseng, Edim Otop and the Atakpa erosion sites behind the Union Bank which we understand is being tackled by the management of the Union Bank. All these are in addition to the massive construction of flood control channels in Calabar and its environs.
Largely, the Ikot Ekebre erosion site, the kilometers two and half, and three along the Ranch Road, kitting and the “you and me” erosion site in Obudu, like many other identified sites in Calabar, are awaiting government’s intervention.
According to the Information Commissioner, Akin Ricketts, for now there is not much that the Cross River State Government can do in the gully erosion.
The reasons are not farfetched. One, the State Government is yet to get even a one kobo as refund from the over N13 billion it has expended to rehabilitate the federal roads. Its monthly allocation of about N3 billion is not tangible enough to embark upon serious erosion control after paying salaries and tackling other matters of statecraft, including provision of relief materials to victims of floods and wind storms.
To say the least, tackling and controlling erosion menace in Cross River State requires massive funding and intervention from the relevant Federal Government agencies. This is predicated upon the fact that the State’s funds from monthly federal allocation is like a pin in an ocean.
A source that refused to be named in the State Ministry of Works said the Cross River State government has so far sunk in N5 billion to control gully erosion and that for the menace to be tackled successfully, the State Government may require a little above N50 billion.
While this battle to save the State from being submerged by gully erosion is on-going, the over N13 billion used by the government to rehabilitate some federal roads in the State is yet to be refunded.
Whether Cross River State, which lost its littoral status not too long ago as a result of Nigeria’s ceding of Bakassi to the Republic of Cameroon, will survive the onslaught of natural disasters and paltry monthly allocation from the Federal Government is a matter of time.
For now, the members of the House Committee on federal roads, who recently visited the State on a fact finding mission, may as well assist the Cross River State Government to recover what it has invested in the rehabilitation of federal roads within the State, and possibly recommend a fresh reconstruction of all the federal roads that are in the State.
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