Abandoned For 20 Years, Ikom-Wula-Obudu Road Remains Travelers’ Nightmare, Cash Cow For Contractors

In Breaking News, Investigation, Reports

By Godwin Otang

The road linking Ikom through Boki to Obudu Local Government area is a 115-kilometer route indicated as the Ikom-Wula-Road. It is one of the federal roads in Cross River State. This part is often called Section 1 in the repair work projects by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing while the distance from Sankwala junction in Obanliku Local Government Area to the trunk ‘B’ road leading up to the Obudu Mountain Resort is referred to as section 2.

Findings by CrossRiverWatch reveal that several contracts have been awarded for the rehabilitation and emergency repairs of the road since 2003 but it remains in a very sorry state, sometimes unpassable.

A 37-year-old traveler who spoke to CrossRiverWatch on the condition of anonymity had a 9:00 am Calabar to Abuja flight and left Obudu, intending to reach Calabar, a day before his scheduled trip. But the Toyota Sienna van conveying the traveler and nine others got trapped by the mud and potholes, along the Ikom-Wula-Obudu. What should have been a four-hour journey lasted two days.

He missed his flight. The vehicle remained in the mud with the driver and his passengers pushing to remove it – an exercise they repeated four times before the end of the trip. They had to engage a mechanic from a nearby village at some point before they proceeded to Ikom, and later to Calabar.

4.21 Billion Naira Awarded For Rehabilitation, Repairs

In 2003, the federal government awarded the rehabilitation of Ikom-Wula-Obudu Road and Sankwala junction Ranch resort to Messrs Afro Construction Company Nig. Ltd. at a Contract Sum of NGN3.72bln. Details of the contract as seen by CrossRiverWatch showed that the rehabilitation was expected to include reinforcements and earthworks amongst others. The completion date for the project was indicated as December 13th, 2010. However, sources disclosed to CrossRiverWatch that the contract was abandoned due to funding issues.

In 2010, the Federal Government categorized the project under “Project Above 50% Completion” and budgeted N400 million for the rehabilitation of Ikom-Wula-Obudu Road section 1. Fast-forward exactly 10 years later, in 2020, the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) embarked on “Major Maintenance on the same Ikom-Wula-Obudu Road. As the state of the road worsened, FERMA again in project number “GM22-295” embarked on yet another major maintenance on the Ikom-Wula-Obudu road in 2022.

Meanwhile, in 2021, the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing awarded and funded the rehabilitation of Section 2 of the road in two installments, to Leophina Works Limited for the job, a company owned by the family of the former Cross River State Governor Ben Ayade.

Site assessment by CrossRiverWatch shows that section two of the road is the only section of the road that is motorable as of the time of this report. Data from available documents show that a total of N4, 218, 738, 655.53 has been awarded for the repair of the road between 2003 to 2021, excluding the FERMA road maintenance project budget.

Hard Slog for Commuters

The travel difficulties occasioned by the deplorable state of the road have caused business failures and a very high cost of vehicle maintenance. The road has also caused several road traffic crashes in recent times. In separate interviews, community leaders, drivers, commuters, businessmen, and women recounted their experiences traveling on this road.

Mr. Dominic Okoi, a commercial driver, describes the road as “a track road”.  “The road is supposed to be a trunk-A road, but as it is, even a plantation road is better than it. And we are so discouraged because the road damages our vehicles day by day.”

A community leader, Chief Emmanuel Bessong, who spoke to our reporter at Bashua community, registered his grievances: “This road is causing us a lot of suffering and the government doesn’t care. Two days ago, I went to Ikom, and on my way back I was stuck on the road, due to how mud and potholes have trapped vehicles in the middle of the road: We want the government to help us.

A beautician, Ms. Ruth Ewa from the Abo community in Boki Local Government Area alleged neglect by the immediate past administration: “The road is so bad that you can use more than two hours from the Abo section of the road to get to Ikom. There have been several cases of accidents on the road, due to the state of the road. For about 10 years, we haven’t had anything like a good road along this road.

Also, Mr. Johnson Adie, a middle-aged man who is a tailor and farmer, narrates how the road has affected traveling; “the road is not good, it is very dangerous and fearful to travel on it. Two days ago, my motorcycle got spoiled on that road because of the mud and potholes on the road. Yesterday, there were two traffic crashes on the same road, so it is a very dangerous road. We are not enjoying, we are suffering. If there can be any help, we will appreciate it.”

A mother of three, Mrs. Margaret Thomas, at Akorshi community in Obanliku Local Government Area, said doing business has been a tough activity: “These days, moving my provision (goods) from Ikom to Akorshi is like traveling to Calabar. Even to initiate a waybill is very expensive. My last trip to Ikom took more than a day because our vehicle got bad on the road.”

A commercial driver, and park manager, Mr. Shadrach Mkpa, is not left out. “The condition we face on the road is depressing. Many times, a distance of 30 minutes now takes over an hour. That road should be fixed because if left for another year, many drivers would withdraw from the road.”

Despite Contracts Awarded, Road Has Been Neglected For 20 Years

After about three weeks of trying to get details of the contract and its challenges from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, a top management official disclosed under anonymity that the road has long been abandoned. They noted that contrary to information available to the public, which says the project has been lingering for 13 years, the contract has actually been abandoned for 20 years.

According to the source, “The only thing we can do now is to get the contractor and renew the contract for him. Because if the Ministry doesn’t officially terminate this contract, it can’t be rewarded to any other contractor. So, there are two options, we either summon the contractor for renewal of contract or we terminate it from him.

“The challenge with that contract was majorly funding. Even now, there is no way he will be able to do that work with the previous award rate; the award rate of 20 years back or even that of the revised 2010 project can’t still do that job. Things are more expensive. In 2010, the ministry revised the project for the same contractor, but still due to funding issues, he could not deliver. Even at that, the 2010 award rate cannot deliver that project in 2023.

The source added that, “Last week we sent people for inspection on that road. The Ministry in this new regime is planning a change of policy, to convert some of those roads from asphalt to concrete, especially those on flood-prone areas, and I am thinking that the road too will benefit from that policy.”

Effort to reach Messrs. Afro Construction Company Nig. Ltd through the address provided on its registration portal was unsuccessful. Findings reveal that the company’s address indicated as No. 1 Lokoja Street, off Ogbomosho Street, Area-8, Garki, Abuja is currently occupied by Union Bank.

Also, the phone numbers associated with the company on public records did not go through and appear to be unauthorized by telecom operators in Nigeria, as the operator had two responses – “you are not allowed to call this number” or “The number you are trying to call does not exist”. There were no email addresses or social media presence to reach the firm.

Member Representing Obanliku, Bekwarra/Obudu Federal Constituency, Hon. Peter Akpanke, has expressed concern about the state of the road, urging Leophina Works Limited and other companies that were awarded contracts for the rehabilitation of the Ikom-Wula-Obudu Road, to return to site and work in compliance with the terms of contracts that were awarded to them.

Speaking at his Thanksgiving Ceremony in August 2023, he said “This road you see, I write letters to the Federal Ministry of Works, saying that I want to know the contractors that were awarded this road. Our former Governor’s company Leophina Works Limited, was one of those companies that were awarded contracts on this road. I have gotten documents of payments and everything. They will come and work this road, if they don’t, I will go to the media and blow the whistle for the whole world to hear.”

What Does The Law Say About Abandoning Projects?

A Senior Advocate of Nigeria (SAN), Mba Ukweni Esq. says the legal implications have to do with the terms of agreements. “There is definitely a legal implication surrounding the contract,” the legal luminary said; explaining that: “It is to look at the terms of the agreement if there is a breach of it in terms of funding, or the fund had been provided and the person who is supposed to carry out the transaction did not do so.”

“There is just no way a contract which award has been made for execution and it is not done for about 20 years, that you will say there is no breach from either side. So, the terms of contract or agreement will determine that.

The Co-Convener of Citizens Assembly, who doubles as the Country Director of Citizens’ Solution Network, Mr. Richard Inoyo blamed the situation on the prevalence of corruption and called for accountability, legal action, and a review of the contract execution, award, and funding.

“This development in respect of the road construction linking the central to the northern part of the state is the reality we face. There is massive corruption and carelessness in the execution of public infrastructure projects across the country.

“The people of Cross River State should hold the government accountable; either these people should be sued to court so that the courts will subpoena them to appear before the court and give us an explanation or details about their involvement in the contracts. It is a very sad development, sad for public confidence in government, and in the long run, we are all losing.

“This is time to go for the right accountability instrument by reviewing the entire contract awarding process,” Inoyo said.

 This investigation is produced with support from Civic Media Lab.

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