On a cool evening in October 2021, Apev Iorliam, 27, alongside others, had just written their final examination as an undergraduate student at Benue State University, Makurdi.
Mr Iorliam had promised himself what the final excitement would look like. He would, first of all, allow his parents to feel the euphoria of having a graduate in the family. Soon, he would be united with his family as an Industrial Chemistry graduate – or so he thought as he embarked on the journey from school.
He wouldn’t stop smiling as the Peugeot car conveying him alongside others from Makurdi to Degu Gbinde accelerates.
At the other end, Apev Isaac, his father, was phoned by Benjamin Awen, Mr. Iorliam’s friend, earlier to inform him that his son is on his way home. They were preparing to receive him but the joyful anxiety was soon cut short. Mrs. Ngodoo Apev received a call from a bystander who saw her number as Mr Iorliam’s last dialed. Her beloved son is dead.
“That was how my world came crashing within a second,” she said. “The pain was the highest I have witnessed in my life. It gets to me especially when I see corp members and other graduates. It reminded me of a dead vision. My joy of motherhood got slimed and the pain would remain forever”
It all began in High-level park, makurdi. Everyone was seated. The makurdi-Awajir-Oju route is around 150km, estimated to be about two hours, thirty minutes journey.
Mr. Iorliam knew this would take longer than estimated, considering the deplorable state of the road. What he never envisioned was being a victim of a failed road.
It had rained the previous hours heavily and the road was flooded. About halfway into the journey, the car plunged into a ditch, leading to a fatal accident.
To Mr. Iorliam’s family, it was not just an accident. It was a light turned off.
“Tragic is nothing compared to how I want to describe it,” Mrs. Apev laments.
Mr. Iorliam is one of the many who have lost their lives on the famous Awajir-Oju road.
The deplorable state of the road is reputed to have thwarted businesses. It is the only road connecting various communities like Degu Gbinde, Shangiev, Bonta all in Konshisha Local Government of the State, and Ukpute, Ainu-Ette, Ukpa in Oju Local government.
“Benue state is the Food Basket of the Nation as a slogan has undoubtedly been abused. Lack of access roads is one of the many factors contributing to hunger in the state.” Isaac Ode, a 52-year-old farmer said.
The farmer, from Ukpute community, has had his farm produce waste for lack of access road to a good market.
Apart from his large cassava farm, Mr Ode has a lot of palm trees that normally should give him enough money if there was a good road to transport them to markets.
“I can’t suffer myself anymore to prepare palm oil for others to reap the profits. I can’t possibly transport them to town and only those who have the means buy from me at a cheaper price and later resold”
“We farmers in this communities have seen it hard. On several occasions, we hired a pick-up van to convey our goods to the market, and we often ended up spending more than we earned. Because of the bad road”
Igbegi Okoli, 47, is a motorist who normally plies the Oju-Awajir through Makurdi. He narrates his ordeal using the road on one occasion when robbers took advantage of the bad portion to waylay him and his passengers.
“One Sunday evening I set out for Makurdi. Ordinarily, it should have been a 2 hrs journey. It had rained heavily and the road was bad.
“About one hour into our journey, we got robbed along the Shangiev area. I was with passengers who also got robbed.”
“I am still paying for the waybills that got robbed on the way. I may not know the monetary value of everything that was robbed but about two hundred nairas belonging to customers were collected that night.”
“It was a painful experience. I tried to escape but the road betrayed me”
I have been more careful with the road especially when it is getting dark.”
Unlike Mr Okoli, who was robbed along the road, Onwanyi Idekpa, 37, from Ukpa, a retail roadside fruit seller couldn’t keep the frustration that comes with the hike in the price of her goods.
She’s afraid she might fade out of the market soon.
“You can’t imagine how much we pay to bring these oranges here,” she pointed to a mini bag of oranges on the floor.”
“A bag of this orange and garden egg used to be eight thousand. It is now fifteen thousand Naira. How much would you sell it?”
Road project would have made the difference
In 2019, the government of Benue State budgeted one billion Naira (1,000,000,000) for the construction of the 52.0km Awajir-Oju road. It was meant to ameliorate the pains, the struggles of those who use the road. UDEME could not ascertain how much had been released for the project as state officials declined comments and failed to respond to official request.
If completed, the road has the potential of opening up economic activities for farmers along the Oju axis.
The project was under the supervision of the Ministry of Works, Transport and Energy.
Although farmers were optimistic that the construction of the road will boost economic activities; this hasn’t materialised.
When this reporter visited in November, he found the road in a deplorable condition, nowhere near completion.
On the 52 km Awajir-Oju road are graven portholes, in some cases, these holes are deep and are very difficult to drive through.
A 52-year-old resident, Maria Udenyi, said only a portion of the road was worked on.
“Only about 8 to 9 kilometres was graded from the Oju main market to Ainu/Ette”
At the Awajir-Oju junction, there is a metal sign post depicting that the road construction was handled by Chinese company “CGGC Global Projects Nigeria Limited.”
Multiple calls made to the company’s contact were unanswered.
Despite Promises, ministry fails to respond
After several attempts to speak with the commissioner for the ministry of works, Transport and Energy, this reporter was redirected to Engr. Alex Ornya, the Director of Civil Engineering at the Ministry of Works, who demanded a formal request for information.
A Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request sent to the ministry on November 9 is yet to be responded to well after the seven days’ response window stipulated by the law.