By Kelechi Deca
The above has become the key question on the lips of many, both residents and travelers visiting or passing through the Imo State .That is why before embarking on a journey to, or through the State, people ask; Hope Uzodimma in Imo State? Intriguingly in a very interesting way, Uzodimma is the name of the state governor, and could transliterated into “good road” in Igbo, so the question and the context seem to have achieved the intention of holding the chief executive responsible for the state of roads in Imo State. Owerri, being is a junction city, with direct road links to five major cities has multiplier effects not only on the lives, and economic activities of people living in the State, but also the adjoining states of Rivers, Anambra, Abia, and Enugu, and to a large extent Akwa-Ibom and Cross River.
Tellingly, Imo State has never had it so bad in terms of the state of its road network. Unfortunately, the state government instead of doing the needful, has been busy claiming that the roads are federal roads and thus outside its jurisdiction. Yet many states across the federation have at different times jettisoned that weak argument about federal roads to at least save major arterial ways from total collapse. Lagos State government could have conveniently left most of the major roads in the state to be dilapidated because they are federal roads. But the government of Lagos is even reconstructing major roads like Ikorodu Road while fixing other dilapidated ‘federal roads’ across the state.
Traveling to Imo State through the major gateway of Onitsha-Owerri expressway has become a nightmare. People spend upwards of three hours at Mgbidi because of the failed portion on the highway. That it has been in that condition for over seven months, as if in celebration of the government’s insensitivity says a lot about governance in Imo State. What would it take to fix that single spot? As if that is not enough, driving from Port Harcourt to Owerri becomes hellish as soon as one enters Imo State. A failed portion of the road at Umuapu and another one by Imo State Polytechnic, Umuagwo have become death traps that the government has refused to do anything on.
Driving to Enugu, via Okigwe from Owerri is a daily nightmare to those condemned to ply that route. Akabo-Ikeduru hosts a huge water body that even those with four wheel drive vehicles struggle to navigate. It is such a menace to road users that those traveling to Enugu presently drive through Umuahia to link up the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway, adding two hours to the journey.
But from Owerri to Umuahia is another painful exercise in human patience. The first taste of this bitter sojourn starts at Heartland FM Radio Station bordering Mbaise and Azaraegbelu. Six kilometers later is another spot at Nkwogwu by the Imo Sports Commission Office, and then at Oboama Nguru is another huge crater. Leaving Mbaise to Achingali Obowo at a place called Ogwoghoroanya is the icing on the cake. From there to the Local Government Headquarters, Otoko is another dangerous spot. In a nutshell, travelers from Owerri to Enugu who divert to Umuahia thinking they have escaped bad spots, will find themselves between a rock and a very hard place before reaching Umuahia.
A more tearful experience is traveling from Owerri to the commercial city of Aba. This is particularly an excruciating experience in that both human and vehicular parts are subjected to heavy depreciations after the journey. Between Okpuala junction and the Nigerian Navy Finance and Logistics College, Owerrinta is a stretch of failed portion that adds about 30 minutes delay to the journey to Aba. I deliberately left other inter connecting routes, inner city roads and link roads connecting local governments. But if the key roads are in this state, then use your imagination. Yet the state government is on a major television network every weekend blowing its trumpets.
Ordinarily, one would have expected the state government to work towards mitigating some of these by at least embarking on palliative measures aimed at fixing some of the above identified failed spots as the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) is foot-dragging on addressing these spots on mostly Trunk B major highways. Rather His Excellency is more interested in regulating social media in Nigeria, as if the social media is responsible for the bad roads, not to talk of failure to provide other infrastructure. Is it not interesting how the social media seem to have become a rallying point for the Nigerian leadership class?
The Governor was quoted as saying that it (social media) is “being used to cause trouble in the country”. Speaking on the recently hijacked #EndSars protests, he was so sure that “opposition party incited hoodlums to cause trouble in Imo, because the real protesters went off the street after my address and assurances to them.”
It could be recalled that prior to the protests, youth in the state used live videos to draw attention to the state of road infrastructure. They shot videos of themselves having drinks, eating or relaxing in the middle of roads abandoned due to failed spots. These sarcastic videos went viral, embarrassing the government and debunking the claims that they are on top of the situation. Such brazen actions put paid to government propaganda on the state of infrastructure in the state. That is why before embarking on a journey to Imo State people are wont to ask, “ I hope Uzodimma in Imo” because as the Igbo say, “ uzodimma a gaa ya nga n’abu”.