Andy Esiet, Calabar
The rains are here again and the nightmare at Calabar-Itu Federal highway remains the same, while speed boat operators at the Calabar-Oron water ways smile to the banks.
Motorists and commuters spend between five to 10 hours a day to get to either Calabar or Uyo as the case may be. Trailers, trucks are the worst hit as they find it difficult to meander through the dangerous and numerous gully-like potholes that liter the about 100km stretch of the bad road.
As at last Saturday not less than 23 broken or stuck trucks and few cars were counted on the bad road that beckons urgency from Julius Berger, the contractor that was mobilised to site by the Federal Government.
In most cases motorists and commuters are held up for hours in the traffic that often stretch for over a kilometre. A commercial bus driver who simply gave his name as Johnson said, “it is hell driving or travelling on this road. Between Calabar and Itu there is no section that is good. Some drivers have abandoned this route for other routes. We visit the mechanics almost every two days. This is not good. Some passengers going to Oron or Eket axis now prefer to go by water using speed boats and we as commercial drivers are losing. Most taxis have withdrawn and I will advise any motorist with a low car not to attempt driving Calabar-Itu road, it is a disaster.
“We are begging the contractors and the government to hasten up on the work. We know they will use the rain season as an excuse for the slow pace but contract for this road was awarded two years ago”.
However, boat operators at Safe Journey beach in Marina, Calabar and the Marina beach in Oron are making brisk business as many people prefer using water to travel to Akwa Ibom or Calabar.
A passenger, Mr Okon Friday said he prefers using the speed boat even though it is expensive but you are certain of getting to your destination on time. He said, “I prefer the water route which takes about 30 minutes or less to Oron instead of the stress on Calabar-Itu highway. Although it is expensive, we pay N2, 500 to Oron from Calabar instead of N1, 000. It’s better and even safe because passengers are given life jackets to wear and security checks mounted at different points on the water ways” .
The Cross River Council of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ) at its congress of June 30, presided over by the State Chairman, Comrade Victor Udu condemned the slow pace of work on the Calabar-Itu highway.
A communique endorsed by the Chairman and the Secretary, Mr Oka Ibor appealed to the Federal Government to mount pressure on the contractors handling the reconstruction of the road “to expedite work on the project and ensure its timely completion to reduce the high rate of carnage on the road due to its current deplorable condition”.
The Congress however commended President Muhammadu Buhari for the completion of the newly constructed Ikom Bridge in Ikom Local Government Area of the State, noting that, ” it will reduce the plight of commuters and improve economic activities as it is a major inter and intra State evacuation corridor” which will now make it easy for trailers carrying containers from Calabar Port to the northern part of the country to pass easily.
Hitherto the old canopy colonial bridge at Ikom never allowed trailers carrying containers from the port to cross due to its low canopy roof. Even though work has started on the highway the pace is very slow and officials of Julius Berger at the site in Odukpani declined comments.
But one of the site supervisors who pleaded anonymity told the Pillar Today that, “contract was awarded since last year but we were mobilised to site in May this year after compensations were paid to affected persons. For now we’re doing earth work and piling. The rain too is slowing us down but we are working”.