Stephen Ukandu, Umuahia
The construction firm handling the reconstruction of Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene federal road, Heartland Construction Company, has blamed the slow pace of work on the road on scarcity of bitumen and diesel.
Project Manager of the company, Hisham Yassin, who disclosed this while fielding questions from newsmen during an inspection tour of the project by the Member representing Ikwuano-Umuahia federal constituency in the House of Representatives, Hon Sam Onuigbo, said that shortage of construction materials had been the major setback for the N13.3 billion project.
Umuahia-Ikoto Ekpene federal road serves as the major link between Akwa Ibom and Cross River States and South-Eastern States, but due to gross neglect, the highway has been a nightmare to motorists and commuters.
After years of public outcry and intense lobbying, the Federal Government, in 2019, awarded the 49-kilometer single-carriage highway to Heartland Construction Company.
The project which was for total reconstruction of the road was to be financed by the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC, with a completion time of four years.
During the inspection, Yassin told newsmen that the construction company had received up to 25% mobilisation for the project.
Although he noted that there was no proper funding in the first year, the issue of funding is no longer an impediment, he admitted.
“There was no proper funding in the first year, last year’s funds came late, but proper funding started this year.”
Yassin said that the company was making serious efforts to tackle some bad portions of the road before the rains set in fully around May.
He said that about six kilometers out of the 49 kilometers had been so far delivered.
According to him, work will resume on the road in dry season after the rains, although he said palliative work will be given to some deserving portions as an interim measure.
The project Manager who assured high quality job on the road, estimated that it would take about two more years to deliver the project.
Speaking during the inspection, Rep Onuigbo noted that some very bad spots on the road that were almost impassable in the past had been tackled.
He, however, urged the contractor to carry out palliative work on some critically bad portions to make them passable before they are finally rehabilitated.
The House Committee Chairman on Climate Change vowed to sustain his engagement with the necessary stakeholders and Government agencies until the project which he said was very dear to him, was fully delivered.
Rep Onuigbo who recalled how he initiated efforts for the rehabilitation of the road back in 2016, expressed delight that despite some hiccups, total rehabilitation had finally commenced on the road.
“I’m happy that this is the first time this road is undergoing major reconstruction since it was built. We have had Governors, Senators and Rep members before me but I’m glad I was able to attract this very important project.
“Significant improvement has been recorded since the project started. Some of the very bad sections that were almost impassable at some point, have been fixed, and work is on-going.
“I will continue to engage until it is finally completed,” Onuigbo said.
He also visited the 300-meter under ground tunnel at Awom Oboro Community where the flood waters from the highway were channeled into the valley where the company was also controlling a menacing erosion site.
The lawmaker who was received by enthusiastic locals expressed satisfaction with the level and quality of work at the erosion site.
Onuigbo who thanked the Federal Government for its intervention in some erosion sites in the constituency, appealed for quick intervention at Umunwanwa erosion site in Umuahia South where petroleum pipeline has been exposed to danger.
The two-term lawmaker who lost his senatorial bid at the February 25 national assembly poll although he is still at the tribunal following the omission of his party logo on the ballot paper, also commissioned other projects he attracted to some communities.
They included a hospital at Oloko Ikwuano; three-classroom block at Awom Umudike Community Primary School; a six-classroom block at Amaoba Community Central School; and Skill Acquisition Centre at Ubakala, Umuahia South.
Later in an interview with newsmen, Rep Onuigbo regretted that his efforts to build a federal secretariat in Umuahia were frustrated by the out-going administration in the state which failed to play its role for the project to commence.
He, however, expressed delight that the in-coming administration of Dr Alex Otti would realise the project which he said, was in the best interest of the state, hinting that he has done the necessary underground works and secured approval for it.
The lawmaker, also hinted that approval had been granted for the dualisation of 16-killometre Umuahia-Umudike road with a ‘flyover’ at the Abia Tower express junction of the road to decongest traffic at the expressway.
Some of his constituents including the traditional ruler of Awom Oboro, HRH Eze Chukwudike Ironsi; Ozo A.O Adima and Deaconess Helen Udo of Oloko Community, applauded Rep Onuigbo for his unprecedented efforts in attracting federal projects to the constituency.
Deaconess Udo thanked Onuigbo for coming to the rescue of women by siting the hospital in the community.
Onuigbo had earlier, expressed his detest to the action of some misguided persons in the community, who had earlier opposed the project.
But the community leaders pleaded with him for forgiveness.
They pledged their continued support for him while urging him to fast-track the completion of the on-going projects in the area before the expiration of his tenure in June.
The Speakers appealed to the in-coming Rep member not to abandon any uncompleted federal project in the constituency.