Some youth in Akwa Ibom State have adopted a unique method to draw the attention of the Nigerian government to a dilapidated federal highway in the state – by asking God to ‘talk’ on their behalf to President Muhammadu Buhari and other officials.
The youth, under the aegis of the South-South Youth Group Crusaders for Change, held an “intercessory” prayer session on Wednesday at a section of the Calabar-Itu federal highway in Akwa Ibom.
They asked God to touch the heart of Mr Buhari and others – the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola; the Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godswill Akpabio; and Mr Buhari’s aide on Niger Delta Affairs, Ita Enang – so that the Nigerian government could rehabilitate the dilapidated road, without further delay.
The youth sat, squatted, and knelt at the edge of the road, while engaging in the unusual prayer, according to a video seen by PREMIUM TIMES.
A man, said to be a cleric, is seen speaking through a megaphone, apparently leading the prayer.
The over 5 million Akwa Ibom population is predominantly Christian, with most people holding on to the belief that every good or bad thing is caused by some supernatural forces.
The Calabar-Itu highway is the only road linking Cross River and Akwa Ibom states. It has remained dilapidated for over a decade, despites occasional attempts by the federal government to repair it.
A section of the highway awarded to Julius Berger for rehabilitation by the Buhari administration appears to have been abandoned for some months now, as construction equipment and workers are no longer seen on site.
“On the last count, contracts for the reconstruction of the Calabar-Itu Road have purportedly been awarded for not less than five times in the last five years of the President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration,” Iniobong Edem, the leader of the youth group, said at the prayer meeting on the highway.
Mr Edem said Mr Buhari’s administration was “playing politics” with the Calabar-Itu highway.
He mentioned some federal highways across the country that have been rehabilitated by the administration.
“On Wednesday, May 3, 2017, the Minister for Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, announced to journalists that the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting of that day approved N54 billion for the reconstruction of the Calabar-Itu Road.
“Fashola gave assurance that the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing had just one memorandum. It was for the award of contract for the reconstruction of the Odukpani-Itu-Ikot Ekpene route linking Akwa Ibom and the Cross River states. The road project was approved for award to Messrs Julius Berger PLC,” Mr Edem said at the prayer meeting.
Mr Edem said the youth were prepared to shut down the road if rehabilitation work does not commence after 28 days.
Victor Matthew, the secretary of the indigenous contractors’ association in Akwa Ibom, who attended the prayer session on the highway as an invited guest, told PREMIUM TIMES that he was among those who prevailed on the youth not to embark on a protest.
“I cannot really tell the heart of the people, but I think every reasonable person should know that before the people should come out like this, they have pains in their heart. It shouldn’t have been the way it is,” Mr Matthew said when asked what he thought would likely happen if the road is not rehabilitated after the prayers.
Thousands of people travelling through Calabar-Itu road daily have horrible experiences.
Endiong John, a journalist who traveled from Uyo to Cross River to cover a proceeding of the Court of Appeal, Calabar, last year, said he spent six hours on the dilapidated road for a journey that would have taken about an hour.
“I trekked a large part of the road because my faith wasn’t strong enough to keep me in the vehicle at very horrible spots. I feared the vehicle would capsize,” Mr John said.
The journalist said he and other passengers assisted to direct traffic on the highway, so that the bus they travelled with could meander through logjam. “We pushed the vehicle when it got buried in mud,” he added.
He said he would prefer to “empty” his savings in order to fly from Uyo to Lagos, and from Lagos to Calabar, instead of going through Calabar-Itu Road again.
Assam Abia, another journalist in Akwa Ibom, said he and others in November last year, turned back from the deplorable road and opted to use a boat to cross the river from Oron to Calabar.
Tijah Bolton-Akpan, the head of a non-governmental organisation, Policy Alert, said because of his driving through the road at least twice in a week, he had to spend more than N150,000 to repair his car suspension system and tyres in three months.
Mr Bolton-Akpan said he has learnt his lessons and now prefers to travel by commercial buses.
“When you ride the commercial buses on that road, you have to travel light and you can’t afford to be dressed for work, because you don’t know at what point the traffic jam will force you to disembark and hop on an okada.
“So commuters are always ready with extra money for bikes, just in case. But the okada ride is another terrible part of the story, a perilous and bumpy ride, dodging trucks, galloping hundreds of tiny hills and valleys on the road and swimming through several rivers of mud that often leave your clothes messy and your body groaning,” he said.
“Just yesterday, I spent six hours between Uyo and Calabar, and that’s because I hopped on a bike for a part of the journey. At several points, the road gets so cramped that not even a bike can meander through and you have to trek a distance,” he added.
Drivers, trying to beat long hours of traffic hold-up on the dilapidated Calabar-Itu Road, sometimes resort to some village roads in Itu, Akwa Ibom State, as a diversion.
But they have to contend with illegal roadblocks mounted by youth who would force them to part with some money.
In November last year, a PREMIUM TIMES reporter counted more than five of such illegal roadblocks when he passed through the village roads, using a taxi.
“We need money to buy pure water,” a young man said at one of the illegal roadblocks, as the taxi driver handed a hundred naira note to him.
A few weeks ago, on November 6, the reporter took another ride through the Calabar-Itu road.
Nothing really has changed, apart from some patches on the road.
“The major problem I see (about the Calabar-Itu road) is not on the contractor, it’s on the release of funds to the contractor to do its own part of the work,” Akon Eyakenyi, a senator representing the Akwa Ibom South District, said on the floor of the Senate last year.
“We have lost so many lives. Those who can’t go through the seven hours drive on the road, return to Oron using a speed boat. Again, that waterfront we used to have ferries that commuters, when entering, would be sure their lives are safe. The ferry service is no more there, the only thing left is the small speed boat without life jackets and in the course of crossing, they get drowned,” she said.