In the recent past, Arochukwu has been in the news for the wrong reasons. Visitors to the ancient town have been jolted and shocked to find that to access the town, even with the best four wheel vehicles, is one of the worst forms of punishment. Those who have managed to brave the journey, although at personal risks, have had only tales of woe, frustration and anger.
Before the rainy season, the road was in a terrible state of disrepair, having since failed while potholes and gullies described its best state. But since the rains, the narrative has gone worse. The road has now been cut into two at several points, the most notorious being the Umuchiakuma hill, Ugwu Slessor and Akanu.
Newspaper columnists, commentators and public spirited individuals have had to pour out their hearts over a federal road that is less than thirty seven kilometers. Segun Adeniyi, accomplished journalist and This Day columnist who is not new to the challenges of underdevelopment could not mask his disgust and disappointment after a journey through the road. He wrote in Thisday of 23rd July, 2015“I lack words to describe what we experienced on that road. I can say that it is the worst road I’ve ever travelled in this country. I still cannot understand the criminal neglect of the road to Arochukwu, a popular and historic town that one has heard so much about”. Long before that, Dr. Okey Ikechukwu , erudite philosopher and writer, in a similar intervention, had warned that from what he saw of the equipment dumped at the site by the contractor- two wheel barrows and a broken down truck- even the most incurable optimist had reason to fear for the road.
It is not as if the federal government is oblivious of the state of this road. The road which was first constructed in the sixties is a major artery linking Abia state with Cross River and Akwa-Ibom states.
The road has been featured in many federal government budgets. A major effort was in the nineties, when the federal government under the Petroleum Trust Fund awarded the contract for the construction of the Umuahia/Ohafia/Arochukwu road to Elite Construction Company Limited. The contractor built the road up to Ohafia when there was a change of government, and the PTF concept was abandoned. Needless to say, the road was also abandoned.
Having become a major embarrassment, the state government attempted to reconstruct the road, but this was also abandoned when the federal government again showed interest.
The latest effort at reconstructing the road was in 2012, when the federal government awarded the job to Beks Kimse Nigeria Limited, at an initial cost of 4.7 billion naira, out of which, the contractor collected 346 million naira. The Federal Executive Council approved an additional sum of 2.2 billion naira to the contractor in March, 2013. Till date, the contractor is yet to reconstruct up to one kilometer of the thirty-seven kilometer road. The period of completion of the road had been extended to October, 2015 but the contractor has since abandoned site.
The community has set up several committees to interface with the various tiers of government as well as the contractor. There have been countless delegations by the Nzuko Arochukwu leadership. Our elected representatives have cried themselves hoarse. Letters- open and secret- have been written by prominent sons of Arochukwu and concerned neighbours appealing that the road be given the desired attention, all to no avail.
Because of the unique, historical and cultural position of Arochukwu added to the fact that its people are among the most widely travelled in the continent, Arochukwu will always attract important visitors. International diplomats, historians, archaeologists, anthropologists, religionists and tourists will always find reasons to visit Arochukwu. Therefore reconstructing this Arochukwu/Ohafia road will do a lot in facilitating social interaction among the over 60 communities affected and drive economic activities. It will also wipe away the needless embarrassment this country suffers when foreigners and Nigerians from other parts of the country ply this road, arguably the worst federal road in the country.
It may be fortuitous that the most impressive attempt to rebuild the road was under President Buhari’s PTF. Now that he is back in power, we believe and trust that the sad story of the road will soon come to an end. This may just be the highest legacy President Buhari may be bequeathing to the memories of Mazi S. G. Ikoku and Prof. Chimere Ikoku, his late friends, and selfless patriots.