By Philip Jakpor
When 46-year-old Josephine Ebi Oleze, a mother of four woke up in the morning of 14 August 2023 she never knew it was her last day on earth. Some days earlier she had been feeling unwell and thought it was just the regular bout of malaria or typhoid that most of the natives are used to. But on this day the symptoms seemed different. As the day progressed she felt body pain, extreme tiredness, and irregular palpitation of the heart. At about noon she was rushed to Wanokom Primary Health Center – the only medical facility serving eight communities that share only one road – the Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue Border Road in Yala Local Government Area of Cross River State.
Her family felt she would get succour there but they were mistaken. The center did not have enough personnel or electricity generator or an ambulance which would be needed to move the patient to better equipped hospitals outside the community in a worst case scenario.
When her situation was deemed beyond the capacity of the center they gave her family a referral. The family had to rely on a motorbike to get her to another hospital about 50 kilometers away through very bad road. She was sandwiched between her husband and a bike man, and off they went. A few minutes into the journey on the bumpy road she gave up the ghost. Josephine was from Ikemoha-Wanokom, one of the communities cut off from civilization due to the state of the road they shared with Ebo, Okpodo, Ezekwe, Igede, Wanehim, Wanikande and Yahe communities. She was buried on 14 October 2023.
Josephine’s case is one of the few out of many cases of deaths and tragedies attributable to the neglect of the Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue Border Road. The project is yet to be completed 7 years after it was certified complete by AfDB under the Cross River Rural Access and Mobility Project (CR-RAMP).
According to the AFDB Data Portal, The RAMP project seeks to build adequate, low-cost, safe, environmentally responsible and efficient transport system as part of the context of a market economy that is developing gradually and is competitive. RAMP aims to improve transport and mobility in rural areas, which is also one of the Bank’s priorities in its interventions in these areas.
The AfDB is said to have paid N792.863 million to Emamed Nigeria Limited, a Nigerian contractor for the construction of the 37.5km stretch of the road where the eight communities are located but the firm only built 5km and stopped work in 2011. In an appraisal report published June 2018, the AfDB certified the CR RAMP had been completed in 2016.
The entire project aimed to cover a total area covering 477.5km and benefit 180,000 households or approximately 1.3 million rural community members. It was learnt that after Emamed abandoned the project, in 2017 the Cross River State Government re-awarded the contract to another firm, Sydney Construction Nigeria Limited for the sum of N3.8 billion. There was also an extravagant ground-breaking ceremony flagging off the re-award of the road on 9 November 2018 in Yahe. Disturbingly the firm did not carry out any rehabilitation work. Successive administrations in the state, the most recent being former governor, Ben Ayade claimed to have committed billions of naira into the project but there is nothing to show for those huge sums.
Impacts of the neglect of that section of the road have been unquantifiable in human and financial terms. Aside needless deaths like that of Josephine, the typically farming community do not derive commensurate benefits for being the food basket of the state and region. Farmers in the affected communities grow yam and rice.
“This area is known for agricultural production, and we are traditionally farmers. Most of the produce sold exorbitantly in Abakiliki including the popular Abaikili rice comes from here. But moving them from here is the major challenge of farmers hence we sell at a loss for those who dare the bad rods to come here to buy”, says Boniface Lugbada from Wanokom community.
This position was re-echoed by Denis Otuji from Wanakom who insists that people in the community are already self-employed through farming but only need road to convey their produce to the markets. “Aside rice, cassava is big business today. It is used to produce formaldehyde but if we produce it, who will buy? We are not asking for too much, we are only asking for good road”.
The treacherous road also creates obstacles to the financial independence of many women in the communities and prevents them from accessing potential customers. They are also exposed to the exploitative tendencies of opportunistic buyers from neighbouring, further worsening the economic hardships they face.
“We expend as much as N2500 daily on a one-way journey on motorbikes to get our produce to town. We expend that much also for our children to go to school and come back home,” Martina Ikade, a widow from Wanikande narrates.
But there are also limitations to their movement in the community at certain times of the day. According to Ekide Mercy, also from Wanakom, in the night women can’t go out to fetch water for cooking and other domestic uses. She explained that whenever we attempt it, they are usually bitten by snakes leading to fatal consequences sometimes.
“This is the situation we have been experiencing with successive administrations in the state”, she lamented.
Our government has Failed Us!
Following the tradition of previous administrations, in July 2023 the current governor of Cross River, Senator Bassey Otu met with the Clan Head of Wanokom, Chief Denis Ugede, in his palace, and promised to complete the road project to boost economic activities and ease movement.
“The road has been a problem to my people. So, I decided to come personally for an on-the-spot assessment. This is to enable us to begin reconstruction work when dry season comes,” he said.
But the locals told NewsArcade that they are not very convinced. They said that successive administrations in the state have only preyed on them for votes while promising to rehabilitate the road. They narrated that it is only during the election season that politicians brave the odds and navigate the bad road to canvass votes and after securing their seats, cut off any form of communication with them. They said that several letters written to the state government and the State House of Assembly have yielded no result.
They related how in 2019 Hon Cynthia Nkasi who is the member representing Yala II State constituency in the Cross River State House of Assembly conducted some hurried grading of the road during her campaigns to secure votes. They revealed that the grading exercise was shoddy and worsened the condition road when the rains came.
They also revealed that in 2021 youths of Ukelle under the aegis of Ukelle Youths Development Forum (UYDF) took a swipe at the Ayade government over claims at the time that construction work on the road was ongoing during events to mark his sixth year in office. They had described the claims as misleading, unfortunate and unfounded, adding that it was an act best described as a total disservice to the entire Ukelle people.
In 2022 the Senator representing Cross River North senatorial district at the National Assembly, Senator Jarigbe Agom Jarigbe also announced the rehabilitation of the road even going as far as pointing out that if completed, the road would boost economic activities in the senatorial district. Unfortunately, the construction exercise is yet to manifest. The road is not the only challenge of the locals. Electricity is also a major challenge as the few homes that are able to afford it expend humongous sums on electricity. With the recent pledge of Goverbor Otu the locals are on another anxious journey. They hope something positive will happen this time. Until the promises materialize in concrete terms, the Yahe-Wanokom-Wanikade-Benue Border Road will only be associated with loss of lives, loss of livelihoods and increasing poverty, the exact opposite of what the AfDB says it wants to achieve with the RAMP initiative.