Traveling the highway from Benin City in Edo State to Warri in Delta State used to be a breeze. That was several years ago when the road was still in good shape. However, the current dilapidated state of the Federal Government road has led to countless deaths and long delays in travel time. IDAHOSA MOSES writes about the state of the road, its significance and the toll it has taken on the lives of the people of the region.
Road infrastructure is arguably about the most important of all public assets. Roads are critical component in the fight against poverty and unemployment as it stimulates the economic and social development of any country.
Roads are also important source of employment, social, health and education services. Roads open up more areas and stimulate economic and social development.
But a look at the Benin-Sapele-Warri Road, a distance of 100.88km, one may be forced to weep over the sorry state of large portions of the road which connects Edo, Delta, Bayelsa and Rivers states. The road is now characterised with heavy potholes.
Benin to Warri is a journey that ordinarily should take not more than one hour. However, the same distance on this road now costs motorists and other users several hours resulting in a loss of time and other resources.
There have been several reported cases of accidents due to drivers’ attempts to manoevre the bad spots. Motorists are forced to drive against traffic and end up killing other road users in the process.
It is ironical that Benin-Warri Road is located in the region that is the major contributor to the country’s treasury from which resources are used to develop road infrastructure elsewhere in Nigeria.
Reminiscing the glory days
A resident of Benin shared what used to be his experience while travelling the road in the past. He said, “Traveling on the Benin-Warri Road used to be one of the easiest in the country as the road was well constructed and had good asphalt laying. Little wonder that back then, one could go to Warri and come back to Benin four to five times a day. The journey then was like an intra-city one. I could remember vividly sometime in October 2001 when I had to ply the Benin-Warri Road twice in a day. I was invited to Warri by my paternal uncle to spend the long holiday. Excitedly, I set out for the journey at about 11:30 am and exactly 12:20 pm, I was already in the oil city (Effurun, Warri) without any hitches on the road.
“I eventually arrived at my final destination in Warri around 12:30pm and after exchanging the normal pleasantries with my uncle, his wife and children. I was shocked to hear my uncle ask me, ‘where are your books?’ Those were books that were supposed to keep me in shape ahead of the new term and class. I fearfully answered my uncle that I left my books in Benin. To further compound my issue, my uncle’s children were far junior to me in class. My uncle was so furious that he told me to start heading back to Benin for the books
“After resting for about an hour, my uncle gave me N500 and told me to go back to Benin and get my books. So. I left Warri at about 1:30 pm and to my surprise, I arrived Ring Road in Benin City at exactly 2:20 pm. I went straight to my house at Plymouth Road and by 3:00pm, I was done arranging my books.
“So around 3:10pm I set out for my journey back to Warri again. By 4pm, I was already in Warri. The journey was so smooth that I never felt any discomfort on the way. Those were the glorious days of the Benin-Warri Road.”
Critical portions of the Benin-Warri, which was once the joy of motorists and other road users, are now in a pitiable state.
Worst hit on this road are Limit junction, Peanut junction, Obe, Ogheghe junction by bypass, Evbokhun junction, Ologbo (a border community between Edo and Delta states), Sapele junction by Amokpe. These are some of the failed portions of the once glorious Benin-Warri Road.
These sections of the road only get worse especially whenever there is heavy rainfall; heavy-duty trucks and trailers often get stuck because of the deplorable state of the road.
The poor state of the road has led to increased incidences of accidents and robbery.
Fire on the road
On October 1, 2023, when the country was set to mark its independence, it woke up to a sad tale of an explosion and fire on the very busy road at the Ologbo-Ugbenu axis of the Benin-Warri Road, the boundary between Edo and Delta State. The fire, which was said to have started at about 12 am, happened due to a fallen petroleum tanker, leaving scores of commuters stranded, injured and dead.
An eyewitness, Samson Ismail, a truck driver, explained that while in traffic, he noticed several people running towards a tanker carrying petrol.
“I was wondering what was happening when I heard the loud sound of an explosion and a huge fire behind my bus. I and my colleague had to run for our safety. When we returned, the raging fire had subsided. I saw three dead bodies by the side of my burnt bus. My bus was totally burnt with 133,000 gallons of palm oil I was transporting from Warri to Abuja. I have lost my only source of livelihood. I cannot relay to the owner of the goods. I am now stranded, but I must thank God that He spared my life.”
Michael Emmanuel, a bike rider, also stated that while picking passengers, “I heard a loud noise of something falling, followed by a loud bang and fire that engulfed vehicles. I had to abandon my bike and jump into the Ologbo River for safety. When I returned in the morning to carry my bike, I counted over five dead bodies, and as we speak, we are still recovering dead bodies from the river.”
Also, Mr Abraham Oworo narrated that he had travelled only to return to the news of the demise of his wife. “I was not at home when the incident occurred; I was on a business trip when I got a call from my in-law that my wife had been missing since Sunday. I arrived October 4, and have been searching for her until I identified her corpse in the swamp. I am shattered because I have a three-year-old daughter in the house whom she left behind. Presently, I don’t even have money to take her to the village for burial. We have contacted her family, but they are yet to come. We just had to leave her body there for now because we don’t have money to get an ambulance to take her to the mortuary or even for her burial now.”
Another victim, Mrs Grace Okorefe, a trader from Oghara town, narrated how her husband’s bus conveying market women was burnt to ashes and all their goods also burnt to ashes. Her husband is still receiving treatment from the burns he sustained. She said, “This bus is our family’s main source of income, and now it is burnt. We are calling on the government to come and help us—the pains and suffering on this road are too much.”
A team from a non-governmental organisation, Health of Mother Earth Foundation (HOMEF), visited the scene a few days after the accident occurred. Cadmus Atake-Enade, HOMEF’s Project Lead, in a statement sent to Nigerian Tribune, called on the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on the Benin-Warri Road, especially the Ologbo-Ugbenu axis of the highway, noting that the road plays a very vital role in the economy of the nation.
“The whole of East-West Road (of which Benin-Warri Road is a part of) must be fixed. The road has caused a lot of harm to the people, lives have been lost, investments have been destroyed, and lives and livelihoods of surrounding communities are all being affected by the deplorable state of the road. We call on the Federal Government to commence immediate repairs and reconstruction of the road in order to avert more dangers and deaths.”
Executive Director of HOMEF, Nnimmo Bassey, regretted that the state of the road has further compounded the deplorable environmental conditions of the Niger Delta.
“Although the issue of bad roads is a reoccurring decimal across Nigeria, the East-West Road has suffered unconscionable neglect, and this has further constricted the livelihoods of the people,” he said.
“Our collective humanity is severely damaged by the neglect of the road. Government should wake up to its responsibility. This is no time to be silent. What happened here on Independence Day is a nativism tragedy.”
When residents cry out, the state governments are quick to remind them that the road is the Federal Government’s road.
However, the Edo State government recently decided to carry out a cosmetic intervention on its portion of the road that is unlikely to stand the test of time, especially during another raining season.
It was reported that prior to the completion of his second tenure, former President Muhammadu Buhari had approved the reconstruction of the Benin/Sapele/Warri Road, according to the then Minister of State for Budget and National Planning, Mr Clem Agba. However, there was no sign of any construction or rehabilitation on the road till that administration expired.
However, the present Minister of Works, David Umahi, recently visited the road, particularly the Ologbo section and lamented the deplorable state of the failed portion. He assured that the present administration would reconstruct the road and make it passable again.
The minister, during his visit to Edo State, identified contractors as a serious challenge to road development in Nigeria. Stakeholders are of the opinion that a full reconstruction and rehabilitation of the entire Benin-Warri Road is needed in order to make life easier for the road users. This can be achieved with the active collaboration among the federal, Edo and Delta state governments and the private sector.