The Ohafia – Arochukwu road is a 23-kilometer (14.3 miles) federal road which runs from Ebem in Ohafia to Amuvi village in Arochukwu local government. Along this stretch of road lie two major towns of Ihechiowa and Ututu which form parts of the local government area, along with Abam and Isu communities with an estimated population of 169,000 people. This road, first constructed during the First Republic era, was last extensively reconstructed during the Second Republic government of Shehu Shagari. Since then, subsequent repairs by succeeding governments have been nothing more than grading during the dry season and filling of major potholes in the rainy season. During the Sani Abacha administration, contract was awarded for reconstruction of the road from Ohafia to Arochukwu, under the Petroleum Trust Fund program headed by the then General Muhammadu Buhari (rtd), current Nigerian civilian president. The contractor elected to start from the Ohafia end and work their way down to Arochukwu; in 1999, when work had already reached parts of Ebem Ohafia, the Obasanjo administration decided to wind down PTF and reverted this and many other road projects back to the Federal Ministry of Works. This signaled the beginning of the sufferings of the communities along this road, and those who ply it on a daily basis.
The purpose of this essay is not to chronicle the story of failed political promises or abandoned road projects by contractors; rather, it is to examine the health, social and economic impact of the deplorable state of this 14.3 mile stretch of federal road, which, under normal conditions, should take only 30 minutes from Ebem Ohafia to Amuvi Arochukwu, on the resident and business communities of Ihechiowa, Ututu, Arochukwu and those of neighboring communities which use this road on a daily basis. We first begin with the effects on the general health of the patrons:
Effect on Personal and Public health
Due to the deteriorated nature of the road,
1. A journey of an hour from Arochukwu to Umuahia, where better health services are available, takes 3 hours. This results in major delays in accessing better healthcare facilities in Umuahia and Aba for emergency situations, thereby leading to exacerbation of existing health situation and, eventually, death.
2. There is increased frequency of accidents resulting in multiple death and dismemberments. Aside from these accidents, plying the road in the worst of seasons, especially with public transportation, may have resulted in many pregnancy miscarriages. Lack of evidence to this claim may be attributed to two reasons: one, there are no existing records; because, two, commuters have not made a correlation between the loss of a pregnancy soon after plying the road and the condition of the road itself.
3. The dusty nature of the road in the dry season, especially immediately after grading, either results in onset of many respiratory illnesses in the most vulnerable – especially the children and elderly, or compounds existing situations in many who are already suffering various kinds of respiratory ailments.
4. Also, for the weak and elderly, plying the Arochukwu – Ohafia road could (and do) result in muscular-skeletal displacements, including hip, knee and ankle strains and dislocation. All of these strain not only the skeletal health services available to these rural communities, but their personal budgets too, since only a very few of them could afford to pay for private healthcare.
Effects on the local Economy
Compounding the health problems inherent in plying this federal road is the dire economic impact on both public and private transport owners. For commercial vehicle operators, the frequent breakdown of their vehicles means frequent stops at mechanic workshops for one form of repairs or the other; these repair costs are then transferred to the patrons in the form of high transportation costs. Non-commercial vehicle owners equally face the same situation, though at much less frequency than the commercial operators. All the same, they face the options of either subjecting their vehicles to the rigors of the road, or utilize the services of commercial transporters. Either way, there are costs involved; apart from the transportation cost, there are costs in terms of time wasted, inconvenience and personal health risks, all of which if monetized adds up to a substantial sum. Using one’s personal vehicle equally subjects one to the same costs, inconvenience, and risks associated with the terrible state of the road.
Most commercial vehicle operators elect not to ply the road entirely, thereby subjecting prospective passengers to hours of uncertainty. A decline in transportation services directly impact commercial activities within and around the bothering communities. Local roadside businesses that depend on sales from motorists and passengers for their daily sustenance experience a decrease in sales due to a slowdown in the volume of commercial travel. This same decline in volume results in high cost of transportation of people and commercial consumer goods from the major cities like Umuahia, Uzuakoli, and Ohafia to the bothering communities of Ihechiowa, Ututu, and Arochukwu. These extra costs are passed on – just like the repair costs - to the local consumers some of whom may not be able to afford these goods; this situation results in some of these businesses either closing up shop or relocating to a greener pastures in the cities.
Apart from the negative impact on economic activities, there is the damage to existing infrastructures, both public and private. Most of the residential houses, commercial buildings, and public facilities like schools, clinics and government facilities are either covered in red dust for many months in the year or exposed to other severe elements of nature, and this contributes to expedited deterioration of these structures and decrease in property values.
Where an effective and efficient tax collection system exists, reduced commercial activity in these affected communities results in lower tax revenue for the local government, and a dearth of funds to provide badly-needed social services to the communities.
The Impact on Social Services
There are a few major ways the state of the Ohafia-Arochukwu road could impact the host communities socially:
1. The dearth in private commercial activity results in increased unemployment; this, consequentially, leads to a rise in criminal activities by the unemployed youths. The absence of government institutions, and/or job-creating programs, which could absorb those unemployed from the private sector, influences the decision to resort to crime for daily sustenance. It is on record that, in the past few years, the three major communities of Arochukwu, Ututu, and Ihechiowa have witnessed an increase in unemployment among its employable age bracket; at the same time period, there is a corresponding increase in various criminal activities – including murder, in some cases.
2. The current state of the road has, also, caused a drastic reduction in social interaction among the neighboring communities. This affects not only friendly social interactions; it also impacts the frequency of cultural exchanges, governmental agency interactions, and inter-school athletic programs. The state of the road has, over the years, contributed to a reduction in the number of traders and customers from Ututu who patronize the New Market at Arochukwu, and the dry fish market at the Akwa Ibom communities bothering Arochukwu. The situation is equally the same of patrons to major markets at Ututu and Ihechiowa communities; with this reduction in the number of those engaged in commercial activities come a reduction in trade volume, which affects revenue generation at both individual and government level.
3. Another thing that suffers is the preventive rural healthcare programs provided by the various levels of government to the local communities; programs like child immunization and well-woman services provided free by the government are either routinely postponed, or shelved completely, because city government healthcare staff refuse to subject themselves to the rigors of plying this road. Rural water and power supply projects, community clinics, police stations and even the local magistrate offices, also suffer the same fate as the preventive healthcare programs because government technicians refuse to travel to any of these communities to effect necessary repairs on government infrastructures. All these contribute to an atmosphere of general neglect and abandonment, leading to increased cases of infectious diseases.
How can the three major communities of Ihechiowa, Ututu, and Arochukwu benefit from a repair/reconstruction of this road? First, the local economies will benefit from the influx of what one might term “weekenders”; these are indigenes of these communities who reside in faraway cities as Aba, Umuahia, Port Harcourt, Enugu, and Owerri who prefer the peace and quiet of the rural communities on weekends. The revenues local businesses generate from these weekenders could be reinvested towards business expansion resulting in job creation, and improvement of social services to better cater for the elderly community. Not only this, for communities like Arochukwu with tourist sites like the Long Juju, slave trade routes, and the Slave artefacts museum, among many others, continued influx of non-indigenes to the community could spur development of these tourism sites to attract more visitors and international attention. Another benefit is the improvement of intra-village roads in these communities. Constant vehicular use of these pathways will result in their widening and recession/ elimination of brushes, thereby making it safer for pedestrian use.
As one can see, there are so many direct and accessory benefits accruing from the repair/reconstruction of this one 23-kilometer deathtrap; decreased travel time from Ohafia to Arochukwu, less repair and transportation cost for commercial transporters, reduced health problems for all who ply this road, quick access to better health facilities in Umuahia and Aba, improved local business environment leading to increased job opportunities, reduction in petty crimes occasioned by unemployment, more tax revenue into the local government coffers for provision of social services, quicker evacuation of consumer farm produce from farms to markets in the city, reduced food costs, and reduced mortality rate. If governments at every level were to factor in all of the above in their decision making as to which infrastructural services to provide to the people, they would make the reconstruction of the Ohafia-Arochukwu road a priority.