JEBBA-MOKWA: A BRIDGE TOO FAR

Nats Onoja Agbo

Nigerians woke up on Sunday, 10 June 2018 to learn that the Tatabu/ Gidan Moin bridge along the Jebba-Mokwa road had collapsed. The collapse of that bridge is a national tragedy for several reasons. First, the signs were there: a week earlier, another bridge on the same road, the Bokani bridge, along Tegina-Makera road, collapsed. The major tragedy is that despite the signals that those bridges, which were constructed more than 40 years ago, had fallen on bad times, there was no conscious effort on the part of the government to rehabilitate them. Secondly, the collapse of the bridges and the near-closure of the Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa road, which is a major link between the North and the Southwest, will adversely affect transportation and trade in the country. To complete the strategy, the rains also washed away the railway line, also along Tatabu village to Mokwa, thus stopping   railway transportation between the South and the North.

The Ilorin-Jebba-Mokwa road enjoys a very important position in road and rail transportation in Nigeria. From the Southwest, the road leads to major cities in the North. Until the late 1980s and early 1990s, it was the major route from Lagos to Sokoto, Abuja, Kaduna, Minna and Jos. By the 1990s, however, various portions of the road had failed. As a result, motorists abandoned the road, preferring the longer Ibadan-Akure-Okene-Lokoja-Abuja road to reach various destinations in the North and South.

Timid efforts made by the Federal Government to rehabilitate the road during the Obasanjo era ended without results. An expensive realignment on the Tsafa Hill, which was often dubbed the Bermuda Triangle because of the number of accidents and deaths recorded on that stretch of the road, ended on the day it was launched. So for more than 20 years, transporters have been laboring on that road, with trucks spending several weeks on the road for a journey that should take just a few hours.

This ugly situation would have been avoided if relevant agencies, especially the Ministry of Works and the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency, FERMA, had acted proactively. The FERMA, which was to serve as the engine room for the maintenance of failed portions of federal roads has been weighed down by politics and burdensome bureaucracy. Roads rehabilitated by FERMA fail almost as soon as the contractors leave the site. And you must be wondering what contractors would be doing in FERMA. The initial concept behind the establishment of FERMA was that experienced engineers in the Ministry of Works would be reposted to the Agency so that they could be directly involved in reconstruction works. But alas, it was another avenue for the award of contracts to cronies while very well trained engineers are busy pushing files.

Many roads and bridges in various parts of the country have failed and are awaiting the calamity that befell the two bridges along Jebba-Mokwa road. The government should as a matter of urgency activate zonal directorates of the Ministry of Works by relocating the required personnel, especially the Zonal Directors and their deputies, as well as construction equipment, to the zonal offices. In that case, the officials would be in a vantage position to monitor the condition of roads and repair failed portions of such roads. The failure of the Tatabu/ Gidan Moin and the Bokani bridges should serve as a wakeup call for Nigeria to adopt effective maintenance culture on the country’s roads.

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