By Luke Onyekakeyah
Governor Emeka Ihedioha of Imo State is facing an uncommon challenge. It is the challenge of collapsing supposedly new bridges built by his predecessor, former Governor Rochas Okorocha. At the last count, six of the bridges have been identified in various parts of Imo State. They include the huge flyovers at Okigwe road off Ugwu Orji Owerri and the one at Amakohia on Orlu road Owerri. The others are the bridges between Mgbe and Ogboko in Ideato South and the one on the newly constructed Fifth Inland road Owerri. Added to these are the two tunnels linking Concorde Hotel to Port Harcourt road. The tunnels now pose danger to the public given their poor state.
All these structures have one thing in common – they are all new. Some of them are less than three years old and have not even been opened for use. The two aforementioned flyovers are, altogether, new. They have just been completed and waiting to be opened for public use before it was discovered that they were seriously flawed and pose great danger to the public. The fact that these bridges are new but are in such dangerous state is confounding. The two tunnels are virtually caving in and are waterlogged when it rains, forcing motorists to avoid them and divert to the exit routes. They pose danger to the public and are better closed.
With such catalogue of woes about infrastructures, the question is what happened? Were the structures not built by certified engineers? Why should new bridges be caving in even when they have not been used? It is obvious that unqualified people, who cut corners, were contracted to build the bridges, which explains the shoddy job done. What should be done to the bridges? Are they going to be demolished at great cost and inconvenience to members of the public or left to stand where they are? Or are they just going to be closed while posing danger? It is these questions that are giving headache to Governor Ihedioha.
I had occasion to visit the bridges after the new state administration kept lamenting about the poor state of affairs bequeathed by former Governor Okorocha. A close look at the collapsed bridges shows that they were built without rods to reinforce the structures. What are clearly obvious are huge chunks of concrete consisting of cement and chippings. One doesn’t need to be an engineer to know that not even a culvert is built that way. There must be a maze of iron rods to reinforce the concrete.
But the collapsed bridges showed no such iron rods whatsoever. This has made people to question the thinking behind the bridges. Were they built to last or just for show? As it were, the unfortunate bridges constitute a tragic show of gross bad governance. They could have been done better. The idea behind the bridges and tunnels is good – to decongest traffic at the city centre but that, now, is ridiculed.
Ordinarily, in the context of Imo State, Governor Ihedioha should be thinking about the huge monthly wage bill for salaries of civil servants and pensioners that have not been paid for years. He ought to be worried about the refuse dumps scattered all over Owerri and its environs; the poor state of inner city roads across the major towns in the state; the impassable roads in the local government councils and above all the dilapidated Owerri-Mbaise-Umuahia highway, the Owerri Okigwe road and sections of the Owerri-Port Harcourt road. These are the so-called federal roads that were neglected for decades, which Governor Ihedioha has now decided to reconstruct to reduce the suffering of Imo people.
Ihedioha’s concern, in terms of roads infrastructure, ought to be those. Unfortunately, while he strategizes to tackle these critical highways, the dangers posed by the collapsed bridges are now in the front burner and have to be taken care of. For me, these bridges are like a collapsed fence in a person’s home or family that exposes the home to danger. The bridges have to be repaired irrespective of the cost and inconvenience to the Governor.
At this juncture, one would like to ask what legacy the Okorocha administration left in Imo State. What good things are there Imo people did Ihedioha inherit?It would be recalled that the Okorocha administration was anchored on two major issues namely, free education and infrastructure. The free education, in particular, was a masterstroke that endeared him to the people. There is no doubt that some poor folks in Imo State benefited from the policy, especially, at the primary and secondary school levels. But the entire free education policy has to be reevaluated and streamlined for it to make the desired impact. The policy, at the moment, is being implemented haphazardly.
Concerning infrastructure, the attempt by Okorocha to showcase an extraordinary achievement, especially, in Owerri, failed. There was a conscious attempt to improve the condition of Owerri by expanding the Wetheral, Okigwe, Assumpta Avenue and Orlu roads but all that leave much to be desired. What was done is not enduring. Besides, it is most regrettable that Douglas road that constitutes the city centre of Owerri was left in shambles