Roads is a critical infrastructure that required adequate and continued funding for its reconstruction, rehabilitation and maintenance periodically to sustain easy vehicle movement. In this report, Yakubu Mustapha Bina writes on the simultaneous youth protests carried out on Monday in parts of Niger state where aggrieved members declared that the responsibility for the construction and maintenance of road network in the country be shouldered by the Federal, State and Local governments.
Statistics shows that, out of the total road length nationwide, about 35,000 kilometers are federal Highways, 50, 000km state Highways and 150,000 of Local government feeder roads just as Niger State with the largest landmass has the highest number of federal roads in the country.
The Niger state Governor, Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello has despite paucity of funds available to the state remained undaunted to making federal roads in the state motorable. But yearly, the roads keep begging for aatention because they are exposed to tremendous loads that overwhelmed them.
Consequently, activities were on Monday this week grounded in Minna the Niger state capital when youth in their thousands under the umbrella of National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) blocked the ever busy 98 kilometers Suleja-Minna highway to protest the deplorable state of federal roads across the state.
The protest which took place concurrently with the Bida-Minna and Minna Kontagora roads also blocked, had youth carrying placards with various inscriptions like “Fix Niger state roads”, “Niger state roads must be better”, “Save our Soul Buhari”, “Niger state is part of Nigeria”, “Our people are dying every day due to bad roads”.
The protesters who were chanting anti government slogans barricaded the Chanchaga bridge depriving all vehicles from moving in and out of Minna through the Chanchaga and Bida roads saying, these protests will continue from Monday until President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola to order contractors back to site.
The protest which started as early as 6:30am left hundreds of travelers, students and many others stranded up till around 1pm as many travelers aborted their journey to the next day while other find alternatives.
Some of the stranded workers, students and other commuters along the barricaded Minna-Bida Road and Minna-Suleja Road said that, though they were not happy with the blockade of the road, it was the best thing to do by the youths as it was the only language that government understands.
They blamed the government for the neglect stressing that if they were making routine maintenance the roads would not have gone to this dilapidated state. They appealed to the government to fix the roads as lives were being lost on a daily basis due to the bad nature of the roads. The well coordinated protests also saw the blockade of Minna- Suleja, Bida-Minna, and Minna-Tegina highways thereby creating a standstill in the state capital.
Comrade Mustapha Tijjani, the chairman, Nigeria Youth Council, who is the leader of the coalition movement, disclosed this at Gidan Mangoro, along Minna-Bida road as they shut down the road to all users and commuters.
“We don’t want political approval, we don’t want media approvals. We have seen approvals for a very long time and the work has refused to commence. At this point in time, we are calling on all the tanker drivers, NURTW, the NARTO, the office goers, and all other users along this road to bear with us, this is for the interest of all and the masses”.
“Our position paper contains that, if the governments refuse to put the contractors on their toes and mobilize to sites and start working immediately, we will give two months for our action to be expanded beyond control, we cannot assure what is going to happen next if our roads are not fixed with immediate effect and we are determined”, he said.
Comrade Tijjani said that it was the responsibility of the government to fix the road and that; luckily, both the state and federal government were being controlled by the APC.
According to him, the coalition will continue to call on the government to fix the roads as most of the roads were now death traps and making the life of the road users unsecured as it has become a security threat.
Comrade Tijjani assured that all due process was followed before they embarked on the protest adding that if nothing is done within two months, they would organize a more serious protest to vent their anger but peaceful.
Also the coordinator of the Minna-Suleja axis and convener #YouthLead Nigeria# Comrade Mohammad Saidu Etsu said “we will not stop this protest until President Muhammadu Buhari and the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola come to address the challenges we are facing.”
When our Correspondent went to the Bida-Minna road, articulated vehicles and commuters were trapped in the heavy gridlock as workers and residents alike were seen being carried on shoulders and backs to the other sides of the road by villagers across the river.
The villagers who took advantage of the gridlock charged each passenger N100 to be carried on the back to either side of the roads until the protests ended in the afternoon around 2:15 and the roads were opened.
Speaking also, the Chairman of the NYCN Niger State chapter, Comrade Bello Barau Shariff said the Federal Government has failed Niger state despite coming out enmass to vote in the Muhammadu Buhari led All Progressives Congress (APC), adding that, “we have decided that if these roads are not fixed we will continue to protest”.
According to him “after due consultations on the deplorable conditions of Federal Roads in Niger State which has resulted to severe hardship to Motorists and Nigerlites in terms of loss of lives, crippling economic and social activities in the State, we have resolved that, the Federal Government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari should fund the numerous awarded contracts of trunk ‘A’ roads in the State.
“Facilitate and expedite action on the dualisation of Minna – Suleja road that was awarded since 2010.
“The Government of Niger State under the leadership of Alhaji Abubakar Sani Bello should increase funding and rehabilitation of trunk ‘B’ roads within the State to make life, movement and economic activities easier for Niger State Citizens.”
The Director General Strategic Operations Unit, ICT and Public Enlightenment in Niger state, Abdulbaqy Umar Ebbo who was at the scene of the protests “At inception of the first tenure of Governor Abubakar Sani Bello’s administration in 2015, within the first 100 days in office, intervention and rehabilitation of federal road was effected at Tegina (2.4km) and Kagara town (1.7km).”
“Similarly, the maintenance of Minna-Zungeru-Tegina was carried out in 2016 by the Khalifate Engineering and Construction Company Ltd. Throughout the administration’s last four years and now, the Minna-Kakaki-Lambata-Suleja road has witnessed several interventions with the state government spending colossal amount of funds in the process.”
He lamented that “Heavy duty trucks, mostly carrying fuel are deemed liable for the collapse of the highways in the state. Without regulation, articulated vehicles with axial load of more than 35 tons have destroyed roads along their path and continued to undermine efforts made by the state government to repair them.”
Despite spending over Four billion naira (N4billion), the Suleja-Minna road which has been neglected by the federal government is yet to be fixed because of the over three thousand (3,000) overloaded articulated vehicles that ply the road on daily basis.
Also speaking the leader of Concerned Nigerlites Comrade Muhammad Muhammad demanded that “the identity of the contractors handling all awarded Federal/State road contracts be disclosed to enable us follow up the process of work.
“If by the next two months contractors handling Lambata – Agaie – Bida, Bangi Road, Rijau Bridge and Suleja – Minna road were not mobilized to sites, we will be left with no option than to divert heavy loaded trucks from plying bad state roads.”
He also charged the state Government to ensure strict implementation of the existing law of restrain heavy trunk from plying trunk ‘B’ roads within 6am – 9pm, saying “Niger State is hereby given 72 hours to act”
Commuters and residents who were affected by the protests and gridlock gave their total support for the protest, decried the total neglect of all federal roads by the federal government.
Hajiya Sadiya Salihu, a teacher said “since morning at about 6:30, I left the house with my son hoping that by 7am we would have gotten to school but met this protest. Although, it has affected us, but i am in full support. The bad roads have caused us much hardship”.
While addressing the protesters, Secretary to the Niger State Government, Alhaji Ahmed Ibrahim Matane said the Government will not relent, adding that “we will continue to do what. We should also remember that the rains have just ceased and I believe that most construction works will resume fully.
“I believe too that the federal government awarded contracts are also going to commence. For the past few weeks, Mr. Governor has been in Abuja and he has been having series of meetings with Mr. President and the Minister of Works and Housing to see that these roads are fixed”.
Alhaji Ahmed Matane commended the National Youth Council of Nigeria (NYCN) for carrying out a peaceful protest, assuring that, as the rainy season was about to end, the contractors, both at the state and the federal level will return to site.
He said that the governor was in full support of the action of the youths as they have demonstrated their concerns for the development of the state, assuring that state will continue to partner with them.
The SSG appealed to them to allow people to pass through the road as they have expressed their grievances which have the support of the government and that their protest was a successful one.
When the Commissioner of Police Adamu Usman and NSCDC Commandant Mr. J. Edem visited the scene, they separately pleaded with the youths adding that “your message has been passed and you have made your point. Be orderly and peaceful; allow those traveling to start moving.” the youths remained adamant chanting anti Government songs.
The protest nearly turned bloody when the Military and other combined security agencies marched in that the situation got out of hand as the overzealous Policemen at about 9:45am fired teargas canisters at the youths to disperse them. At this point the youths became irate and threw stones at the security men booing and chanting anti Government songs.