Senator Austin Akobundu, a former Minister of State for Defence and currently the lawmaker representing Abia Central Senatorial District in the 10th National Assembly on Tuesday inspected the lingering reconstruction of Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene federal Road in Abia State.
The Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road was awarded to Heartland and Raycon Nigeria Limited.
During the inspection tour, Senator Akobundu enquired from the Area Manager of Heartland and Raycon Nigeria Limited, Mr. Hisham Yassin on the setbacks and challenges hindering the progress of the reconstruction of the Umuahia-Ikot-Ekpene federal Road.
CANDIDREPORTERS.COM recalls that the road reconstruction contract which stretches up to 49 kilometers was awarded in 2019 at N13 billion cost and is being handled by Hartland and Raycon Construction Company and funded by Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation Limited (NNPCL).
During the interaction, Hisham said the inflation caused the delay of the project as the cost of “materials went up by six folds”.
In his own words: “Diesel went up from 190 to 550 and keeps rising, petrol followed as well as bitumen. We find it difficult to buy materials and things are very tough, we only have a grace period of five months, from November to March, by April you will find heavy rains.”
Mr. Hisham however revealed that recently the construction company received 15 percent from the Ministry of Works and it has helped them to get back on their feet to be on site as they hoped to give their best by delivering a good job.
Mr. Hisham however revealed that they don’t plan to remain on the road reconstruction for more than 3 years as they are already working on the drains before the rain comes.
He also added that the variation for augmentation has not been given approval and the contract sum is no longer visible due to the impact of inflation and it calls for augmentation which he revealed that it has been submitted since last year and approval is yet to be given to the request.
“Without that approval we cannot claim the work completed on the right amount and with that it is not encouraging for contractors to be on site with full power.” Mr. Hisham said.
However, when newsmen visited the site, heavy construction equipment was on ground doing some major works on the road.
Senator Akobundu however said another reason he is inspecting the ongoing road project is to see how the “pace of the job can be increased and where the National Assembly can come in using their machinery and the appropriate committee to see if the process can be driven faster than it currently is.”
Mr. Hisham also revealed that the project was initially contracted to end in May 2025 but due to inflation and time loss, the company is going to request for more time to compensate for the lost time.
In a chat with newsmen, Engr. Tony Owunbiko, the Federal Controller of Works for Abia State, revealed that as a project in the NNPCL tax credit scheme, it took NNPCL two years to pay the 15% advance payment while also citing the contract clause agreement which reflects a fixed sum which cannot be easily altered.
While answering questions from newsmen, Senator Akobundu however insisted that with what he has seen on ground and the challenges revealed, it is still possible to complete the job less than 3 years if all funding is released and instrumentality of the National Assembly applied, the reconstruction of Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene Road will be completed on time.
Chief Samuel Ogbonna, the village head of the community spoke to newsmen as he pleaded with the contractors and Federal Government to do everything possible to hasten the road reconstruction so as to reduce the health hazard emanating from the dust on the road which is also a setback for their commercial activities in the community.
In the absence of Umuahia-Ikot Ekpene road, commuters from Cross River and Akwa Ibom states use the Ikot Ekpene – Aba road to other parts of the South East, South South, South West and Northern states. The road also leads to the Calabar Export Zone and Cement factories.
Due to the dilapidated state, the journey from Umuahia to Ikot Ekpene on this 49 kilometre road during the rainy season, took over six hours even putting at risk heavy duty vehicles conveying cement and imports from Calabar as goods fall off or trapped in mud for days.