By Mutiu Olagunju
Four years ago I was in Kwara state. We were doing some research programme for a development purpose. There was a need to go to Baruten local government, Chikanda was the mapped point. As soon as our more locally inclined partner heard the name, you could hear his heart skip a beat.
“But why do you have this look on your face?, ” I asked in the appraisal of his countenance. His response was terse and prophetic.
“The fears will go round. Don’t worry.” What could have made him say so!?
The answers came in no time. We were en route Ilesha Baruba to Chikanda and it turned out to be an invitation to anguish. It was a long drive to succour; one moment you are bending from potholes, or swirling for safety from ditches, the other time you just want to pray to be safe as the car fights for its own life on the boulevard of misery that was called a road. At each point of struggle, my heart goes to the residents and palpitates in annoyance. As one of my colleagues would eventually query, “could the government be unaware of this hardship!?”
But they were aware of the economic importance of that road and the nuisance it made of life for the people of that axis. Ex-Governor AbdulFatah Ahmed first awarded the surface dressing of the road to Duravil Engineering Ltd in 2013 at the cost of N1,560,102,954.58.
As of the time we went there, the government had just reviewed the project (in 2015) and strangely increased the funds for it. Why, you may want to ask! But that wasn’t the end. They did the same thing in 2017 for an obviously poorly handled project. So, long before 2019, the people of Baruten who face everyday hardship (not to talk of myself o) courtesy of that road had already decided to call the bluff of the government.
The visit and interview granted to the TVC in 2018 by the former Commissioner for Works Hon Aro Yahya didn’t help the cause. The video (on Youtube) recorded him promising the completion of the pariah road. However, it became a mere wish never to be accomplished as they left the following year. It only became officially like the picture of waste that characterised the administration when two weeks into the end of his tenure, ex-Governor Ahmed still approved additional money for the project. But why?
How do you explain to the people that a project begun in 2013 with 1.56bn—increased to 2.156bn by 2015— rose to 2.361bn in 2017 and by 2019 (May 15th) was allotted for 2.78bn couldn’t be completed?
It didn’t help matters that rumour was rife that the contractor was a very close person to the governor and had almost put all the money on paying kickback on the same contract. They believed it explained why they were always absent Perhaps the ripple effect was the historical welcome– the stoning of the eaglets and the Super Eagle( Ilorin eid stoning 2.0) the people gave his convoy during the 2019 electioneering in Gwanara.
Upon hearing the news that Governor AbdulRazaq has directed the completion of the road, I spared a thought for Baruten people, wondering how they’d revel in the spirit of change. I imagine them asking questions, how had AbdulRazaq negotiated the completion of the road at such ‘a ridiculous rate’? Well, it is interesting. The fact he is adding just 256m (to the outstanding of 934.58m inherited) to convert a road awarded as a surface dressing to an asphalt overlay is incredible. I really do hope they’d be able to ‘calm down.’
Not many people can tolerate the torture of plying that road for once not to talk every day only to hear now that they could have been saved years of hardship if only there was a more willing and honest government. By the time the road is completed which I hope will be as swift as possible and the economic and social life of the people of Baruten change for better, the difference will be even clearer. They would be enjoying the impact of good governance and the benefits of O’to ge like in all other parts of the state. I just hope that whenever some people go back to meet them they won’t be stoning them again.
Ilesha Baruba- Gwanara road is special for me. Wait for the concluding part!