By Dr. Dons Eze
It gladdens one’s heart to read news report about the approval by the Federal Executive Council to re-award the contract for the rehabilitation of the long forgotten Ninth Mile Corner, along Enugu-Onitsha Expressway.
According to the report, the Federal Executive Council presided over by President Muhammadu Buhari, had on Wednesday, March 11, 2020, approved the re-award of contract for the rehabilitation of the “tricky, steep and dangerous 15-kilometre 9th Mile section of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway at a cost of 29.4 billion”.
Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, who disclosed this, said the contract, which involved redesigning of the road to manage persistent erosion and other challenges, was retrieved from an earlier contractor for incompetent execution and now awarded to RCC construction firm, already handling the remaining stretch of the highway.
According to Fashola: “We had one memorandum in respect of the 9th Mile section of the Enugu-Onitsha Highway, just to disengage the contractor who was previously handling that 15 kilometre section and award it to the contractor that now has the majority of the route, which is RCC. That section was determined and approved for re-award to RCC. So, we now have a wholesome strategy to complete that road.
“Of course, the 9th Mile section, as you might know, is a very tricky, difficult area: very steep, dangerous, a point of many accidents before, so we have to change the design and do a lot of other alterations in quality to ensure now that we manage, not only the erosion there, but that very good work is done.
“So Council approved that in favour of Messrs RCC for the sum of N29.4 billion. It’s rolled into the existing contract, which I think was for 24 months,” Fashola explained.
This is a welcome development. For long, motorists plying that “tricky”, steep and dangerous” road have continued to groan, to agonize, and to lament over the deplorable state of the Ninth Mile section of the expressway, the total collapse of the road. No day passes without one or two major accidents happening on that road, with very catastrophic consequences.
It may not be easy to calculate the number of human beings that unceremoniously had ended their journeys on that particular section of the road, or the quantity of goods worth billions of naira that had been lost there. Owners of heavy truck vehicles, in particular, Dangote, may not even find it easy to give the exact the number of their vehicles that crashed into the very deep gullies on both sides of the road.
Cries and lamentations by thousands of motorists who ply that road, for at least, some palliative measures, have all fallen on deaf ears. When all hope was lost and it appeared that no help was coming, the people decided to abandon the road completely, thanks to the marvelous work done by the Enugu State Government in the rehabilitation of the long-winding, snake-like Milliken Hill road built around 1926, as alternative route for small vehicles.
The Ninth Mile Corner, Enugu, is very important for many reasons. It is a strategic junction and a major gateway to Enugu, the Coal City, both for those coming from the Northern and the Western parts of the country.
The Ninth Mile Corner was a theatre of fierce battle between the Biafrans and the Nigerians, during the Nigeria-Biafra war as each camp saw it as strategic to their success or failure in the war. For the Biafrans, the fall of Ninth Mile would automatically translate to the fall of Enugu, the Biafran Capital, while the Nigerians would not stop at anything to ensure that they capture Ninth Mile, and then enter Enugu.
When finally Nigerians succeeded in their bid to capture Ninth Mile, and “Awusa wee bata Enugu”, the Biafran authorities did not take it kindly. They made some people – the betrayers, the saboteurs, “the Sabos”, those who led the enemy into their lovely Capital City, to pay dearly with their lives. Colonel Victor Banjo, Major Emmanuel Ifeajuna, Major Alele, and a civilian, one Mr. Agbim, were charged with high treason, and subsequently executed.
Today, the Ninth Mile Corner, Enugu, is a beehive of activities. The Nigerian Breweries has one of its major plants in the area. The Coca Cola Bottling Company is equally operating at Ninth Mile, so also is the Pepsi Bottling Company and a virtually all the commercial banks. The Guinness Stout has acquired a large portion of land in the area, but is yet to start production.
The water underground in the Ninth Mile area is sparklingly clean, which geologists tell us is of Ajali formation. As such, there are over 100 private water boreholes in the area from where water tanker vendors supply water to inhabitants of Enugu Metropolis, without which the people would have no water both for their commercial and domestic usages.
Travellers to different parts of the country, through the Ninth Mile Corner, always look forward to the popular “Okpa Ninth Mile”, a richly delicious cooked ground peanut that contains high protein.
During the Christmas and Easter festivities, and even on some weekends, operatives of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), usually have herculean tasks controlling vehicular movements in and around the Ninth Mile area.
The re-award of contract for the rehabilitation of the Ninth Mile section of the Enugu-Ontsha expressway gives a ray of hope, which will not only ease vehicular movements, but will at the same time, improve social and economic activities in the area.