BY OMOLOLA AFOLABI Like an orchestra that stopped at an intermission, Fatai Wasiu’s booming transport business ended abruptly in November 2020, following a tragic accident while taking a private trip on his motorbike. Before then, Wasiu had used a refurbished Peugeot 505 — a common means of transportation on the Saki-Okerete road — to convey farm produce from his hometown in Saki, a trading hub for farmers in Oyo state. The road, which is 99-kilometre long, connects the Benin Republic to the south of Nigeria. The road is long, winding and dusty, with many uneven portions that make travel challenging. The route is supposed to connect traders in Oyo to the proposed international border market in Benin Republic, but despite the huge economic potential, it remains in a deplorable state. Okerete, which also borders Fesomu, a Yoruba-speaking community in Benin Republic, is only accessible with “rugged” motorcycles and vehicles. ‘BEDRIDDEN FOR A YEAR’  Wasiu, dark and six-foot tall, said as a result of the accident, his leg was amputated to save his life, adding that the crash left him bedridden for a year.

Fatai Wasiu narrates his ordeal.

“The accident occurred when I was trying to manoeuvre between an oncoming motorcycle and another one coming from the opposite direction,” he said. “There have been so many other accidents on that road. Some of our people have had to be taken to Benin Republic for treatment. “Also, a lot of people avoid using the road because of its terrible state and as a result, it gets very lonely and robbers take advantage of this to steal motorcycles and other valuables.” Wasiu now works as an auto mechanic and sells vehicle spare parts, a trade he has resorted to in order to care for himself and his family. NAVIGATING THE ROUGH TERRAIN People from neighbouring communities in Oke-Ogun and as far as Ibadan, the Oyo state capital, travel to do business in Okerete, crammed in vehicles loaded with cassava, maize and other farm produce. Passengers have to hold on tight to parts of the vehicles so they don’t get thrown off as the drivers attempt, many times unsuccessfully, to navigate the rough terrain. Khalidu Muritala, the traditional ruler of Orita, a hamlet in Saki, couldn’t hide his exhaustion. Dressed in a colourful ankara outfit, with beads on his wrists and a cap to match, he had just arrived in Saki from Orita, one of the communities along the road.

Khalidu Muritala, traditional ruler of Orita

The 53-year-old farmer lamented that the road has been in a deplorable state for years. “The road is even better now; at least, it’s the dry season,” the community leader said, adding that several security posts have been mounted along the route, as part of the communities’ effort to tackle the cases of robbery. ‘WE SWIM ON THE ROAD DURING RAINY SEASON’ Yekeen Fatai, a 45-year-old commercial motorcycle operator, narrated how he sustained an injury after colliding with another motorcycle. “The road was unbalanced and hilly. I could not see ahead. I had a collision with another motorcycle that was coming from the opposite direction,” he said. “During the rainy season. we swim across the water because it damages our motorcycles.” For Abdulafeez Inumidun, a resident of Saki, the deaths witnessed on the road, including that of his best friend, have discouraged him from plying the route. “There are five people that I have seen die on the road. Even motorcycles have caught fire occasionally on the road due to collisions caused by bad roads,” Inumidun, a commercial motorcycle operator, said. “Our problems are compounded when after going through the hectic road, we still get robbed.” Road injuries are currently the seventh leading cause of death in low-income countries, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). A report by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) indicates that the agency recorded not less than 5,320 road traffic crashes involving 8,808 vehicles with 2,471 deaths in the first half of 2021.

Khalid Olabisi, paramount ruler of Saki.

With such scary statistics, a repair of the Saki-Okerete road becomes imperative, given the significant impact it will have on residents and businesses in the area. Khalid Olabisi, the paramount ruler of Saki, said the construction of the road will enhance international trade within the axis and impact positively on the country’s economy. The traditional ruler, who also works as a surveyor, added that he has taken several steps to ensure that the road is fixed but to no avail. “The international market is expected to create a legitimate avenue where Nigerian traders meet with their counterparts from other nations and, of course, impact on our GDP,” he said. MILLIONS BUDGETED FOR THE ROAD According to the open treasury portal of the federal government, N13 million — out of the N108 million earmarked for the road in the 2021 budget — was released by the ministry of works and housing to ICT Transport Limited in March 2021. However, when the reporter reached out to the company, an official said the money released was only for consultancy on the engineering and design of the road project, adding that the main construction is to be executed by the ministry. Efforts to reach the ministry of works on the latest steps taken on the road proved abortive as several phone calls and text messages were not responded to.

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