It was going to be the happiest day of her life, a moment she always believed would be defining and memorable.
Every day, Hanti Livingnus, 36, imagined how everything would turn out. In her dream, she saw torrents of happy faces trooping into the wedding venue to celebrate a beautiful love story.
There was food aplenty. There was fast-drumming migili music to keep the audience excited. She was wearing the same local outfit as her husband and a white gele designed with colourful flowers.
“I had always thought about my wedding and how perfect it would be but when it was just a week to my wedding in 2019, looking at how everything was going as planned, I was very happy. Every day, I count the remaining days,” she said.
It was three days to her wedding, Livingnus said, on 19 Sept. 2019. Her husband, Livingnus Josiah, was a sports lover. They had a conversation that morning and he told her that there would be a match.
As a fan of the local Atabula Youth team, Josiah had reached out to them to play a friendly match with another local team, Metwe Team from Bogidi Community in Obi LGA.
That evening, after 4 p.m., the small field had already been overpacked with excited spectators, and the Atabula team was warming up waiting for their opponent when the news came.
There was a tragic accident on Ashupe road. It claimed the lives of five members of the team. The whole crowd was plunged into despair.
The remaining three days were filled with dark thoughts and regrets. The wedding came and went but it only lasted for one and half years. Josiah was coming from the farm on the 14th of April, 2021 when he had an accident. He spent three days at the hospital before he eventually passed away.
Death-Trap: Agwade-Ashupe-Atabula- Road Has Left Many Homes Broken and Poorer
James Elesha, 32, the Youth Chairman of Ome, a small community inside Atabula, said he grew up hearing stories of accidents on the road. He said the precarious situation of the road had existed for a long time.
“The condition of the road is very bad. When it rains, people can not go to Obi or Ashupe markets. We won’t be able to go to the farm. On the worst of days, we would stay at home for a complete week due to rain and slippery roads,” he said.
Elesha said that the road had not only led to the death of many people but it had also led to dislocated legs and incapacitated hands rendering farmers incapable of fending for their families.
“Yesterday, two people still had an accident. They broke their legs. We have bandits and thieves lurking in these thick bushes. No one’s safety is guaranteed in this place whenever you pass through these roads. The head chief has informed farmers and marketers to return home by 4 pm,” the youth Chairman said.
Bandits use the bad roads to their advantage, Elesha also said. They maim and steal from innocent people. There are many people that thieves have severed their hands and legs, he confirmed.
“I know four people whose hands and legs have been cut off this year. One of them is my friend Gambo Mai Gonna Kiffi,” he said.
He said some villagers believe that there is an evil spirit on the road that eats humans; it also takes human hands, and legs to renew its powers.
But Elesha, a Christian who is a member of Living Faith Church in Ashupe, believes the government is solely to blame.
“Everyone promises us good roads in exchange for our votes but eventually they betray us,” he said.
Audio Construction: The World of Shady Contractors
When Abdullahi Sule became Nasarawa State governor in 2019, he approved N1.8bn for the construction of roads in the following local government areas: Obi, Keana, Keffi, and Nasarawa Eggon.
In his first hundred days in office, he stated in his speech that the construction of the Agwade-Ashupe-Atabula-Ome road is already ongoing and at various stages of completion.
“It is imperative to state that this administration remains resolute in its commitment to open our rural areas for enhanced economic activities. In this regard, we have embarked on the construction of Agwade-Shupe-Atabula-Ome-Obi, Shabu-Doka-Arugba-Lakio, Kanje-Abuni, and Kagbu A-Atsoko-Wana roads. I am happy to state that these roads are at various stages of completion,” the speech reads in part.
Two years after Governor Sule stated that the construction was ongoing, he announced again on Independence Day in October that the roads had been completed, as Independent Newspaper reported.
Rainy Season: Dark Times for the Communities
Zaki Michael Mammah, the Head Chief of Ome Community said he was sad when Governor A. A. Sule announced that the road had been completed.
“We were surprised when we heard that the government announced that they have constructed this road. The road is still in its roughest and deadliest state at this time and much worse in the rainy season, which is when we experience the most accidents,” he said.
He said there are sloppy areas that can not be crossed with bikes or cars when it rains. Some days, water will cover the bridge to the point that only the head will be visible whenever anyone crosses it, he said.
“I had an accident three weeks ago. It happened at the local bridge we constructed with sticks. My brake failed and I tumbled over with my bike,” he said.
The reporter learned that N330 million naira was reportedly spent on the road. Further investigation revealed that only 100 meters of the 22 km road were constructed. The construction started and ended in Agwade, one of the communities for the project.
A reliable source, who pleaded anonymity to prevent witch-hunting, said the project was awarded to Triacta Engineering and Construction Company.
Further investigation revealed that there was no signboard placed at the location of the construction nor are the details of the contract available at the Nasarawa Open Contracting Portal.
The reporter reached out to Triacta Company for comments and confirmation via phone call and email but no response has been received as of press time.
The reporter also contacted the Nasarawa state government via email for details of the contract as well as comments. An official from Nasarawa state who identified herself as Opeyemi Oriola responded that the reporter’s request “has been exalted” and details will be sent soon. As of press time, the details of the contract have not been sent.
Nasarawa Open Contracting Portal: Invalid Data and Ghost Address
Nasarawa State is amongst those that have adopted the Open Contracting process for better accountability and transparency.
The reporter observed that on the state’s official website, there is a section that redirects one to Nasarawa Open Contracting Portal.
The reporter meticulously perused the section showing all contracts awarded by the administration but found that there is no contract information of the road.
The reporter also found out that the contact details of the portal are invalid. Both the phone number and email address are invalid.
A visit to the physical address and questioning of the officials met in the building showed that no one knew the unit or knew what open contracting entails.
Nasarawa State Government’s Reaction to the Details of this Report
Mustapha Yahuza Musa, the Director General of the Rural Development Board, said that the agency was not in charge of the road project in the community.
He said that the road was assigned to a special task force established shortly after Governor A. A. Sule was sworn-in to tackle rural roads.
“We are revising all the work done by the task force which is no longer in effect after our agency was established. We have realized that some roads are not done or well done and we are doing them one step at a time. Based on this report as well as other information available to us, we will include Agwade-Ashupe-Atabula among the phase II of the road that will be constructed starting from next year January,” he said.
The DG reiterated that the projects were handled directly by the task force and he understood that in some cases it was outsourced to contractors. He said he did not know which contractors were assigned some work because the task force was no longer in place when he came in.
“This is probably the reason the project was not available at the open contracting portal because it was directly handled by the task force. In some cases, they outsourced some projects but they were the ones in charge. All these happened before we came in,” the DG said.
The Bureau for Rural Development Board was established in 2020 and began operation in August 2021. One of the board’s main functions, according to the DG, is constructing rural roads. He stated that the board has constructed several rural roads.
This reporter learned that the DG was quoted to have said in July that over 1000 km of the road had been constructed by the A. A. Sule-led administration within three years and also listed Agwade-Ashupe-Atabula road among the ones that have been constructed, Nation Newspaper had reported.
The reporter could not meet with Governor A. A. Sule due to his “tight schedule,” an official at the state government house had said but was eventually redirected to Ibrahim Addra, the Chief Press Secretary to the State Governor, who is also his spokesperson.
The chief press secretary said that the governor considers the investigation of the reporter to be important and helpful to the direction of the state, which is constantly striving to be “transparent and accountable to its people.”
“Project implementation is always a challenge in government. We love that people are helping us track procurements to ensure that the Nasarawa people whom we serve get value for their money,” he said.
After making a series of phone calls, he said that Governor A. A. Sule is pleased with the report and will act on it.
The reporter queried the governor’s assertion that the project has been completed when it is obvious that that is not the case based on the ample evidence available.
“There are several ministries handling road construction and they give reports to their principal on the status of various projects. It must be one of those projects that may have been reported to have been completed,” the Chief Press Secretary said.
When probed about the invalid data in the contact section Nasarawa Open Contracting Portal, he appeared shocked by the revelation. He confirmed the information on the website and then immediately placed a call to Dominic Bako, Director General of the Public Procurement Bureau who he said is in charge of the website.
“I want to assure you that this will be solved in a few days. The bureau has said that it is working on harmonizing the website with the procurement website. You will be informed once these changes have been made, which will happen soon. I will definitely be on their neck daily,” he said.
No Week Without Accident: The Wages of Bad Roads
There is Selina Peter, 29, a petty trader in Ashupe, who lost her leg on her way from Agwade market. There is Bawa Akka, 52, a farmer in Atabula whose bike somersaulted on a steep slippery curve that leads to Ome Community. There is Danladi Tanko, 44, a fisherman in Agwade who had a dislocation in his left leg. Danladi said he still feels sharp pains every night whenever he is unable to afford pain relief.
“I can give you up to 100 names of those who had accidents on this road and that will not be the entire list,” the Head Chief said.
Tiptoeing with his stick to return to his palace, the head Chief made a parting plea.
“Every day I see hardworking men and women lose their hands and legs. They can’t farm or do anything to feed themselves. This should not be happening. The contractor has taken not just our rights but also those of our loved ones. We are sadder that the government has allowed them to get away with it,” he said.
It was 5 p.m. The blistering might of the sun had subsided. A fog of dust envelopes the air. The town crier, after a high-pitched shout, while hitting a gong, announced that there would be free immunisation at primary healthcare the next day.
There was feverish excitement after his announcement, and then, a few minutes later, a mother rushed her convulsing child out of a hut. She quickly sat behind a bike, pointing at the uneven road toward a destination that would most likely lead to a hospital.
This story was supported by the Udeme project of the Centre for Journalism Innovation and Development