Fixing Maiduguri-Damaturu Highway should not take forever, it’s now called the valley of death, where only the lucky people survive a journey through it.
Recently when the road was shut down to be only operating from 2 pm due to an ongoing security operation called a fireball, the price of almost everything in the Maiduguri market skyrocketed and so were the prices of essential goods in other parts of the state.
This was simply because traders from other parts of the state largely source their stock here. Regrettably, many items have since doubled in price without any sign of abating even though the travelling time has been restored to normal.
It means almost everything significant coming to the State is through that road or the airport and certainly not many can afford to airfreight their supplies, especially with the recent hike of airfare, costing about one hundred thousand naira from Maiduguri to Abuja.
Sadly even the air travel to Maiduguri is no longer a luxury today, but a necessity which only a few can actually afford.
We live in a situation where one cannot think of travelling through Maiduguri – Damaturu highway without thinking twice, whenever something comes up that I have to go through that road, my heart on end due to the vicissitude of our time, reminding me of the horrible scenarios where hundreds of innocent commuters ranging from security and defence operatives, traders, students and in many cases unlucky civilians have tragically lost their lives in the most horrible ways that any human can die.
Hundreds have been kidnapped and subjected to horrifying ordeals. On Wednesday 2nd December 2020, a commercial-vehicle from Kano enroute Maiduguri lost one of its tyres after hitting a huge pothole on that road killing 11 persons with one young man called Jibrin, whom I was well acquainted with in the Customs area through a tailor friend.
He was coming back from the final arrangements for his second wife’s wedding from Kano. He runs a bakery in Customs around State Sports Council that is directly employing about 30 people and lived with a wife and 3 children.
All these lives may take a hit for the worst from this singular incident. This is just one of many accidents increasingly happening in the road, people can not drive slowly for fear of being attacked or kidnapped and when they speed, they risk being killed by the deplorable state of the road.
Travellers were attacked on the road on Friday, 18th December 2020 where at least five lives were lost, including a driver who was killed for pasting a CJTF sticker on his car. During the same encounter, about 35 people were reportedly kidnapped by the insurgents according to many news outlets.
A resident of Damaturu, I have personally known got admission and registered fully to start his master’s degree in the University of Maiduguri last year encountered these notorious insurgents on the same road after parking to resume his studies in Maiduguri.
Fortunately, he survived the ordeal but had to abandon the quest for further knowledge as a result of the unpleasant experience, foreclosing the possibility of an academic career. As the whereabouts of the driver of their ill-fated vehicle is still unknown to date.
The dilapidated state of the road alone is enough trauma for travellers as well as the security and defence personnel who have to constantly patrol the route in or on ply it for other official engagements. The sorry state of the road has made it a death trap where the insurgents’ carryout their kidnappings and killing of travellers especially security personnel at will.
The unending kidnappings and killings in the road which is out of control have made many motorists be over speeding with its attendant consequences. On Saturday 2nd December 2020, the day which farmers were massacred in Zabarmari, many commuters were also kidnapped on that road with one person shots several times for ostensibly resembling security personnel even though they didn’t find any identification with him.
One of the drivers who constantly ply the road was also attacked on the same day but was allowed to go after they asked him questions about security checkpoint if he has seen any security personnel on the road or not, to which he said no and they preached about their ideology to him, thereafter allowed him safe passage.
A young man from Ngomari who is a member of the Civilian Joint Task Force (JTF) was also taken away by these hoodlums along with three truck drivers after the identity of the CJTF was found with him.
The fate of these people is still unknown, and families have since presumed them dead as security personnel are never spared by Boko Haram. His only crime is volunteering to protect the lives and properties of people. They now even check peoples phone if they suspect you are working with any security agency.
A video of three security men being callously executed was uploaded on YouTube sometimes back after they were abducted on the road and they only crime was wearing a uniform and protecting the lives of people.
Another disturbing video of an 8-year-old boy gunning down a University of Maiduguri student, Daciya Daleb on 22 January 2020 kidnapped from the road is still fresh in our minds.
Narrating to BBC Hausa, a victim and journalist with the Yobe Television who survived a similar attack in the road said the insurgent hijacked a petrol tanker and wanted to drive it into the bush but it got stuck, and one of the hijackers was then sent to bring drums and jerry cans which he did in less than 15 minutes’ drive from the highway.
The insurgent specifically told them that they were only waiting for a petrol tanker that is in the nearby town and they would let them go after they got that particular truck. This clearly indicates how well informed they are about the movement of commodities and other essentials on the road. They then fueled their vehicles and containers and left, taking along a handful of people with them.
The significance of this road cannot be overemphasized, hence rehabilitating its bad spots would drastically reduce the frequency of attacks, accidents and insurgency kidnappings.
The total sum of 5.13 billion naira has been allocated to the Maiduguri – Damaturu Highway C/Number 5869 in the Federal Government budget of 2018-2020, additionally, 100 million naira in the 2021 proposed budget all indicated as an ongoing project. Meanwhile, there is no work currently ongoing on the said road. The government should follow up on these budgeted funds and find out why the work is not making any progress despite the sizeable budgetary allocation.
The best solution for the situation after our prayers is to avoid travelling in late hours. Security needs to develop a strategy that would provide timely response and mitigate the increasing attacks on the road.
The government should award the rehabilitation project contract to Army Engineers for expeditious action. I am convinced that fixing this all-important road would reduce the rate of accidents, attacks and resulting deaths by at least half and improve the livelihoods of the state residents.
May God protect us from all evil schemes and grant us peace in our country.
Musa Gambo is a JCI Nigeria Ambassador and can be reached via email: Mgambo78@gmail.com.