Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Nigeria: Roads or fast-lanes to hell?

Roads or fast-lanes to hell?

With barely 10 days to Christmas, millions of Nigerians planning to spend the Yuletide in their villages are in for a taste of hell; no thanks to the parlous state of roads across the country.

Pic. 1 PHOTOS: MAURICE ARCHIBONG. Copyrights reserved.

A good network of roads facilitates transportation, communication, and is sine qua non for social and economic development; but, in Nigeria many a road is a metaphor for the classic rough ride. To be candid, road travel in Nigeria is all too often a back-breaking, teeth-jarring, harrowing and life-threatening experience.

Such is the condition of roads across Nigeria that traversing towns and villages in some states is a nightmarish experience. While it is true that drunkenness, inadequate rest by commercial vehicle drivers desperate to do many shuttles to earn more money also contribute to road fatalities; irresponsibility on the part of governments’ officials also conspire to rob citizens of their lives on the roads.

Although statistics are vague as regards the total length of Nigeria’s road network, sources indicate some 160,000 avenues criss-cross the country.

Whatever the length, Nigerian roads are so dangerous that, every successful to-and-fro journey could well be likened to a miracle.

In Niger State, part of Nigeria’s North Central geopolitical zone, for example; after travelling from Suleja to Bida many wayfarers fall back on analgesics to relieve pains resulting from rough jerks and bumps suffered during transition.

Also, moving on from Bida through Kutigi to Mokwa and New Bussa, in the same state, could turn out one of any traveller’s unforgettable journeys because of the countless pot-holes that dog motorists virtually every metre of the way.

Along the Oshodi-Apapa Expressway in Lagos State, commuters daily endure serious risks to their lives. Around Cele bus-stop, and at countless other spots on this same route, huge craters can be found; and, dozens of them have been yawning for filling for years.

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Shame called FESTAC Town
In the western parts of Lagos State, the General Yakubu Gowon-led Federal Government had built a sprawling housing estate, originally conceived to house thousands of foreigners expected in Nigeria for the second edition of the Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture (FESTAC).

Although Gowon was ousted before FESTAC eventually kicked off in 1977, that estate remains one of the admirable legacies of his administration.

Unfortunately, however, today’s road network in Festac Town constitutes a national embarrassment. Around Close I, Close H et cetera along 21 Road as well as many spots on 23 Road, and most other places you look, FESTAC Town is another vivid testimony to the irresponsible way Nigerian politicians have been running the country for decades!

In countless cases, human error, loss of concentration or outright carelessness on a driver’s part is responsible for many fatalities on our roads. But, while it is true that countless drivers are guilty of driving after drinking; whereas it is also a fact that countless commercial vehicle operators indulge in the abuse of various kinds of intoxicants, all of which actually contribute to the frightening number of accidents on the country’s roads; more often than not, observers tend to ignore the fact that the nature of roads are also responsible for the disheartening plenitude of lives lost to mishaps.

The story is told of how a middle-aged man was crushed to death inside his SUV on a Federal Highway in Lagos. One moment the motorist was alive, and suddenly, he would no more because the tyres of a trailer riding parallel to his automobile rode into a ditch on the road; and, bang! The container the trailer was freighting toppled over onto the SUV and not only crushed the jeep but also the car’s occupant. Such is the state of roads in Nigeria…

There is another stomach-churning disaster, whose recall continues to rankle in one’s mind: One of the goriest tragedies on Nigeria’s highways occurred in a settlement called Ochaja in 2007. Travelling from Lokoja in Kogi to the Benue State town of Oju, we saw the charred remains of a wrecked Peugeot J5 or J9 minibus on the way; and, couldn’t help asking the driver, when that accident occurred. “Some time last week”, he had said.

We subsequently gathered that the driver of the bus and another chauffeur coming in the opposite direction were trying to avoid a huge pot-hole. And, gboza! There was a head-on collision and both vehicles burst into flames.

While the occupants of the front compartment of the Peugeot bus may have been crushed from the impact, other passengers in the rear seats of the vehicle were robbed of any chance of escape because the lock of the door jammed, trapping everyone inside the inferno.

Our vehicle’s driver and another co-traveller who witnessed the tragedy recalled that, but for one passenger, who was lucky to have been tossed outside the vehicle by the impact of collision; the 18 other occupants of the Peugeot bus, including the driver, died from the crash.

One passenger that sat near the exit was partly out of the bus but one of his hands was trapped in the vehicle’s crushed body. Writhing in pain, he struggled to sacrifice his arm for his life, to no avail. Sympathetic on-lookers couldn’t come to his rescue because of scorching heat from the conflagration and, perhaps, for fear of an explosion should the fire spread to the automobile’s fuel tank.

That, in a nutshell, is how the hapless fellow died screaming as his body was being consumed by fire.

Sadly, these 18 occupants ended up victims of an unceremonious cremation, which was sparked by an attempt to avoid a pot-hole in the road. Such is the fate Nigerian politicians, whose predilection to looting without rendering any service; have condemned ordinary citizens to.

A country’s road network could serve as an index of that nation’s level of development. After a year-long study of the nation’s road network, we can authoritatively confirm that dozens of commuters die weekly due to accidents attributable to the parlous state of highways they have to travel.

The mangled remains of all kinds of automobiles that litter the Okene-Abaji-Gwagwalada highway through Lokoja as well as Shagamu-Ore-Benin Expressway and other so-called roads across the country attest to this.

Roads across Nigeria have virtually become synonymous with a killing field, going by the staggering number of fatal accidents daily recorded.

The tragedy is pointedly driven to the fore by statistics compiled by the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC). According to Corps Marshal of the FRSC, Mr. Osita Chidoka, at least 162 out of every 100,000 Nigerians die yearly from road accidents. Mr. Chidoka made this known last October, during a presentation at the 2011 Nigerian Institute of Safety Professionals’ conference in Warri, Delta State.

Speaking through a representative, Mr. Udo Aba, Warri Commander of the FRSC, Mr. Chidoka further revealed that Nigerian roads rank 191 among the world’s 192 worst road networks; and, that each year, 1.3 million people are killed and 50 million injured from road accidents world-wide. The corps marshal also pointed out that over 80 percent of these casualties come from the developing nations, with Africa topping the list; and, that if nothing was done to improve the state of roads in Africa, the casualty figures would increase by 65 percent between 2015 and 2020.

Other figures from the FRSC show that more than 420 lives were lost to various road accidents in December 2010 alone. Aside the 423 dead, another 300,000 Nigerians sustained various degrees of injuries arising from road accidents during the same period. Chidoka made this known on January 3, this year; while speaking at Head Bridge, Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge linking Anambra and Delta states.

To be candid, Nigeria’s accident data are chilling: 29,715 people were killed and 118,993 others ended up with injuries from 53,111 accidents nationwide within the six-year period of 2005 to 2010, alone.

A breakdown of the statistics issued by FRSC shows that 4,380 people were killed in 2005; while the figures for 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010 were 4,775; 4,475; 6,661; 5,488 and 3,936 respectively.

Interpretation: With 365 days in a year, this means that an average of over 10 Nigerians died daily from road accidents in each year from 2005 to 2010. Check out the breakdown: In 2005 (12 deaths per day), 2006 (13), 2007 (12) and 2008 (18.25 people)!

Sad reality: morbid as it might seem, roughly 13 people are likely to lose their lives to road accident(s) today, going by the average; when one divides 29,715 total deaths by 2,192; the number of days in the six years under review.

Truly, Nigerian roads are fast lanes to the after-life. Entertainment stars, notable academics, politicians, clerics as well as countless citizens X have met sudden and painful deaths in transition because of the deplorable states of Nigeria’s roads.

Recall: Mr. Kenneth C. Murray, founding head of Nigeria’s Antiquity Service, fore-runner of today’s National Commission for Museums and Monuments (NCMM) died in a road crash. Also, star musicians Rex Lawson, Prince Nico Mbarga and recently, MC Loph all died from road accidents.

It could be recalled that immediate-past Works Minister, Senator Sanusi Daggash, had; during an inspection tour of the Benin-Sagamu road in April 2010, promised that work on the N9.7billion contract to fix the Benin-Sagamu road would be completed by November 2011. However, less than three weeks to the end of 2011, work remains far from finished on this notorious route.

Many can still remember how Senator Daggash’s predecessor as Works Minister, Mrs. Dezieni Allison-Madueke, was moved to tears during her own inspection visit to this same road on August 6, 2007.

Mrs. Allison-Madueke, now Petroleum Minister, had; amid shedding tears profusely, remarked: “I am very, very unhappy today at what I have seen…that this road was allowed to degenerate to this level. The deplorable state that I have found this road in, is inhuman and unacceptable”.

Sadly, on January 20, 2011; four years after Mrs. Allison-Madueke tearfully voiced her concern; 18 people lost their lives to an accident involving an 18-seater bus, a truck and several other vehicles along Ore-Benin axis of Benin-Sagamu road.

On September 14, 2011, musician Obiajuru Nwozo, popularly known as MC Loph, was driving home for his traditional marriage billed for November 17. He did not live to witness his happy day. He lost his life around Ore along the Benin-Sagamu road.

Reports say his vehicle ran into a crater, which tossed the supposed very sturdy four-wheel automobile into a ravine, killing the artiste and his sister. Painfully, Nwozo and his sister were their parents’ only offspring.

A few weeks ago, on October 17, to be precise, 15 Nigerians lost their lives to another crash along the notorious Benin-Sagamu highway, when a passenger bus rammed head-on into a truck. Evidently, Nigerians continue to suffer the dehumanisation foisted on them by an insensitive and irresponsible political class.

In the first half of this year, 139 travellers lost their lives to road accidents in Ondo State, which witnessed 172 crashes from January to July; according Ondo Sector Commander of FRSC, Mr. John Meheux.

Interestingly, Mr. Meheux said deaths due to road accidents were higher than those from HIV/AIDS and malaria combined. Adding that the Owo/Akure road recorded the highest fatalities during the six months in question, Meheux lamented that the Benin/Ore road posed a nightmare to commuters.

From Yobe came more chilling data from Mr. Stephen Maituzumah, FRSC State Sector Commander, who revealed that in two weeks (October 2-16, 2011) alone, 24 people were killed and another 16 injured in road accidents along the Potiskum-Maiduguri as well as Potiskum-Fika roads. 

Whether it’s the so-called expressways of Lagos-Ibadan and Lagos-Badagry or the highways linking Enugu to Port Harcourt or Enugu to Onitsha, road users are daily confronted with life-threatening dangers, and no part of the country is spared.

In the north-western Nigerian State of Sokoto, seven members of the same family perished in a car crash, while returning home to Sifawa in Bodinga LGA after a visit to Sokoto.

In Nasarawa State, reports indicate two accidents along Keffi-Abuja road claimed about 20 lives in one day alone. The tragedy, which involved an articulated vehicle that in one go rammed into eight automobiles around Mararaba/Nyanya; unfolded on Monday July 18, 2011.

In Cross River State, the road network is in a shambles; from Calabar to Obudu through Sankwala, the commuter is subjected to an unnecessary endurance test. In fact, a section of the bridge linking Obudu town to Obanliku through Sankwala collapsed many months ago; and, ever since; road users have been forced into a circumlocution that costs them longer times to make their trips and more money as fare.

It is worth noting that some commuters flared up in anger, when we tried to explore their level of awareness as the regards the fact that most of the pestilential routes they are forced to travel are Federal Government roads.

The retort of some of these angry respondents could be summarised as follows: “Ordinary Nigerians have suffered too much…No one is interested in which government should do what”. Hear Mr. Jacob Bassey, who spoke to us during our tour of Cross River: “Our leaders, whether at the local, state or federal government owe Nigerians a duty to lessen hardship and suffering across the land”.

Across the roads we travelled, we engaged hundreds of commuters in different parts of the country. When asked, if they believed the federal government’s submission that money saved through withdrawal of fuel subsidy would be used to improve the state of roads; their cynicism was infectious.

In deed, their unanimous take could be encapsulated thus: “The state of federal highways today is proof that money saved from the withdrawal of fuel subsidy has always been stolen or diverted”.

Respondents pointed out that after more than six increments in the pump price of petroleum products in the 12 years of PDP (Peoples Democratic Party) rule; the condition of practically every federal highway has simply got worse!

From Abia through Ebonyi to Enugu and into Cross River State, the state of affairs is such that journeys that shouldn’t normally last more than two hours sometimes drag into over seven hours.

Take the distance from Aba, Abia State to Calabar, Cross River State; for example: Decades back, curiously in an era Nigeria’s oil earnings could be considered miniscule compared to recent years; travelling from Aba through Ikot Ekpene to Calabar was a 120-minutes’ trip. Today, some wayfarers have been known to spend six hours to cover the same distance because of bad spots along Calabar-Itu Road.

In North Eastern Adamawa State, travelling down Mubi Road through Bazza, to Uba and later into Makeira Village; the road has been awful for decades. Since 1999, travelling between Mubi and Hong has been one terrible experience. The distance from Mararaba Mubi to Kwambla is only 2km, however; it took 12 minutes to cover because of the road’s disheartening nature.

For most parts of the beginning minutes, travelling from Mubi to Yola through Hong; the ride was cum ci, cum ca; to Kala Town. From here, the traveller should espect a back-breaking trip for another 40 minutes all the way to Hong.

Mubi to Yola stretches roughly 195km, but the crater-infested part of the route drags as far as Hong; and, respite comes only after passing the Hong Council Secretariat, which stands almost opposite the offices of the Federal Roads Safety Commission (FRSC).

Akwa Ibom
Such is the condition of the road linking the Abia State town of Aba to Ikot Ekpene today that motorists are now forced to detour through Azumini into Abak before making it to Ikot Ekpene. Interestingly, while the journey is uncommonly smooth across Akwa Ibom, courtesy the contributions of Governor Godswill Akpabio; the wayfarer’s comfort evaporates on entering the federal highway in Cross River.

Although the roads around Atani, Nnewi, Obosi and Onitsha towns remain awful and the highway linking Anambra State capital, Awka; to Nigeria’s famed Coal City of Enugu is a nightmare, travelling from Igbo Ukwu through Nnobi to Oba or heading from Awka toward Isuofia, Agulu and Nri through Amawbia, the road is impressive.

Most of the stretch is two-lane stuff, but the asphalt coating is still intact. And, going to the Imo State capital, Owerri, from Onitsha, through Oba, Ozubulu, Oraifite, Ihiala and Mgbidi; the federal highway is being rebuilt from start to finish.

In Gamboru-Ngala Local Government Area (LGA) of Borno State, which covers parts of Nigeria’s north-eastern corner and shares international boundaries with three countries, Cameroon, Chad and Niger Republic; the route was once so bad locals called a section of the road that traversed their domain Guantanamo Bay. 

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Although, we didn’t expect the trip to Gamboru-Ngala to be a holiday: none could have imagined the pains awaiting anyone traversing the Maiduguri to Gamboru-Ngala Road. Travelling these parts was literally hell, which is why the inhabitants of Gamboru-Ngala saw in their geographical unit Nigeria’s equivalent of the US naval base’s detention camps in the island country of Cuba!

What would make some Nigerians compare their area of this country to Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp run by the US Joint Task Force in Cuba?

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Countless travellers found a parallel in the suffering of suspected “illegal combatants” and the tribulations that users of the Maiduguri to Gamboru-Ngala Road have to endure.

Hear the rue of one elderly fellow traveller we spoke to: “We may not be in detention but we suffer avoidable torture each time we ply this road.”

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Believe it or not, Crack was the name given to another torture spot along the Maiduguri-Gamboru road. Crack is an onomatopoeic derivative from the sound that emanates from the thousand-and-one vehicles conveying commuters, whose trips come to a sudden halt around that spot.

Sometimes the breakdown takes place in the evening, and with traffic few and far between, stranded travellers may not find help for hours and frequently come to worse grief with such denouement because highway robbers find lame ducks in them.

Cheeringly, respondents contacted before filing this report said the Maiduguri to Gamboru-Ngala road has finally been fixed.

Cross River
Virtually all the way from Itu Bridge, this state’s boundary with Akwa Ibom, to Odukpani Junction, which stands barely 30 minutes drive from Calabar; this stretch of the Federal Highway is a death-trap. At some point, roughly 10 minutes’ drive to the T-junction, where a left turn takes one towards Akamkpa; and, a right turn towards Calabar; the road has degenerated into a disaster waiting to happen.

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In oil-rich Delta, the condition of roads in Asaba, the state capital, is; to say the least, shameful. Roads like Nnebisi, which leads to Ogbeogonogo Market and is probably the longest avenue in town; as well as Ezenei Avenue, which boasts the highest concentration of hotels in any Nigerian settlement we know; are appalling.

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To make matters worse, travelling from the port settlement of Sapele to the university town of Abraka, through Eku; the route is far from refreshing.

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However, while some of the countless pot-holes are being filled, respondents we encountered traversing this route on December 8 and the following day, wondered: “Why is the government patching an ‘expired’ road”?

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One of these critics went on to remark: “Delta State is rich enough to give this road a fresh coating of asphalt all the way. Before long, all these fillers will wash off and road-users would find themselves back to square one”.

Edo State
Road users that ply the Benin City-Ekpoma-Auchi-Agenebode route would understand why Edo State Governor, Comrade Adams Oshiomhole is fondly called Champion. And, travelling the road from Auchi to Okpella and back last week (December 5-9) we came face-to-face with what Oshiomhole’s supporters describe as “People’s money working for the people”.

You need to traverse Benin City to understand the level of transformation this hitherto “abandoned” town has undergone. From Akpakpava through Siluko to Ekenhuan roads and onto Oba Market and its surroundings, which used to be a bastion of chaos, filth and pot-holes Edo people now understand what Oshiomhole’s camp means, when they say “Pestilence will not return”.

But, it is not all roses here; for, Uselu Road leading to Ogbowo, where Main Campus of University of Benin Stands; the route is crater-infested.

Interestingly, at some point, the observer can’t fail to notice a signboard near Uselu Market with the inscription: “This is a Federal Road, please bear with us”. It is worth noting that this notice is signed by “Edo State Government”.

Ogun State
Ogun State commuters that have had the misfortune of plying the Owode-Papalanto-Ilaro-Shagamu road know that this must rank among the worst routes in the whole wide world.

Similarly, road users are treated to crass torture travelling to another Ogun State settlement called Ado-Odo. Ado-Odo is linked to Owode and Agbara both in Ogun State as well as Badagry in Lagos State.

Along the Agbara/Morogbo to Badagry route, there’s a town called Mowo. It is from Mowo, many wayfarers make their way to Ado-odo via Ikoga-Zebbe.

Ordinarilly, the trip shouldn’t take more than 15 minutes; driving around 50 kilometers per hour. Unfortunately, because of the crater-infested nature of this road upon entering Ado-Odo, motorists are forced to decelerate considerably to meander in a zig-zag manner across the bumpy avenue.

Over the last 10 years, we have had cause to visit or pass through Ado-Odo scores of times and these shuttles have given us a first-hand impression of how progressively the Mowo/Ado-Odo road has worsened.

In July, 2004; we thought this route was bad. By August of 2006, we felt it was terrible. During another visit on Sunday September 10, 2004 our judgment was that this route has become a national embarrassment!

Plying this route in October this year, we discovered it had since morphed into hellish! As a result of the current deplorable state of this route, commercial vehicle operators now avoid going as far as Ado-odo, preferring to make a U-turn at Ikoga-Zebbe consequently leaving most commuters at the mercy of okada (commercial bike) operators.

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Roads and national image
Believe it or not, the terrifying condition of Nigeria’s road network has helped to reinforce a negative image of the country from tales bandied by foreigners that have visited as tourists or traders.

In fact, during a 2004 interview with Mr. Opaayinde Idriss, Chairman of Jonquet (Cotonou), Benin Republic to Idumota (Lagos), Nigeria Drivers Association, the man lamented that at least three Beninoise, including a pregnant woman, had lost their lives along the Seme-Mile Two route; where robbers taking advantage of the parlous state of the road ambush occupants of vehicles, whose drivers must slow down to snail speed in order to crawl over the pot-hole infested road.

Thankfully, Lagos State Governor Babatunde Raji Fashola of the Action Congress of Nigeria (CAN) party has embarked on full-scale redesign and reconstruction of this particular route, which is a very important segment of the Littoral Axis of the Trans-ECOWAS Highway.

Aside precious lives lost to fatal mishaps, Nigeria’s crater-infested avenues and highways also take a crippling toll on the economy arising from countless man-hours wasted on crawling over dilapidated roads.

Countless critics of Nigeria’s political elite averred that the state of roads across their country epitomizes the predatory disposition of members of this class, whose predilection for looting at the expense of national development has left basic infrastructure in tatters.

Sadly, practically every arm and strata of government; local, state and federal seem to have betrayed the people with regard to roads amid other scores. Not surprisingly, countless respondents spoken to around the country observed that, like the epileptic nature of electricity supply in the country, Nigeria’s road network is also iconic of the quality of the nation’s political leadership.

It is worth noting that for decades, Nigerian authorities have shied away from issuing official gazettes that would have helped citizens keep taps on developments in their country.

This perceived attempt at mystifying governments’ step at every turn is the reason members of the public are at total loss with regard to what it costs to build a road.

In deed, we stumbled on the cost of a certain road contract purely by chance: one of the anti-graft agencies had been called in to deal with a contractor that got N2.2billion for the reconstruction of 1.6km stretch along the Apapa-Oshodi Expressway in Lagos.

In other words, Nigerians cough out over N1billion for 1km length of road. Agreed that the contract costs vary depending on the terrain; if we take N1billion for average; then all the trillions of naira spent over the last three decades have practically gone down the drain, going by the shameful state of roads across the country.

The durability of roads in Nigeria is another touchy issue. There have been instances, where pot-holes had begun to appear amid the coats of asphalt even before the so-called “official commissioning” of some roads. And, most roads across Nigeria begin to show cracks and throw up craters barely two years after finishing, despite the colossal costs of building them.

Interestingly, Nigerians; already overwhelmed by lingering power outages, security challenges and other vagaries of living under the leadership of a political elite most citizens see as demonic; just take the country’s state of roads in their strides.

“No one seems to bother to educate others as to the cost of road construction in other parts of the world vis-à-vis similar terrain and how long a road should last before it requires rehabilitation.

“No one has ever bothered to compile the names of road building contractors, and which of them built the best or worst roads in the land.

“When was the last time any contractor was penalised for poorly executed jobs”.

These are some of the many questions respondents wanted us to ask in this report. But, is any one out there willing to provide the answers?

The PDP is widely believed to have pauperised Nigerians since 1999, when that party assumed power at the centre. To be fair, however, incumbent Nigeria’s President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan has spent less than a year in office since the last election.

In a determined attempt to redress the country’s enervating electricity crisis that has lingered roughly 40 years, the President Jonathan-led government has virtually taken the bull by the horn through allowing private bodies and state governments to participate in generating electricity.

This power, hitherto vested exclusively on the federal government, whose agency NEPA/PHCN had proven most incompetent and inefficient at discharging; is widely believed to be the reason Nigerians had been groaning under darkness for decades. As things stand, it seems reasonable to assume that power outages will subside considerably within 24 months across the country.

However, only time can tell, if President Jonathan would visit the issue of roads rehabilitation with similar determination; for, nothing short of such stance is likely to result in the much-needed fixing of federal roads and consequently saving the lives of citizens who travel these roads.

1. Wrecked vehicle with occupants trapped after a collision on Lokoja-Abuja road.
2. Ntezi Ebia road in Ebonyi State.
3. A part of Netan-Ebem along Ikom-Obudu road in Cross River State.
4. Another road in Cross River: within Wula in Boki LGA.
5. Scene of a multiple collision along Calabar-Ikom road in 2007.
6. Flooding at Ezenei/Nnebisi junction around Cable Junction in Asaba.
7. More from Delta State: Nnebisi Street near Ezenei junction.
8. Inside Ezenei Avenue, Asaba.
9. On the road linking Ilaro to Sagamu through Papalanto in Ogun State.
10. Guantanamo Bay, as this section of Maiduguri to Gamboru-Ngala road used to be called.
11. Guantanamo from another angle.
12. A scene from Crack also on the Maiduguri to Gamboru-Ngala.

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