Engr Emeka Okoye : Brain behind 72-Hour Umuawulu Wonder Bridge

Sep 14, 2018

By Uche Amunike

If there is a man who loves his profession, who has passion for making this state one to be used as a yardstick for measuring perfection in building structures and living up to the campaign promises of the incumbent, then he is the man I write about. I had never met him until the day of this interview. I remember trying so hard to reach him a couple of times before now without succeeding. I wasn't sure what kind of person I would meet when the date for this interview was eventually fixed, but I assure you that I was completely bowled over by his very warm mien and astute zeal in seeing that he lives up to the expectations of not just the working governor of Anambra, but of Anambrarians as a whole. I call him the brain behind the 72-hour Wonder Bridge of Umuawulu. Please read parts of my interaction with the very dynamic Engr James Emeka Okoye…

Let's meet you, Sir.
My name is Engr Emeka James Okoye. I'm the MD/CEO of Anambra Road Maintenance Agency (ARMA).

Tell us, what is the scope of your work in the state?
Well, like the name states, (Anambra Road Maintenance Agency), you know that Anambra has a good network of roads and you can't keep building without having a maintenance culture. So, His Excellency, Chief Willie Obiano equipped the Anambra Road Maintenance Agency with equipments and personnel to adequately take care of the road maintenance aspect of the work. So, we handle literarily every road maintenance work ranging from Zero Potholes to palliative interventions and some sections of the roads that are much bigger than the potholes.

So, would you say that you are satisfied with the kind of equipments you have at your disposal to carry out your duties?
Yeah. Absolutely. Let me take them in segments. Three years ago, the governor bought equipments for zero-potholes. It's what we call the light duty equipments and recruited 150 Anambra youths and split them into three groups. Each group was to focus on each Senatorial Zone. That has been a very fantastic success story because, over the period, a total of well over a hundred thousand square metres of potholes have been fixed in each of the senatorial zones or well over that. That is actually ongoing as we speak, but in the rainy season, it kind of slows down because of the rains but as soon as we have sunny skies, the workers are out on the streets, patching the potholes, in the dry season, it goes on full blast. So, we have the large duty equipments, the asphalt cutters, the hand rollers and a few other tools with which the zero pothole workers work. Then, on the palliative section, we do more of the heavy duty side and we have the bulldozers, the excavators, rollers, asphalt pavers, etc. So we have full complements of equipments for our job and indeed, recently, our EXCO also now approved some new equipments for us to also purchase. This also goes towards more effective attack on the zero potholes. His Excellency, Chief Willie Obiano takes this as a very serious aspect of the promises he made to Ndi
Anambra. He has committed, resources, time, personnel to be able to ensure that ARMA does what it is supposed to do in the state. So, we're very satisfied with the equipments that we have so far, and indeed, the ones that are coming. I won't let the cat out of the bag but the incoming equipments that are coming from the United States have been tested for the past 25/30 years and we are going to b the first state to have them in Nigeria. It's going to tackle zero pothole with much ease, more speed and less waste of materials.

How long have you been here?
This is my second year. I took charge on November 1st, 2016 as the MD, Anambra Road Maintenance Agency.

Some people are of the opinion that your agency allows the roads to get really bad before you work on them. Kindly react to that.
That's not correct. Like I said, I came here less than two years ago. Before then, a lot of things were accumulating in terms of road maintenance. The governor took the bull by the horn and then bought these equipments and charged ARMA to move. Again, there is a direct relationship between the development of the state with the volume of vehicles that come into the state and therefore, the tyre loads on the roads are gradually increasing with the volume of economic activity going on in the state. But we're catching up with the potholes. I will also mention to you that during the rainy season, the tempo slows down because you can hardly do asphalting during the rainy season and that's the worst period for the roads. If a little pothole forms on the road during the rainy season and you're not able to put asphalt on it, as soon as vehicles ply it, it widens because it's wet and weak. That's a natural thing. You find out that during the dry season, we quickly try to catch up on those things and try to fix as much as we can. It's going to take a while. Even if we work 24hours a day, it's going to be impossible to finish patching up the potholes in the state in even one or two years. That's why we're now expanding. When these other equipments that I talked about come in, we would now be able to have three teams working in each of the senatorial zones simultaneously. Right now, we have one team working simultaneously in each zone but all that will change when our equipments arrive because we would have three teams working for each zone and a dedicated team working in Awka. This will be a much faster way to fix the bad sections of the road.
senatorial zones simultaneously. Right now, we have one team working simultaneously in each zone but all that will change when our equipments arrive because we would have three teams working for each zone and a dedicated team working in Awka. This will be a much faster way to fix the bad sections of the road.

Very recently, the Umuawulu Bridge caved in. It's an issue I'm really interested in. kindly give a situation report of it.
On Tuesday morning, we were alerted that the bridge collapsed, but I'll tell you what really happened. There is a culvert at that section and we found out that there was heavy rain the night before. We found out that water had started going underneath the culvert and not just through the culvert which means that it has washed off the sand underneath the culvert. So, with water now passing underneath the culvert, it got access to the adjourning sides of the two culverts. So, naturally, laterite is weak with water. So, gradually, that water from underneath the culvert started washing away the sand at the side of the culvert and when a reasonable quantity had been washed off, of course nothing was holding the ones on top, hence the collapse. So, that was what happened. The culvert is still there. This happened on Tuesday morning and His Excellency directed we should go immediately and do some palliative work there to open up the road, because it's a very important road that leads from Nibo to Umuawulu to Mbaukwu, to Awgbu to Orumba North and South, so, it's a very major link road. So, it happened on Tuesday and on Wednesday, we mobilized. We got the team of engineers, visited the site, came back to the office, looked at it and analysed it and agreed on a solution and the solution is this: we are going to use sandbags to fill up that area that has washed out because if you put ordinary sand there, it is still raining heavily and the water still passes there and will wash it out again. So, the jumbo sandbag is filled with sand and we're going to put hard core stones on top so it won't wash off because it is captured inside the bag. Then we now put some sand and concrete on the road just to make it motorable so we open up the roads. We are however going to create an artificial culvert with a forty foot container and then bury it on the other side of the culvert that's didn't collapse. We will cut the road there, bury the forty foot container there and divert the water that is going through the culvert to start passing through the container. After that, we will free the culvert of water. Then we can properly investigate what has happened underneath the culvert and how to build the bridge proper because with the water going there, we can't do much. Once we bury the container, we will allow vehicles and pedestrians to keep going through it. Between Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we were worked on it, by Saturday evening, we had opened the road. So within 72 hours, vehicles had started passing through and this is work in progress. We will also stabilize the top of the fillings with the lumps we are given this morning so that the vehicular movement will be a lot easier. Thankfully, it is open to traffic as we speak. This week we will go into that container operation I talked about and then, divert the water into the container and then properly investigate on what happened in the culvert and make sure that it is still structurally stable. If it structurally fails, we will bring it down and do a fresh culvert there. If it hasn't failed, there'll be techniques we can use to stabilize it and fill the underneath part and properly treat the mouth of the culvert, so that water can properly pass through the culvert not under it. If that is done, depending on the result of our investigation, we will divert the water back to the culvert and exhume the container again and fill up that place.
just to make it motorable so we open up the roads. We are however going to create an artificial culvert with a forty foot container and then bury it on the other side of the culvert that's didn't collapse. We will cut the road there, bury the forty foot container there and divert the water that is going through the culvert to start passing through the container. After that, we will free the culvert of water. Then we can properly investigate what has happened underneath the culvert and how to build the bridge proper because with the water going there, we can't do much. Once we bury the container, we will allow vehicles and pedestrians to keep going through it. Between Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, we were worked on it, by Saturday evening, we had opened the road. So within 72 hours, vehicles had started passing through and this is work in progress. We will also stabilize the top of the fillings with the lumps we are given this morning so that the vehicular movement will be a lot easier. Thankfully, it is open to traffic as we speak. This week we will go into that container operation I talked about and then, divert the water into the container and then properly investigate on what happened in the culvert and make sure that it is still structurally stable. If it structurally fails, we will bring it down and do a fresh culvert there. If it hasn't failed, there'll be techniques we can use to stabilize it and fill the underneath part and properly treat the mouth of the culvert, so that water can properly pass through the culvert not under it. If that is done, depending on the result of our investigation, we will divert the water back to the culvert and exhume the container again and fill up that place.

The Good thing is that it happened and it didn't take a long time before intervention was made.
Yes. Within 72 hours everything was done to salvage the problem. The Umuawulu people were so shocked at such timely intervention. The Governor himself was there immediately to inspect by himself and he was so very happy. On Tuesday morning when we arrived there, a car was stuck there, but within two days everything was back to normal.

So at a scale of 1-10, how will score your performances so far?
Hahaha. I don't know if I am the one to score ourselves. But, I think we just did what we were supposed to do. His Excellency is happy about what we do because you can't build roads without maintaining them. He's great apostle of maintenance culture, so this is how to manifest that. We are just doing our job like I said and we pray and hope that our work will speak for us as we continue to give our best to Anambra and let Ndi Anambra judge us.

What exactly is going on at the bye pass at Nteje?
The thing is that ordinarily, people should be passing through the Umunya express. It's a federal road, we could have done that but federal government is still owing the state government over forty three billion naira. But lately the last time the minister visited the state, he paid a courtesy call to His Excellency and confirmed that the contract for that section has now been awarded. However, they said immediately after the rainy season work there will commence. But then, besides the express, there is a road that went from Umunya to Nteje. That is a state road which has been completed even though the bridge is currently being worked on. So there is an old bridge which the people use, but before December, this year everything will be ready and people will start using the main road.

Approaching Awka there is a road that leads to the timber market?
That road starts from headbridge in Onitsha and ends at 82 Division junction, Enugu state. The state government has done from headbridge to Umunya, also repaired from Amawbia to Amansea which is the border between Anambra and Enugu state. The federal government awarded from Amansea in Awka to 82 Division Enugu. The only section that was not awarded was between Amawbia and Umunya, so that is the section that is really bad. But the information from the minister is that it has now been awarded to same contractor doing the Enugu work, and same contractor doing the Enugu section will take up the job soon. But from Umunya to over head bridge you can see the work done.



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