Patigi and Bukuruo are two communities in Kwara State with at least two things in common; one is good, the other is bad.
Patigi in Patigi Local Government Area and Bukuruo in Gwanara District, Baruteen Local Government Area, are border communities that have been dubbed food baskets of the state because of their traditional agrarian economies.
For instance, Gwanara is an important agricultural area and is believed to be the largest producer of Cashew and Soya beans in Kwara State. The area is also famous for high quality vegetables and yam flour, popularly called elubo. But while Patigi borders Niger State, Burukuo shares a border with Benin Republic.
Sadly, both communities share in the avoidable sorrow that the poor state of roads in and around their areas has brought to them.
Recently, Patigi lost two people in a road accident on Patigi Road, its major road linking its many farms and settlements.
The death of the two men, identified as Idris Patigi and Emeka, was described by residents as a fraction of the significant body count recorded over the years on the main access road.
The two farmers were moving timbers from Patigi to Ilorin when their vehicle ran into potholes. The driver lost control and the vehicle ended up in a gully. The accident cost Patigi and Emeka their lives, while four others sustained varying degrees of injury.
Similarly, the residents of Burukuo have grown weary of telling and retelling tales of what the bad roads in the area have cost them.
All the roads in the area are considered to be in a horrible shape but the ones adjudged to be in worse conditions include Ilesha-Gwanara Road, Gwanara-Kenu-Okuta Road and Gwanara-Bukuruo Road.
With the bad roads, many residents have resorted to dangerous boat rides on Bukuruo River as an alternative means to get to some destinations.
It was during one of such trips recently that Bukuruo lost 12 pupils, who drowned in the river after the boat conveying them home from school capsized.
"It is one of the darkest days this area has experienced; we still mourn the children," a prominent chief in the community, Talban of Gwanara, Alhaji Ustaz Musa, said, sadly.
Musa added that by a stroke of luck, 14 other pupils were rescued alive, but not without sustaining varying degrees of injury.
"Pasca Ruben, Joseph Woru, Bonni Yakubu, Sabi Incha and Paulina Bake; those were some of the names of the dead children; when I sleep, I still remember them and pray for their families," he said as he reeled out the names mournfully. "The parents of those little children have not recovered from the tragedy and neither has the community."
He, however, noted that apart from the community, commuters from other parts of Kwara State and even foreign nationals from Benin Republic, Burkina Faso, Togo and Ghana had been subjected to nightmares on the roads.
"Members of the community have cried out to the federal and state governments many times to do something about the roads to prevent further loss of lives, " he explained.
Ordinarily, people from these communities shouldn’t be using the Bukuruo River as a means of transportation because of the rickety boats that are used, but it was learnt that the poor state of the roads has been forcing them to take the risky boat trips.
Another community leader, Hajia Aliyu Hawa, who is the Magajia of Gwanara, said 33 primary school pupils from the Benin Republic died few years ago while trying to cross the river.
She also lamented that such tragedies had become an annual occurrence in the area.
The Gaweye Ruma of Gwanara, Alhaji Salihu Ohode, explained that Gwanara district shares an international border running into tens of kilometres with the Republic of Benin to the West and an interstate border with Oyo State to the South and East.
He described the borders as integral to the economic survival of the community.
It was further learnt that a river along the border, which is shared by Nigeria and Benin Republic, is called River Nano in Nigeria and River Okpara at the Benin Republic end.
According to Ohode, the river has only two entry points at Bukuruo and Budo Aiki.
"Community members use canoes to ferry people and goods across the river. The boats operate between 7am and 6pm daily and once the boat services are closed at 6pm, all communication between adjoining communities and those across the border are cut off," Ohode said.
The residents of the community said they had written to the federal and state governments several times, but nothing positive had ever resulted from their efforts.
Another community leader, Umar Musa, said Benin Republic had recently begun the construction of its own end of the affected roads, thereby leaving the Nigerian side unattended to.
He described the situation as an international disgrace for Nigeria, its government and its people.
He said, "Since the creation of Kwara State, we have never enjoyed for once on this road, either during the rainy season or the dry season. It has greatly affected our community as our economic activities have been paralysed.
"The Federal Government is losing greatly by not harnessing the commercial and economic potential on this route through the provision of good roads. From Togo, northern Cote d’Ivoire, northern Ghana, and northern Benin Republic, the road leads directly to Nigeria and to Ilorin. So, Nigeria is losing a lot. By my estimation, our community is losing over N5m monthly as a result of the problem.
"The government of Benin Republic has started construction on its end of a major road linking the country to Nigeria, but Nigeria has not done anything about its end of the road. It is an embarrassment. On the Benin Republic end, there is also an ongoing bridge construction of international standard while the end of the road in Nigeria is dotted with potholes and gullies.
"People from Benin Republic even say: 'Nigeria, the giant of Africa, despite all its wealth, look at its road.' The moment people cross the boundary into Nigeria from Benin Republic; they complain and start abusing the Nigerian government because from that moment on, the journey becomes suicidal."
Some of the residents also blamed the bad roads in the area for the incessant increase in the cost of goods and commodities.
A resident, Aliyu Ibrahhim, said, "What the government of Benin Republic is doing is nice and the construction work is standard. If it completes the bridge, it will boost its economy. We are pleading with the Nigerian government to also help.
"From the Nigerian border to this point of the community, instead of you spending 30 minutes on the journey, you will spend more than three hours. And from a place called Sawaro to this community, instead of spending 30 minutes on the journey, you will also spend three hours."
A youth in the community, Ibrahim Goge, said after many futile appeals to the federal and state governments, the youth in the community were left with no option but to repair some portions of the bad roads by themselves.
He stated that the youth had already got five truckloads of gravel at N55,000 each, adding that as the work progressed, they would appeal to the community for more funds.
One of the youth involved in the project, who identified himself as Goge, said, "What we are doing is communal labour. Since our government is not doing anything for us, we have embarked on this communal work.
"If we do not act now, in the nearest future, this road will cave in and we will be totally cut off from other areas. We cannot continue to wait for the government to do its job, and that is why we have raised some funds to improve the condition of the road."
The Emir of Gwanara, Kotokotogi II, Dr. Sabi Idris, who also decried the challenge of infrastructure in the area, said, "The Gwanara-Kenu-Okuta Road is also the only road linking the community with the local government headquarters at Kosubosu. The road became bad in many sections such as Ningurume, Koroboro (Yakiru Junction), Makarakpo, among others as a result of erosion.
"Both the Federal Government and the Ford Foundation, having recognised the utter neglect of Nigeria’s border regions, encouraged the setting up of trans-border cooperation workshop between Nigeria and each of its five international boundary communities, including Nigeria-Benin Boundary, Nigeria-Niger Boundary and Nigeria-Equatorial Guinea Boundary."
However, responding to allegations that it had neglected the border communities in its jurisdiction, the Kwara State Government said it was concerned about the welfare of the residents and was doing everything possible within available resources to reduce their hardship and make life more enjoyable for them.
The Commissioner for Information, Alhaji Babatunde Ajeigbe, said some roads in Patigi were earmarked for repairs or construction in the last budget, adding that the ones that were not there had been included in the 2018 budget.
He said, "Also, you need to understand that the Patigi Road belongs to the Federal Government. However, it was started by the state government in 2010 and has been inherited by this administration. The state government had started work on the road before the Federal Government took it over.
"In fact, it is the same contractor that was handling the road for the state government that the Federal Government also gave the contract. Also there is a reconstruction of another road within Patigi Local Government Area. Before the end of the year, there will be maintenance work on the Patigi Township Road."
The commissioner also said that an appreciable length of the Ilesha-Baruba-Gwanara-Okuta- Chinkanda Road had been done already, leaving the Okuta—Chikanda end that had yet to be done.
He also claimed that Ilesha-Baruba-Kosubosu- Chikanda Road, which belonged to the Federal Government, had also been done.
He said the state government was handling the road projects in phases because of paucity of funds.
Ajeigbe said, "We need to understand that the resources and funds needed are not readily available, so the state government is handling the projects in phases. It is also important to note that the part they (community people) are talking about belongs to the Federal Government. That is why the state government is investing in roads that belong to the Federal Government, with the hope of getting refunds later.
"Resources are not enough to go round so we have to do the federal roads in phases. That is why Ilesa-Baruba-Gwanara has already been done, but we need to extend the Okuta-Chikanda section of the road, which has not been done yet."