By Mua Patrick Mughe in Yaounde
After years of government’s vexing neglect, the North West region was completely cut off from the rest of the country for over 24 hours Thursday, March 25, following the collapse of a bridge along the Bamenda-Babadjou stretch.
Thousands of passengers were seen stranded on the night of Wednesday breaking Thursday as a portion of the bumpy and neglected road which has been impassable for weeks finally gave way, creating a giant trench.
Passengers among them women and children were stranded on both ends of the road while some crossed the muddy collapsed area on foot.
The collapse of the road was expected as commuters have for days now been raising concerns over the deplorable and shameful state of the road but surprisingly, government has been demonstrating indifference and bad faith, according to users.
“This is a bridge somewhere around Babadjou…this is the 25th of March, 2021. Passengers who left Bamenda have been unable cross this area…women, children and even the sick spent the night here under biting cold” one of the stranded passengers said.
The same traveler continued that: “People coming from Douala, Yaounde, Buea, have been unable to cross as well…you can see them on the other side. This is what we are going through in Cameroon. This is the kind of set up in which we find ourselves in Cameroon, it’s a shame that this is happening in the 21st century…”
Another victim recounted: “I left Limbe yesterday (Wednesday) around 10:00pm heading for Bamenda and we travelled well, I mean safely until we arrived Babadjou…on reaching there, we discovered that the road was blocked. I was in the car for about 30 minutes, nothing was moving, I saw people outside, so I decided to step out…I moved to the area which is a valley , where there is a deviation, on reaching there, we discovered that water had created a trench on the deviated road”.
He said: “When I took my bag and crossed on foot to the other side, I discovered that people who left Bamenda since yesterday (Wednesday) were still there. I took a bike from the other side to Matazen, from there, I took a taxi to Bamenda. That is the experience I had…”
In June last year, Yaounde authorities had announced the imminent kick off of construction works on the dilapidated stretch but not a single meter of the rutted road has received a coat of fresh tar this far.
For weeks now, travelling to Bamenda has been nightmarish and remains a journey no one willingly wants to undertake.
The stretch of road precisely around the locality of Nkombou near Santa has virtually been impassable for days now before the collapse of the bridge Wednesday night.
The government promise which is yet to be fulfilled was echoed following a visit undertaken by Members of Parliament, MPs, from the North West region. The MPs had stormed the Ministry of Public Works, quizzing Minister Emmanuel Nganou Djoumessi over the deplorable state of the Babadjou-Bamenda road.
The lawmakers then relayed to the minister the feeling of neglect of the road by the North West population. The 16 lawmakers, in an audience with the minister had presented a memo containing the expectations on the need to tar the road.
It merged from discussions at the audience that the Minister of Public Works had engaged action for work to begin on the said road soonest but nothing has since been done.
Meanwhile Minister Nganou Djoumessi had assured the lawmakers that four companies had been selected to begin working simultaneously on the road to ease the persistent suffering of the thousands of people who travel on the road daily.
He had then assured the lawmakers that another company was to begin work on the Matazem-Bamenda Up Station part of the road for the good of the population.
Still in line with actions to arrest the situation of the road that has become a national shame, the minister had announced that he will hold a meeting with the four enterprises chosen to work on the road Friday July 17, 2020. But almost a year after the promise, not even fresh gravel has been placed on the dilapidated stretch.
Much talk, little action on ground
Before the minister’s failed promise in July last year, earlier in January of same year, the World Bank had rekindled hopes for the tarring of the said stretch.
In what had been described as a welcome relief to the people of the North West region, the Bretton Woods institution had announced the resumption of disbursements to fund the tarring of the 35km road.
The announcement of the funding for the road was the major outcome of a meeting which took place in January of that year to evaluate projects financed by the World Bank in Cameroon.
The construction work of the 35-km Babadjou-Bamenda was reportedly halted, after works began in 2017.
It has not been publicly explained why the project was stalled. In addition to the construction of the road between Babadjou and Bamenda, the project, valued at more than FCFA 37 billion, also includes the development of the Bamenda urban crossing, over a distance of 12 km, as well as a 5 km bypass.
Earlier in 2016, The World Bank had pledged to fund the rehabilitation of the Babadjou-Bamenda road, which being regarded by commuters as a death-trap.
We learned then that the World Bank had engaged to rehabilitate the stretch as part of the trans-border road linking Cameroon and Nigeria.
This is, notably, the Bamenda-Enugu corridor. Besides rehabilitating the Babadjou- Bamenda stretch, the World Bank, it was said will also bankroll a by-pass that will create a new entrance into Bamenda.
The by-pass begins from Bamenda Up Station, precisely where there is a billboard with the inscription ‘Welcome to Bamenda’.
It continues and meanders through Bamendankwe and joins the other stretch that leads to the Nkwen neighborhood near the Amour Mezam bus stop.
Origin of the deplorable state of road
In 2015, the stretch of road, it should be recalled became so impassable that Babadjou people went on a rampage.
They demonstrated and ignited a free-for-all cursing of the authorities.
Same year, SDF chieftain, John Fru Ndi, stormed the road and sent away workers at the toll gate at Matazem near Santa.
The stretch that the World Bank had been announced to rehabilitate is part of the Yaounde-Bafoussam-Bamenda highway that is noted for road accidents.
It causes 11 percent of road accidents leading to 16 percent of deaths registered on Cameroonian roads, according to official sources.
For one thing, the World Bank, the African Development Bank, AfDB, and the Cameroon Government shoulder the burden of rehabilitating the Yaounde-Bafoussam-Bamenda highway at the cost of FCFA 211, 851 billion.
Out of the amount, the AfDB is providing 59.8 percent, the World Bank 27 .6 percent and the Cameroon government 12.5 percent.
It should, however, be noted that the World Bank funding is separate from that of the AfDB that is covering the Yaounde-Bafoussam stretch of 212 km.
The localities of Babadjou and Bamenda road corridor will each benefit a 35km tarring of their roads.
Meanwhile, 16km of urban expansion of the Bamenda-Babadjou road linking the Bamenda-Enugu road corridor will also be constructed.