The expression of pedestrians and villagers traversing the deadly Mbiakong Uruan bridge can best be described as fear, despair, frustration, heightened tension and anguish as they risk their lives daily to pass through the deadly wooden bridge to get to their destinations.
Buried in the heart of Uruan Local Government area and surrounded by a large body of fast-moving water, the ancestral bridge is a link between Mbiakong and Ikpa Uruan villages, and serves the people of Ibikpe, Ikot Udo, Osong, Ita, Mbiaya and a lot of other villages in northern Uruan thus, making it a busy passage-way for farmers, traders, school children, workers, commercial motorcyclists and tricyclists.
The bridge, accessible through a zig-zag rugged road from Ifiayong road by Nitel, is the remains a 40-year old construction, built during the post-colonial era to aid the movement of goods and people from Northern Uruan to its Southern counterparts. Sadly, its base and railings had long worn away, leaving its users with no option but to place logs of palm tree on it to avoid being cut off from commercial activities and their sources of livelihood from neighbouring communities.
So busy is the ancient bridge that hardly can a minute pass-by without a commercial driver driving through it with school children, food items, farm produce and other commuters loaded behind while they wobble through the planks underneath with great fear.
Without doubt, the record of casualties and losses recorded by commuters of this bridge is grave and uncountable. In the course of trying to drive through the unaligned logs of wood, many cyclists lose their control when they stagger, and end up emptying their commuters, goods and luggage into the river. When this happens, only those who can swim are able to wade to the shore while others are either rescued by bystanders at the river bank or found dead later; the goods are swallowed by the river.
As a result of this grave risk, many of the community dwellers from the north of Uruan have had to go through Itu and Uyo Local Government Areas to access the Uruan Local Government Headquarters at Idu in the last 40 years.
According to Christian Ita Asuquo, a commercial motorcyclist from Mbiakong, the bridge is even more dangerous at night due to the absence of light and railings. “I was born to see this bridge this way. There is no other route to Ibikpe, Ikpa and Uruan South apart from this bridge. If you walk through here at night without anyone around, you’ll fall into the water and if there’s no one to come to your aid, you’ll die. A lot of casualties have been recorded here. I call on the government to come to our aid. This is the only access road in this community which leads to Itam, Itu, Calabar/Itu Highway and other axis”, he pleaded.
Another commuter, Emmanuel Brendan Edem, told newsmen that the State of the bridge was a major set-back for the community. “Our major problem is this bridge. What you see today was worse but not for the intervention of fellow youths. I was born to see this bridge this way. We want the government to come to our aid so that we don’t lose out on developments and benefits from the outer world.
One of the rescuers by the river bank who goes around voluntarily when chanced to help out victims, Ezekiel Bassey Essien confirmed the daily loss recorded by commuters and also called for a quick intervention on the bridge. “I was also born to see this bridge in this unfortunate state. My grandmother told me that the bridge was built during the biafran war so, this bridge has been since the civil war, when Akwa Ibom was under Cross River State. The bridge collapsed and was remedied by the community through the placement of logs. A lot of people cannot access Mbiaya from here because of the condition of this bridge.
The story was not different when newsmen met with the Village Head of Mbiakong Uruan, Chief Hyacinth N. O. Ekpeyong.
“That place is a menace. The water runs one-way from Ntak Inyang down to the bigger water in Akan Obio Uruan to Cameroun. That bridge connecting Uruan North, South and Central was built during the civil war by the Army. If you look at the corner, you’ll see that all the knots have loosened. There were some rails along the sides but because of incessant accidents, they have given way and people have fallen victims because there is no one to rescue them, especially at night. Three people have so far lost their lives to that bridge”, he lamented.
“Even the road to the bridge is another story. We pleaded with the NDDC who constructed this road to extend it up to the bridge but they were defiant. We’ve pleaded with them verbally and in writing severally, asking them to complete it up to the end of the bridge but to no avail”, the octogenarian stated.
“There are times people fall into the river with their bikes, passengers and goods or lose control of their movement. We therefore resorted to putting those logs of wood to make it a bit manageable. The mother of the Speaker of the House of Assembly, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey is from the next Village, Ikpa. The road is a State road, joining several villages up to the end of Calabar/Itu. Government can make it possible for people to pass through that route, rather than having to turn around Uyo to get to her neighbours. A lot of people from the North of Uruan feel reluctant to travel down here because of this bridge whereas, this place to Idu should ideally take 5 minutes but we travel over an hour or more to get to our local Government Headquarters to avoid stories at the bridge. We really need the government to come to our aide”, he expressed.
Speaking on the same plight, Secretary of the Village Council, Mr. Lawrence Okon Nyong decried the abandonment of the community by the government. “We have 10 polling Units in this community with a combined population of Five Million people. We are host to Ibom Icon Hotel (formerly known as Ibom Le Meridien Hotel), Nwaniba beach, Atlantic FM, with a boundary with Nsukarra Offot, Use Ofot and Idu. We ask for a motorable road and good network linkage through the bridge. Uruan has no good roads and Mbiakong is a major road for us”, he said.
Similarly, the community Youth Leader, Mr. Lawrence Bassey Etim attested to efforts made by the community to reach out to the government concerning the bridge. “I went to NDDC with my Chief to complain that where they are stopping the tarred road will result in heavy flooding and breakdown of our houses. But all efforts to bring them back proved abortive. We have also approached the government times without number to no avail. The Speaker, Rt. Hon. Aniekan Bassey has come here with the State House of Assembly Members on two occasions to inspect the bridge but nothing has been heard or done so far. We are pleading that government comes to our rescue to curtail the number of casualties on this bridge”, he pleaded.
– Priscilla Christopher