By Uchenna Awom
What a paradox! What a foolery of a choice! What is in N4billion First Ladies Complex? The burning issues are between constructing of a second Niger Bridge, repair of the old one and the rehabilitation of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos and the building of African First Ladies Complex in Abuja. Which of them are people oriented? Last week, the Senate surreptitiously suggested stark choices for the Federal Government; choose between the demands of a majority and the comfort of an overfed few.
What an irony! Could you imagine that the issue of second Niger Bridge and even the sorry state of the present colonial bridge that connects the Eastern states with the rest of Nigeria and the ubiquitous Third Mainland bridge in Lagos, with its creeping fear occasioned by the current state of dilapidation, will take a protest of the National Assembly to attract the attention of the Federal Government, whereas the presidency is fast-tracking the construction of a - N4billion First Ladies Complex in Abuja.
It needs no activist's explanation to say that the two bridges ordinarily should be of top and urgent priority to the government, considering that leaving them in their present state could cause a horrendous calamity for the entire country. It could throw up a situation that would elicit spontaneous condemnation by the international community not minding the benefits the spouses of their various first ladies will derive from such a white elephant project. So who is fooling who?
Perhaps, the senate carefully considered their move last week when it directed its Committee on Works to liaise immediately with the Ministry of Works to undertake the reinforcement, repairs and rehabilitation of the River Niger Bridge to avoid tragic consequences of its possible collapse.
They also asked the Ministry of Works to take immediate action and commence work on the Second Niger Bridge before the end of this quarter.
In the same vein the Senators called for similar action on the failing Lagos Third Mainland Bridge. The stark directives came barely a week after the lawmakers serially questioned the appropriateness or otherwise, the construction of the N4billion African First Ladies Complex in the heart of Abuja, when other people-oriented infrastructures are begging for repairs.
It is a situation when juxtaposed exposes the near cluelessness of the government. Imagine that the call for a second Niger Bridge dates back to over twenty years and has even assumed a frightening political dimension in the mold of the demand for the creation of additional state in the South East, yet the present government views it as something of a political pun game that should remain so. In other climes, some governments strive to pick on a particular issue with serious historical and political implication to work on, so that history would appropriately record them on its positive side. Not so here, particularly in the present circumstance.
Apparently, angered by the seeming duplicity, the lawmakers notched the angst and directed the Senate committee on works and the Ministry of Works to probe the state of the bridge with a view to arriving at a lasting solution on the twenty three year old third mainland bridge.
Both resolutions were sequel to motions sponsored by Senator Hope Uzodimma( PDP, Imo) and Gbenga Ashafa (ACN, Lagos).
Uzodimma in his lead debate on the River Niger Bridge stated that since Christmas, commuters have been subjected to excruciating ordeals wherein only single lanes are allowed to ply the bridge at a time for fear that the normal double lane carriage could lead to an instant collapse of the bridge - a development that has resulted in excruciating traffic delays.
Senators in wide-ranging debates queried the present administration’s seeming lack of political will to see through the construction of the Second Niger Bridge (The bridge will link Anambra and Delta States).
Senators Chris Ngige, George Akume, Abdullahi Adamu and Gbenga Ashafa faulted the Public Private Partnership (PPP) put in place by the federal government for the construction of the Second Niger Bridge. In separate contributions, they called for political will and declaration of state of emergency on the bridges. Ashafa expressed preference for a concessioning arrangement as opposed to PPP.
On the Third Mainland Bridge, the motion sponsor, Gbenga Ashafa worried that despite repair works carried out on the bridge by the works ministry last year, there have been incessant complaints of shifting and unusual vibrations on the bridge by commuters plying the bridge for quite some time.
"A report produced by a company experienced in underwater surveys indicated that the underwater metal casing, housing the concrete piles on which the bridge stands have rusted and this accounts for the vibration experienced in some portions of the bridge," Ashafa told Senators at Thursday’s plenary.
Ashafa accused the works ministry of carrying out 'mere window dressing' on the expansion joints of which reports have confirmed that some parts had since become disjointed.
In other debates, Senator Oluremi Tinubu (Lagos/ACN) stated that with utmost priority the limited scope of work done on the Third Mainland Bridge last year called for re-assessment of the health of some of the most important bridges in Nigeria.
Tinubu said, "If we truly value citizen's lives, the prevailing concerns about a critical infrastructure like Third Mainland Bridge cannot be dismissed with a wave of the hand. The bridge collapse can lead to huge loss of lives and worsen traffic situation in Lagos, the commercial hub of Nigeria."
Senate President, David Mark said the Senate will welcome a supplementary budget for the short-term rehabilitation of the Third Mainland Bridge and the River Niger Bridge after due interface between the Senate Works Committee and the works ministry.
In 2011, President Goodluck Jonathan promised Ndigbo leaders led by former President, Alex Ekwueme that the Second Niger Bridge will be completed before the end of his tenure in 2015.
In the latest award, the federal government August last year approved a contract of N325 million to Messrs Roughton International Limited, a transaction advisory services firm, to design, build, finance and operate the proposed second Niger Bridge.
The bridge linking Anambra and Delta States is expected to be completed in sixteen months.
Also, the Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives, Emeka Ihedioha had alleged last December that the N250 billion appropriated by the National Assembly for the construction of the Second Niger Bridge in 2008 was diverted 'for other purposes' by the Federal Ministry of Works.
Methinks, four billion Naira spent on the two bridges can go a long way to put both in good shape for the use of many or better still N4billion is enough to complete the design of a second Niger Bridge and with it assuaging the agitative minds in the South East. It is simply the will to choose the right part.
Well, it is a paradox only seen in a rudderless circumstance: a first ladies complex for the comfort of a few and two bridges that could cost the lives of millions of citizens.
Which one do you choose. Mr. President?