Emeka Osondu writes on the need for a Second Niger Bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State, to help reduce pressure on the existing one.
Once again, the ember months are here. And just a few months from now, it would be another Christmas. Of course, it is common knowledge that within this period, there is a significant increase in both economic and social activities, which incidentally generates pressure in the society as well as stretches existing infrastructure and social amenities on ground.
For instance, within this period four years ago, one of the national dailies in the country carried a frightening headline “Niger Bridge May Collapse Before Christmas.”
According to the report: "Black Christmas is likely to await the people of the South-east and South-south geo-political zone this year following confirmed apprehension in several quarters that the four decade - old Niger Bridge in Onitsha , Anambra State, is on the verge of collapsing before December.
"Though Setraco Construction Company had carried out maintenance work on the bridge last two years, the situation at the bridge has worsened. Recently following sustained pressure on the bridge, which experts fear may not survive the pressure of these ember months."
Again, much as the Niger Bridge, which serves as a major gateway to the states of the South-east and South-south zones, is yet to collapse, there has been warning from experts, and if nothing is done and the bridge collapses at last, the only option to people would be limited to the use of canoes and boats to ferry people across to and fro Onitsha, as is the case with some riverine areas.
Thus, in practical terms, a trailer load of goods or a luxurious bus conveying people from Lagos to Port-Harcourt on reaching the Asaba, Delta State end of the Niger Bridge stops and "off-loads" its passengers, who now have to board the boat which ferries them across to Onitsha end of the bridge where they would now board another vehicle with which to continue their journey.
No wonder the urgent demand for a second bridge over the River Niger by stakeholders in the society, who have since lamented that issue of the second Niger Bridge and the repair of the existing one is being politicised by those in the corridors of power.
According to Hon Obinna Chidoka, who represented Idemili North/Idemili South federal constituency in the House of Representatives until July 11, 2008, "first and foremost the Niger Bridge has become a contentious issue being that the bridge was constructed in 1965. But forty-five years later, the traffic has increased tremendously. The former Permanent Secretary in the (Federal) Ministry of Works, Baba Akin Ahmed, who raised the issue at the Senate Committee hearing had said that if nothing was done urgently that the bridge will collapse."
Chidoka, who had earlier moved a motion on the Niger Bridge project on the floor of the House, nevertheless explained that "all we are doing is to draw the attention of the Federal Government to that bridge, which is a major gateway between the South-east and other parts of the country.
"Curiously, the second Niger Bridge was awarded on a private public partnership (PPP) basis, wherein the contractor was to raise 60 per cent of the contract sum, while Anambra and Delta State governments contribute twenty percent of the contract sum and the federal government pays up the remaining twenty percent.
"The Federal Government ought to come in fully and construct the bridge. Part of my plan was to follow through on the motion in the House of Representatives and consistently monitor the progress on the bridge and bring it to national burner," he maintained.
THISDAY recalled the former President Olusegun Obasanjo had commenced the second Niger Bridge Project in Onitsha, Anambra commercial hub at the tail-end of his tenure, even as he described the project as "a promise fulfilled". Obasanjo had blamed the delay in the execution of the project on some hiccups on the part of the National Assembly to pass a law that would enhance the Federal Government participation in the partnership (PPP).
The former President at the occasion had noted that the volume of traffic on the old Niger Bridge clearly justifies the need for a second Niger Bridge, adding that "if anything happens to the old bridge, God forbids, half of the country will be cut off."
Obasanjo, while laying the foundation stone for the proposed project further described the Niger Bridge as "the most significant line of communication between the Eastern part of the country and the Western part, so that now the River Niger ceases to be an obstacle." Outlining the features of the proposed bridge earlier, the then Minister of Works and Transport, Chief Cornellius Adebayo said that Diamond Bank is the main financier of the project estimated at N58.6 billion and that the scope of work is approximately 1,760 metres, adding that the bridge will consist of six lane carriageway for vehicular traffic.
However, Anambra State Governor, Mr Peter Obi, had told the Senate Committee on Works that the commence the second Niger Bridge by the former President, Obasanjo was a fraud. He said that since after the brisk foundation laying ceremony, no structure had been put in place to justify the flag-off.
The Governor therefore, called on the Federal Government to urgently intervene in the matter to redress the situation to enable the people of the zone actualise their potentials both socially, economically and otherwise.
Obi, who spoke when a five-man Senate Committee on Works led by its chairman, Senator Julius Ucha, paid him a courtesy call in his office at Government House, Awka, equally revealed that there was no budgetary allocation for the project by the Federal Government before the project was flagged off. He lamented the delay in the execution of the project pointing out that the Niger Bridge is the most important bridge in the country because of its strategic location, being a gateway to many states in the South-east and South-south geopolitical zones of the country.
The Governor said the Federal Government should, as a matter of seriousness, appropriate a considerable sum of money for the project’s effective take-off and completion, since according to him, the Private Public Partnership (PPP) initiative earlier considered is not enough to embark on such gigantic project.
Obi also lamented that the high level of decay in road infrastructure in the South-east, maintaining that for the past nine years, the Federal Government has not constructed or completed a single road project in the zone to show for its feelings for the people.He said that as a result of the development, social and economic activities of the people had suffered while the only attempt by the authorities to redeem the situation was limited to "menial patch-works, which as popular opinion has proved is not acceptable to the people.
Earlier in his address at the occasion, the chairman, Senate Committee on Works, Senator Julius Ucha, said they were in the state to access the situation of the existing Niger Bridge and the possibility of constructing another bridge across the river, just as he expressed concern over the deteriorating state of roads in the South East occasioned by apparent indifference on the part of the Federal Government to address the issue.
Ucha said the maintenance work on the existing Niger Bridge was carried out in 2008 but noted that certain specifications were left out in the contract which according to him has led to the present realignment in the structure of the bridge.
He therefore urged the Federal Government to urgently intervene on the issue of the Niger Bridge, especially on the construction of the second Niger Bridge by enhancing the prospect of the PPP initiative or making adequate budgetary allocation for the project.
He described the Niger bridge project as exigent, adding that if the Federal Government promptly intervenes in the execution of the project, the entire people will immensely benefit from its as it will enhance the economic profile of the nation.