The okada rider who took our reporter to the site of the second Niger Bridge from the Asaba end was very unhappy over the state of the bridge. He told that he should do all he could to ensure that the federal government continues and completes the bridge. The middle aged man, who hails from Imo State, one of the supposed benefiting states, expressed fear that following the subtle moves of President Muhammadu Buhari, there is the tendency that the bridge might not go beyond the level it is at the moment. The ceremony kicking off the construction of the bridge was performed on March 10, 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan. That was in the heat of the fierce campaign for the 2015 presidential elections.

Its purpose was to reduce the weight of pressure on the first bridge which was built and completed in 1965 by a French construction giant, Dumex. The bridge connects the Eastern states with the South South, South West and North Central zones of Nigeria. Hence, it is a major bridge in the country. But considering the pressure that mounts on it on daily basis and its age, Nigerians began a general call for the construction of the second bridge to reduce the weight on the first. The call was made to forestall unforeseen circumstances following tear and wear on the bridge. The fear is that the first bridge is wearing out and there is the tendency that it could collapse and one could imagine the monumental loss of lives, property and commercial activities that will be brought to a perpetual halt.

The old bridge The call for the construction had begun over many years but the political will on the part of Nigerian government delayed the construction until erstwhile President Goodluck Jonathan summoned the will to hear the cry of Nigerians who travel on land. Previous administrations capitalized on the construction of the bridge to win votes but after winning votes from the Eastern states, they abandoned the project. Although Jonathan’s interest in the construction might not be divorced from political interest as many say it was a ploy to win the 2015 votes from the East, its construction will be of multiple socio-economic impact to the Nigerian state.

Hence, Jonathan told the crowd that gathered in March 2014 that the construction of the bridge was a fulfillment of his electoral promise to the South Eastern people of Nigeria. He expressed optimism that the bridge was a project that must be done, raising hope of the Easterners and other Nigerians of a messiah for the economic survival of a united Nigeria. He said the new bridge will alleviate the pains experienced by travelers due to the congestion of the old bridge, especially during festive periods. Its construction, he said, will reduce man hours usually spent on the road due to the long hold up on the bridge and the heavy duty vehicles that ply the road. It was initially planned to run for 48 months, ending March 2018, that is four years, under a public-private partnership arrangement, using Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer model. It was learnt that the project was to cost N108billion.

Investigations revealed that the federal government is to commit N30 billion (28%) of the project cost while the remaining 72 percent will be raised by a consortium under a 25-year concession. It was also learnt that the federal government has so far committed N18.31 billion to the project. Emerging facts also indicated that a team of local and international consultants was engaged through a competitive procurement process. The opening ceremony which was described as ground breaking was a big day for the people living across the Niger. Hopes were raised and expectations were high and the people clapped for a long years dream gradually coming to fruition. Jonathan said the bridge was of economic importance to the great markets of Onitsha, Aba, Nnewi and others from the Northern and Southern parts of the country.

But, when visited the construction site, there was dead silence in the area. Volume of sand was seen, the foundation pillars were also standing on the water and two dare devil youths who posed as security men were on ground to ward off any intruder or journalists wanting to take photos of the project site. They told our correspondent who was bent on taking photos that he cannot take any shot because that is the directive from the management of Julius Berger, the contracting firm. Also, the Public Relations Officer of Julius Berger, Inofomoh Umoru, blocked our correspondent from attempting to take photos of the project site. He said for now, photos cannot be taken because there is nothing going on there. According to him, there is no money. He said the federal government said there is no money to continue the construction. He added that the initial money, which amount he did not reveal, has finished.

He said the construction firm has done level one, two and three of the construction but to go further, they needed money from the federal government but observed that there seems to be undue quietness on the part of the President Muhammadu Buhari led federal government. While a section of Nigerians view the bridge as exclusively for the east, groups have continually said the bridge should not be seen as a South South and South East affair but rather a Nigerian project that could add to the growth of commerce in the country. Groups such as the Change Nigeria Organisation have lampooned the federal government for its lies and deceptive tendencies over the construction of the bridge.

The group said former President Olusegun Obasanjo used the construction of the bridge to gather votes from the South East but later abandoned it. It said during electioneering campaign, Obasanjo stressed the need for the construction of the bridge but abandoned it after winning votes from the people of the east. The Federal Road Safety Commission (FRSC), in a report released, re-echoed the warning issued by experts in 2007 on the need for a second bridge as the present one is aging and wearing out.

The FRSC stated that the first bridge vibrates and shakes regularly especially when heavy duty vehicles make passage. In the report, the FRSC drew the attention of the federal government to the vital socio-economic, transport, and commercial importance of the bridge to the entire nation. The commission urged the federal government not to wait till the first bridge collapses and destroys the economic fabric of Nigeria but to, as a matter of urgency, take appropriate steps to ensure that a new bridge is built in no distant time.

But following the dilly dally tactics of the Buhari led federal government, it is getting obvious that the bridge may fail. This is so because the federal government had initially directed the ministry of works under Babatunde Fashola to probe the cost and conditions surrounding the bridge. It argued that the cost was outrageous and should be reviewed. The Director General of Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission, Aminu Dikko, in August 2015 revealed that there are lots of issues that the federal government is not comfortable with and until those issues are settled, the commission cannot give the certificate of compliance to Julius Berger and the project cannot continue.

“We are talking with the ministry of works to correct it. The communities around that area are clamoring that their lands have been taken and that they have not been compensated adequately. “We are not saying that something has not been done properly but we need to be convinced that these few problems are sorted out properly. We will also talk about the actual cost of the bridge, we have asked the ministry of works to review it and justify how much the project should cost,” Diko stated. This was said to be the beginning of the abandonment of the project. While some groups blast President Buhari for attempting to abandon the bridge, another group has defended the action of Buhari in suspending the project.

It said, “The truth is that President Muhammadu Buhari has neither revoked nor suspended the “contract” for the 2nd Niger bridge, what he has done as the official guardian of our commonwealth is to direct that the entire PPP be reviewed to ensure compliance with best practices and to protect long suffering Nigerians from the wickedness and greed of their long time oppressor brethren who feast on them like the vilest vampires”.

The group compared the Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge in Lagos which is 1.3km and cost N29billion with the second Niger Bridge which is 1.7km costing N117billion. It commended the leadership of Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission for calling for the review of the project. But on June 20, 2016, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said the federal government was committed to completing the project. Fashola made the statement when he visited the project site to ascertain the level of work done.

He said the President Muhammadu Buhari led government would continue and give priority attention to the second Niger Bridge. He stressed that the second Niger Bridge is a national asset, noting that, “as parts of the mandate of the federal government, President Buhari wants to facilitate the completion of the project. We are mindful of compensation. If there is peace, compensations will come, we can be building while compensation issues are going on and will be sorted out accordingly”. As it is now, there is confusion over the plan of the federal government for the bridge. Though Buhari, through his Works minister, Fashola, has assured Nigerians that the project would not fail, Nigerians are yet to believe the confession of Fashola, even as Julius Berger has unwittingly abandoned the project for lack of funds to continue the construction.

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