There will soon be great relief following the near completion of the second Niger Bridge by President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration.
The second Niger Bridge, which was initiated under the Goodluck Jonathan administration and sustained by President Buhari, is undeniably a key national infrastructure, with immense socio-economic benefits for the entire nation.
The ethos of the second Niger Bridge is that there is strong agitation that the said bridge be named after credible names and more important persons from the East and not President Buhari, who saw to the completion of the infrastructure.
The proscribed Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) has rejected a move to rename the second Niger Bridge after President Buhari.
The secessionist group made its position known in a statement issued by the spokesperson, Emma Powerful, adding that it will never allow such when several Igbo youths have fallen victim to state-sponsored terror under the Buhari administration.
The group argued that there are other big names in the South-east that the bridge can be named after.
The statement issued by Powerful read in part, “South-east has more credible names and more important persons who the federal government can name the second Niger Bridge after.
“We have a galaxy of accomplished Africans like Chief Chinua Achebe the writer of (Things Fall Apart), late Chu Okongwu, the renowned Economist and a simple man of his time, late Cyprian Ekwensi, the author of African Night Entertainment, late Alexander Ekwueme, former Vice President of Nigeria, late Chief Michael Okpara, former premier of Eastern Region, late Dr. Akanu Ibiam, late Mbonu Ojike, late Chief Kenneth Dike, the first Vice-Chancellor of the University of Ibadan, late Professor Eni Njoku the first Vice-Chancellor of University of Lagos, late Dora Akunyili, late Dee Sam. O Mbakwe, late Achuzie, late Phillips Efiong and the living legend Chief Amaechi Mbazuruike.”
The bridge, upon completion, will ease traffic flow, improve road safety, and create greater opportunities for local residents by advancing the commercial viability of the immediate area and regenerating economic life.
Contrary to claims, the project is not being executed through public-private partnership (PPP), rather, through the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA).
Nigeria’s Minister of Finance, Zainab Ahmed, said the Federal Government has spent over N157 billion on the construction of the second Niger Bridge out of the initial cost of N206 billion.
The Federal Government, she said, had reviewed the initial cost up to about N400 billion because of rising inflation.
The bridge, which started in earnest in 2018, is quite strategic given that it lies over the River Niger, linking the South-east with the South-south and South-west.
The project is a 1.6 km (0.99 mi) long bridge. As a plus, it is furnished with other ancillary infrastructures, including a 10.3 km (6.4 mi) highway, Owerri interchange and a toll station all at Obosi Town, the first tolled federal bridge.
While tolling is part of the contract agreement, the entire project is divided into three phases. The first phase is about 11 kilometres, the second is the access road at the Delta end of the bridge and the other is from Obosi up to Enugu-Onitsha Expressway. This means that it will ensure a bypass of Onitsha for those who have no business there.
Following the April deadline to open the bridge up for use, the Chief of Staff (CoS) to the President, Professor Ibrahim Gambari, accompanied by the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, and his Labour and Employment counterpart, Dr. Chris Ngige, recently went on an inspection of the bridge to ascertain its state of readiness.
Also among the entourage was the Managing Director of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Mr. Uche Orji; Director, Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Adeyemo Ajani, who is the representative engineer for the second Niger Bridge; Anambra Commissioner of Police, Echeng Echeng; 302 Artillery Regiment Onitsha, Col MB Abubakar; Navy Captain GB Osubeni Naval Outpost and other top government functionaries.
The Managing Director of Julius Berger Plc, Mr. Lars Richter, conducted the team round and led the walk from the proposed access roads at the Delta State end of the project and the Owerri interchange, which is nearing completion. He listed the things that have been done and those still in the works.
Richter disclosed that due to the difficult terrain, the company deployed special technology to stabilise the ground for the construction work to progress and provided environmental safety for all the communities around the area.
However, the project which initially was billed for completion last month was rescheduled for October this year. The bridge would, however, be opened for use this April while the official inauguration by President Buhari will take place in October.
Gambari, who expressed satisfaction with the work done so far, also said contrary to insinuations, the project is being funded 100 per cent by the Nigerian government.
The minister disclosed that although the Federal Executive Council (FEC) had approved tolling of 12 highways in the country, the Federal Government had yet to decide on that of the second Niger Bridge head, even as toll gates were being constructed at the site, adding that his priority was to complete the road before delving into tolling.
Speaking on the state of the bridge at the moment, Ajani, the representative engineer for the second Niger Bridge said: “The bridge itself is 93 per cent completed, which means that all the sub-structure works have been completed and the super structure is ongoing.
“We have just 10 metres to link the entire 1.6km bridge at the moment. We have commenced the finishing works, such as parapet and other auxiliary works on the bridge.
“All things being equal, the bridge will have been completed and ready for use by October this year. On completion, because it is not a stand-alone bridge, the ministry is thinking of doing a temporary connection via an access road around Oko in Delta, immediately after the old toll gate, to put it to immediate use, linking not just Onitsha, but also Owerri.”
The significance of the completion of this second Niger Bridge is that President Buhari on October 8, 2020 made a promise to Nigerians that his administration would complete and commission the second Niger Bridge before the end of his tenure in 2023, but not many people took his promise seriously.
Many people took the promise made by the President with a pinch of salt because the second Niger Bridge was first proposed during the 1968/69 political campaign by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN).
In 1987, after warning about the state of the existing River Niger Bridge by the then Minister for Works and Housing, Abubakar Umar, General Ibrahim Babangida challenged the local engineers to design the second Niger Bridge.
The local engineers rose to the challenge and through the Nigerian Society of Engineers subsequently delivered a masterplan. Unfortunately, the turmoil that precipitated the end of Babangida’s administration in 1993 stalled the plan.
The project received little attention under the subsequent military governments and upon the return to civilian rule on May 29, 1999, President Olusegun Obasanjo promised to deliver a second Niger River Bridge.
However, Obasanjo’s administration did not carry out any major activity on the project until five days before he handed over in 2007 to the administration of Umaru Musa Yar’ Adua. That was when he flagged off the project in Asaba in Delta State.
Unfortunately, the subsequent death of Yar’ Adua on May 5, 2010, stalled the progress of the project.
During the 2011 general election in Nigeria, the administration of Goodluck Jonathan had while campaigning for office of the President promised that if elected, he would deliver the project before the end of his term in 2015.
At an Onitsha town hall meeting, on August 30, 2012, Jonathan also swore that he would go into exile if he did not deliver on the project by 2015.
The second Niger Bridge has undergone the act of rigmarole where it was used as a major political pawn until Buhari first cancelled the earlier contract in August 2015.
The project was subsequently awarded by the Buhari administration to Julius Berger for a contract sum of N206bn, to be implemented by the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority with funding from the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund.
Therefore, the ethos of the second Niger Bridge should not be whatever name it is called during the commissioning, but the benefits that the region will enjoy thereafter.