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The second Niger bridge - The Guardian

By The Citizen

THE disclosure, the other day, by the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, that work on the second Niger Bridge would commence soon is heartening, coming roughly seven years after a previous minister of works announced government's approval of the bridge. A second Niger bridge at Onitsha is long overdue. But the minister's promise would be meaningless except work actually commences on the bridge as planned. The information to commence work should not be another gimmick to merely attract public attention for the present administration. Nigerians are tired of unfulfilled promises. What is needed now is concrete action to make the bridge a reality.

In 2006, the former Minister of Works, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, under the Obasanjo administration, announced the approval by the Federal Government to construct the second Niger bridge at Onitsha. But nothing concrete has been done to realise the project, other than foot-dragging and unnecessary politicking over the matter. This shows lack of seriousness on the part of government. Against this backdrop, Mr. Onolemomen spoke to stakeholders at the palace of the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe and said, 'the time has come for action on the bridge'. According to him, the project, designed to cover Asaba, Ozubulu and Oghara areas, will be completed before the expiration of President Goodluck Jonathan's administration in 2015.

That date appears ambitious but not impossible to achieve. There is perhaps need for a more realistic time frame to make allowances for exigencies. What is important is to do a credible job within a reasonable period, and to ensure a reduction of pressure on the existing bridge to extend its lifespan. Besides, the necessity to decongest the city of Onitsha cannot be overstressed. As a matter of fact, the idea of a second Niger bridge at Onitsha has been on the drawing board for years, having been first mooted under President Shehu Shagari administration (1979-1983) during the Second Republic; but it never got off the ground.

Even now, the political and administrative will to bring the proposed project to fruition is still doubtful. Certainly, it will take more than the current minister's promise to assure Nigerians that the construction of the new bridge is indeed taking off.  The minister must follow up with tangible effort and avoid further delay. And once the construction begins, it should not be abandoned midway. Besides, the minister's disclosure should not be a ploy to score cheap political goals.

Remarkably, the construction giant, Julius Berger won the contract to build the bridge. The company has a pedigree of competence. Nigerians would not accept an abandonment of the project under any guise. Therefore, the company should muster the technical and financial muscle to complete the work on schedule.

In building the bridge, international best practices and quality standards should be followed. There should be clear specifications on what to expect on such a major bye-pass link bridge. The need to drastically reduce the perennial traffic bottleneck at Onitsha should be given utmost consideration. Uninterrupted movement of vehicles should be the main feature. There is also need to make provision for a future East-West rail line on the bridge. Where there is a development plan, such a rail line would be earmarked. There is prospect for a future East-West rail line passing through the Niger at Onitsha.

Really, government's decision to build the bridge should not be extraordinary news. The building and maintenance of infrastructure ought to be part of governance, as it is in other climes. The situation should not be different in this country. Government should carry out its statutory duties on roads, bridges and other infrastructure. These amenities should not be abandoned to rot away to the point of virtual collapse before intervention.

Public outcry over the decrepit condition of the existing Niger bridge ought to have attracted government's attention before now.  The new bridge is therefore coming as a welcome relief. There is no doubt that, if well executed, the bridge will ease transportation problems at Onitsha and enhance commercial activities between the Eastern and Western states.