Jonathan and the second Niger Bridge - The Sun

By The Citizen

President Goodluck Jonathan has, again, given an assurance that work will commence on the construction of the second Niger Bridge on March 15. Let the process really take off this time. This fresh assurance should not be another political gimmickry designed to woo the electorate in the Eastern part of the country now that the   next presidential election is nigh.

The president's promise is coming on the heels of a recent report that the River Niger Bridge at Onitsha risks imminent collapse due to its deteriorating state. More alarming is the fact that the ageing bridge, built in 1963, has actually deteriorated and could give way, if care is not taken to reduce the pressure on it.

Despite its poor state, this bridge still serves as a vital link between the Western, Eastern and Northern parts of the country. Its collapse will halt economic and social activities among these geo-political zones.

The need for a second Niger Bridge is an old issue. But, it became imperative since the 1990s when the existing bridge began to deteriorate. Unfortunately, the issue of a second bridge over the Niger has been unduly politicised since 2007 when the former president, Chief Olusegun Obasanjo, laid the foundation stone for the commencement of work on it.

Because of the seemingly endless dithering on this critical facility, many Nigerians will actually find it difficult to believe government on this latest plan to begin its construction, until the work actually starts and people see it. The copious delays despite promises from President Jonathan and past leaders should end now. The present administration should not toe the path of those before it by campaigning with the bridge. Let work begin now and be completed as scheduled. Government should be sincere this time. The timing of this latest commitment raises some questions, especially because of the forthcoming campaigns. Nevertheless, we cannot afford to have any further delay of this project, as such will be fraught with danger.

It will be recalled that the building of a new Niger bridge was one of the campaign promises of Obasanjo in 1999. Since then, there have been lots of other promises with nothing on the ground to show for them. The dithering on the construction of the bridge, which will serve as an alternative to the old one built over 50 years ago, is unnecessary.

Early in 2007, the then Minister of Transportation, Chief Cornelius Adebayo, had informed the nation that the Federal Government had concluded plans to award a contract for the construction of a second Niger Bridge in Onitsha. The plan then was that the multi-billion naira bridge would be executed under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) policy.

The foundation stone was actually laid on May 24, 2007 for work to commence on the proposed N58. 6 billion, 1,760 metre, six-lane bridge, with a toll plaza fitted with modern gadgets. It was then agreed that under the PPP arrangement, a commercial bank would bankroll the project to the tune of 60 percent for the private sector, while the two adjoining states, Anambra and Delta, would contribute 20 per cent each.

But, the project did not take off even when the late President Umaru Yar'Adua came on board. The then Minister of Works, Housing and Urban Development, Dr. Hassan Lawal, even shocked Nigerians by saying that there was no existing plan by the Federal Government to build a second Niger Bridge in Onitsha. He categorically stated that there was no legal contract for the project. In other words, the people were deceived into believing that a contract for the bridge had been awarded.

From the foregoing, it is glaring that the federal government has, over the years, been playing games with the issue of the second Niger Bridge. The present government should not wait for the existing bridge to collapse before redeeming its pledge. Such a development would be tragic, especially since such an incident will involve avoidable loss of lives and ground all forms of activities between the East and many other parts of the country.

It is regrettable that this issue has been politicised. Obasanjo made a fanfare of it, while Yar'Adua did not consider it a priority. In the face of all these unhealthy undercurrents, we call on President Jonathan to ensure that this will be his final word on this critical infrastructure. Let this new promise to build the bridge become reality. The president should consider this project a top priority of his administration. He should demonstrate his much-avowed transformation agenda with the construction of this very important bridge.