SECOND NIGER BRIDGE: JONATHAN AS JINX BREAKER
The jinx that has bedeviled the NB2, otherwise called the Second Niger Bridge, is finally broken.
Last Monday (March 10, 2014), President Goodluck Jonathan performed the historic ground-breaking ceremony for the second bridge across the Niger to link the eastern flank of the country with their compatriots in the West.
It was the crystallization of the hope and aspirations of the people on both sides of the Niger and it comes after several failed promises by successive federal administrations in Nigeria.
To say that the ground-breaking ceremony is historic is to state the obvious.
The case has severally been made for a second bridge at Onitsha to ease the perennial traffic congestion in that famous city that has become a nightmare for travelers.
All seemed to agree that it was as much an economic imperative as it was politically expedient.
The snag was that successive administrations at the federal level were not as convinced as their assurances sounded.
With the bold initiative by President Jonathan the project which has been on the drawing board for ages, finally got underway.
The event is significant in many ways and it can better be appreciated not as a fulfillment of the 2011 campaign promise by Jonathan but on the premise that previous administrations made similar promises on the second Niger Bridge without fulfilling them.
Former Presidents -from Ibrahim Babangida to Olusegun Obasanjo and his successor, the late President Umaru Yar 'Adua, the project had always been touted as national priority with little done in concrete terms to actualize it.
Obasanjo even went a step further in the last days of his administration by performing the foundation stone laying ceremony in May 2007, but it was a ceremony that was full of symbolism but lacking in substance.
At the ground-breaking ceremony by Jonathan, the crème-de-la-crème of Igboland turned out in their numbers to witness the event in the city of Onitsha.
It is a project that is dear to the heart of the average Igboman, coming only second to the Akanu Ibiam International Airport which was also actualized during this present administration.
It brings a big sigh of relief for people of the South East who have, over time, cited the government's unwillingness to commence the bridge as a clear case of marginalization of that part of the country as well as insensitivity by successive governments to the provision of critical infrastructure across the country.
Governor Peter Obi who has been pivotal in reviving the project, never fails to commend the President for his forthrightness and his commitment in fulfilling his 2011 campaign promises, while the Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, said the award of the contract to a competent construction firm was enough indication of government's sincerity.
Twelve months ago, Works Minister, Mike Onolememen, had fired up their expectation on the project when he announced that the work would start before the third quarter of 2014 and would be completed during Jonathan's administration.
As the President explained, the delay in starting off the project was simply to ensure that all financial and other logistics arrangements were in place before the ground-breaking ceremony to avoid abandonment.
With all these parameters in place, the President has demonstrated that he is not lacking in political will.
The Federal Government had, in recent times, mobilised about N300bn from private investors under Public Private Partnership for the construction of the bridge, the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway and the approach route of the Murtala Muhammad International Airport.
Already, construction giant, Julius Berger Nigeria Ltd has since begun work on the six-kilometer road between the bridge head and Oko-Amakom community where the company plans to use as its base for the bridge project.
The existing Niger Bridge which was commissioned in 1965 has dilapidated so much, raising concerns about the safety of those who use it.
It has also become too small for the volume of traffic it handles almost on a 24-hourly basis, a clear departure from its original design.
The experiences of commuters who use the bridge are better imagined, with the infamous traffic gridlocks on either side of the bridge or its approaches.
Those traumatic experiences get worse each time an accident occurs on or near the bridge, and for a nation in a hurry for economic development, nothing can be more retarding.
Over the years, the much that was done was to award contracts for the re-strengthening of the existing bridge which was on two occasions at the point of total collapse.
At a point, the eastern part of the country faced the dire threat of being cut off from the rest of the country.
The N60billion contract allegedly awarded during the Obasanjo tenure for the project was clearly a big ruse.
As expected, it was roundly denounced with Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State saying the supposed contract was allegedly awarded without any drawing or a clear financing plan.
Governors of the adjourning states of Anambra and Delta which were supposed to co-fund it with the people's money had claimed they were not privy to the contract agreement.
It was the height of deception, for never before in Nigeria was a PPP arrangement used to build such a strategic infrastructure.
With President Jonathan, the federal government's seriousness on the project is apparent.
It has taken practical steps to demonstrate its commitment by producing the drawing, completing the bidding process won by Julius Berger PLC and awarding the contract.
The N117 billion project, which will span Oko in Delta State up to Ozubulu and Ogbaru areas of Anambra State will involve 12.
4 kilometres of approach road while the bridge alone will span a length of 1.
The positive impact of the NB2 will surely go beyond Anambra to other states like Enugu, Ebonyi, Imo, Abia, and the South-south states of Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Rivers which will follow the new route.
The economic importance is better imagined and the fact of its political expediency is obvious.
It is a project whose relevance and national importance will continue to unfold in the years and decades to come.
For President Jonathan as a leader, Monday's ground-breaking event is definitely a defining moment.
Written By Sylvester Okoro [email protected]