Another Azikiwe and the Second Niger Bridge


By Francis Ehigiator
50 years after, another Azikiwe has taken concrete steps to link the industrious South-Eastern part of Nigeria to the rest of the country by a second bridge over the River Niger that would mainly link the “traders” to their intellectual brothers in the South-West, never mind that they do not see eye to eye on a lot of issues, though they inter-marry and do a lot of business together.  I know an Igbo friend who will never stop speaking ill of the Yoruba, but is always in a hurry to run home to his Yoruba wife and her oily Yoruba soup.  Talk about equal yoking by two groups embittered by a civil war that should be left to remain where it is: in the recycle bin.

Since Goodluck Ebele Azikiwe Jonathan has given these “bosom neighbours” another opportunity to rekindle their marriage even as other forces work assiduously to separate them, it is time to tell the Igbo and the other far South-south people to expect the good times to roll in.  And, of course, the part most of them will not like, is the toll to help in recovering the investment by the private investors.

The President looks ready to benefit from the project politically as the Anambra Governor, Peter Obi, told anyone who cared to listen that the South-East and other beneficiaries will over-pay Jonathan in 2015 “because you have turned around the country and everybody is proud of Nigeria.  When they conceived this bridge earlier, they said Anambra and Delta states would pay counterpart funding of N10 billion each but President Jonathan removed it. The fake flag off was done and we did not know the contractor, but we are happy that a 1st class construction company is handling the project.  It took President Jonathan for us to give Odumegwu-Ojukwu a befitting burial; Nigeria did not bury Zik the way he deserved to be buried. They even promised us a Mausoleum and have not built it.  The construction of the bridge means rebuilding Anambra State and the Igbo land and making us part of Nigeria.”

Apparently referring to the cementing of relationships by the bridge, the President said, “Next week, in Abuja, I shall be inaugurating the National Conference, and it seems appropriate that this bridge, and the Conference, two major emblems of National cohesion, are being inaugurated within the same period.  I would like to assure you all that every effort will be made to ensure that this 2nd Niger Bridge is delivered.”

Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala described the existing Niger Bridge as a bridge of love, adding that the country needed more bridges that would close our historic divides, and connect communities and the entire country. If the existing bridge is one of love, what about this one?

True, the Second Niger Bridge will help remove the pains that attend the yearly traffic gridlock that is the headache of travelers, especially during festive periods, in addition to thumbing up Jonathan's fulfillment of a campaign promise.  It shows he keeps his word as he has done in other parts of the country.  Take the noble Almajiri schools that none of the past northern leaders ever thought of actualising.

What about the Lagos-Ibadan expressway that even Olusegun Obasanjo, a Yoruba, found difficult to bring to fruition for eight years? That road will definitely redefine the commercial architecture of that axis of Nigeria.

The President performed the N117 billion bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State, disclosing that for the timely completion of the project, the Federal Government has made a commitment to contribute 25 per cent of the construction cost, about N30 billion.  A consortium, Julius Berger-NSIA, which has been set in compliance with the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission Act and the Public Procurement Act, is to execute the project.

Jonathan said further on the project: “The Federal Government is executing this project under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement for a concession period of 25 years, precisely, through a 'Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT)' model.  We are confident in the capacity and competence of the Concessionaire, Messrs Julius Berger-NSIA Consortium, to deliver on this project, at the construction cost of about N117 billion Naira.

“As we commemorate our centenary of nationhood, it is my firm belief that this bridge will deepen national integration and also enhance economic and social interaction among other parts of our country and the South-East… As part of our administration's Transformation Agenda in the road sector, we have set out to construct two very important new bridges, across our Nation's two great rivers – the River Niger and River Benue. These are the Loko-Oweto Bridge linking Nasarawa and Benue States, which is progressing satisfactorily, and this 2nd Niger Bridge, connecting Anambra and Delta States.

“The 2nd Niger Bridge, whose foundation we are laying today, represents a strategic national infrastructure, with great socio-economic prospects for the contiguous States, and indeed, for the entire Nation. It is an important economic artery that will connect the great markets of Onitsha and Aba, as well as the industrial hub of Nnewi and beyond, to both the Northern and Southern parts of our country.

“On completion, this bridge, which is being constructed almost 50 years after the existing bridge opened to traffic, will alleviate the pains experienced by travelers as a result of congestion of the old bridge, particularly during festive periods. It will massively improve road transportation in the South-East of Nigeria, and also reduce travel times substantially, in this part of the country.”

Dr Okonjo-Iweala, disclosed that the project would be 60 per cent equity and 40 per cent debt, adding that the financing model being proposed would be a template for the development of economically viable projects in the country, adding that it would ensure speedy completion of the project.  Works Minister, Mike Onolememen, disclosed, according to a newspaper report, that the concession period of 25 years through Design, Build, Operate and Transfer (DBOT) model would obtain for the bridge.

He added, among others, that the total width of the dual carriageway bridge will be 35metres consisting of 16.05 metres wide three-lane carriageway in each direction and 3.03metres central reserve, and explained that two underpasses categorised as secondary bridges are planned at Amakon Village and Atani Roads with an interchange on Onitsha-Owerri Road forming part of the project.

He said: “The second bridge is being realised under the PPP model. The special purpose vehicle will be jointly owned by Julius Berger-Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority Consortium and Federal Government. And as obtainable under the PPP model, the concessionaire will have the right to charge toll for the use of the second Niger Bridge as well as have full commercial rights on the Projects Right of Way.”  As it is, the tone is set for the actualization of the promise.  One can only urge Jonathan to keep up the momentum and deliver on his promise so that the legacy of the second Azikiwe can speak emphatically to present and future generations.

Ehigiator contributed this piece from Benin, Edo State Capital.