PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan’s ground breaking ceremony of 2nd Niger Bridge has come and gone but his admirers and critics are still talking about the 49 year-old bridge touted as the gateway to the South East.
For Jonathan’s supporters, especially the governors from the region, the mega project is an indication that he has the interest of Igbos at heart. But the opposition and the critical public say the President has short-changed the people, while scheming for their votes come 2015.
With multiple economic benefits that include improving road traffic between the South Eastern part of the country and the rest of the federation as it will alleviate the congestion on 1st Niger Bride, 2nd Niger Bridge will also ensure free flow of goods and services to other regions. In fact, the bridge is key to economic transformation of Nigeria, adding that it will improve commercial activities in the South East and South West.
Also speaking on the economic advantages of 2nd Niger Bridge, chairman of Infrastructure Concessioning and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Senator Ken Nnamani agreed it would boost economic activities in the old South East as well as the country at large, while reducing travelling time which is big money.
Streams of criticism has, however, been trailing Jonathan’s official flag off of 2nd Niger Bridge. In his reaction, former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar chided him for celebrating the ground breaking ceremony of a project he would have completed years back. Atiku, who is now a member of the All Progressives Congress (APC) spoke at the Conference of African Council of Communication Education organized by the Mass Communication Department of the University of Nigeria, Nsukka, the same day 2nd Niger Bridge construction was kicking off.
The APC in the South East has also berated Jonathan for playing politics with the bridge. In a chat with ENCOMIUM Weekly on Saturday, March 15, 2014, one of the party’s guber aspirants in Abia State, Chief Nyerere Anyim said Igbos should reject PDP for deceiving Nigerians. Nyerere who welcomed the idea of 2nd Niger Bridge, however, faulted the four years it would take to complete the project.
In the words of a social critic, Great Imo Jonathan, who also spoke with ENCOMIUM Weekly, South Easterners have been defrauded again by President Goodluck Jonathan. He alleged, “Exactly four years after deceiving Igbos, the government of President Jonathan has flagged off the construction of 2nd Niger Bridge with borrowed money, in spite of the fact that $20 billion is still missing under his nose. But the worrisome fact is that, South Easterners will pay 75 per cent of the cost of construction at a very inflated price. I gave examples that –
1. Last year, Lagos built a 1.3km Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge at the cost of N29 billion.
2. Now, the Federal Government is building 1.7km 2nd Niger Bridge at the cost of N117 billion and Ndi Igbo will pay 75 per cent of the cost.
3. Lagos built the Ikoyi bridge under a year, but 2nd Niger Bridge will take four years. What this means is that people of South East have been fooled again.”
Another point being raised about 2nd Niger Bridge is introduction of toll gate. Only in the East.
“Lagos-Ibadan Expressway is being constructed by Julius Berger, it is not tolled. The East-West Road is being constructed (or so we believe), it is not tolled. The Abuja-Lokoja Road is being praised to high heavens. There is no toll on it. And someone thinks I should clap for a 25 year mortgage on a bridge being awarded in exchange for votes! I will keep crying! All Igbos and every right-thinking Nigerian should cry. This is cheating even in all its hoaxness. We are getting a bad deal and we are clapping. Only a swan sings its best song when it is dying and we are not swans. We are Nigerians like every other,” one other aggrieved person from the South East, Ikem Okuhu wrote.
MORE ABOUT THE GATEWAY TO SOUTH EAST
Generally accepted as the gateway to the South East region of the country, 2nd Niger Bridge would be located 1.7 kilometres downstream of 1st Niger Bridge on a new alignment. According to the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, “The bridge consists of two number equal end spans of 40 metres, 15 number equal intermediate spans of 55 metres each, two number intermediate spans of 90 metres each and three number navigational spans of 150 metres each.”
He added that the total width of the dual carriageway bridge will be 35 metres consisting of 16.05 metres wide, three lane carriageway in each direction and 3.03 metres central reserve. The Minister further explained that two underpasses categorized as secondary bridges are planned at Amakon Village and Atani Roads with an interchange on Onitsha-Owerri Road forming part of the project.
First Nigeria President, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe commissioned the Niger Bridge in 1964. The bridge was badly damaged during the Nigeria/Biafra Civil War. It has undergone skeletal reconstruction since the military era. Efforts to construct a 2nd Niger Bridge started in 1999. It was part of President Jonathan’s electoral promise in 2011, though the late President Musa Yar’Adua pretended he was interested in it as far back as 2007.
And under pressure to appease the people of South East in anticipation of their votes in 2015, Jonathan officially flagged off the construction of the bridge on Monday, March 10, 2014.
HOW MUCH IT WOULD COST TO CONSTRUCT 2ND NIGER BRIDGE
To be constructed through Design, Build, Operate and Transfer (DBOT) model, the Federal Government has made provision for 25 years concession period. The contract being handled by construction giant, Julius Berger is for N117 billion!
The joint venture to be completed in four years is between Julius Berger, the Federal Government and Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority Consortium. And as obtainable under the PPP model, the concessionaire will have the right to charge tolls for the use of the bridge after its completion in four years time. The company will also have full commercial rights on the projects Right of Way.”
– UCHE OLEHI