By Jude Njoku
AFTER over 40 years of poor maintenance, overuse, frequent subjection to overbearing deadweight and cannibalisation, the River Niger bridge at OnitshaÂ has become a nightmare to commuters.Â
Fears have actually been raised in many quarters that the bridge may caveÂ in soon. The current bridge which links the River Niger from Asaba to Onitsha, was initiated by the British colonial government and completed just before the civil war.
Variously described as the â€œgatewayâ€ to the South Eastern parts of the country, the bridge is, however, undergoing great stress due mainly to age and the dead weight on it. The dead weight is a product of the traffic snarl that has become a regular feature at the imposing bridge.
Missing bolts, nuts and other key metal components from the steel bridge prompted the Federal Government to undertake aÂ major rehabilitation work on it about four years ago. Experts believe that the only solution remains the construction of a second bridge to link the Owerri end of Onitsha town.
This ugly scenario might have informed the decision of former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida to challenge the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) with the design of a second bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha.
This was in 1992 and was sequel to the persistent calls by the concerned users of the bridge that age was no longer on its side and that if nothing was done to remedy the situation, the bridge will, one day, cave in.
Then Works & Housing Minister, Major-General Mamman Kotyangora, an engineer and arguably the best Minister of Works Nigeria has had, persuaded the Babangida regime to also challenge indigenous engineers with the construction of the project. NSE lived up to expectation.
The Society formed a management consultancy company known as NSE PREMS which did the design. Unfortunately, the project did not take off as the Federal government later came up with the idea of adding an East -West rail line to the project.
Thus, the second Niger bridge has remained a political issueÂ since then as successive government merely pay lip service to the project.
The Minister of Works, Senator Mohammed Sanusi Daggash raised the hope of millions of users of the bridge on Monday when he assured Nigerians that the present administration is desirous and committed to construct the 2nd Niger Bridge.
The Minister who inspected the existing Niger Bridge in Onitsha, lamented its precarious conditionÂ and expressed shock at its dilapidated condition. Sen. Daggash who saw the construction of a second bridge across the Niger as expedient,Â assured Nigerians that while maintenance works will continue on the existing bridge, the Federal Government would work assiduously to construct a new one.
He noted that the Niger Bridge is not only for the South East or South South, but it is a national bridge considering its strategic importance in the socio-economic and political development ofÂ the nation. He maintained that the bridge facilitated movement of goods and services as well as social interactions among Nigerians. According to Sen. Daggash, the River Niger BridgeÂ is one of the foremost priority projects which the Federal Government intends to execute.
It is in realisation of the above, he explained that the pre-contract award process will soon commence and assured that the process will be open and transparent while Nigerians will be informed on government final decision as soon as it is ready.
Anambra State Governor, Mr.Â Peter Obi also decried the deplorable condition of the existing Niger bridge andÂ appeal to the Federal government to expedite action on the construction of the 2nd Niger bridge.Â He pointed out that the bridge is not only the economic life wire of the South East but also an essential infrastructure for the growth and development of Nigeria as a whole.
Sen. Daggash and the Minister of State also inspected Section II of Onitshaâ€“ Owerri dualisation project in Imo State. The project, which was awarded at the total contract sum of N19, 317,010,359.90 is being handled by Messrs Julius Berger Nig. Ltd.
The Minister expressed satisfaction at the pace of work which was over 90 percent completed andÂ commended Julius Berger Nig. Ltd for the quality and the speed of work it has exhibited. He hoped that the project wouldÂ be completed and commissioned in the next two months .
Sen. Daggash stated that the standard of work by Julius Berger would be used â€œas a sample of what Government can do and what Government can achieve with commitment and willâ€. He further stressed that the project will positively impact on the lives of people of Imo State in particular and Nigerians in general.
At the Section I of the dualisation project, theÂ Minister equally expressed satisfaction with the work so far done by the construction company, CCC. He said that, the work which has reached about 72 percent completion stage will continue to be supported by the Government so as to ensure its timely completion.