By Jude Njoku
ISSUES bordering on the very poor state of the River Niger Bridge at Onitsha and the urgent need to build a second bridge across the River took the centre stage at one of the sessions of the House of Representatives last week.
The House passed a motion sponsored by Mr. Ezenwa Onyewuchi, representing Owerri Federal Constituency of Imo State, which observed that the current River Niger bridge which was built in 1965, is at the brink of caving in. In passing the motion, the House urged the Federal Government to engage the services of a competent contractor to commence the construction of a second Niger bridge to support the one presently in use.
Presenting the motion, Onyewuchi noted that the bridge, which links the South-East, South-South and South-West and some northern states, is on the verge of collapse due to its age, over use and lack of maintenance.
“There is evidence of corrosion and cracks to the structural members of the bridge, which has been stretched beyond its limits and capacity, ” he said, adding that “the promises of constructing a second Niger Bridge by the past and present administrations has been a mirage.”
Building a second bridge across the River Niger has become an over-flogged issue since 1992 when former military President, General Ibrahim Babangida challenged. Nigerian Engineers to come up with the design of the bridge.
The River Niger bridge has become a nightmare to commuters mainly due to poor maintenance, overuse, frequent subjection to overbearing deadweight and cannibalisation. The dead weight is a product of the traffic snarl that has become a regular feature at the imposing bridge.
Apart from the observation made by Mr. Onyewuchi on the floor of the House of Reps, fears have previously been raised in many quarters that the bridge may soon cave in. The current bridge which links the River Niger from Asaba to Onitsha, was actually initiated by the British colonial government and completed just before the civil war.
Missing bolts, nuts and other key metal components from the steel bridge prompted the Federal Government to undertake rehabilitation work on it about six years ago. These palliative measures lasted for a short time before the bridge became stressed again. Experts posit that the only solution remains the construction of a second bridge to link the Owerri end of Onitsha town.
Vanguard Homes & Property recalls that due to the persistent calls by concerned users of the bridge who noted 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, the then Works & Housing Minister, Major-General Mamman Kotyangora, an Engineer, persuaded the Babangida regime to challenge indigenous engineers with the design and construction of the bridge.
The Nigerian Society of Engineers NSE, rose to the challenge and formed a management consultancy company known as NSE PREMS which did the design of the bridge. 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. This later developed signalled the commencement of intense politicking on the construction of the bridge with successive governments merely pay lip service to the project.
About three years ago, the former Minister of Works, Senator Mohammed Sanusi Daggash raised the hope of millions of users of the bridge when he assured Nigerians that the present administration is desirous and committed to the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge.
He noted that the construction of a second bridge across the Niger had become expedient and assured Nigerians that while maintenance works will continue on the existing bridge, the Federal Government would work assiduously to construct a new one. Daggash was later removed from office and the issue died.
In August last year, the the Federal Government again resurrected the issue of building a 2nd Niger Bridge. The government said it has approved a contract of N325 million to Messrs Roughton International Limited, a transaction advisory services firm, to design, build, finance and operate the proposed second Niger Bridge.
Minister of Information, Labaran Maku, and his Ministry of Works counterpart, Mike Onolememen, told State House correspondents that the government is targeting the third quarter of this year as the period when the ground breaking ceremony of the project will be performed.
Onolememen explained that the Federal Government approved the project in order to address the problems of accidents that road users on the route face so that there will be free movement of traffic between the South-west and South-east.