FROM the Vice-Chancellor of the Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, Professor Boniface Egboka, came yet another warning that the Niger Bridge at Onitsha/Asaba, is on the verge of collapse.
Egboka, a hydro -geologist and Fellow of the Nigerian Mining and Geo-Sciences Society, is an eminent authority on this subject matter, and when a voice like his raises an alarm of this nature, sensible people listen. We will quote him in his exact words as published in a news item in Vanguard Newspaper on Monday, March 29th 2010 :
â€œAs a professor of environmental hydro-geology, I know the condition of the Niger Bridge is very bad. The federal government officials rehabilitated the bridge sometime last year and they said that over 39 bolts were missing from dangerous points on the bridge. Whether they were able to replace them or how they replaced them we did not know. But as one goes under the bridge and spends some time listening to the movement of vehicles plying, even if one is not an expert he could be frightened at the wobbling state of the bridge nowâ€.
It is a shame of our nation that this bridge, one of the tourist landmarks of our country, and one of its kind still standing in Africa, is a target of vandals. It does not require the work of genius for one to conclude that those 39 bolts missing were loosened by evil and unpatriotic people and sold for personal gain. If they were able to get away with it and nobody spotted, let alone reporting them, what is to stop them from continuing to harvest more bolts until the bridge gives way and occasions a national disaster of unforeseeable proportions?
Just as we have low-level evil and unpatriotic people undermining the bridge, we also have highly placed evil and unpatriotic Nigerians in government who feel unconcerned about the situation of that bridge simply because it is not situated in their part of the country. It is erroneously believed by these myopic public servants that if the tragedy that we are being warned of takes place, their own part of the country would be spared the adverse consequences. This is not so.
The Niger Bridge connects all parts of Nigeria, even though it is the immediate gateway from East to West and vice versa. A collapse of the bridge will cripple economic and social activities for years. Nigerians using that gateway would then have to return to the use of ferries and pontoons to cross the lower Niger River.Â While this is going on, the dredging of the Niger will have to wait, and the economic benefits of water transport, which the dredging is supposed to bring about, will screech to a halt.
While we call on the Federal Ministry of Works and Transport and the Inland Waterways Agency to embark on immediate repair and security policing of the Niger Bridge, we appeal that the long-politicised construction of a second Niger Bridge should commenceÂ without any further delay.
We should not wait until something terrible happens and innocent lives and property wasted before we start running helter-skelter. Let those who are delaying action in the execution of the Niger Bridge project have it in mind that whatever tragedy happens as a result of this continued dereliction of duty, will be on their heads.