AFTER years of playing sick politics with the Second Niger Bridge, the Federal Government seems to have decided to get serious with it. The new Minister of Works, Senator Sanusi Daggash, has spent quite some time touring the dilapidated federal roads in the South East zone and giving ultimatums for the contractors handling the repairs to expedite action.
This is unlike his predecessor, Dr Hassan Lawal, who spent more time playing gubernatorial politics in his native Nasarawa State than minding his business as the nationâ€™s Minister in charge of our seriously challenged infrastructure.
Daggash has also spent some quality time pondering the way forward in actualising the construction of the Second Niger Bridge at Onitsha and Asaba. This Bridge has been a subject of elaborate lip service as the regime of Olusegun Obasanjo, way back in 2001 when Chief Ojo Maduekwe was the Minister of Transport, started promising the nation that the Bridge would be built. All these promises were not backed up with any concrete action.
When the President Umaru Yarâ€™ Adua regime came on stream, it was dismayed to discover that for all the noise that has been wasted on the project, not even a dime had been set aside for it nor even a design of the project done. They had to start the entire project from the scratch, even though at the slow pace for which the regime was generally known.
Daggash now believes that if the nation decides to fund the bridge through a concessionary approach, the project might drag on for years. He also posits that approaching it through the annual budget appropriation system might make it to linger indefinitely, especially as the world seems to be easing, once again, into another economic downturn that, if care is not taken, might be more serious than the one we are just recovering from. It would appear that the Federal Government has decided to raise the bulk sum of N30 billion through the issuance of bonds.
Let us quote him in a recent briefing of the Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu on the activities of his ministry: â€œto that end we intend to explore the alternative funding mechanism by way of bonds by way of going to the DMO or the pension commission to request from them and weâ€™ve already started engaging them.
This week a formal letter will be going out to them requesting them to raise the approximate amount of money to ensure the project is done within the three years scope because it is very difficult for the budget today to have a project that can command consistently N10 billion a year for three years running, for that will only do one third of the jobâ€.
We need to emphasise the importance of the Second Bridge on the River Niger. The urgency of it is underlined by sorry state of the old bridge, which was built after the civil war without the critical maintenance such structures need to last long. There have been frightening reports that vandals have been loosening and stealing knots and joints on the bridge. Experts have warned that unless something is done the bridge would collapse any time.
That would surely seriously affect the social and economic life of this nation in unpredictable ways. It will force Nigeria to return to the use of ferries and pontoons for movement of people and goods. Apart from the traffic snarl this will bring about, it will also suspend all moves to dredge and develop the lower River Niger for commercial transportation.
The Second Niger Bridge directly links the South East and South/South with the rest of the nation. Its construction is a national priority. One wonders what life would have been like in Nigeria as a whole if the Babangida regime did not summon the courage and the funds to complete the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos. Worse still, what will life be like in the country if something tragic should happen to it? If we cannot accept the mental picture, then the same (or even more so) applies to the bridges over the River Niger.
We urge the President Goodluck Jonathan regime and his seemingly diligent minister in charge of Works, Daggash, to make all the difference and deliver to Nigerians the Second Bridge over the lower River Niger.