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A bridge of promise

PRESIDENT Goodluck Jonathan must have forgotten that construction of a second Niger Bridge was one of his 91 campaign promises. It took the visit of a delegation from the South-East to nudge to momentary wakefulness on the bridge.

He is simply acting to type. A committee is reviewing government contracts; we can only imagine the scandals that the committee would unearth. Jonathan said, after the important assignment, the committee would look at the Niger Bridge.

The President intends to build the bridge before his tenure ends in 2015. If we follow the logic he espoused about how government works, the Niger Bridge would not get attention in the next two years, which would be devoted to political jostling — the elections are in 2015, with many issues undecided.

Everyone knows that the political life of the administration is more important than a bridge, no matter how often anyone promises to build it. Jonathan does not expect to be judged over a bridge. Is his the first failed promise on the bridge?

President Olusegun Obasanjo promised in 2001 to build a new Niger Bridge. When he left office six years after, not a dime had been voted for the bridge. Preliminary works like the design of the bridge had not been awarded.

Jonathan’s government last May named the bridge among projects it would concession. The flurry of protests that followed elicited no reaction from government which maintained its silence until the delegation from South-East visited. Former Minister of Works, Senator Mohammed Sanusi Daggash, had said two years ago, that concessionary financing was not viable for the project then valued at N30 billion. He suggested issuing a bond. Few months after, he was out of office.

“We intend to explore the alternative funding mechanism by way of bonds through the Debt Management Office, to raise the approximate amount of money to ensure the project is done within three years. It is very difficult for the budget today to have a project that can consistently command N10 billion a year for three years running,” he told Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu then.

With elections two years away, it is not surprising that the bridge would become another hot issue. Still not surprising is that governments do not appreciate the  importance of projects like the Niger Bridge, which links states in the South-East and most of the South-South with Lagos, the nation’s commercial hub.

Commercial and manufacturing activities in Aba, Onitsha and Nnewi are doomed without the bridge. If the East-West Road that runs through the South-South’s oil producing belt enjoys much abandonment; it will take extraordinary will to build the Niger Bridge.


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