By Jude Njoku

IS the construction of a second bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha jinked? For how long will the Federal Government and other stakeholders continue to play politics with this all-important bridge considering the fact that the old bridge built over 50 years ago is now in a distressed condition? These posers were raised by distraught Nigerians who reacted to the alleged abandonment of work on the bridge by the contractors.

Indeed, 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.

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 a design for  the Bridge.

Successive governments

Since then, successive governments have played politics with its construction thereby endangering the lives of millions of people who use the old and dilapidated bridge.

While the military rulers claimed that they could not construct the bridge because the engineers failed to incorporate an east-west rail line in the design prepared by NSE PREMS, the Obasanjo regime at the twilight of that administration, ‘awarded’ the contract for its construction. Of course nothing was done until the Goodluck Jonathan administration made it an electioneering promise to Ndigbo. Again, towards the end of his tenure, he awarded the contract and actually flagged off construction of the Bridge amidst pomp and fanfare

But feelers coming from Onitsha, the commercial nerve centre of the South-East is that Messrs Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, has abandoned the site and withdrawn its workforce.

Angry reactions trail abandonment

A former Special Adviser, Media and Publicity to Governor Chris Ngige of Anambra State, Mr. Fred Chukwuelobe stirred the hornet’s nest when he posted the abandonment of the project on Facebook.  As expected, Chukwuelobe blamed the Jonathan’s administration for using the project to canvass for the votes of Ndigbo.

“All those who were ‘certain’ that the second Niger bridge was awarded by the Goodluck Jonathan Government and was on-going, and who posted pictures from the supposed on-going construction, owe all of us an apology. Now that the contractors have pulled out from tipping of sands and deployment of few machines, it is obvious that we were fooled by the government in power then. Now that the South East rewarded GEJ with votes for this, what next? Next time take promises from politicians with a pinch of salt and avoid sentiments,” he wrote.

This claim elicited various reactions with majority of them insisting that government is a continuum, hence Buhari is duty-bound to complete the project, irrespective of the number of votes he got from the South-East.

A former Abuja Bureau Chief of the Sun Newspapers, Mr. Modestus Chukwulaka toed this line of reasoning. “And why should your Messianic Buhari administration allow the project to die?

Present administration

Government is a continuum, isn’t it? Will the South – East and South – South be asking for a favour if they expect the present administration to continue with the project? Who knows what they told Julius Berger before they quit the site,” he asked.

Another journalist, Mr. Achileus-Chud Uchegbu referred to a statement credited to the Permanent Secretary in the Federal Ministry of Works that work on the project is still on -going. “The Perm Sec in the Federal Ministry of Works briefed President Muhammadu Buhari last week on projects the Ministry is handling. After the briefing, he addressed State House Correspondents who specifically asked him about the Second Niger Bridge and he said it ..Second Niger Bridge is ongoing. When told that there were insinuations that work had stopped on the project, he said it was not possible to stop work. His words:”It is a PPP project and work cannot stop,” Uchegbu observed.

Mr. Victor Okeke alleged that the APC government is trying to kill the project “ because the South East did not give them as much support as they did PDP”.

Probe 2nd Niger bridge

A new dimension was introduced into the discourse by Mr. Emmanuel Maduelosi who called on the Buhari government to empanel a probe into the construction of the Bridge.

“It baffles me how we react to issues. The Second Niger bridge is a Federal Government project and was awarded by the government of the day then. Why then are we giving up hope as if the project was not awarded and recorded with a lavish ceremony of ground-breaking openly done by then President and government officials including traditional institutions… the impression you people are giving the head and government of the day that the project is a fluke. Let’s not deny ourselves the 2nd Niger Bridge completion by our unguarded utterances. If NNPC, Boko Haram, Pensions Board, fuel subsidy expenses will be probed, then why not 2nd Niger Bridge? The project wasn’t a hidden one and must be brought to completion by the present government since government is a continuum or the contact award be probed,” he canvassed.

Mr. Obi Barth Ifediora who claims to be of Igbo National Congress, Anambra State chapter noted that the construction of the Bridge is supposed to last for 48 months and was not a scam. “Government doesn’t end with Jonathan. We must tell ourselves the truth. He promised us the second River Niger Bridge and the job is on going.” Skeletal works were going on at the site when Vanguard Homes & Property visited the site yesterday.  The workers confirmed that some workers were recently retrenched by Julius Berger.

 

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