By Dennis Agbo
The second bridge across River Niger between Delta and Anambra states, has been a subject of politicking, particularly among political parties competing for votes in the South-East geopolitical zone.
The desire to have a second bridge across River Niger in the Eastern Region became paramount following increased volume of trade between the Western Region of Nigeria, particularly Lagos, and the Eastern parts.
The existing bridge located between Asaba and Onitsha townships was done in 1965, over 53 years ago and is becoming weak due to very high volume of traffic, particularly due to haulage into Onitsha market and other parts of the Eastern region such as Cross River, Akwa Ibom and Rivers states. The bridge is also a gateway to some parts of North-Central states such as Benue, Kogi and parts of Taraba State.
It was the People’s Democratic Party, PDP, particularly former President Goodluck Jonathan, who rested his solicitation for South-East votes on the need for a new bridge. President Muhammadu Buhari and the All Progressives Congress, APC, cashed in on the quest for a new bridge on the Niger to also mount campaigns in the region; hence the second Niger bridge became a slogan for political campaigns in the region.
The Jonathan administration, however, started preliminary works on actualisation of the desired new bridge under a Public-Private-Partnership which has now been jettisoned for direct government construction through award of contracts.
The Federal Controller of Works, Anambra State, Engr. Innocent Alumona disclosed that work at the sites of the bridge at both Okoh and Atani ends, are in the fourth and final stage of the preliminary works after which the main contract for the bridge construction would be awarded.
Eventhough the main contract is being awaited, much of the foundation job has been done particularly at the Delta end while the Anambra end is being speeded up with the erection of the piles that will carry the bridge.
Alumona explained that there are two-end spans at the Okoh end of the bridge of 40 metres each, intermediate spans of 90 metres each and another 16 intermediate spans of two to five metres with additional three navigational spans of 150 metres each for big ships to go through.
Explaining further when newsmen visited the sites together with the APC project monitoring team for South-East led by Mr. Osita Okechukwu, the Director-General, Voice of Nigeria, VON, Alumona said the work already done include the abutment of the bridge where a total of 83 piles of 914- millimeter radius, were driven underground.
He also showcased the pile caps or the PS which are like columns of a building that carry the bridge. “So if we are through with the foundations, we will be talking about launching the beams and the decks and the bridge is completed,” said Alumona.
He disclosed that the work is at preliminary stage or what he called Early Works 4. “In all, the contractor has 187,137 which is a total of 324 piles already driven into the earth here for the second Niger bridge.
“Over there (the connecting road from Asaba-Benin highway), we have box culverts completed, pipe culverts completed and over a stretch of 1. 5-kilometre road, bush clearance, geotextiles put in place, filling of embankment to a height of 44 meters.
“Let me tell you the gospel truth, the main contract for the bridge is about being awarded, but these are the preliminaries. Early Works 1,2,3 have earlier been completed, we are in Early Works 4. A reasonable percentage of the main part of the contract is carried along like these piles which form the components for the main contract to be awarded. Everything is being executed under the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing on contract basis, there is no PPP anymore,” said Alumona.
On the roads that will connect the bridge, he further disclosed that there are two roads attached to the bridge. “We have one at the Asaba end and another one at the Onitsha end. The new road that connects the bridge will be from around Okpanam junction by Asaba Airport, it will cross Igbuzor junction, come into Okwe and Okoh communities to the bridge. At the Onitsha end, the road will go through Atani to Obosi, cross towards Umunya to join the Enugu-Ontisha Expressway. It’s a good bye-pass creating new towns. From Okpanam junction to the bridge is 23 kilometers.”
Fascinated by the level of work, Mr. Osita Okechukwu said that President Buhari was fulfilling all his campaign promises to the people of South-East.
He said that a practical evidence of such promise being kept was the on-going construction work at the bridge, insisting that President Buhari’s Roads, Rails, Agriculture and Power, RRAP, programme, as well as Foreign Direct Investment and other critical infrastructural projects were flowing with the RRAP.
Okechukwu said: “The second Niger Bridge is a promise fulfilled because he has a social contract with the Nigerian people. When we came to Onitsha in January 2015 for the campaign, he made a promise that he was going to take off the second Niger Bridge and we are happy that he has taken off.
“We have what we call RRAP programme, which is Rail, Roads, Agriculture and Power. The Federal Government is doing 5,000 kilometers of roads across the country and 5,000 kilometers of standard gauge rail line also. Mr. President believes in sufficiency in food production because he said that Nigerians must eat what they produce. That is his slogan. And then power because without electricity, the private sector cannot thrive and manufacturers won’t thrive.
“That is why he is doing the Mambila Hydro-electric power plant. It’s going to generate over 3,000 megawatts of electricity. And he is about to embark on Enugu coal that will generate 1,000 megawatts of electricity plus other renewable energy sources like solar, wind sources that will make up the 5,000mw he wants to add to the existing 7,000 megawatts that Nigeria has.
“So you now have 5,000 kilometres of federal roads, 5,000 kilometres of standard gauge rail line, self-sufficiency in agriculture and additional 5,000 megawatts of power.”