By Bola Aliu
The government’s recent decision to close the Third Mainland Bridge for six months, come July 24, 2020, is a painfully inconvenient one for commuters, yet it is long overdue and necessary in order to avert a disaster.
The last time the bridge was closed for an extended length of time was in August 2012 when a series of maintenance exercises were conducted over a period of three months.
Months after, a group of structural engineers published a damning report questioning the quality of repairs that were carried out. The report warned that the maintenance exercises were hastily done without due diligence and could lead to a collapse of the bridge if no serious action was taken to forestall it.
It was based on this report that Senator Gbenga Ashafa, who at the time represented Lagos East in the Senate, raised a motion in February 2013 demanding an investigation into the quality of repairs done on the bridge by the Ministry of Works. Senator Ashafa further implored his colleagues that the matter is treated with a sense of urgency. He also urged the federal government at the time to take the necessary steps to avoid a fatal disaster.
In 2020, seven years after, while a couple of maintenance exercises has been carried out, the main structural issue identified in the report is yet to be addressed. This explains the sense of urgency with which the Minister of Works is driving this task. The truth is that the structural defects on the bridge are both worrisome and scary.
Thankfully, however, the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, who once served as the governor of Lagos state, is committed to seeing this through. Fashola seems quite invested in ensuring that the bridge does not pose any risk to the lives of Lagosians, hence the tough decision to ensure the repairs are carried out in full.
The Third Mainland bridge is estimated to have over 117,000 vehicles plying on it daily, according to a traffic count embarked upon by the Ministry of Works. It is a major link between the mainland and the island where most corporate business activities are carried out. There is, therefore, no doubt that closing the bridge for 6 months, especially at a time when other road construction work is ongoing, would bring untold hardship to the residents of Lagos state.
This means longer hours in traffic, increased cases of robberies in traffic, lower productivity from employees and a significant decline in some business activities. That said, the risk of ignoring the needed repairs on the bridge are significantly higher than any potential inconvenience the closure might cause.
It would be irresponsible for the federal government to risk the lives of thousands of commuters when it can avert a potential disaster by carrying out major repairs on the bridge. Perhaps, work should have started much earlier when the COVID-19 lockdown was announced in March 2020. This would have given the federal government a three months head start at the very least. But as with most decisions of government in Nigeria, that opportunity was blown away and now Lagosians will have to deal with the hardship of commuting to work under highly unpleasant circumstances.
Hopefully, this repair will avert a potential collapse of the bridge. More so, employers may need to rethink the future of the workplace. Businesses should find the courage to view the global pandemic, and now the possibility of the closure of the Third Mainland Bridge as an opportunity to redefine the workplace where employee performance can be measured by their achievements and outcomes, and not necessarily by how regularly they physically show up to the office.