•Reasons for gridlock revealed
By Chimaobi Nwaiwu & Nwabueze Okonkwo, ONITSHA
THE gridlock on the Niger Bridge is always a source of worry for motorists and commuters travelling from the South West and South South states of Delta and Edo and those from the Eastern part to the South West.
It becomes nightmarish during festival periods as Christmas when many families travel home to meet their loved ones. It is usually not a pleasant experience as in some instances some families stay a day or two trying to cross the bridge of less than a kilometer.
Unfortunately, this is the only route for now that connects the East to the West. And the Igbo of the South East are known to usually travel home with their families during festival periods like Christmas, New Year, Easter and New Yam festivals, making the already busy bridge busier. This is Christmas period and the nightmare is expected.
Both the Asaba and Onitsha end of the road that links the bridge have three-lanes and a service lane, having been expanded by the President Goodluck Jonathan administration, yet the gridlock persists. Perhaps with caution and responsible driving, there may be no reason for the killing gridlock.
Causes of the gridlock
Ordinarily, with three lanes and a service lane on both end of the bridge, traffic flow ought to be smooth. But motorists are subjected to hellish traffic jam.
Visits to the bridge narrowed the cause of the traffic jam to the activities of security operatives; mainly the Police, Army, FRSC and touts who engage in massive extortion on both ends of the bridge.
The Army has a permanent camp and check points at both ends of the bridge. However, they have dismantled the one at the Asaba end. But police have replaced them on the Asaba end. Police and Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC, also have check points at the foot of the same Onitsha end of Niger Bridge, close to that of the army.
These points are simply extortion points and as they extort, they are not in hurry, thereby causing long queues. And in a bid by some reckless drivers to maneuver them, they block both lanes of the road and bridge, bringing movement to total halt.
Even from Asaba, before the bridge, at the new Oko Market built by Delta State Government, towards the Asaba end of the bridge, there about two police checkpoints ahead of the bridge, worsening the situation.
These security agencies are simply the cause of the suffering and pains people experience on both end of the bridge.
The situation at times got so pathetic that road users are made to sleep in their vehicles for days. Sadly, none of these security agents cares about the suffering of the travelers and other road users, except to extort money from them.
The newly inaugurated President of Onitsha Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture, ONCCIMA, Chief Kelvin Obieri, aptly captures what happens at the Niger Bridge.
Obieri, the 14TH President of ONCCIMA, in a letter to the Federal Government, expressed concern on the suffering of the road users on bridge.
Copied to security agencies and Anambra and Delta State Governors, the letter entitled: “The Niger Bridge Gridlocks and other traffic gridlocks in South East of Nigeria”, said in part:
“The Onitsha Chamber of Commerce Industry Mines and Agriculture ONCCIMA, once again want to draw the attention of the Federal authorities, security agencies as well as the Governors of Anambra and Delta States in particular, to the menace of Niger Bridge gridlock, which to a very large extent emanates from the activities of some law enforcement agents on both ends of the bridge.
“Recall that exactly two years ago, precisely on December 16th 2020, the immediate past President ONCCIMA, held a press conference where he, among other things, addressed this issue. The problem abated for a while but has come back in recent times with full force.
“Some law enforcement agents under the guise of security concerns set up road blocks especially at the Bridge and so many locations in the South East of Nigeria and these result in unnecessary traffic gridlocks with consequent economic hardship and losses to the people.
“As at the last count there exists at different squad of ill-mannered law enforcement agents that motorist encounter while approaching the Niger Bridge from Asaba and while exiting the bridge at the same Asaba axis.
“These are not more than mere extortion teams forcefully collecting toll fees mostly from commercial vehicles as well as trucks and trailers, thereby delaying traffic flow across the bridge. At the Onitsha end of the bridge, the story is very much the same with a little twist.
“The law enforcement agents make use of civilian collectors while they assist by slowing down vehicular movement.
“It is indeed an intricate web that needs careful collaboration by the Governors mentioned to dismantle and free up traffic flow across that bridge.
“In addition, motorist at the Onitsha end have to contend with the menace of multiple groups of revenue collection agents. A journey across the Bridge from either end which in normal circumstances would not exceed ten minutes has commuters stranded for hours.
“In the over ridding interest of the socio-economic well being of the citizens of both Anambra and Delta State and by extension the entire Nigerian society, the Onitsha Chamber of Commerce hereby demands; one the dismantling of all road blocks day or night, set up on both ends of the Bridge except for Federal Road Safety Corps, FRSC and State and local\voluntary traffic controllers.
“All security agents that obstruct the smooth flow of traffic should be removed from both end/approaches to the bridge.
“The government of both states should immediately set up a monitoring committee tasked with ensuring that these recurring problems are permanently solved not just for the yuletide but subsequently”, Obieri appealed.
Uzor A. Uzor, the Chairman of Campaign for Democracy, CD, attributes the gridlock to illegal revenue collectors, in addition to the activities of security agencies. He said that the situation is so bad that there is urgent need to complete the ongoing Second Niger Bridge.
The President of New Tire Market, Chief Okeckukwu Atueyi decried the ugly activities at the bridge. The National President of Nigerian Lorry Drivers Association, NILODA, Chimebele; The Chairman of Old Mercedes Benz Spare Parts market, Chief Elobi and the Chairman of Fairly Used Tires, Chief Ezeh also decried the gridlock and apportioned more of the blame to revenue collectors and urged the Anambra state government to handle the situation with utmost care.
Specifically, Elobi demanded that Governor Willie Obiano should drive away all the illegal revenue agents and ensure that they do not dovetail into the incoming government of Chukwuma Soludo.
Anambra and Delta Governments rise to the occasion
But a glimmer of hope seems to be in the air as both the Anambra and Delta Government have waded into the problem.
Last weekend, joint committee from the two governments were constituted with the firm mandate to ensure that the bridge is free from traffic gridlock.
The committee which involved police commissioners of the two states and top government officials is directed to arrest anyone who flouts traffic rule on the bridge, no matter how highly placed.