SINCE the revalidation of democracy in Nigeria in 1999, successive political office seekers and eventual winners routinely and unscrupulously used the construction of a second River Niger bridge as campaign bait either for election or re-election. Thereafter, the gimmick is preserved till the next polls. That has been the unfortunate sequence till date.
Last Wednesday, August 8, 2012, the Minister of Works, Architect Mike Onolememen, while inspecting the ongoing rehabilitation of the Third Mainland Bridge in Lagos, declared that work will begin on building of the second Niger Bridge in the first quarter of next year. He affirmed that the Federal Government was committed to the project this time round. The minister said counterpart funding for the initiative will come from the Subsidy Reinvestment and Empowerment (SURE) programme, pointing out that the level of budgetary provision and integration it had attained was such that there could be no vacillation, anymore.
His words: “When the SURE programme was put together, the second Niger Bridge featured prominently and one of the decisions at the time was that the counterpart funding of the second Niger Bridge will have to come from the SURE programme. That is why if you look at the SURE programme, over N20 billion was budgeted for the second Niger Bridge. That represents the Federal Government’s 30 per cent counterpart funding of this particular project.” At the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting last week, a consultative advisory committee was inaugurated to pursue this latest promise. “We are determined to do the ground-breaking ceremony of the second Niger Bridge in the first quarter of next year. As a matter of fact, there are people who are very vast in the issue of concession and are big names from Germany, Australia, France, Italy and many European countries,” the minister said.
According to him, many international consortiums have already expressed interest in the concession of this facility. President Goodluck Jonathan, on his part, has reaffirmed that he would deliver the bridge before 2015. During his campaign last year, he gave a similar indication. Going by the latest design, the bridge—which is 2150m in length including a 600m bridge—will take three years to be completed. We are aware that the year preceding election is usually devoted to campaigns with attendant exclusive deployment of comprehensive resources. Consequently, we hope the presidential 2015 deadline would be met. This point is imperative because of possible shortfalls in funding or contractual variations that may arise.
The Works Minister, who assured Nigerians that there would be no funding gaps because of the prime importance attached to this project, said the total outlay was N100 billion out of which the Federal Government would provide N30 billion and N70 billion would be secured by a foreign concessionaire company that is the partner funding unit. By way of retrospection, the dilapidated River Niger Bridge in Onitsha was built in December 1965 by Nigeria’s colonial masters, Britain. Unfulfilled promises of a second Niger Bridge over the years have inured Nigerians particularly those from that marginalised part of the country. It must be emphasized that the second River Niger Bridge is not a favour to South East and South South people (and other geopolitical zones that share route linkage with it) because of its strategic importance to our national economy.
In fact, the existing bridge that is almost giving way because of age, poor maintenance and excessive usage has become almost a national embarrassment. The cranky noise it generates when vehicles access it clearly shows that it is a potential disaster waiting to happen: it has gone beyond a clear and present danger! We shudder to imagine the incalculable loss that the imminent collapse will cause. Government must ensure, whatever funding arrangement it has in place notwithstanding, that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a member of the World Bank Group, guarantees the process to foreclose procedural lapses or disruptions in project execution arising from lack of funds. The 2015 schedule must be sacrosanct. No explanations for any breach would be acceptable to the people of Nigeria.
Whichever firm that gets the job must exhibit competence by meeting local and global rules and standards in the execution of a project of this magnitude. The voluminous vehicular traffic on the current bridge is indicative of what to expect on the new bridge hence the need for thoroughness and professionalism in its construction and management. We are cautiously optimistic now, more than ever before, that President Goodluck Jonathan will not allow this historic intervention to elude him by not keeping to his word.
Apart from being a milestone in the annals of his leadership, we strongly believe it is the most honourable, laudable and unparalleled thing to do in his providential tenure. An unprecedented opportunity beckons on Jonathan! Visionary leaders do not allow this kind of monumental and history-making privilege to slip away