Long road to Second Niger Bridge
Tribune - Monday, March 10, 2014
Niger Bridge: Another jinx broken!
Today, Monday, March 10, 2014, President Goodluck Ebele Jona-than breaks yet another jinx in the South East and is by so doing, pulling himself and his political prospects deeper and more firmly into the hearts and souls of the illustrious and industrious people of the area. He is expected to fag-off the construction of the Second Niger Bridge between Delta and Anambra States, and would by that fact, not only open up a major link from the western and eastern parts of the country but bring a huge relief in the lives of a suffocating people.
This act would be a bigger replica of an act the president performed when on May 16, last year, he commissioned the Akanu Ibiam International Airport at Emene, Enugu. Both acts would have impacts that resonate well above and beyond what they look like on the surface. In May last year, President Jonathan broke an evil conspiracy, which successive leaders of Nigeria had dubiously erected against people of the South East - and to a large extent - the South South. By commissioning the international airport at Enugu, the president ended the unwritten embargo that had been placed on the people of the South East that none should travel outside the shores of Nigeria from their land. In other words, since the aircraft that fled General Ojukwu and other top Biafran military and civilian leaders out of the Biafran enclave from Uli Airport into exile in January of 1970, no other aircraft had flown in or out or had been permitted out from Igboland out of Nigeria. Presdient Jonathan changed all that with one wave of his ex-ecutive hand.
It had never mattered that Ndigbo are one of the most travelled people on earth, a policy enacted after the civil war by military leaders, who had declared that there were neither victors nor vanquished in the civil war, and kept tightly in leash through the conspiracy of all regimes - civil and military ever since - ensured that nothing would happen in Igbo land that would 'ex-pose' them to the world. There would be no international airports, no power stations, no seaports, no major federal infrastructures like good roads and water links - in fact, it was resolved that for 50 years or more, Ndigbo would be kept in socio-economic and psychological bondage. The policy was not only implemented in all the sectors with gusto but was often executed with such wickedness and callousness that beggared human understanding, even to the extent that some leaders allowed the economy of the entire country to suffer obviously, if only to ensure that Ndigbo were kept in the prescribed doldrums. Some of the aspects of life were targeted more prominently, especially by the more vicious among the leaders. It took the arrival of an Air Vice Marshal Canice Umen-waliri, as the Communications Minister un-der the short-lived post-Abacha regime of Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar, for the entire South East and large section of the South East to be put on talking terms with the out-side world when Umenwaliri hooked it up to the world by connecting the people to a digital telephone network.
Before then, the whole of the South East and Midwest had been placed on an archaic single analogue exchange (with the limited exception of Enugu, which Mr. Austin Otiji, as the NITEL boss, had squeezed out of the authorities) while other parts of the country, which hardly needed it were enjoying the copious benefits of digital telephon. It had meant that when a businessman at Aba, Calabar, Owerri or Onitsha needed to make an international call to his many partners outside Nigeria, he had to travel to Lagos or Kaduna to make the call. It took the dogged determination of Umenwaliri to compel the head of state to allow him digitalise communications in the South East and South-South, thereby breaking that significant jinx. Before Jonathan 'struck' in May last year with an international airport at Enugu, every Igbo person, who needed to travel abroad had to travel to Lagos, Abuja or Kano; it is no wonder today that the Ethiopian Air-lines, which flies in and out of Enugu is said to be fully booked for months on end. Even though the people look forward to having many more international airlines, operating from Enugu, what is already happening has become a soothing balm on peoples' hearts. And with the obvious determination of the Jonathan administration to do what is right for all the people of Nigeria, it would not be long before the Enugu airport proves to be the most profitable and the most patronised in the country.
If opening the airport, which caters mostly to the privileged members of the society was so much hailed, one wonders what would be happening in the minds of the people over the relief, which is on the way over the flag-of of the construction of the Second Niger Bridge, which will take place today and which the president has assured would result in the no-stop work of the bridge till it is completed. The current suffering, which Nigerians have been subjected to with the use of the current narrow bridge that was opened in December 1965, as one of the last acts of Prime Minister, Alhaji Abubakar Tafawa Balewa on earth (he was killed during the first ever military coup on January 15, 1966), has been unimaginable. It is really heart-rending to recall many personal experiences, which I have had on that bridge but which pale into insignificance when compared to the harrowing experiences of Nigerians, who are compelled to use the bridge on a daily, weekly or monthly basis, as their socio-economic routines demand. There have been instances of people dying while stranded for hours, if not days, on the bridge. Women are said to have given birth there. Just as many frail hearts have been broken on that bridge, huge sums of fortunes have been lost or wasted. To make matters worse, there are hardly any detour alternatives for those who need to use that old bridge that sits across Asaba and Onitsha. Onitsha, the erstwhile commercial headquarter of Nigeria, has become manifestly diminished by the inconveniences, which the old dysfunctional bridge has continued to pose both to its inhabitants and those who patronise the activities there. The tension, the anger and dislocating frustration, which have become the second nature of Onitsha can easily be traced to the frustration, which the life on the bridge engenders. And yet, nobody was prepared to take action.
For years on end, the people were deceived with fake and fancy stories about the intention of the successive federal governments to build a second and even a third bridge to relieve the people from their plight. All manners of lies, fake promises and subterfuge have been erected by previous administrations, merely to keep the people in the dark over what was a deliberate diabolical policy of the central government against its own people. That it did not matter to the successive governments at the centre that the condition of the Niger bridge gateway, which equally serves other parts of the country beyond the South East people that are being punished for Biafra, has been equally constituting great inconve-niences to those other Nigerians, who were not also "guilty" of the civil war, simply gives an inkling into the callous mindset of those who have been governing Nigeria and who lined up the other day to receive Centenary honours for their 'great deeds in leadership'.
To make matters even worse, there have been those who had rubbed the fact of their being a defeated people into the face of Igbo people. In May 2007, and only a few days before he left office,President Obasanjo made a show of commissioning the flagoff of the construction of the Second Niger Bridge at the Asaba end. The outgoing governor of Delta State, Ibori, and the incom-ing short-lived governor of Anambra State, Andy Uba, were accomplices and partici-pants to that fraud with which Obasanjo rubbed insult into the injury of the people over whose defeat in the civil war he had never stopped gloating over. The people were expectant that their plight would soon be over until Governor Peter Obi later alerted the nation that there was neither a contract nor a plan for the bridge; in other words, Obasanjo had led the people through another episode of frustrating deceit. With the coming of President Jonathan and in spite of the huge opposition, which he has been facing by those who are against him because he is bent on fulfilling his promises to liberate all parts of Nigeria from the bondage under which they had been placed by their leaders, things are becoming remarkably different. He has it clearly seems - to have distanced himself from the wicked policies of his predecessors, which have kept Ndigbo under into a pressure cooker. And why not; for while campaigning in 2011, Jonathan had told Igbo voters that "I am one of you". With what is happening today, there are few remaining doubts that he is not going back on those words, as it seems that for him the responsibility of building the Second Niger Bridge does not only have a political ramification for him; it seems to have a spiritual one too.
At Onitsha in August 2012, I was present when he addressed some members of Anambra political elite, after commission-ing the Onitsha River Port and the start of oil explorations at Aguleri. President Jonathan spoke emotionally about the fate of the Niger Bridge. He recalled that the first Niger Bridge was conceived and built by President Nnamdi Azikiwe as the (ceremonial) first president of Nigeria and that it was built with five million pounds then. He vowed that it was incumbent on him, as someone who had been given the name of "Azikiwe" by his grandfather, to build the second Niger Bridge, for what it means to the people both on the practical and psychological levels. He further vowed that if he did not embark on building that bridge before leaving office, he would go on exile Since that pledge, those who understand the way governments work as well as those who are aware that the Executive Presidency of Nigeria has been constitutionally erected, as one of the most powerful in the world, became aware that the president could not have spoken in vain in that regard. Those who reason became aware that for the Second Niger Bridge, hope had risen for the first time.
The fact that the president is finally flagging it off today is the coming to age of that risen hope. It is clear that before today, a lot of clean water had run under the bridge. A lot of preliminary work was said to have been done both by the giant Julius Berger, Nigeria's famous bridge builders, to mobilise its equipment and personnel to the site. A lot much more has happened at the level of sourcing for the funds in order to ensure that once the project starts, it will not stop till it reaches its completion. The fact that the president is coming to flag it off personally shows that not only is he committed to all the promises he had made about the bridge, there is the unspoken fact that all the funds for that bridge are intact.
When President Jonathan commissions the start-off of the bridge, he will have kept most of his promises to the people of the South East, who are not used to asking for mere hand-outs. The South Easterners, who consider themselves very able at every point, merely demand to be shown the fishponds and the roads to them. They can do all the fishing by themselves. That is why the bridge, the airport and reconstruction of their federal roads and infrastructures, which the federal government is embarking upon under the Jonathan administration are very welcome and heart-warming to the people. That President Jonathan has become a dear friend and kinsman of the South East is becoming very obvious by the day. It will show more amply in 2015 by which time it will be obvious that he has earned that friendship and brotherhood on concrete platforms, not platitudes.
Jonathan kicks off N117 billion Second Niger Bridge project
• To be completed in four years under BOT
• Orji, Obi, Uduaghan, Achebe laud action
HISTORY was made Monday at the commercial town of Onitsha, Anambra State, as President Goodluck Jonathan did the groundbreaking of the Second Niger Bridge linking the eastern part of the country with the South-South geo-political zone.
Meanwhile, South-East governors, their counterparts from the South-South and other eminent Igbo yesterday commended Jonathan for kickstarting the project...
Coming almost 49 years after the commissioning of the first Niger Bridge by former President Nnamdi Azikiwe in 1965, Jonathan promised that the landmark project being executed by Julius Berger would be completed in four years at a total cost of over N117 billion.
He told the guests at the ceremony who included host Governor Peter Obi, Ebonyi State Governor Martin Elechi and Delta State Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan; Minister of Finance and the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala; the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen; the Obi of Onitsha Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe and a host of others that the project will be executed under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement for a period of 25 years.
However, Governor Sullivan Chime of Enugu and his Imo State counterpart, Rochas Okorocha, were absent at the ceremony.
President Jonathan said: "The first Niger Bridge was commissioned by President Nnamdi Azikiwe and the second will be built by the second Azikiwe. The second bridge is being built almost 49 years after the first. This will alleviate the congestion on the first Niger Bridge, especially during festive period. The bridge will improve road traffic between the South Eastern part of the country and the rest of the country."
Jonathan remarked that he was only out to fulfill his electioneering promise way back in 2007 when as a vice presidential candidate, he came visiting Anambra on a campaign stump and promised to build the bridge.
Jonathan noted that the bridge is key to economic transformation of the country, adding that when completed, would improve commercial activities in the South-East and the South western part of the country.
He observed that government has made a proper arrangement for the financing of this major infrastructure, and government would provide about 25 per cent funding for the project.
The President thanked Anambra State Governor Peter Obi and his Delta State counterpart, Emmanuel Uduaghan for showing committed interest in the project, adding that he would rely on the support of all Nigerians to ensure the speedy completion of the bridge.
He appealed to the in-coming Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano, to show the zeal and commitment exhibited by the out-going governor towards the project.
Also speaking, Minister of Finance and the Co-ordinating Minister of the Economy, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, explained that the project would be 60 per cent equity and 40 per cent debt, adding that the financing model being proposed would be a template for the development of economically viable projects in the country.
According to her, the financing structure put in place by government would facilitate speedy completion of the project.
Okonjo-Iweala who described the existing Niger Bridge as a bridge of love, stressed the need for the country to build more bridges that would close our historic divides, and connect communities and the entire country together.
Onolememen explained that the concession period of 25 years through Design, Build, Operate and Transfer (DBOT) model will obtain for the bridge which on completion will be 1,590 metres long, and forms part 11.90 km length of the entire project.
The minister said that the bridge will be located 1.7 kilometres downstream of the existing bridge on a new alignment and consists of two Number equal end spans of 40 metres, 15 Number equal intermediate spans of 55 metres each and two Number intermediate spans of 90 metres each, 3 Number navigational spans of 150 metres each.
He added that the total width of the dual carriageway bridge will be 35metres consisting of 16.05 metres wide three-lane carriageway in each direction and 3.03metres central reserve, adding that two underpasses categorised as secondary bridges are planned at Amakon Village and Atani Roads with an interchange on Onitsha-Owerri Road forming part of the project.
He said: "The second bridge is being realised under the PPP model. The special purpose vehicle will be jointly owned by Julius Berger-Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority Consortium and Federal Government. And as obtainable under the PPP model, the concessionaire will have the right to charge tolls for the use of the second Niger Bridge as well as have full commercial rights on the Projects Right of Way."
Speaking at the ceremony, the Chairman of the South-East Governors' Forum and Abia State Governor, Theodore Orji, described the flag-off of the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge as the flag off of the process of retaining President Goodluck Jonathan in office in 2015.
Orji noted that President Jonathan has made history, and is leaving behind an indelible legacy in the sands of time.
He said: "This Bridge is very significant to the South-East. We have been discussing how to retain the President, and today is the flag off of that process of retaining the President. The President should have confidence in the South-East because you are doing what you ought to do and we would ensure that you are retained come 2015."
Also speaking, Obi noted that by flagging off the 2nd Niger Bridge project, President Jonathan has made the South-East to be part of Nigeria.
He said: "We will over-pay you in 2015 because you have turned around the country and everybody is proud of Nigeria. When they conceived this bridge earlier, they said Anambra and Delta states would pay counterpart funding of N10 billion each but President Jonathan removed it. The fake flag off was done and we did not know the contractor, but we are happy that a 1st class construction company is handling the project. It took President Jonathan for us to give Odumegwu-Ojukwu a befitting burial; Nigeria did not bury Zik the way he deserved to be buried. They even promised us a Mausoleum and have not built it. The construction of the bridge means rebuilding Anambra State and the Igbo land and making us part of Nigeria".
In his remarks, Uduaghan observed that there is a South-South, South-East co-operation going on, and that the bridge is very significant to the people of the South-South and the South-East. He, therefore, requested that the bridge be named Asaba-Onitsha Bridge.
He stated that the President that is flagging off the construction of the bridge would also commission it in four years time, adding "he who cook food go chop am, abi no be so? Our wish is that President Goodluck Jonathan who flagged off this bridge today would also commission it in four years' time in Jesus name, Amen".
Uduaghan observed that the Delta State government would ensure a peaceful environment for the execution of the project.
For Achebe, the existing bridge and the new one have a significant impact on the lives of all Nigerians and not just the South-East as it connects the East and the West, the North and the South.
While calling on the Federal Government to ensure the payment of its counterpart fund, the monarch assured that Anambra State would provide enabling environment for the contractor to execute the project.
Also speaking, former Senate President and Chairman of the Board of Infrastructure Concessioning and Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Ken Nnamani, said that new bridge when completed would boost economic activities in the South-South and South-East as well as the entire country and reduce travel time.