AMidst growing fears that the Federal Government has dumped the construction of the Second Niger Bridge project, prominent Igbo leaders and built environment experts have appealed to President Muhammed Buhari, PMB to ensure that the all-important bridge that would complement the aging River Niger Bridge, is completed on schedule as stipulated in the contract agreement.
The bridge which was flagged off on March 10, 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to be completed in 48 months (March 2018).
Measuring about 1,590 metres long the bridge whose construction cost was put at N117,860,700,741.82, VAT inclusive, forms part of the 11.90 kilometer length project.
Although officials of both the Federal Ministry of Works and Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, denied reports that work on the project has been discontinued, reporters at Onitsha, observed that only skeletal works are ongoing as most of the workers have allegedly been retrenched by the contractors.
It was not certain whether the retrenchment was necessitated by the rains which usually affect construction works during rainy seasons or because the Federal Government has not yet released any fund for continuation of the project.
Apparently reading danger signals from the ongoing scenario, Igbo leaders and built environment experts who spoke to reporters insisted that since government is a continuity, the incumbent Buhari administration should go ahead to complete the project because of its strategic importance to the economic development of the entire country.
Former President Jonathan had during his presidential campaign rally in Onitsha, Anambra state in January, this year, given the assurance that the project would be completed on schedule and delivered. Jonathan said the project which is being executed through the Public Private Partnership, PPP arrangement, would also be managed by the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF.
According to him, “So far, N10 billion has been spent and, out of it, N1.5 billion was used for paying for damages and others. In fact, the link road that is about three kilometres from the main road to the bridge which is almost 80 percent of the road has been fixed,” he said.
He noted that about 260 Nigerians and 50 expatriates were working there.”But when the work will be in full swing, we expect that it will give work to about 2,000 young men and women and about 60 expatriates.
So, it is one of the major projects that will engage a number of people. We asked Julius Berger and the federal Ministry of Works about their commitments to the project and they said the project will be completed within the time frame. And I am optimistic they will surely do it,” the former president was quoted as saying.
He noted that when completed, the bridge would improve commercial activities in the South-East and South West, adding that government had made a proper arrangement for the financing of the major unity infrastructure, hence government would provide about 25 percent funding for the project.
The Registrar of the Quantity Surveyors Registration Board of Nigeria, QSRBN, Mr. Godson Moneke described the award of the contract for the construction of a second bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha as a deceit by Igbo elites and the former President to get the votes of the Igbos.
He premised this assertion on the fact that the immediate past government did not have the will to build the bridge. Moneke wondered why the Public Private partnership, PPP model was adopted for the construction of such an important bridge that would impact upon the lives of millions of Nigerians.
According to him, the PPP model is an attempt to short change would-be users of the bridge. Moneke who eulogised the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration, enjoined the President to silence his critics who claim that he is anti-Ndigbo, by jettisoning the PPP model and constructing the bridge which is of immense economic importance to the country.
The Chairman of Anambra State chapter of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Elder Chris Eluemuno warned against any move to discontinue the construction of the bridge. According to him, there is nothing whatsoever to warrant the abandonment of the project.
“Why should he (Buhari) abandon the project? Is it because it is located in Igbo land or what? What we should even be talking about is to review some areas that is hindering the smooth execution of the project, so as to quicken the pace of work on it,” he said.
The Ohaneze chieftain noted that although all the actions and utterances of President Buhari point to the fact that he did not like Ndigbo, he (the President) should know that when completed, Ndigbo would not be the only beneficiaries of the second Niger bridge project.
The Chairman of Anaocha branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Chris Adimora spoke in the same vein. “The Bridge is the connection link between the South East and the rest of the country. If the existing bridge should collapse today as a result of old age and over- use, it will mean total calamity and complete cut off from the old Eastern Nigeria and the rest of the country.
Our appeal is that the Federal Government should fund the bridge 100 percent like it funded Lokoja and other bridges in the country,” Adimora canvassed. He enjoined the Federal Government to take a look at the contract documents and remove any concessioner attached to the project.
“The Federal Government should also review the contract documents and remove the PPP arrangement. PPP is even a Greek gift to Ndigbo. The Federal Government should not contemplate termination of the contract. If Federal government completes the project, Ndigbo will now know that Buhari is not partial,” the NBA boss said.
In his own reaction, the Chairman of Idemili branch of NBA, Mr Ben Okoko described the Second Niger bridge as a project that is long overdue. He noted that discontinuing with the project, will be a big blow to the South-East and South-South geo-political zones..
According to Okoko, “Buhari, as at now, cannot yet be said to be anti-Igbo, having agreed to complete Zik’s Mausoleum project. We expect him to do the jobs as he promised because the names, Okechukwu and Ogbuagu which Ndigbo gave to him is not going to be in vain. Let the project continue at whatever agreement, even if it is PP
If any traffic congestion occurs in the existing Niger bridge, motorists will be stranded”. “Government should also complete all the adjoining roads connecting the second Niger bridge like the road linking Atani in Ogbaru Local Government Area and Ozubulu in Ekwusigo Local Government Area to ensure a free flow of traffic.
All the roads that will take their routes from the second Niger bridge should be rehabilitated, “ he suggested. Okoko called on the Federal Government to also place the rehabilitation of Enugu/Onitsha, Enugu/Umuahia/Aba/ Port Harcourt dual carriage ways and the Okigwe/Arondizuaogu/Akokwa/Uga/Nnewi highway, among others on top priority, to give Ndigbo a real sense of belonging.
In the same vein, the Ogirishi of Igboland, Chief Rommy Ezeonwuka, said it would be a political and economic miscalculations for the Federal government to stop the project, adding that the bridge is the only connecting link between the South East and other parts of the country.
“Politics aside, that bridge will help to boost economic base of this nation because without it, there will be no economic link between the South East, South South, South West and the rest of the North,” he said.
The Campaign for Democracy, CD, South East Zone, in its own view, warned that human rights groups would not tolerate a situation where the second Niger bridge project would be abandoned just because of change of government.
The Chairman of the CD in the zone, Uzor A. Uzor said they will give Buhari up till the end of November, and if no tangible work is executed at the site, all the human rights groups would mobilise themselves and embark on constant protests against the Federal government.
Traders in Anambra state, under the aegis of Anambra Markets Amalgamated Traders Association, AMATAS, in their own voice, urged Buhari to change the contract arrangement from PPP to government financed project.
AMATAS President, Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo who spoke on their behalf, said government financed construction of bridges across the country without mounting toll gates and wondered why the second Niger bridge project should be handled under PPP arrangement which also entails mounting a toll gate to start collecting money from motorists as soon as the bridge becomes operational. He asked rhetorically: “is it because the project is located in Igbo land or what?
A source in the Federal Ministry of Works in Abuja said that work is seriously going on at the site of the bridge. “Anybody saying that work had stopped on the 2nd Niger Bridge is a mischief maker. You can go to the place yourself and confirm, anything you see there you publish.
The Governor of Anambra State, Chief Willie Obiano visited the site a few weeks ago with our officials and then somebody is saying that work has been abandoned. It is absolutely not correct,” the source said.
Amplifying the position of the Ministry, Julius Berger said that it was a mere speculations that work had stopped on the project. The company said it was optimistic that the project would be completed on schedule at the pace of work going on presently.
SOURCE: VANGUARD NEWSPAPER AND HOUSING DEVELOPMENT PROGRAM