The atmosphere in and around the site of the Second Niger Bridge has been suffused with joy and excitement, following the resumption of work on the project, which has become an emotional and political touchstone for the people of the Southeast, long marginalized in the national scheme of things.
The return of the principal contractor, Julius Berger Plc, to the site expectedly stirred good feeling among the people.
When Sunday Sun visited the site of the project there were heavy duty machines and equipment as well as workers and security agents on ground at the site. An engineer at the site who does not want to be mentioned said they resumed work at the site in October after the federal government mobilized the contractor to return to site.
He said that the duration for the completion of the contract is five years, noting that Julius Berger being a reputable construction firm would keep to it and ensure the delivery of the project within the stipulated period.
“We are back to the site fully and as you can see work has started and by the grace of God, we will not stop until we finish the job. I’m happy that the government has played its part and I pray it will keep to its promise and sustain it so that the job will continue until we finish it. I don’t think anything will stop the job again because water level has reduced, so we can comfortably work without any hindrance,” he stated.
Efforts to speak with the company’s Public Relations Officer proved abortive as the security agents at site prevented the reporter from taking photographs of the site but was directed to the Site Manager or PRO at the company yard at the waterways under the old bridge. Also at the yard, a security man prevented the reporter from seeing the site manager, insisting that the inquiries be directed to the PRO, who was not on hand at the time of the visit.
When the reporter visited the second time later that day, he was informed that the PRO had traveled outside the state. A request for his phone number, so that a text could be sent to him was declined. This prompted the reporter to leave a note and his phone contact with the security guard at the gate requesting the PRO to contact him, to give more details on the project. Until this report was filed, no response came from the PRO at the site.
Recall that the existing Niger Bridge was commissioned on January 4, 1966. The idea of a Second Niger Bridge started in the 1970s but its execution had been constantly delayed due to multifarious problems ranging from finance to political will.
The Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, had on October 20, 2017 during the APC Governorship campaign in Onitsha, Anambra State, said that the federal government had released the sum of N2 billon through the Sovereign Wealth Fund for the project.
Osinbajo reiterated the Buhari administration’s commitment to keeping its promises to the Nigerian people, saying that one of those promises was the construction of the Second Niger Bridge.
The President of Bridgehead Market, Chief Sunday Obinze, while reacting on the project urged the federal government to keep to its promise by completing the project at the stipulated time and not just to use it as a campaign gimmick for 2019 general election.
His words: “My advice for the federal government is for them to keep to their promise in completing the Second Niger Bridge at the specific period and not for campaign strategy because once election is close politicians will embark on one project or the other. So the President should complete the project and should have good intention in doing the job.
“There are many benefits that would come from the completion of the Second Nigeria Bridge. One, it will decongest the road and end the crippling traffic jam as well as reduce pressure on the existing bridge. It will help to develop the nearby state, Delta state, which is close to Onitsha. Most of the traders in Onitsha have properties in Asaba, the state capital and due to the menace of traffic they could not develop their property.
But with the construction of the second bridge it will ease flow of traffic. It will also improve our businesses here in Onitsha and improve the revenue base of Delta State. In fact the second Niger Bridge will be of greater advantage to the traders and the road users.
“Then you know that the bridge is a gateway to many states and when another one is being constructed it will create free flow of human and vehicular movement in and out of Onitsha and reduce traffic jam from the security checkpoint at Asaba end of the bridge.”
A trader from Delta State, Mrs. Agnes Olisa, expressed happiness over the resumption of work at the project site, saying that when completed it would help to reduce their suffering in coming to the market in Onitsha due to daily gridlock along Onitsha-Asaba axis of the expressway.
“On many occasions, many of us that come to Onitsha to buy our goods were trapped in the traffic jam, which could for three to four hours just between Asaba and Onitsha. On two or three occasions, I had to turn back when the gridlock held us for hours because I could not make it to the market again. At times thieves will waylay us on the road and take our money while we are stuck in the holdup; so we have suffered on this road over the years.
“I want to commend President Muhammadu Buhari for continuing with the project which was inaugurated by his predecessors and who did not do any work until their tenure expired. My prayer is that the government should not play politics with the job and should face it squarely and complete it.
The Second Niger bridge is important to not only Igbo people but to all who use this road including the Hausa and Yourba people because I have seen some these people caught in the gridlock with us on some occasions. I am begging the federal government to pay the contractor in order for them not to have excuse to stop work on the bridge,” Olisa said.
A commercial bus driver, Mr. Okechukwu Nduka, expressed hope that the government and the contractor would sustain the project after so much complaint of lack of money and recession. He wondered if the work would be sustained and probably completed as scheduled.
“We the drivers on this route are worst hit.
There is no driver that plies the Onitsha-Asaba route or even passenger that traveled to South-South, South-West or even Northern states that through this road that Swill tell you that the Second Niger Bridge is not needed urgently because of not only gridlocks on the road but also the danger ahead. This old bridge is being over stretched and is on the verge of collapse any moment because the pressure is too much on it. If this old bridge collapses now that is the end and everybody will be using small vessels and boats to cross the River Niger before you continue your journey.”
“So, am happy that working is going on at the site of the second bridge but the question is, how far will it go? This is not the first time they will promise us and also map out money in the budget for the job but to no avail. The 2019 election is close and the work at the site may be connected to the campaign for re-election and after which they will remove all these machines just like what happened after Jonathan left office. The federal government should be sincere and keep to its promise by completing the project and everybody will be happy,” Nduka stated.
A resident of Onitsha who works at the Federal Medical Centre, FMC, Asaba, Mr. Nnaemeka Arinze, who was not aware that the job had resumed, recounted his ordeal on the Onitsha-Asaba road and how he had been trapped on the road on several occasions, saying that he would be the happiest person if government completed the second bridge to reduce gridlock on the old bridge.
“I go to work in Asaba every day except when I’m off duty or on leave; so I have seen it all on this road and that is what attracted my curiosity when I heard from you that work had resumed again at the site of Second Niger Bridge site. I thank God for that and pray that they will sustain the work and complete it to reduce pressure on the old bridge.
I have suffered on this road; sometimes I will leave my house at 5.00am to beat traffic going to my office but most time I will meet traffic and then while going home. Sometimes I will stay in the office up to 8.00pm waiting for when the road would be free but still I will meet holdup. So, the solution is the new bridge for free flow of traffic” Arinze said.