Isaac Anumihe, Abuja
The Federal Government, recently announced that Second Niger Bridge was now 17 per cent completed.
The government also said that most of the obstacles that could impede the progress of the job had been tackled with compensations to the tune of N3.5 billion for claims on the project corridor already paid.
Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, Mustapha Baba Shehuri who gave this indication also disclosed that compensation was paid from Km 23 – 34.9 of the project, assuring the Federal Government would continue to fund the construction of the project till completion.
The Minister reiterated that since the present administration came on board, its priority has, essentially, been on infrastructural development. He added that the construction of an additional bridge to complement the existing one built in 1965 has placed a huge obligation on the government.
According to him, the Second Niger Bridge links Asaba, Delta State with Onitsha, Anambra State and several other states in the South East, and South South zone.
Shehuri said the Federal Government will stop at nothing to ensure that funds are released, as at when due, to the contractor in order to accomplish the project for ease of vehicular traffic and socio – economic enhancement.
This was accentuated by the Project Director, Julius Berger (Nigeria) Limited, Mr Frederick Weiser, who stated that his company has received payment on work done thus far and the communities have been co-operating as well.
“The major threat to the project is the River Niger itself. The river would rise between 10m to 12m as the rainy season is fast approaching. This calls for intensive work, 24 hours of the day, seven days a week to ensure it progresses before the river rises” he said.
This assurance generated a lot of confidence in the capability of President Muhammadu Buhari Administration to complete the project within the 42-month period agreed.
The construction of the bridge was started in 2013 with a four-year completion date. But the harsh economic environment, coupled with the economic recession of 2016 encumbered the project.
But the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) being the major source of funding wooed both foreign and local funding partners to participate in the construction on Build, Operate and Transfer basis.
But the project was later marred by politics thus leading to the initial withdrawal of partners.
However, on the assumption of office in 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari promised to complete the project. He did not, however, fulfill this promise but he took a major step towards achieving it.
So, his failure to fulfill his promise instigated his opponent, the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate, Alhaji Atiku Abubakar, to promise completing the bridge if voted into power in 2019.
Atiku, who made the promise at the party’s mega campaign rally in Onitsha, assured he would ensure its quick completion because of his wife, who hails from the commercial city of Anambra.
Atiku, who was accompanied to the campaign field by his wife, Jenifer Atiku Abubakar and the former Governor of Anambra State , Mr Peter Obi, said he was not in Onitsha to campaign, but to present his wife and deputy, who he said were the real contestants.
“I’m not here to campaign, but to inform you that your son, Peter Obi and your daughter, Jenifer are the real contestants. I’m in the minority.
“You asked me to complete Second Niger Bridge, that I’ll do because of my wife. With Peter Obi as the VP, be rest assured that the roads in the region will be completed too,” the PDP candidate said.
Nevertheless, Head, Banking & Finance Department, Nasarawa State University, Keffi, Professor Uche Uwaleke, regretted that a project which has the potential to generate a lot of economic activities and investments, now being politicized to the extent that it was abandoned for several years.
“Without any doubt, the Second Niger Bridge, which is meant to link the South East region with other parts of the country, will significantly boost economic activities in the region and in the country in general. It will not only facilitate the movement of goods and people between the South East and other regions of the country, reduce gridlocks on the old bridge which was constructed in the early 1960s and improve efficiency in terms of man hours, it will also enable a lot of manufacturing activities that leverage on improved road infrastructure. So, the Second Niger Bridge is one project that is not only strategic to the commercial city of Onitsha but also to the entire country especially in the area of facilitating trade and investments.
Regrettably, since this bridge was conceived as an alternative route between Asaba and Onitsha, successive governments had made it a campaign issue which was never fulfilled owing, in part, to funding challenges. This narrative appears to be changing with the involvement of the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority which is championing a more feasible funding arrangement. It is gratifying to note that the Second Niger Bridge is one of the critical infrastructural projects provided for in the 2019 Budget.
It is my hope that given the attention the bridge is receiving this time round in terms of a new funding mechanism involving the private sector complementing the seed fund from the Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund, the completion deadline of 2022 will be met,” he said.
Similarly, a frontline economist and a commentator on economic issues, Professor Sani Badayi of the Bayero University, Kano, agreed that the project would boost economic activities and ease transportation. Besides, he added, it will equally add to the infrastructure stock in Nigeria.
“It adds to the stock of infrastructure that we have in Nigeria. The benefit is nationwide. Transportation is vital and that means the completion of the bridge will speed up the transportation of goods and people. It will also relieve the pressure on other routes. The existing infrastructure will save other routes from deterioration. It will also boost economic activities along the corridor.
The Federal Government will claim credit for it and politically, the government has achieved some pluses. It does not necessarily mean that the president should concentrate infrastructure in the area that he comes from. A project may be sited far from your area and still the whole nation will benefit from it. Before now people that were in charge of that project diverted the funds or sabotaged the project” he observed.
In his remarks, a development economist and a major contributor to economic matters in Nigeria, Mr Odilim Enwegbara, observed that more businesses will relocate to the area where the bridge is located and that would open up development in that part of the country.
“It will help to move goods and services faster than before. More businesses will start relocating to that area and development will come to the two sides of the river.
Politically speaking, politicians want to do something and make you believe that they are working. But I think that south easterners are smart enough to know when you are trying to buy their votes. That will not change their mindset. By the way, an average Igboman prefers high level appointments to the Second Niger Bridge. The Second Niger Bridge must be built whether it is by Buhari or somebody else.
Atiku is more credible because his wife is from Onitsha. Buhari never liked the Igbo and he doesn’t hide it. Why giving them the Second Niger Bridge and denying them appointments at high levels? When the Yoruba didn’t vote for Obasanjo, he did not punish them. So, I had expected Buhari to show the Igbo that he is the president of the whole nation and not the president of a section” Enwegbara quipped.
Earlier, the Managing Director of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Mr Uche Orji, had revealed that early works (EW3) on the project commenced in 2016 as part of the preliminary construction activities.
According to him, the Federal Government would contribute N30 billion (28 per cent) of the project cost, the remaining 72 per cent will be raised by the consortium under a 25-year concession. So far, the Federal Government has committed N18.31billion. Out of this, N10.4 billion has been disbursed leaving a balance of N7.94 billion. A team of local and international consultants was engaged through a rigorous and competitive procurement process. The NSIA has spent the sum of $2.21 million on consultancy and another $247,586 on due diligence to determine project viability.
The Bridge whose adjacent roads will be 11.9 kilometres in length on completion is structured as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and will be constructed and operated on a Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT) basis. When completed, the bridge and adjacent roads will have six lanes with three in each direction.
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