FRESH hope on Niger Bridge Passing through the River Niger Bridge from Asaba, capital of oil-rich Delta State to Onitsha, the commercial nerve-centre of Anambra State, penultimate Wednesday, it was difficult to recognise that major works are ongoing on the much trumpeted Second Niger Bridge, which groundbreaking was performed by former President Goodluck Jonathan.
This is due largely to the fact that the gigantic pillars that hold such construction are not outwardly visible as one speeds across the bridge. So, when the Federal Government indicated, early December, that the Second Niger Bridge would be delivered February 28, 2022, not a few citizens took the declaration with a pinch of salt.
Indeed, many residents of South-South and South-East geo-political zones took it to be another publicity stunt by the All Progressives Congress, APC, and President Muhammadu Buhari-led government to hoodwink them ahead of the February 2019 general elections, for it was basically the same thread that Dr Jonathan pulled in 2014 and further on the 2015 election, which he and his party, People’s Democratic Party, PDP, lost.
In the first week of this month, the Buhari government made a show of the N33 billion mobilisation fees, a first tranche payment of N220 billion earmarked for the project to the contractor, Julius Berger Plc, when a team of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority, NSIA, led by Managing Director and Executive Director, Uche Orji and Stella Ojekwe-Onyejeli, which is driving the financial plan, inspected the bridge project. Orji explained that a Presidential Infrastructure Development Fund, PIDF, to be managed by the NSIA had been set up for five critical road and power projects across the country.
He said the PIDF, with a seed funding of $650million, was targeted to catalyse funding for the Second Niger Bridge, Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, East-West road, Abuja to Kano Highway, and Mambilla Power Plant and the East-West Highway. According to him, the PIDF would eliminate the risks of project funding, cost variation and completion that have plagued the development of the nation’s critical infrastructure assets.
“The Second Niger Bridge project was conceived to provide an alternative crossing between Asaba and Onitsha within reasonable distance from the current. It is expected to spur an increase in investments, agriculture and trade, particularly with the Onitsha Main Market in the region, due to the improved and quicker access. “There are three phases of the Second Niger Bridge. The first one is the 11.9 kilometre-bridge connecting Asaba and Onitsha. The entire work is a 44 km project.
The mobilisation for the project was released in August. We are confident that the funding is more stable now and we are looking at a completion date of 2022; it is a big project,” Orji revealed. This is a final warning, Zamfara killings must stop, FG warns bandits Ambiguity in the face of guarantee Despite Orji’s assurance, the skepticism among the people regarding the project did not go away. The uncertainty is not borne out of ill feeling towards the government or any government official. The truth is that they have not forgotten the animated 2014 groundbreaking and the manner the project was basically neglected by the then Federal Government. Work pillars still ongoing at the Delta State end.
After sometime, Julius Berger, currently handling the project, left the site due to lack of funding by the Federal Government, which has resurrected it under another administration during another election period. The refrain from a cross-section of citizens is that the project is so important to them for government to use it to play with their emotions. They cautioned that the appropriate thing should be done by expeditiously releasing funds and not starving the project of funds to make it a reality.
The people advised government to shun politics with the project, noting that the release of N33 million mobilisation fee out of N220 billion required for the project was not sufficient guarantee that Buhari is ready to finance the project. They prefer to see more financial releases and work advanced on the project to be convinced otherwise.
Indeed, an American- based technocrat, Mr. Emeka Nwanyanwu, who spoke among others, said: “This undeviating giant white elephant project of a bridge is well overdue. This should have been the first project executed immediately after the Civil War. So why must we celebrate a common bridge, that any accountable local government could have happily constructed quietly? “Right now, I do not see the economic benefit to the ethnic nationalities of the Eastern Region, what you call the South-East and South-South. The Federal Government should stop this political sentimentality. “Why is the Central Government expending money to do what could have been achieved decades ago? The answer is simple and that is to placate the people of Eastern Nigeria to cast their votes again for APC. Any Easterner that capitulates to this type of inexpensive and down market propaganda is nothing but a fool indeed. Politics is transforming and this very seductive nonsense should be resisted. APC will pass bye, but the nation will survive.”
2nd-Niger-Bridge Project crucial to S-South, S-East
Undoubtedly, the Second Niger Bridge is very important to the two regions. The existing Niger Bridge, which is over 50 years old and the connecting road cannot hold the bustling traffic. A lot of wear and tear has also taken place on the bridge, which present traffic was not the anticipated capacity when it was built.
Travellers have suffered a lot of inconveniences on the bridge due to no alternative route from the perennial traffic crisis in Onitsha and Asaba. Instead of rejoicing during the Yuletide, people have their hearts in their mouths, as a journey through the bridge could transform to going through hell on a “bad day.” Uncountable times in the past, several family members had slept on the bridge for a day or two. Nobody knows how this year’s is going to fathom.
What Vanguard Spotlight saw on ground
Beyond politics, Vanguard reporters drawn from our South-South and South-East operational areas visited the project site to find out what is on ground and the truth of the Second Niger Bridge project. The first thing our reporters established during the project tour was that substantial works were indeed going on day and night on the site in Oko-Amakom, near Asaba in Delta State, and Onitsha and other parts of Anambra State.
The first phase of the project entails raising a six-lane second bridge across the 10 kilometres River Niger, between Onitsha in Anambra State and Asaba in Delta State. Also included is another 12 kilometres of road before and after the bridge, among other ancillary civil and engineering works to be done within the given period of 42 months.
Independent inquiry by Vanguard showed that reasons ranging from the actual cost of the bridge, non-issuance of the Certificate of Compliance, non-compensation of the host communities and non-adherence to due process in the award of the contract, were also responsible for the stoppage of the project for some years. Federal Government officials, however, confirmed that the host communities had been paid compensation running into billions of naira.
16 per cent work done so far – Adeyemo
Fed Controller of Works Federal Controller of Works, Anambra State, who oversees the project at both Onitsha and Asaba ends, Ajani Adeyemo, an engineer, cheerfully took our reporters round the project. He repeatedly mouthed ‘to see is to believe’ as he showed the team the various equipment on site, including the pre-fabrication plants, giant pipes and large expanse of cleared swampy terrain for the bridge and road.
Back to his office at Onitsha after inspection, Vanguard intimated Adeyemo that people have different perceptions about the project, whether works were going on for real and if government was not playing politics with it. It was obvious he was aware of the notions, as he responded thus: “Yes, like you said, people are in doubt whether the project is going on. “Actually when you conceive a project, there are stages you start before you get to the main stage of work; so previously we had embarked on early works. Early works are preliminaries like feasibility studies, design, a lot of soil investigation, hydrological survey, which is for the water. So all of them were the works we were doing for the early works 1, 2, 3 and 4 to date.
“On the whole, we are at 16 per cent completion, but the early works took up all these times you are talking about. But now the full construction has started, may be because of where the bridge is located, a lot of people do not even know what is going on. But you have seen the site, you saw what people prefer to call columns standing and we have done a lot of piling in the water and we are still doing the remaining ones.
Full activities begin next month “From the programme of work, the main work, from January, next year, there will be full activities because what has actually delayed us in recent time was the high water level, but the water has receded so low that activities have commenced in full swing. You saw a lot of marine equipment at the site; that is what I am talking about,” Adeyemo, who seemed to know his onions asserted.
Reason for project delay
On what really delayed the project started in 2014, the official volunteered: “What I will say is that I am not a politician and I do not want to blame anybody or government. “But initially, the project was conceived as Public Private Partnership, PPP, project, and I know before PPP project takes off, there are a lot of studies, preliminary studies will be done, a lot of concessionaires will be invited to come in, you invite a lot of investors: whoever is going to finance the project in partnership with the government has to come for financial closure. “I think that four years you are talking about, some of these processes went on, and at the end of the day, there was nothing to say that we have investors or concessionaires ready to invest on the project. I will say that the contractor was not happy at the time that the project was not being funded and had no specified funding pattern.”
He did not stop there. From PPP to NSIA “So when this government came in, they stopped the plan of PPP. This one now is more or less like our conventional contract and being sponsored by the government through a better funding arrangement, through the NSIA. So there is a better funding arrangement now unlike before when it was conceived as a PPP project,” he explained.
On the concern over release of funds by government, he said: “The time for the project is 42 months, from what we have done now, we are even a little bit ahead when you look at the last period. Construction is going on now, the project is N220 billion for this first phase, this main work, and government to my surprise, was able to pay 15 per cent; that is to tell you the seriousness and commitment of the government, which is amounting to over N30 billion to the contractor.”
Contractor will deliver if…
Waxing passionate, Adeyemo explained thus to Vanguard: “The early works included the design, preliminary, hydrological studies and other things, but the first phase I am talking about is the main work. We cannot use the bridge without access from both ends; so we have the main work at the middle, which comprises the bridge and the two access roads which is about 10.9 kilometres. “And this 10.9 km starts from Kilometre 23, which is from here (a point in Onitsha) where it will connect Benin-Asaba road; 23 kilometres, which is 2A, another phase. Where it will connect Onitsha-Enugu is 2B and is another phase. We have three phases of the project. The main work is the bridge, if you finish the bridge without the other access roads, you have not done anything. From what I told you, all the three phases will be completed at the same time, and all the three are in procurement already.”
Is he confident of the 2022 completion date?
Adeyemo barely waited for the question to drop when he replied: “I am very hopeful if what we have now is sustained and if the funding arrangement is maintained. “Already, we have a reputable contractor that can deliver the job, Julius Berger, and with this funding arrangement and commitment of the government, I am very hopeful that we will deliver the job,” he added. …
No challenge for now
The Federal Controller also asserted: “For now, apart from funding, there is no other challenge because from both ends of the river, we have signed Memorandum of Understanding, MoU, with the two host communities. So the two communities have been very cooperative, there is no problem with them at all. “The little problem I will say we faced was weather condition. Before middle of October, the water level was so high, but now it has receded so that work has commenced. I do not think there is any problem: funding is okay, we are advancing, we have the certificate and they are even bringing the second certificate, which means work is going on.”
Niger Bridge traffic jam: No leave for directors, controllers
Is the Federal Ministry of Works in conjunction with other government agencies doing anything to ease traffic on the first Niger Bridge in view of the attendant problems during the festive season? Adeyemo sighed before saying: “Between Onitsha and Asaba, there is no short cut, to cross between the two, it is only through the Niger Bridge you can access both areas; and coupled with the commercial activities and festive period, you have people from all over the country, from North and from South, they all meet at that particular bridge, so it is a big obstruction you must pass through because traffic has built up.” He, however, reminded thus: “Government has promised that they will bring all law enforcement agents: the Police, Federal Road Safety Commission and Civil Defence to work together to make the road free without any hindrance. And again, we are equally doing some emergency repairs on all bad sections of the road; it is all over the country, that is what we are doing in this December. In fact, we have been told not to go for leave, all the Directors and the Federal Controllers are on standby.”
We entered the main contract in September – Wieser, Project Director
Project Director, Second Niger Bridge, Mr. Wieser, who expressed happiness with interest shown by Vanguard on the project, said: “I am sure you have been to the site of project 1, the same thing will happen at the project site 2, the Asaba end. This is from the Onitsha side, kilometer 23 which is here after the Ogbaru interchange, which is where Ogbaru Express exists now, there will be a new interchange.”