Politics of Second Niger Bridge

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Even in the face of the bridge facing threats of collapse, successive administrations, from former Military President, General Ibrahim Babangida, to the present, have always used the issue of Second Niger Bridge as bait to hoodwink or curry political favour or support from the South East region and at the end none has done anything concrete in this direction.

The reason for the second bridge is to reduce the pressure and stress from the existing one.

When ever any of the leaders makes a promise of the second bridge the mood in the South East region is usually electrifying as the people are thrown in to ecstasy because they know how adversely they would be affected in every realm of life if anything untoward happens to the one in use.

Long before he left office, when the agitation was much for the bridge, in 1992, Babangida challenged the Nigerian Society of Engineers to come up with the design of the bridge. As that was being done, he left office in August 1993.

Although former President Obasanjo included the building of the bridge in his administration’s economic agenda, this never came to fruition until at the twilight of his administration in 2007, when he urged Anambra and Delta state governments to contribute funds towards the construction of the project under the public private partnership scheme, where the Federal Government would contribute some of the funds and the two state governments and private investors would contribute the remaining funds for the execution of the project.

On May 24, he rolled out red carpet to celebrate the foundation laying ceremony for a bridge that was yet to be designed a few days to the end of his tenure. At the flagging off ceremony, Chief Obasanjo declared that it was a ‘promise fulfilled’ by his administration.

Under Obasanjo, the bridge was estimated to cost N60 billion, whereby both Anambra and Delta would contribute N10 billion each, while the Federal Government would bring in N20 billion and the remaining would come through public private partnership (PPP). The entire arrangement is now history.

Then entered President Goodluck Jonathan, who, on his part, affirmed to deliver the bridge before 2015, during his presidential campaigns in 2011 in the South East. He keeps on repeating the same promise at any South East forum he is present or represented by one of his aides.

On March 26, last year, Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, declared that the construction of the bridge would take off last September. He had said: “In the next three weeks  (that is from March 26, 2012), we would announce the concessionaires to handle the Second Niger Bridge project; and by the last quarter of 2012 to 2013, they will move to site to start ground breaking.”

The works minister, who assured Nigerians that there would be no funding gaps because of the prime importance attached to the project, said the total outlay was N100 billion out of which the Federal Government would provide N30 billion and N70 billion would be secured by a foreign concessionaire company.

Last August, Secretary to the Federal Government, Senator Pius Anyim; Anambra State governor, Mr. Peter Obi and Senator Ben Obi, one of President Jonathan’s Special Advisers, met Igbo in Lagos. They said they were there on behalf of President Jonathan to thank Igbo for not participating in the fuel subsidy riot of January 2012.

At that forum, the issue of Second Niger Bridge was raised and Senator Anyim said: “How I wish the Finance Minister, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, were here. She would have answered the question appropriately.”

According to Anyim, the minister is making progress to source foreign firm that would take up the project under PPP and said that the design would be ready soon.

Last September, when Jonathan went to commission Onitsha river port, initiated by then Shehu Shagari administration in 1980 and other projects in Anambra State, he vowed that the bridge would be ready before he leaves office in 2015. He threatened to go on exile if he fails to do so. He said: “When the first bridge was built, it was during the presidency of Nnamdi Azikiwe; the Second Niger Bridge will be built under the presidency of Azikiwe Jonathan. If I fail to build the bridge in 2015, I will go into exile.”

Perhaps, as a demonstration of Jonathan’s commitment, N12 billion was voted for the construction of bridge in the 2013 budget.

SUN NEWS

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