Stories by Maduka Nweke,
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The latest awards contract by the Federal Government for the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge in Onitsha, Anambra State, has been described by stakeholders as a gimmick plotted by the Muhammadu Buhari-led government to court the support of Ndigbo for his second term bid.
Respondents who spoke with Daily Sun, mostly from the South East, reasoned that the latest change of direction on the bridge by the President was a sharp contradiction to his earlier speech on the same matter, which could be a political statement.
One of them, Chief Simon Okafor, former Sole Administrator, Ayamelum Local Government Area, said that since action speaks louder than words, the President would have started work on the bridge in line with what former President Goodluck Jonathan put in place without making his earlier statement that gave him away as an Igbo hater.
Okafor said the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge should not be politicised because it would be an added advantage to government’s drive to increase the windows of economic activities. “The way and manner government treats any project in Igboland go to create the impression that the project would be wasted. Will somebody put the project in his pocket? Will such project not benefit all and sundry? Why so much hatred when we say we are one Nigeria? It is very surprising the way officials of government think. This is why the wound of disunity will never be healed at all,” he said.
Assistant Director of Information in the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Mohammed Abdullahi, who made this known in a statement last week in Abuja stated that the contract for the 2nd Niger Bridge was awarded to Julius Berger (Nig.) Ltd. at a total cost of N14.4 billion.
Abdullahi noted that the existing Niger Bridge, inaugurated on January 4, 1966 had severely been overstressed, adding that its continued serviceability could not be assured.
According to him, the idea of a 2nd Niger Bridge started way back in the late 1970s but its realisation has been delayed by several challenges. He added that the administration of President Buhari was resolute to ensure the completion of the project.
Another respondent, Chief John Obodoechina, said the government of the day would be doing the country a very big honour if the project is completed considering that a lot of water has passed under the bridge when one thinks about how much it will cost now compared with the budget when the idea was first muted.
He said, “we can see the difference time has brought to bear in the value of the contract even when the exchange rate hovered around N19 per dollar in contradistinction with the current rate of dollar around N400. That has been the prize we procured for ourselves due to tardiness in attending to strategic national projects with abundant economic benefits to the citizens. That is the bane of the kind of politics our so-called leaders play. The 2nd Niger Bridge project goes beyond partisan politics. The sooner we realise that, the better for this country,” he stated.
“Notwithstanding, it is a good thing that Buhari has shown commitment to complete the project. If he succeeds, he would have carved a niche for himself as a leader who succeeded where others failed. Besides, he would have endeared himself to a people who have overtime, groaned under the shackles of neglect and near abandonment by successive regimes. Will he? Time will tell.”
Those who have followed events surrounding the construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge would have heaved a heavy sigh of relief at recent disclosure by the Buhari administration that it intends to commence work on the project. Although a lot of people have their reservations because it will not be the first time such pronouncement was made about the bridge and the Onitsha River Ports. Previous governments had made even more concrete statements, taking action saw them chicken out. If President Buhari will live by what he said, it will go a long way to correct some erroneous impression people of the South East have about him.
Before now, the government, through its Minister of Environment, Laurentia Mallam, had told an expectant nation that work on the project had been suspended because the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) law was not taken into account by the last administration. The announcement was not altogether surprising, as it did not depart sharply from the policy summersaults that had been the fate of that project in the hands of successive administrations.
Not unexpectedly, interest groups in the South East saw in it a further evidence of the hostility of the Buhari regime to the zone. They could not come to terms with the reasons adduced for the project’s suspension especially given the strategic importance and overall benefits it holds for the country.
But addressing reporters after the Federal Executive Council (FEC) meeting just before the Christmas, the Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, said the government had given the go-ahead for work to continue on the bridge.
He said the bridge was conceived as “Public Private Partnership (PPP) with government financing but negotiations had not been concluded and it was important to continue to work there.” Fashola said government officials would continue discussions to see whether they could conclude a full business case and possibly concession the agreement to enable private investors come in and conclude the remaining works.
The Minister had gone ahead to visit the project site to underscore the seriousness the government attached to the new commitment. He said during the visit: “I came here pursuant to the commitment of the Federal Government and that of President Muhammadu Buhari to complete the bridge.”
As a further evidence of this, the Federal Government, last week, announced the award of a N14.4 billion contract to Julius Berger for early works on the bridge. In a statement from the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, the contract award was said to be clear evidence of the Buhari administration’s resolute commitment to the completion of the project.
For those who, before now, considered the 2nd Niger Bridge project a pipe dream given the high-wired politics into which it had been enmeshed over the years, the renewed interest of the current government to the project provides new hope for its eventual coming on stream. It is definitely something to cheer. This is more so, given the larger benefits to the nation the completion of the bridge that links the South East and the South Western parts of the country will bring about.
It is therefore a big relief that the current regime has gone beyond finding faults with the conceptualisation of the bridge project to awarding a contract for early works on it. By that, the government has gone beyond words to demonstrate in very unambiguous terms that it shares the ideals for which the construction of the bridge has been a recurring decimal, the politics of past administrations notwithstanding.
It is a good step that will go a long way to disabuse raging feelings that nothing good will go to that part of the country because the current regime did not receive huge votes from the zone in the last election. Be that as it may, it is also strategically and politically expedient for Buhari to complete the project since he or another member of his party will soon be seeking re-election.