FORMER Prime Minister Late Margaret Thatcher once said, “You and I come by road or rail, but economists travel on infrastructure.” The statement underscores the importance of infrastructure in any nation’s economic development. In essence, Nigeria’s economic growth will not occur in the absence of critical infrastructural developments.
Also, Maya Pillai succinctly illuminated the significance of infrastructure as a function of government. In her synopsis of five main purposes of any government, Maya Pillai identified infrastructure as one of the critical functions of the central government. She wrote, “One of the main purposes of the government is to provide good infrastructure to all its countrymen in the form of roads, bridges, drinking water, electricity and communication networks.”
In the 1960s, the federal government realized its obligations to the people, thus it awarded a contract in 1964 to DUMEZ for the construction of River Niger Bridge. The Niger Bridge, completed in 1965 by DUMEZ—a French construction company, links Southeast and West by road.
The bridge suffered a major structural damage during the civil war and has since deteriorated and has been certified to be unsafe for dual carriage. As a result, past administrations had promised on numerous occasions to build a second bridge, but to no avail. The Obasanjo administration promised to complete the construction of the second Niger Bridge before leaving office, but it turned out to be an empty promise. While alive, President Umaru Yar’Adua made the same promise. A transformational leader with list of progressive reforms to embark on, former President Umaru Yar’Adua died at age 58 without constructing the second Niger Bridge. He probably would have fulfilled his pledge if he had completed a full term in office.
Well, realizing the importance of the second Niger Bridge to both the local and national economy, particularly the Southeasterners’ emotional attachment to the project, during the 2011 electioneering, President Goodluck E. Jonathan promised that he would build the new bridge in his second year in office if re-elected. The region undoubtedly provided him with a huge political capital trusting that this time the promise will not be a ruse. The people are waiting patiently.
During his presidential visits to Anambra State in August 2012, President Jonathan reiterated his campaign promise of building a second Niger Bridge. It was reported on FRONTIERSNEWS.com on August 30, 2012 that President Jonathan said, “On the second Niger Bridge it must be commissioned because we have no choice but to transform Nigeria. That is why the Minister of Works and Finance Minister are here.” He continued, “We will surely deliver on our campaign promises. We ask for maximum cooperation from you and thank God the members of the National Assembly are here, so the second Niger Bridge must be built.” But Jonathan left office without completing the construction of a new Niger Bridge.
Now it is President Muhammadu Buhari’s turn to build or abandon building the new Niger Bridge.
Talking of the cooperation of the National Assembly, Adetutu Folasade- Koyi reported on Friday, February 8, 2013 in The Sun that the Upper Chamber urged the federal government and the Ministry of Works to take immediate action on two bridges, Niger Bridge and Third Mainland Bridge because of the dilapidated condition and unsafe nature of the bridges.
On a motion introduced by Senator Hope Uzodimma (PDP, Imo West), the Senate advised the Federal Government and the Ministry of Works to commence work immediately on the construction of the second Niger Bridge and reinforce the old bridge to avoid its looming collapse. The general public, including the National Assembly understand the ominous danger the present Niger Bridge presents to the populace. The Niger Bridge is structurally unsafe to ply on and mere travelling on it brings excruciating pain to the passengers in so many ways. The emotional statement made by Sen. Hope Uzodimma to bolster his motion underscores the dire consequence of inaction.
Sen. Uzodimma is reported to have said, “Because of the aforesaid state of the bridge, commuters have since the Christmas season, been subjected to excruciating ordeals wherein only single lanes are allowed on the bridge at a time for fear that the normal double lane carriage could lead to an instant collapse of the bridge, consequently, endless traffic across the bridge from all parts of the country.” Nevertheless, while the delay in constructing the second Niger Bridge goes on, the federal government continues to put peoples’ lives and properties in a greater danger. This suggests that the federal government has an indifferent attitude about the ominous danger the current bridge poses. The condition of the bridge has not only been a clog to the wheel of economic activities, but has now imposed a high level of frustration and hopelessness on the passengers who must wait for seven to twenty hours before crossing the Niger Bridge, especially during the holiday season.
With each passing day, the imminent collapse of Niger Bridge is sooner than later. The calamity will pale in comparison to the catastrophic collapse of an eight-lane steel truss arch I-35W Mississippi River Bridge in Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 1, 2007. When the Niger Bridge caves in, lives and properties will be lost, as well as economic devastation in the region and nation. Thus, possibility of the collapse of the Niger Bridge should, perhaps be heightened concern to federal government.
Unfortunately, the second quarter of 2016 ended without any construction activities in the area. Regrettably, delaying the construction of the bridge is tantamount to a deliberate negligence on the part of the federal government. The dereliction is stupefying and unbelievable.