The excitement and jubilation that greeted completion of the second Niger Bridge was not unexpected. Reasons for such disposition are obvious. Firstly is the untold hardship and misery Nigerians, particularly, people of the Southeast region had suffered for years ocasioned by overstretched usage of the first Niger Bridge, the one and only bridge linking the zone with other regions in the country.
Secondly is the decades of failed promises and foot-dragging by different military and civilian administrations on the construction before eventual completion of the bridge by the President Muhammadu Buhari led administration.
Undoubtedly, the second Niger bridge was a dream come true for Southeasterners who obviously are the direct beneficiaries. A double three-lane highway designed to connect the commercial cities of Onitsha and Asaba in Anambra and Delta States respectively is indeed a big relief to the people of the area. Little wonder the pomp and pageantry that characterized the inuaguration day of the bridge. Aside the special dignitaries that graced the occasion, including governors, ministers, traditional and religious leaders, drums were rolled out with different cultural groups and masquerades adding colour to the special event.
Beyond its imposing architectural beauty, the Second Niger Bridge, constructed by Julius Berger, is a vital infrastructure project expected to greatly improve the country’s transportation network, improve access to the Port of Onne, one of the country’s busiest ports, and reduce the time and cost of transporting goods in that axis.
In addition to its economic benefits, the bridge is also expected to impact significantly the lives of people in the region and beyond and improve the environment as the pollution on the existing Niger Bridge would be vastly reduced.
Above all, for the people of the area, and indeed other Nigerians that pass through the bridge to access their various destinations, the era of sleeping on the bridge as a result of traffic gridlock would be over as majority of motorists would be expected to use the ultra modern bridge with several lanes to accomodate as many vehicles as possible.
Former President Muhammadu Buhari, while performing the inauguration via zoom, said that the second Niger bridge would improve the economic activities of the area and facilitate transport connectivity within the region.
“Those crossing the Niger bridge will no longer experience gridlock as it will help to improve the socioeconomic activities of the southeast.
“In eight years, i am proud to say that we have developed Nigeria stock of infrastructure to Gross Domestic Products (GDP) from about 20 per cent to over 40 per cent and that is not small under taken”, he said.
But to what extent has the bridge achieved these laudable dreams and expectations of the end users three months after its inuaguration and eventual opening for public use on May 23, 2023 leaves much to desired.
During the commissioning of the bridge, the Minister of Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola, said, “After consultation with the South-East governors and other stakeholders, they decided to name the bridge Muhammadu Buhari Second Niger Bridge”.
That decision to name the bridge after President Muhammadu Buhari reportedly did not go down well with some individuals and groups, including the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB).
According to IPOB spokesperson, Emma Powerful, the naming of the Second Niger Bridge after the president, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd) was unacceptable to his members.
He claimed the action of the Southeast governors amounted to “a betrayal” of the people of the region, and therefore, asked the governors and politicians to reconsider their position on the name of the bridge.
The statement partly reads, “The bridge should be named after Dr Alex Ekweueme, Chief Odumegwu Ojukwu, Dr Sam Mbakwe, Prof. Chinua Achebe, Col. Achuzie, or many others that are well-deserving Igbo indigenes that anyone can suggest.
“Naming the Second Niger Bridge after Buhari must not be allowed. The bridge must be renamed to a meritorious Igbo name.”
But can that be the reason for the neglect of the bridge? Plying through the bridge, one can easily observe few vehicles using the bridge on daily basis. Regrettably, this apparent abandonment of the facility has not only kept the old bridge perpetually busy, traffic wise, but has provided opportunity for vandals to wreck havoc on the new bridge.
The news of vandalization of the bridge came as a shock to many residents who described the act as sheer wickedness and sabotage of the highest order. For them, it was rather too early to record such an ugly incident on a facility that was long desired and waited for.
Mr Seyi Martins, the Engineer’s Representative for the second Niger Bridge, otherwise known as Muhammadu Buhari bridge, while condemning the removal of road fittings from the bridge by vandals, said such national asset should be protected by all.
He assured that the federal government will beef up security around the bridge to protect it from further vandalism.
He said, “It is true that the bridge was vandalised, those fittings will surely be replaced. We have contacted all the security agencies and we will beef security around the bridge and on the bridge.
“This is an important national asset that should be protected by all”.
Although Martins could not quantify the estimated value of the vandalised items, but he said they were working on it.
Acknowledging the low usage of the bridge which he blamed on security challenges in the Southeast, the engineer maintained that their mandate was to construct the bridge and open it to ease traffic.
“People have cried for this bridge for decades, now they have the second Niger bridge, just a month after it was inaugurated, they vandalised it, I think something is wrong somewhere.
“This bridge will be beneficial to everybody, the vandalism on the bridge is unacceptable, it is not in the interest of the larger community as the profit from the vandalization is just for a flitting moment.
“The effect of the destruction will be for a very long time, because at the end of the day they will also suffer the consequences, so it is better not to vandalised public property, it belongs to you and I.
“Government have done their own part by providing infrastructure, it is left for us to guide it jealously because it belongs to everybody”, he said.
Investigations carried out on likely factors responsible for apparent neglect of such magnificent edifice that gulped trillion of naira to construct showed that insecurity and deplorable condition of the Obosi-Owerri axis of the bridge remain the major twin reasons impeding the use of the bridge.
According to National President, Heavy Duty Drivers Association, Mr Uchenna Nebuwa, the increasing cases of robbery, kidnapping and other criminal activities recorded along the second Niger Bridge was a major contributing factor to his members reluctance to plying through the bridge.
He also identified deplorable condition of the Obosi-Owerri road as another reason members of the association and other drivers no longer use the bridge. He said his members have lost over N20billion worth of vehicles and goods on the road linking the bridge following its deplorable condition, especially the Obosi-Owerri road.
He said, “Drivers are afraid because there is no adequate security on the second Niger bridge. Hoodlums, armed robbers and kidnappers have taken over the route. They now operate along the bridge unhindered.
“Another worrisome one is the failed portions of Obosi-Owerri road, as our trucks fall on the road on daily basis. We have lost over N20 billion worth of vehicles and goods on that road.
”We are begging Federal Government to provide security in the area and help us fix the failed portions of Obosi-Owerri road as this will encourage drivers to be using the bridge.”
Also speaking, Chairman, Great Tippers Association of Nigeria, Anambra Chapter, Mr Chukwuemeka Olekpe, expressed worry over the security situation, saying armed robbers and kidnappers have scared them away from using the bridge.
Meanwhile, Federal Government has ordered security agencies to beef up surveillance patrols on the bridge and surroundings in order to prevent further vandalisation.
Permanent Secretary of the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Mr Mahmuda Mamman while inspecting the bridge, condemned the removal of some metal components from the bridge by vandals, stressing that safeguarding national assets was beyond the security agencies.
He said the ministry had put some measures in place in order to avoid reoccurrence, just as he called on host communities in Anambra and Delta States to engage more sensitisation/advocacies against the vandalisation of bridge.
”We came here purposely to see the level of vandalisation and to also interface with the people and take the necessary measures to avoid recurrence.
”We have also interfaced with the contractor handling the project, Julius Berger and I must say it is really unfortunate.
”Though we have engaged and written to security agencies concern asking them to intensify surveillance activities along the bridge so that this does not not happen again.
While explaining that the bridge was constructed to ease movement of goods and services for Nigerians, the Permanent secretary said, ”this is a massive infrastructure put in place by the Federal Government in order to ease movement of goods and services for Nigerians.
”The Federal Government has actually done what it is supposed to do. But at the same time, the host communities have the responsibility to play by protecting and safeguarding the bridge, because dafeguarding and protecting national assets is a collective responsibility.
”We also believe that as soon as the Ministers are appointed, they will also embark on sensitisation/advocacies visits to the two of Gôvernors of Anambra and Delta for them to own the project.”
Mamman however identified insecurity as major challenge hindering completion of project. “One of the challenges hindering the completion of this project is security challenge. With the recent development, we are hoping that with the commitment the contractor has given to us, in the next three months everything about the second Niger bridge will be completed,” he said.
On his part, Director, Highways, Bridge and Design, Mr Omotayo Awosanya, who decried the rate of vandalisation, advised the host communities to own the project by safeguarding and protecting it.
He added that the host communities are the immediate beneficiaries of the project, adding that the bridge would not only increase the volume of trade in the area, but also boost the sources of livelihood of the people.
Besides, Joint Task force of Anambra and Delta state Police Command have commenced patrol on the Bridge as part of efforts to make it more motorable and safe for road users.
Addressing journalists during the patrol on the bridge, Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Aderemi Adeoye, said his men have patrolled the length of the bridge to access the condition of the infrastructure.
He said, “We have patrolled the entire length of the bridge repeatedly and to access the condition of the infrastructure and to identify the vulnerable points for vandals.
“We have noted the contractor in charge of the bridge, Julius Berger, supervised by the Federal Ministry of Works have carried out internal repairs on the vandalised portions and we are happy about this.
“We owe a responsibility to the nation, to protect this asset and ensure that vandals don’t have a filled day.”
Also speaking, Deputy Commissioner of Police in charge of operations Delta State police command, DCP Johnson Adenola, said the bridge was underutilized and the purpose would be defeated if people were not driving on the bridge.
“The bridge is very under-utilized and the purpose would be defeated if people are not driving on this bridge.
“We have taken it as a joint responsibility, and we have warned our Divisional Police Officer (DPOs) and the patrol teams, we have charged them to regularly patrol the bridge”, he said.