Amidst prevailing weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth, news of the ‘completion’ of the 2nd Niger Bridge was received with elation nationwide; nay the Southeast. As announced by the works and housing minister Babatunde Fashola, the edifice lately equipped with lighting, will soon be released to the public for use.
According to him, the only factor delaying its commissioning remains the construction of the 4-kilometre link road on the Asaba end of the bridge. Part of this delay has been blamed on the latest incidents of flooding in the general area housing the bridge. Already, a 7-kilometre road links the Onitsha end of the bridge and the awe-inspiring Onitsha-Owerri interchange.
There is no denying the fact that the completion of the long-awaited project is an incalculable boon. And though some see it as mostly beneficial to the Southeast, its real beneficiaries number well outside that proverbial ‘dot in a circle’.
What with any impromptu stop-and-search operation on the old bridge boasting a head count of all the nation’s peoples any day. Let alone the rest ever-migrant and itenerant natives of West, and indeed all the cardinal points of Africa.
Most relieved, no doubt, will be the close to half-a-million people who transverse the river daily from the twin towns of Onitsha in Anambra State and Asaba the capital of Delta State via the bridge.
Over the intervening years, government Certificate of Occupancy (C of O) discrepancies and a myriad other factors had led to an almost quadrupling of their number. And with traffic on the bridge often held up for double-digit hours, many have often passed the night on it.
A development that has even led to a fear for the life of the bridge itself. Like is sighted on a daily basis, trucks overloaded with wares are often left standing on the bridge for so long that many an expert have had cause to warn about its possible effect on the aging artefact. And this is discounting the buses and passengers; as well as pedestrians forced to leg it across the bridge on such occasions.
However, the expected boon the bridge’s completion promises notwithstanding, many have wondered why it took so long to bring the project to fruition. A comparison made inevitable by the short time it took to put its yet-standing predecessor in place in the First Republic. Embedded in a political bait from inception, it saw every government since the collapse of our first democratic dispensation using it to bully the Southeast into an apparent subservience.
All the military interegnia before the 2nd Republic kept paying lipservice to the then foresighted dream to no avail. Yet under the latter, the construction of the Onitsha-Enugu Expressway mattered more. Though, arguably, it served to highlight the inadequacy of the singular bridge over the Niger there at assuaging the incessant traffic jams on it. Looked at crosswise, therefore, it’s thus adjudged a benevolent harbinger to the project.
This is why it becomes worrisome in hindsight that that PDP in its 16-year stay in office did not do much to actualise the dream. All they did acheive was a reverse implementation of the project from the Onitsha-Owerri interchange under Obasanjo. But they only ended up building a single-lane flyover that would have made the junction impassable linked to the completed bridge.
So, thanks but no thanks to GEJ, whose contribution stopped at the payment of compensation and the piling of pillars. Though his autograph is written all over the bridge, it’s noteworthy that his pledge to complete it before leaving office passed unachieved. The subterfuge that he ended it because he didn’t win reelection just can’t hold. In fact, it only ends up serving the same purpose as OBJ claiming that he would have been able to do same had he acheived his nefarious third-term bid.
So, the government of the day should rightly gloat for the bridge’s state so far. Unequivocally, they deserve all the kudos for the redesign of the interchange. At least, it now has the capacity to carry for the next decade. So magnificent an achievement that I’m yet surprised that one of the bigwigs of Southeast extraction in the ruling party has not laid claim to being its architect.
Anyway, though we now have the project ‘completed’ according to Fashola, it’s a pity it’s yet to come into use. After all, what is the need for a completed project if it cannot be used for the purpose it was built. A reality made more saddening by the minister’s statement that for now ‘people can walk through (it) unimpeded’. As though it were a mere boon dog.
Yes! After all, longer and more sophisticated projects have been completed in other parts of the country and put into use sans tollgates and fanfare. A suspicion enhanced by the speed with which the tollgate section of the bridge was rushed. As though they knew that flood was on its way. Making some guy wonder how magnificent it would have been had the bridge and link road been completed before the tollgates!
Also, this announced lull in the completion of the mere 4-kilometre link road has served up the thought that the bridge is a calculated bait. A boondoggle, to say the least. After all, there’s no denying it that the ruling party needs the votes of the Southeast in the forthcoming general elections. And no time more so than now that the erstwhile winners of the majority votes in the region have shot themselves on the foot by taking the people for granted.
The 2nd Niger Bridge apart, it beats the imagination that the PDP didn’t think it wise to micro zone its presidential candidate ticket to the Southeast. A trajectory made more bewildering as throwing the slot open ended up handing it to another northern Muslim. Making many see the Rivers State governor’s tantrums about his loss of the diadem as poetic justice.
A move the ruling party failed to capitalise on by hoisting a same-faith flag. And this irrespective of the fact their preferred candidate comes from the Southwest, on the heels of the Obasanjo and Osinbajo’s presidency and vice-presidency, respectively. As though the Southeast isn’t Nigeria enough.
But however the projections veer, it has to be iterated to the party in power that unless the bridge – tollgate, link road and all – are delivered, and in due time too, getting the votes of the Southeast in the next elections may yet end up another pipedream of theirs. Like paring the NGNaira to the USDollar one-to-one and, perhaps, retaining power come 2023.
–Uzoatu writes from Onitsha Anambra State