AMidst growing fears that the Federal Government has dumped the construction of the Second Niger Bridge project, prominent Igbo leaders and built environment experts have appealed to President Muhammed Buhari, PMB to ensure that the all-important bridge that would complement the aging River Niger Bridge, is completed on schedule as stipulated in the contract agreement.
The bridge which was flagged off on March 10, 2014 by former President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to be completed in 48 months (March 2018).
Measuring about 1,590 metres long the bridge whose construction cost was put at N117,860,700,741.82, VAT inclusive, forms part of the 11.90 kilometer length project.
Although officials of both the Federal Ministry of Works and Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, denied reports that work on the project has been discontinued, Vanguard Homes & Property which went to the Asaba and Onitsha ends of the project site last week, observed that only skeletal works are ongoing as most of the workers have allegedly been retrenched by the contractors.
It was not certain whether the retrenchment was necessitated by the rains which usually affect construction works during rainy seasons or because the Federal Government has not yet released any fund for continuation of the project.
Apparently reading danger signals from the ongoing scenario, Igbo leaders and built environment experts who spoke to Vanguard Homes & Property insisted that since government is a continuity, the incumbent Buhari administration should go ahead to complete the project because of its strategic importance to the economic development of the entire country.
In the beginning
Former President Jonathan had during his presidential campaign rally in Onitsha, Anambra state in January, this year, given the assurance that the project would be completed on schedule and delivered. Jonathan said the project which is being executed through the Public Private Partnership, PPP arrangement, would also be managed by the Sovereign Wealth Fund, SWF.
According to him, “So far, N10 billion has been spent and, out of it, N1.5 billion was used for paying for damages and others. In fact, the link road that is about three kilometres from the main road to the bridge which is almost 80 percent of the road has been fixed,” he said.
He noted that about 260 Nigerians and 50 expatriates were working there.”But when the work will be in full swing, we expect that it will give work to about 2,000 young men and women and about 60 expatriates.
So, it is one of the major projects that will engage a number of people. We asked Julius Berger and the federal Ministry of Works about their commitments to the project and they said the project will be completed within the time frame. And I am optimistic they will surely do it,” the former president was quoted as saying.
He noted that when completed, the bridge would improve commercial activities in the South-East and South West, adding that government had made a proper arrangement for the financing of the major unity infrastructure, hence government would provide about 25 percent funding for the project.
Views of built environment experts
The Registrar of the Quantity Surveyors Registration Board of Nigeria, QSRBN, Mr. Godson Moneke described the award of the contract for the construction of a second bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha as a deceit by Igbo elites and the former President to get the votes of the Igbos.
He premised this assertion on the fact that the immediate past government did not have the will to build the bridge. Moneke wondered why the Public Private partnership, PPP model was adopted for the construction of such an important bridge that would impact upon the lives of millions of Nigerians.
According to him, the PPP model is an attempt to short change would-be users of the bridge. Moneke who eulogised the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration, enjoined the President to silence his critics who claim that he is anti-Ndigbo, by jettisoning the PPP model and constructing the bridge which is of immense economic importance to the country.
Ohaneneze, NBA react
The Chairman of Anambra State chapter of Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Elder Chris Eluemuno warned against any move to discontinue the construction of the bridge. According to him, there is nothing whatsoever to warrant the abandonment of the project.
“Why should he (Buhari) abandon the project? Is it because it is located in Igbo land or what? What we should even be talking about is to review some areas that is hindering the smooth execution of the project, so as to quicken the pace of work on it,” he said.
The Ohaneze chieftain noted that although all the actions and utterances of President Buhari point to the fact that he did not like Ndigbo, he (the President) should know that when completed, Ndigbo would not be the only beneficiaries of the second Niger bridge project.
The Chairman of Anaocha branch of the Nigeria Bar Association, NBA, Mr. Chris Adimora spoke in the same vein. “The Bridge is the connection link between the South East and the rest of the country.
If the existing bridge should collapse today as a result of old age and over- use, it will mean total calamity and complete cut off from the old Eastern Nigeria and the rest of the country.
Our appeal is that the Federal Government should fund the bridge 100 percent like it funded Lokoja and other bridges in the country,” Adimora canvassed. He enjoined the Federal Government to take a look at the contract documents and remove any concessioner attached to the project.
“The Federal Government should also review the contract documents and remove the PPP arrangement. PPP is even a Greek gift to Ndigbo. The Federal Government should not contemplate termination of the contract. If Federal government completes the project, Ndigbo will now know that Buhari is not partial,” the NBA boss said.
In his own reaction, the Chairman of Idemili branch of NBA, Mr Ben Okoko described the Second Niger bridge as a project that is long overdue. He noted that discontinuing with the project, will be a big blow to the South-East and South-South geo-political zones..
According to Okoko, “Buhari, as at now, cannot yet be said to be anti-Igbo, having agreed to complete Zik’s Mausoleum project. We expect him to do the jobs as he promised because the names, Okechukwu and Ogbuagu which Ndigbo gave to him is not going to be in vain. Let the project continue at whatever agreement, even if it is PPP.
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