THE TORTURE ROAD USERS WENT THROUGH AS A RESULT OF TERRIBLE TRAFFIC EXPERIENCED AT THE NIGER BRIDGE RECENTLY, HAS MADE IT IMPERATIVE FOR THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT TO COMMENCE THE CONSTRUCTION OF THE SECOND NIGER BRIDGE WITHOUT DELAY TO AVOID IMPENDING CALAMITY. ANAYO OKOLIE WRITES
Over the years, experts in bridge construction have warned Nigeria on the impending collapse of the Niger Bridge following the over-use and heavy burden on the bridge. Apart from old age, the bridge has been over used. There is this general perception that by now, the Federal Government should have constructed a new bridge to reduce the load on the old bridge.
Experts also believe that both government and the users of the bridge may be taking a dangerous risk following the state of the bridge. Many believe that the only alternative to avoid this looming disaster is to close the bridge for at least three months so as to enable engineers carry out some repair work to prevent what happened at Minneapolis, Minnesota on August 1, 2007 during the catastrophic collapse of an eight-lane steel truss arch I-35W on Mississippi River Bridge.
The Niger Bridge is the major link that connects the Southeast, South- west and the South-south parts of the country. Apart from that, the bridge services human and material movements from South- south, North-central, Southeast and Southwest geo-political zones.
The bridge, according to Emeka Umeagbalasi, the Convener, Anambra Human Rights Coalition, is the busiest and the most congested bridge in Nigeria today out of the country’s six geo-political zones, four of them substantially depend on this Bridge for sustenance of their commerce and industry. He said there is also a general consensus that the Niger-Bridge is sinking every minute and dying every second, yet no serious attention has been given to this Nigerian problem.
The recent gridlock experienced by the road users at the bridge made it obvious that the construction of the Second Niger Bridge should be the first and the most important infrastructural project that the Federal Government should embark on this year. Following the recent experience on the bridge, especially the Christmas and New Year celebrations, the majority of the South-east people concluded that the Federal Government is playing politics with the construction of the Second Niger Bridge not minding the impending collapse of the bridge.
Travellers, for close to two weeks, found it very difficult to cross the bridge from Onitsha to the Asaba area, the Capital of Delta State. Speaking to THISDAY, Mr. Francis Nwogwugwu, the Distribution Manager of Four Loko Drinks in Nigeria, said the traffic at the Niger Bridge last Sunday was a terrible one. According to him, it took our distribution cars eight hours to cross the bridge from Onitsha, exposing the drivers to various risks.
He said, “It is very sad that Nigeria at this age, is still exposing it citizens to dangerous disaster that thousands of people may not even survive. Over 50 vehicles were on that bridge on Sunday after several warnings that heavy load should be allowed on the bridge.”
Nwagwugwu added that the Federal Government should stop playing politics with people lives and commence the construction of the Second Niger Bridge before embarking on any infrastructural project to avoid this impending calamity.
Also speaking to THISDAY, a House of Representatives member in Anambra State, Hon. Ben Nwankwo noted that the Southeast of Nigeria is losing its known regional and national reputation for commerce to insecurity and dearth of infrastructure. It appears a deliberate state policy to take away or diminish this natural vintage rather than promote it. The lawmaker said the Second Niger Bridge has fallen victim of political indecision despite the socio-economic jurisdictions and reasons. The science of national development is premised on economic and social grounds rather than political behaviours and priorities.
Nwankwo also noted that there is huge medium and large enterprise flight out of the Southeast and crime is flying in, saying, “I think the only thing to do as a matter of national urgency is to deploy quantum political will and fiscal commitment to the bridge project. This to me will give meaning to the new philosophy of national transformation.”
Convener of Nigeria Centenary Group, Ariyo-Dare Atoye, said: “We may be taking a very dangerous risk if the federal government fail to commence the construction of the Second Niger Bridge early enough this year. The first one is wearing out severely, looking like the remnant of a war-torn country. The frequent traffic on that bridge and in many cases gridlock is telling dangerously on its capacity. It was not built to withstand such pressure.
Without an alternative bridge to reduce the traffic on that route, Atoye said “I fear for the worse in no distance future as this trend is likely to continue. I use that road frequently and what I often do is to programme my journey in a way that I must pass that bridge before 8am from Abuja end and before 12 noon when returning to back Abuja. It is as bad as that due to frequency of traffic.
Atoye said: “We must do whatever it takes to avert possible disaster that the collapse of that bridge could cause. It will be devastating and the image of the country will be badly affected. Nobody will forgive any government presiding if such happens. We must prevent this and the only solution is the second Niger Bridge.
According to him, the interest of THISDAY Newspaper on this issue is a great national service and a vital social responsibility. To make things work in Nigeria, it is going to be by collective responsibility. As a corporate watchdog, THISDAY must continue to remind the federal government of a disaster in waiting without a second Niger bridge. Public commentators should not rest on their oars.
“The good thing however is that we have a Minister, who is a professional and totally committed to this project and putting our roads in good shape. Honestly, we must acknowledge his good work and passion to do a thorough job. The repairs of bad portions of the Abuja-Lokoja road up to Ibilo before Christmas is commendable. So, also the fast racking of the dualisation process of Abuja - Lokoja road is heart-warming. If we had had him since 1999, we will not be in this mess. Certainly the best Works Minister I have seen,” Atoye said.