Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola, has said hostilities from communities located on the peripheries of the second Niger Bridge could derail the construction of the project schedule if left checked.
Fashola who took a one-day inspection of the project site and consultation with stakeholders, however, said the federal government was committed to curtailing this and completing the bridge along with the mausoleum project dedicated to the memory of late former President-General, Dr. Nnamdi Azikiwe, in Onitsha, Anambra State.
A statement from his senior aide on communication, Mr. Hakeem Bello, yesterday in Abuja, explained that the minister met with the Governor of Anambra State, Willie Obiano; Deputy Governor of Delta State, Kingsley Otuaro; Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Alfred Achebe, and Asagba of Asaba who was represented by the Iyase of Asaba, Patrick Onyeobi, in Delta and Anambra States where he clarified this development.
According to the statement, Fashola stated that the second Niger Bridge was one of President Muhammadu Buhari’s priority infrastructure projects and he would want to see it completed with no delays.
He said the government was working to address all contending issues in the bridge project, but would want communities to maintain peace and conducive environment for work to continue on it.
Fashola stated that issues relating to compensation were being worked out, and that contracting firms and investors in the project would only go back to work when the environment is conducive.
“Whatever the social and economic rights relating to land that arise, I believe that we will be better off if we resolve them while construction is allowed to go on. In that way, we win both ways, we have a bridge and we also get compensation,” said Fashola.
He disclosed that in his meetings with the contracting firms, he had made it very clear to them that “not only must this bridge leave a transport advantage behind, it must also leave economic prosperity behind for the people who use it.”
The minister explained that the modality adopted for the construction of the bridge-Public Private Partnership (PPP)-was Nigeria’s first big move towards such, adding that: “It comes with a lot of challenges.
“Investors do not understand the host communities, and so, they would not commit money unless they are sure there wouldn’t be any hostility.
“They want commitment in writing and by conduct that if they commit money the project would not be disturbed by court actions and court injunctions or by pirates, which actions sadly are now emerging on our landscapes.”
He said these were the assurances he had come to seek from the host communities, saying: “I have come here to convey the commitment of the president to the continuation and completion of the second Niger Bridge. And having been briefed in the office, I believe this is the time for work to begin and it is time for me to go and see for myself and match what is on paper with what is on ground.
“I am also here to address some of the issues that have come up as a result of this project, compensation issues, and community issues.
“That is why the main appeal here is to leave the compensation issue for us, we will sort it out and let the work go on, let the investors move in and let us have assurances from the people so that we can go on.
“The statement also said the stakeholders expressed their commitment to help the government sustain harmonious working environment for the project.
According to it, the existing Niger Bridge which was built in 1965 has remained the crucial link between the East and West for years.
It added that the last government initiated to build a second bridge due to the immense traffic arising from the economic activities on the South-east and South-west transport corridor, and that work had since stopped at the early works stages due to issues relating to funding and compensation.