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If I had titled this work “Politics of Niger Bridge” I would have still been very correct. I chose instead to go with what you have on top of the discourse so as to drive the knife straight into the heart of the matter. This project I must agree is important to the Nigerian nation but why it has been appropriated by the people of South East comprising mainly of the Igbo and why it has generated so much controversy is something I am yet to understand. I will come to some of the reasons people give but before then it is important to observe that the project has been long drawn and it has been a subject of dirty politicking, if am right, since independence in 1960.
If information available is correct that the bridge was constructed just four years after independence, what this means is that it must have been partly a brain child of the departing colonialists since the feasibility studies was done in the 50s. The current bridge was contemplated to be a temporary one, even though the execution of job specification was solid. What this meant was that successive administrations should keep an eye on it and in fact start the new bridge and see to its completion. It is this lacuna that successive governments since that time has cashed on to play nasty politics and the worse to make a national project look like a patronage to the sub-group Ndigbo.
It has gone from what should be a national project that should make us happy and proud to an object of ridicule to the entire nation. With Niger Bridge we now know that a particular project in the national development agenda can be tagged an ethnic project. Since after independence everything concerning that strategic passage, from Asaba in Delta State into the South South, South East and some parts of fringes of Benue and Plateau State, has been seen from the prism of either doing incalculable damage and harm or a condescending patronage to the people of South East, who are predominantly Igbo.
During the civil war, Nigeria’s biggest strategy for ending the civil war against the Igbo was a very simple one: “Blow up the Niger Bridge, the people and the area would be boxed in.” The federal side pursued that line of action in such a bizarre manner that it didn’t matter how many lives were unduly committed to the efforts, by the time the push was over Niger Bridge was damaged, the area cut off and the entire eastern region was subjected to mass starvation on a scale yet to be experienced in Africa.
These happened because some Nigerians thought it was an act against Ndigbo but indeed it was not; it was instead Nigeria dealing fatal blows to itself. At least the statistics after the war confirm this to be true and more than 50 years after that bloody war of attrition, the effects of those negative thoughts and actions are still with us and dragging hard on the bonds of good neighbourliness and the chains of progress. One would think that with our experiences we would do things far better this time around, especially to think straight but from the look of things it would appear our leaders don’t see anything wrong with the old discredited ways.
Since 1999 when the military were unceremoniously forced to vacate power and their civilian counterparts stepped in, the issue of the construction of the second Niger Bridge has become more of a political affair than a question of national development. For that reason it has attracted distortions and controversies. Successive federal administrations would talk about the project and shout loudest when they hold consultative meetings with leaders of the South East. They will promise to execute the project and speak in a manner suggestive it is a favor but the problem begins when after such a meeting everything goes quiet until the eve of a general election and the drama continues. In this cloudy affair, Igbo leaders dance the most and we the watchers wander who is beating the drums. From their utterances it is easy to know that most Igbo leaders don’t know the details surrounding the project.
They neither know who between the federal government and private interest is responsible for the full construction nor do any know the scope of work to be done, when it will start fully and when it would end. It is being said both Obasanjo and Jonathan administrations made contributions, if they did, how much was it and why was it for 8 and 6 years they stayed in power no job was done. Vice President Yemi Osibanjo during governorship campaigns in Anambra State in November 2016 first said US$2 billion dollars had been released and later issued a clarification saying it was N2 billion naira. How many Igbo leaders who claim it is an Igbo project know exactly how much has been released and how many of them monitor the progress of work?
This is the point I want to make and I am very serious about it: Niger Bridge is not an Igbo project neither will it be a project to favour Ndigbo. It is a solid and strategic national development effort targeted at opening the nation and linking its component parts with the objective to enhance economic development and expand economic opportunities available to the citizens. It is a venture with huge capacity to help citizens achieve self-actualization. That corridor is not a partway into Igbo land alone as observed earlier. Some other parts of Nigeria and even south eastern nations like Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, etc, have need for that bridge. In a sense it could be an African thing and the earlier we understand this the better for our nation.
It is time Igbo leaders sit down and identify what truly should be Igbo project that is if there is any that should be so described because even the one I have in my head all are of national significance. Igbo travel the most in this country and it is a shame that the rest of the other zones have very functional international airports except the South East that has one in name. South East deserves an international airport where all major world carriers would come and go. We need a seaport located in Ukwa area of Abia State, Oguta in Imo State or Onitsha in Anambra State. Igbo are very inventive people. No matter what anybody says they are the Japan of African, so they need uninterrupted electricity. They need to rebuild their cities, make it very modern and aesthetically very inviting for habitation. Social infrastructural turn around especially on road, rail, communication and their linkages to rural and urban areas must be pursued with vigour.
Productive kind of education must be made the order of the day and there must be a cultural revolution so that the sense of identity is elevated and the people will learn the beauty of working for themselves and desiring the fruits of their labour. Love for society or nation does not fall from the sky, it is a product of two things. One training and indoctrination and secondly what a society offers her inhabitants or citizens.