…After 1st phase commissioning
• Obosi-Owerri Road end of bridge now in deplorable condition
• Motorists, commuters shun bridge
• Vandals, robbers, kidnappers take over bridge
• Police nab vandals, robbers
• Traditional ruler, stakeholders task FG on security, completion of project
From Aloysius Attah, Onitsha
Agitation for the building of a second bridge to complement the old Niger Bridge built in 1965, which had remained the only link road from the West to the East over the years was in the front burner for over 40 years.
There were serious concerns on the need to decongest the old bridge due to age, excessive axle load and immense traffic gridlock arising from enhanced economic activities in the South-East/South-West transport corridor.
This situation gets worse during the Yuletide period when travellers experience terrible nightmare by spending several days and nights trapped on the old bridge, trying to cross over while going for the festivities or returning back to base after the celebrations.
While the need for the construction of a second Niger Bridge started during the military era, it became a campaign tool during the return to civilian rule in 1999 such that during the tail end former President Olusegun Obasanjo’s second tenure, he ceremoniously flagged off the construction of the second Niger Bridge when he visited Anambra State to campaign for the governorship ambition of Senator Andy Uba during the 2007 general elections.
The ceremonial flag off ended up as an ‘audio’ stunt as nothing happened until the official groundbreaking ceremony for the construction of the bridge was performed on March 10, 2014 by the then President Goodluck Jonathan.
When Muhammadu Buhari took over from Jonathan on May 29, 2015, another major lull was recorded as the project went back and forth till Buhari’s second tenure when the tempo was increased again and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) took up the responsibility for the major part of the project and August 2022 scheduled as its completion date.
During an inspection tour of the bridge in April 2022, the NSIA had released a statement detailing the specifications for the N427 billion second Niger Bridge project.
According to the statement, the bridge project is divided into three phases of 1, 2a and 2b. Under phase 1 awarded to Julius Berger on August 14, 2018, the project involves the construction of 1.6km bridge over the River Niger, construction of 10.3 km approach roads from Asaba and Onitsha, construction of two secondary bridges at Amakom village road and Atani Road at N21.7 million each and a construction of a new cloverleaf interchange at Onitsha-Oweri Road.
On November 12, 2020, President Buhari approved the second phase of the project, which entails the construction of approach roads 2A (Benin to Asaba Expressway) and 2B (Onitsha to Enugu Expressway). The approach roads are expected to drive traffic to the bridge via two 17.5km approach roads on either side of the bridge and enhance the project’s viability.
On May 23, 2023, President Buhari eventually commissioned the 1st phase of the second Niger Bridge project via zoom amid encomiums and excitement.
Though yet to be fully completed, the temporal connection of the bridge to the Asaba end of the Benin-Asaba expressway on one side and the Onitsha-Owerri road on the other side was expected to be a big relief as vehicles coming from both ends now divert and won’t be struggling for space on the old bridge to pass through the always gridlock-prone Upper Iweka area in Anambra State.
However, the euphoria that greeted the commissioning and opening up of the second bridge to motorists seems to have fizzled out so soon as the bridge is presently underused.
As it presently stands, only few vehicles now ply the new bridge thereby resulting in persistent blockade of the old Niger Bridge.
To worsen matters, reported cases of vandalism of metals on the new bridge and criminal activities like armed robbery and kidnapping have reared their ugly heads on the bridge.
A lone 15 minutes drive on the second Niger Bridge last week by this reporter revealed how lonely the bridge could be in such a manner that one could drive for close to 10 minutes without sighting any vehicle coming behind or up-close for overtaking.
The bridge was also in the news recently as vandals reportedly removed some metal railings on the Ogbaru-Onitsha-Obosi axis of the bridge.
Some transporters and motorists who spoke to Sunday Sun attributed the low traffic situation on the bridge and the reason they shun plying the route to insecurity and failed portions of the Onitsha-Owerri road.
National President of the Heavy Duty Drivers’ Association, Mr Uchenna Nebuwa when contacted said that the increasing cases of robbery, kidnapping and other criminal activities recorded along the Second Niger Bridge were major contributing factors to their members’ reluctance to ply the bridge.
He also identified the deplorable condition of the Obosi-Owerri Road as other reason members of the association and other drivers no longer use the bridge.
He said that his members have lost over N20 billion worth of vehicles and goods on the road linking the bridge following its deplorable condition, especially the Obosi-Owerri Road.
He said: “Drivers are afraid because there is no adequate security on the Second Niger Bridge. Hoodlums, robbers and kidnappers have taken over the route. They now operate along the bridge unhindered.”
A bus driver, Anthony Okeke, on his part told the reporter that the bridge has become so lonely and insecure that one plies the route with fear and anxiety.
“Our passenger’s voices it out that they are afraid because in the long stretch, anything can happen as you hardly see other oncoming vehicles. There is no adequate lighting also in the bridge at night and this increases the fear for vehicles taking the bridge in the dark “he said.
Chief Resident Engineer, Second Niger Bridge Project, Iheanyi Aguwa, in a chat with Sunday Sun said that efforts are being made to address all the concerns.
“Few weeks ago, there was reported vandalism of metal components of the expansion joint on the walkways on the median of the road at a section of the new 2nd Niger Bridge. We went and inspected the place, made our reports and eventually, Permanent Secretary, Federal Ministry of Works, Dr Mahmood Mamman, visited the project site few days later.
“He expressed anger and disappointment over what happened and encouraged communities that make up the host communities to take up ownership of the bridge noting that the bridge is a very important national asset. He made it clear that the communities should partake in the security of the bridge. Furthermore, the ministry has gone ahead to write the DSS, Police and the military to include the new bridge in their areas of surveillance and operations. I believe that the letters have gotten to the appropriate authorities and they have assured of their cooperation because we have witnessed some security activities in the bridge recently,” he said.
Aguwa disclosed that the lighting system on the bridge was done to be connected to the national grid.
“It is hybrid of diesel and national grid to supply power to the street lights there. In furtherance to this, the ministry has tried to provide illumination on the bridge during night periods by introducing solar components to complement the one to be supplied from the national grid,” he explained.
He, however, disclosed that the extent of vandalism was not much because vehicular movements was not affected, but he said such would not be allowed to continue because it is not a good omen.
Need for a national steel policy
Aguwa also advocated the need for a National Steel Policy where some measures can be taken to ensure that those who vandalise such critical components don’t find it easy to thrive.
“These scavengers, when they bring some of these things, the buyers should ask questions before buying. When they know that if they bring these things, no one will buy them or that the police will swoop on them, they will be deterred in carrying out such acts. In some developed countries, you cannot just wake up and go to sell most of these steel components. You will be licensed before you sell while those buying will also provide authority that what you are selling is genuine and not a product of crime. This is a national problem that should be addressed as such,” he said.
Aguwa also confirmed that though the second Niger Bridge has been commissioned for use, the project is yet to be completed
“The project is in three phases. What has been done is only the phase one -the bridge. The other parts of phase 2a and 2b, the road from Asaba Airport to link up the bridge has not been done at all. What the Federal Government did was to link up the road to the Asaba Onitsha/Benin express. Phase 2b Obosi to Onitsha Enugu express road is yet to commence too,” he disclosed.
Criminals operating on that bridge are doomed – Obosi traditional ruler
Obosi is one of the 10 host communities of the second Niger Bridge. The traditional ruler of the community, Igwe Chidubem Iweka represents the interests of the 10 traditional rulers whose communities fall into the group while the construction of the bridge was ongoing.
Speaking with Sunday Sun on the recent developments on the bridge, the traditional ruler expressed disappointment on the reported criminal activities reported on the new bridge and dropped deep words for the perpetrators.
“I saw the news report about vandalism of metal fixtures on the second Niger Bridge. It is a horrible thing and whoever is doing it is doomed. Traditionally, it amounts to abomination that one will go to that bridge that we have prayed for many years and tamper with it in any way or form. It is a crime of greater proportion which we all abhor.
“Let the culprits stop forthwith because that bridge has been our dream for many years to alleviate our problems. We are totally against anybody who goes there to cannibalise the fixtures. If they are arrested, they should face the full wrath of the law. I think they should face special penalty for whoever does that other than charging them for normal crimes. This amounts to special crime and I urge both the federal and state governments to look seriously into the issue of security on that bridge,” the traditional ruler advised.
Police vow to ensure security
The Anambra State Commissioner of Police, Aderemi Adeoye, during a tour of the bridge recently said that a joint task force of Anambra and Delta states Police Command have commenced patrol on the bridge as part of efforts to make it safe for road users.
Perhaps to show results in this direction, men of Anambra State Police Command attached to Harbour Division have nabbed two robbers dispossessing unsuspecting citizens of their valuables on the bridge.
According to a statement by DSP Tochukwu Ikenga, Police Public Relations Officer, Anambra State Police Command, Awka, the Police team was on surveillance patrol on the bridge to prevent vandals from stealing expansion joints when they were alerted on the activities of the gang near the Obosi end of the bridge.
He said that the Covert Police Team monitored the gang and swooped in on them and arrested two of the gangsters while others fled.
He disclosed that when they were searched, two daggers and five sim cards removed from previously stolen phones were recovered from the suspects aged between 20 and 22 years.
“The Commissioner of Police, CP Aderemi Adeoye commended the Police Team for its vigilance and courage in confronting the gang. He has directed that owners of the recovered sim cards be located with a view to assembling evidence for successful prosecution of the arrested suspects,” the statement noted.
Meanwhile, the Executive Director, Southeast Agenda Network, Ibeagha Cletus, has tasked the Federal Government to ensure the proper completion of the second Niger Bridge with its accompanying road components and ensure proper security on the bridge.
Ibeagha who made the call in Awka warned that abandonment of the project and turning blind eye to the dilapidated portions of federal roads in several parts of the Southeast is a bad omen which lends voice to the continued marginalisation of the people of the Southeast zone.
“If care is not taken now, they will forget about completing that bridge component project. Onitsha-Owerri road is now total nightmare for travellers. Let the Tinubu administration not treat us like that infamous ‘dot in a circle’ whom his predecessor adopted. We have equal rights to development and appointments in Nigeria,” he said.