Niger Bridge Traffic: A Recurrent National Shame! – By Damian Adewumi

NEWS FLASH: A ghastly multiple accident occurred in the early hours of Thursday 16th February 2012 on the Onitsha end of the Niger bridge involving two trucks and two Nissan buses causing an unprecedented traffic since 5:30am. As at the time of filing this report, the traffic is still much. Hundreds of corporately-dressed workers from Asaba working in Onitsha (majorly banks and private companies) as well as other commuters were forced to pack their cars and had to trek to cross the Niger bridge to get to work as there were few the few commercial motorcycle available turned the opportunity into a once-in-a-life-time money making venture. I also joined in the early morning exercise en route Nnewi, Anambra state from Asaba, Delta state.

SAVE NIGER BRIDGE

The recurrent daily traffic on Niger bridge and the deteriorating state of the bridge over the past decade is a pointer to the fact that Nigeria is a failed state. The Niger bridge is an important bridge in Nigeria as it links the Eastern Nigeria. Built and completed in December 1965. It serves as a link between the old Eastern block and the then Western Nigeria through Asaba.

But the 47-year-old bridge is now old, weak and in a pathetic sight. Buffeted by rain, scorched by sun and weighed down by heavy traffic, the bridge is overdue for repairs.

A new one has been in the pipeline since 1992. That was when former military president, General Ibrahim Babanginda, muted the idea of a Second Niger Bridge. The design was undertaken by the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE), via its subsidiary, NSE PREMS. Despite continued promises and pledges by successive governments, the bridge has remained a pipedream thereby causing untold pains and frustrations to the South-Eastern region.

The bridge was constructed in 1965 by the Balewa/Zik regime. It was blown up in 1968 during the civil war but was repaired after Biafra surrendered by the Nigerian Army. That was the last time any meaningful work was carried out on the bridge. Right now, there are noticeable cracks on the bridge. Anybody that applies that bridge will confirm that the link between the South-East and the rest of the country is in total ruins. Ex-Minister of Works, Housing and Urban Development Hassan Lawal, confirmed that there was no plan by the Federal Government to build a second Niger Bridge in Onitsha.

In the last April 2010 presidential elections, almost all the candidates promised to build the second bridge if elected. Even some South-East politicians who sought elections either to the Senate or House of Representatives pledged to work assiduously towards the realisation of the much-trumpeted Second Niger Bridge.

One bad feature about the second bridge is that the two regimes that have given it thought pretended to have done a good job just few days to the expiration of their respective tenures. For example, the Banbagida regime concluded all it could ever afford to offer on the bridge in July 1993 and by August he left office. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo claimed that he awarded the contract at the cost of N60billion. He rolled out red carpet to celebrate the foundation laying ceremony on May 24, 2007, five days to the end of his second term tenure. Can these late minute arrangements and approaches be the reason for its perennial take off delay? Some Nigerian entrepreneurs had earlier made moves to partner the Federal Government on the construction of the second bridge. The old Niger Bridge was one of the national assignments the late Prime Minister Abubakar Tafawa Balewa performed in December 1965, before he was killed on January 15, 1966.

However, news have it that a France firm had sealed a contract deal with the Federal Government to revive the Niger Bridge by constructing the Second Niger Bridge. As at press time the details of the deal were still not clear as all relevant agencies and personalities involved were yet to put finishing touches on the contract as well as putting pen on papers for the contracts. Among those involve in ensuring the deal is concluded, was Minister of Finance, Dr Ngozi Oknjo- Iwela.

THURSDAY 16TH FEBRUARY 2012 GASTLY ACCIDENT

Today, several lives were lost on the Onitsha bridge and the traffic toll is unimaginable spanning about 20 km into Asaba and Onitsha. Surely this will have great economic impact as many travellers from the West to East were stranded in a lockjam. As at the time of filing this report, I personally went to the accident scene around 7:32am and counted 7 corpses and about 15 were injured. Some of the injured were taken to St. Charles Borromeo Hospital (owned by Catholic Church) which is the only functioning secondary tertiary facility in the state as the state hospitals has been on strike for about 17 months. Also caught up in the traffic having left my hotel around 6:00 a.m., I had to pack in a nearby filling station in Asaba and walk the length of the bridge with my heart in my mouth as the vibration of the bridge is earth-shaking to join my colleague to Nnewi. On my way back from Nnewi around 10:30am, I was told that the total number of dead were up to 10 by a FRSC officer and many were injured and I saw a thick layer of coagulated blood on the road. Amazingly it was confirmed to me there and then that the law enforcement officers at the Onitsha end of the bridge also contributed to the accident and I saw their make-shift camp being burnt in the morning by rampaging youths. By this time the traffic had expanded into Asaba town.

MONEY MAKING VENTURE

However, at the filling station turned parking lot, the very nice men that helped in car arrangement earlier in the morning haad a great pllan in mind. I initially thaught they were nice kind-hearted Nigerians in the morning but on our return to the station, they informed us we have to part with NGN200 as parking fee before we leave. Not surprising, we had to pay NGN150 and make our way to Benin. On the conservative side, there were over 150 cars in the station and many more are still parking to make their way to Onitsha by foot. For those that couldn’t, they had to sit in their vehicles hoping and praying that they will cross the Onitsha bridge by 2:00pm.

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