THE news that work on the long-awaited Second Niger Bridge may be stalled again on technical and other grounds leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. The bridge, which is conceived to ease traffic and provide an alternative to the ageing first Niger Bridge at Onitsha, is a critical arterial infrastructure that will link the rest of the country with the communities in the South-East and South-South of Nigeria. This veritable gateway to the South-East and several other parts of the country should not be hampered in any way. Instead, whatever problems have been identified with the contract for the construction of the bridge should be speedily addressed, and every necessary effort made to ensure a quick execution of the project.
The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) has explained why the construction of the bridge cannot go on in its current format. Its concerns include the cost of the project, the toll fees to be charged under the Public -Private- Partnership (PPP), and the Design Build Finance Operate Transfer (DBFOT) model. There are also issues relating to the compensation to be paid to the host communities along the proposed bridge.
Only recently, Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, engaged the immediate past Minister of Works, Michael Onolememen in a public spat on issues concerning the bridge. There have also been queries on the consultancy fees paid for the project, which had its groundbreaking ceremony performed by former president, Goodluck Jonathan, in the twilight of his administration.
Although all of these concerns are pertinent, considering the importance of the project, efforts should be made to address them as quickly as possible with the aim of delivering the bridge on schedule.
We hope that the information freshly supplied by the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Agency (NSIA) that the bridge is conceived to be delivered in 48 months and that only 2.21 million US Dollars, representing less than 10 per cent of the project cost, has so far been paid for consultancy, will put some of these controversies to rest.
Nigeria is well behind on the promise to build this new bridge as the present one and the only land gateway to the commercial South-East geo-political zone is presently overburdened and virtually collapsing under the weight of age and overuse. Whether day or night, motorists spend long, distressful hours in traffic snarls on this bridge. This is clogging progress and socio-economic activities in the South- East and surrounding parts of the country.
We cannot also ignore the politics of this particular project. The Second Niger Bridge is very close to the hearts of all patriotic Nigerians. This is why the present Muhammadu Buhari administration must not spare any effort to ensure that it is delivered in its time, as a showpiece of the new regime of transparency and accountability.
The estimated cost of the facility, at 700 million US Dollars, may make the bridge one of the most expensive of its kind. The concession period of 25 years may be alright, but what about the serious issue of compensation of the host communities? No host community can be expected to surrender valuable land titles and possible sources of livelihood without adequate compensation, and even rehabilitation.
It is also important to interrogate the toll fees that have been proposed on the bridge to avoid the many issues that could arise as recently witnessed on the Lekki- Epe toll gate in Lagos State. All these issues should be addressed, but nothing should be done to give the impression that the project may be terminated.
The Second Niger Bridge should be a priority for the entire country and nothing should be done to stall it. Let the relevant authorities address all the grey areas so that work can begin in earnest on the project, and debilitating litigations kept at bay.
The Federal Government and other relevant stakeholders should rise up to the occasion and do everything that is required to deliver the Second Niger Bridge on schedule and to specification. Then, we would have shown ourselves as a nation that is desirous of even and rapid development, with no section either deliberately or inadvertently left out.