A revolutionary second bridge over the Niger and the need for PPP initiatives in public infrastructure

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March 13 (THEWILL) – On March 8, a high-level delegation from the federal government, including President Muhammadu Buhari’s chief of staff, Ibrahim Gambari; the Minister of Public Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola and his counterpart of Labor and Employment, Chris Ngige, who was on a mission to inspect the progress of the construction of the second bridge over the Niger, were received by representatives of the Anambra and Delta States governments. The conclusions of the visit were too positive, as more than 85% of the construction had been completed and an April closure of the entire project had been promised. An October launch was also promised, well ahead of the holiday traffic jam that had become a standard fare for the majority of travelers, who lose hours in traffic jams in and out of Onitsha.

Yet, as hard-hitting as these details about the completion of a second bridge over the Niger are, reaction to development has been understandably tempered by most who have waited the past few decades to see the possibility of an alternative to the only link road across the Nigeria River without success so far. To fully grasp the cautious optimism with which the news relayed by the high-level delegation was greeted, one must look beyond the teething problems that marked the project’s recent kick-off under the previous administration of Goodluck Jonathan. and also beyond the initial promises of Fashola, who had promised a commissioning in February, and go back to the 1978/1979 political campaign of Shehu Shagari, then presidential candidate of the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) . It is astonishing that already in the late 1970s, the original Niger Bridge was considered insufficient and required an additional link between southeastern and southern Nigeria, on the one hand, and the rest of the country, on the other hand. The other. Yet only now is there a very real possibility of this alternative.

A view of the Second Niger Bridge taken on Tuesday, March 8, 2022. CREDIT: Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Abuja.

By the 1970s, the landmarks of a political campaign tool were beginning to be apparent: to gain the trust of people in eastern and southern Nigeria, a politician had to wave the “Second Niger Bridge Construction” carrot and, as on wheels, the region’s voices will flow like the very waters of the Niger River. It worked for Shagari but, as is evident now, no bridge over the Niger materialized, with the NPN government in charge of the country’s affairs from 1979 to 1983. Instead, most moves in the countries to the south passed by the only bridge over the Niger. , increasing the strain on the infrastructure beyond planned levels. This was the situation during the lifetime of the military juntas of Generals Muhammadu Buhari, Ibrahim Babangida, Sani Abacha, Abdulsalam Abubakar and through the democratically elected administrations Olusegun Obasanjo, Umaru Yar’Adua and Goodluck Jonathan.

Under Babangida’s regime, the danger of deterioration of the Niger Bridge was highlighted by the then Minister of Public Works and Housing, Abubakar Umar. In his reaction, Babangida challenged local engineers to come up with concepts for a second bridge over the Niger. The Nigerian Society of Engineers responded by incorporating a consultancy firm called NSE PREMS Limited, which delivered a master plan for the execution of the said bridge, but circumstances conspired to prevent it from going any further, particularly towards the end of the Babangida administration.

Yet the warning about the Niger Bridge was factual. It bore the weight of being the only trans-Nigerian link to the South-East and South-South. As a road between Onitsha in Anambra State and Asaba in Delta State, the bridge was completed in December 1965 by French construction giant, Dumez, following plans by Dutch engineering consultants . It had a total length of 4,606 feet (1,404 m) and the whole construction took about a year as it started in 1964 and was ready for use in 1965, at a cost of between 5 and 6 million of pounds sterling, or about 51 billion naira. when adjusted for inflation. Sir Abubakar Tafawa Balewa, the then Prime Minister of Nigeria, commissioned the project on January 4, 1966, in what turned out to be his last public event outside of Lagos as Prime Minister. On January 15, he was assassinated in a bloody coup and his body was discovered by the roadside near Lagos six days later.

As for the bridge, which had a central steel girder, three vehicular lanes with pedestrian walkways on both sides, it suffered severe damage after retreating Biafran soldiers detonated dynamite on the structure during the civil war. 1967-1970, in order to prevent the Nigerian army’s assault on Onitsha. It was a maneuver that left the Nigerian army on the Asaba side of the river pinned down and unable to advance against the retreating horde. This damage rendered the bridge unusable until it reopened on Thursday 26 March 1970, thanks to a £116,000 contribution from West Germany for its reconstruction. For the years that followed, it was the only source of movement within the country to the south, with its congestion during periods of heavy traffic and related problems of access to and from Asaba and Onitsha. These have put enormous strain on the structure, even as they have hampered the flow of goods and services along this stretch of what is known as the Trans-African Highway which runs through Lagos to Mombasa in Kenya.

As important as an alternative bridge was the Interim National Government led by Ernest Shonekan, which lasted 84 days, the Abacha junta, in power for five dark years and the transfer regime of Abdulsalami Abubakar which lasted a month before a year paid little attention. at best and lip service, at worst, at the start of construction. Pledges for the building resurfaced during Obasanjo’s reign, but eight years and two terms passed, the only difference being that about five days before leaving office, Obasanjo announced the $58.6 billion project. of naira and handed it over to his successor, Umaru Yar. ‘Adwa. Unfortunately, Yar’Adua was ill and unable to commit to the project or complete his term, dying in office three years into his four-year term. The Obasanjo government’s plan for a 1.8 km six-lane toll bridge, which was to be completed in three and a half years, has stalled. The bridge was to be financed through a public-private partnership (PPP), with the contractor, Gitto Group, providing 60% of the fund, the federal government providing 20%, and the Anambra and Delta state governments contributing each 10% cent.

Then Jonathan entered the timeline with new promises to make the Second Niger Bridge a reality, especially given his status as a southerner. He pledged his word during a public meeting held on August 30, 2012 to oversee its construction and commissioning. It turned out to be more or less the same for those waiting to witness the reality of an additional route through Niger. The Jonathan government continued the tradition of politicians who came before it as talks over the Second Niger Bridge faded from center stage as issues of security and the welfare of the average Nigerian quickly drew attention. attention of the country. The project stall lasted until March 10, 2014, a year before the 2015 general election, when the re-election campaign machinery kicked into action for another round of eye services. On this day in March, the inauguration ceremony of the bridge finally took place. By then the focus had already turned to the campaign season proper and it wasn’t until the current administration was alive that the real work towards that October commissioning really began.

It is a essential element of the national infrastructure with important socio-economic benefits. benefits for neighboring states and the country as a whole. It is widely recognized as one of the most significant infrastructure projects in Nigeria linking the most economically active regions of the country. Although there is no official data on the volume of traffic on the original Niger Bridge, there are occasions when crossing the bridge takes more than an agonizing three hours, not to mention peak times like holidays when some people have been known to spend the night on the bridge. It’s an anomaly that this alternate bridge should stop. It should also improve the commercial viability of the immediate area and revitalize economic life there. It will reduce traffic, improve road safety and create more opportunities for local residents. The economic impact of such important infrastructure on adjoining regions will be a game-changer for the trajectory of growth and development it will engender.

Funding for the project was initially based on a public-private partnership (PPP) model with the Gitto Group, the federal government and the states, but after the deal fell through, the responsibility fell to the government, which funded only the project worth nearly 400 billion naira, according to Gambari. However, I am of the opinion that projects of this magnitude, with global benefits for a large population, should not be left to government alone. A very obvious example of a similar project that is modeled on the PPP formula is the proposed 4th Continental Bridge in Lagos. The bridge, a 2×4 lane cross-carriageway with clearance for BRT Lane, is a 37.4 km long bridge project by the Lagos State Government, which will connect Lagos Island via Langbasa to Lekki via Baiyeku to Ikorodu across the Lagos Lagoon to Itamaga to Ikorodu.

For this, the government issued a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for bidders to apply in February. The number of concessionaires competing to build, operate and maintain the Lagos Bridge has been reduced from 39 to three, according to the governor, and construction will begin before June 30. The project lead selection process will be completed by March 31, but the completion of paperwork and other technical details will push the project launch date to Q2 2022, between April 1 and June 31. . This apparent mismatch was actually a well-meaning screening process to ensure that only the best dealership to manage the project for the state made it through the rigorous process. This is the recommended standard to avoid situations, such as what happened with the second Niger bridge, which placed full responsibility for such a key project on the shoulders of the government even before the project does not start. The example of Lagos will share responsibility and allow for a more balanced ownership of the development process, while ensuring that the efficiency of the private sector is reflected in the timely completion and high budget fidelity rate of such important projects.

I must therefore congratulate President Buhari, Fashola and entrepreneur Julius Berger for the completion of the second Niger bridge and also lend my support to the plan of the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, for the 4th continental bridge .

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