In its apparent resolve to build the second Niger Bridge at Onitsha, the Federal Government, last week, named Julius Berger AIMS Consortium as the preferred bidder for the construction of the bridge that links Anam-bra and Delta states. Disclosing this in Abuja after hours of meeting with delegates from the preferred consortium and concerned government agencies, the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, said that out of the five companies that took part in the bidding process that lasted for 13 months, Julius Berger AIMS won.
He also said that the concessionaires had expressed interest in the bidding for the project under the Design, Finance, Build, Operate and Transfer (DFBOT) model. According to the minister, the meeting with representatives of the concessionaire heralds the second phase of this particular transaction that will necessarily lead to the preliminary site work of the bridge that will link Onitsha and Asaba in Anambra and Delta states.
He explained that part of the work that would be carried out soon would include detailed hydrological and topographical surveys as well as a geological survey. Government, the minister stated, would carry out a detailed environmental/social impact assessment of the process and an in-depth traffic survey among others. Already, government’s transaction adviser had virtually completed a detailed traffic survey of the project.
The minister assured all Nigerians that the second Niger Bridge was fast becoming a reality. Onolememen, who could not comment on the duration of the project, said categorically: “This is not a contract. It is a PPP transaction. The PPP transaction will cover a period of 25 years for them (Julius Berger AIMS Consortium). By the conclusion of the discussions on the second phase, at least, the construction period will emerge. It is not like a normal contract that the government is funding.”
He stressed that the consortium would raise the fund for the project while government would only take very marginal percentage of it to show commitment. Whether the PPP transaction, which incorporates the DFBOT model, is the best way government intends to build a second Niger Bridge, which has been on the drawing board since the inception of this democratic dispensation in 1999, or not what is important is to ensure that the project actually takes off and be completed on schedule.
However, the only worry here is that the PPP model has not been used to construct a major road project like the bridge in question in the country. Having the bridge built under the DFBOT model automatically means that its users will pay toll to use it. Ordinarily, it would have been expected that government takes full responsibility for such gigantic project. Regardless of the merits and demerits of the model under discussion, the most important thing is to make the second Niger Bridge a reality.
This is not a season for promises upon promises. This is time for action. The government should not abdicate from this project this time around. This is one bridge that three Nigerian presidents had promised at various times to build. Since 1999 or thereabout, the second Niger Bridge has become a campaign issue. Whoever wanted to get the Igbo votes in any election had used the bridge as a bargain. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo used it to a great advantage.
He even laid the foundation stone of the project, estimated then to cost N58.6 billion before leaving office in 2007. Yet nothing like a contract for the second Niger Bridge ever existed in government records or archives. The late President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua also promised to construct the bridge in view of the deteriorating condition of the old one built in the early 60s. Unfortunately, death could not allow Yar’Adua to fulfill his promise.
Since President Goodluck Jonathan emerged as the head of state, he, too, has used the Second Niger Bridge as a campaign item and it worked favourably for him, yet the bridge has remained just a promise. During his working visit to Anambra State last year to commission some projects like the River Port at Onitsha and the Orient Petroleum Refinery at Otu-Aguleri, Jonathan reiterated his promise and vowed to build the second Niger Bridge before leaving office. He should be a gentleman and keep his promise.
Now that 2015 is around the corner, let it not be that the Jonathan administration is again trying to use the issue of a second Niger Bridge to woo Igbo votes again. If that is the game plan, there is no hope that it will work again. Let government demonstrate strong political and economic will to build this necessary bridge that serves as a gateway between the Western and Eastern parts of the country. It also serves as a veritable link to the Northern states through Benue State. The unending politics of the second Niger Bridge is unnecessary and unhealthy for the safety and economic well-being of Nigerians that pass through the old Niger Bridge that can collapse any time without a warning.
It will be recalled that some weeks ago, the Senate tasked the Federal Ministry of Works to immediately commence repairs and rehabilitation of the Niger Bridge to avoid the dire consequences of its possible collapse. It also enjoined the ministry to commence the construction of the Second Niger Bridge. Let the ministry just do what the lawmakers have said. Government should stop playing politics with people’s lives. A collapsed Niger Bridge will mean so many deaths. It will be a monumental national tragedy.
Government, this time around, should demonstrate beyond doubts that it really wants to construct a second Niger Bridge in Onitsha. The name, Julius Berger, actually rings a bell in the nation’s construction industry. It is hoped that with Julius Berger AIMS Consortium being the winner of the bidding process, the work will take off in earnest as the minister has promised.
Let this not be like the one promised by Obasanjo. Let the consortium expedite action on the bridge and see that the project sees the light of the day. Government should stop dilly-dallying on the project.