Friday, July 25, 2008

Niger Bridge Falling

DR. Hakeem Baba-Ahmed, a permanent secretary in the Office of Secretary to the Government of the Federation, is the latest voice to warn about the imminent collapse of the 43-year-old Niger Bridge .

His testimony at the Senate Committee public hearing on the transport sector, passed without much attention, though he was the only one who mentioned the fate of the bridge, the link between the South West of Nigeria and most of the South East and the South South.

Former President Olusegun Obasanjo made a second Niger Bridge an election issue in 2003. President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua promised to build it in his 2007 campaign, yet there is no budgetary provision for it. The entire budget for federal roads in 2008 is a laughable N79 billion! Last year the estimated cost of a new Niger Bridge was N58 billion.

“I must say this since we are in a public hearing that the Niger Bridge is collapsing. The Federal Government cannot do it, and in fact should not do it. The private sector should now be involved,” Dr. Baba-Ahmed, former permanent secretary in the Ministry of Works, told the senators.

Dr. Baba-Ahmed’s suggestion that the Federal Government should not repair bridge is prejudiced. On what basis did he make this recommendation to the Senate? If he considered the bridge an emergency, why would he opt for measures that would delay its repair or the construction of a new bridge?
When it comes to the Niger Bridge Federal Government vacillates. How many bridges in Nigeria did the untested public private partnership build? Why make the Niger Bridge a guinea pig for a N58 billion project?

The Niger Bridge got to this state from similar guiles. There were talks that a new bridge was too expensive. Was Dr. Baba-Ahmed confirming government will not build the Niger Bridge ?

Regularly, concerned media writes about the state of the bridge. Television stations have done series of features on its loosened bolts, eroded parts and unstable foundations. The government ignore these. President Yar’Adua has not said a word on the Niger Bridge after the campaign. His 2008 budget ignored the bridge – his economic adventures do not include its construction.

This bridge cannot collapse without tragic consequences. Hundreds of thousands of travellers use the bridge, possibly the busiest in Nigeria , day and night. They have no alternatives. There is no feasible ferry service.

In addition, the collapse of the bridge would cut off the South East and most of the South South (Akwa Ibom, Cross River , parts of Rivers and Delta States ) from the rest of Nigeria .

Their access to Nigeria would be through unimaginable detours that are not developed to bear the type of traffic the Niger Bridge accommodates. Economic bases of Onitsha , Aba , and Nnewi would be shut out.
Government should reach a fast and firm decision on the Niger Bridge , a decision that should save lives of its users, not one that would result in an enquiry into the collapse of the bridge.