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FG invests N116.7 billion on Second Niger Bridge project

By Bertram Nwannekanma
03 March 2021   |   4:15 am
The Federal Government has so far released a total of N116.72 billion for the much-politicised Second Niger Bridge, a project valued at N414 billion and expected to be delivered next year, The Guardian has learnt.

Second Niger Bridge project

• Cost variation not envisaged, says project fund manager
• NSE queries exclusion, quality standards
• Bridge has no local content, says Ositala
• Ohanaeze extolls FG, seeks early completion

The Federal Government has so far released a total of N116.72 billion for the much-politicised Second Niger Bridge, a project valued at N414 billion and expected to be delivered next year, The Guardian has learnt.

It was also gathered that the project was awarded as a “lump sum contract” without provision for cost variation. The Head of Corporate Communications, the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), the project fund manager, Titilope Olubiyi, told The Guardian, yesterday, that the Federal Government would fund part of the cost while the balance would be sourced from the debt market. He added that a management company would be established on completion as the project would be concessioned.

Olubiyi, who disclosed the funding status, said funds are disbursed on “post verification of the interim certificates by the client (the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing) and the independent technical advisers”.Upon completion, the 1.6 km bridge will be the first tolled federal bridge and second to the 1.36 km Lekki-Ikoyi Link Bridge in Lagos.

The Federal Controller for Works, Anambra State, Adeyemo Ajani, reiterated that the bridge would cost N206 billion while the servicing roads would cost an additional N208 billion, bringing the total value of the contract to N414 billion.

Ajani, who assured that the 2022 completion date of the Second Niger Bridge was sacrosanct, said the contract sum remained constant without variation because it was stated clearly as part of the contract agreement.

He disclosed that the project would be completed in the second quarter of 2022 despite the delays caused by COVID-19, host communities and #End SARS protests.

According to him, if the enabling environment subsists and the contractor is not owed, they could speed up construction to meet the target. He also said the project was not being executed through public-private partnership (PPP) but through the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA)

According to Ajani, tolling is part of the contract agreement. He said: “The entire project is divided into three phases, the first phase, which is in process, is about 11 kilometres.

“The second phase is the access road at the Delta end of the bridge; the other is from Obosi up to Enugu- Onitsha Expressway.
“It is just like a bypass of Onitsha when completed, one will not have any business entering Onitsha. The other contracts are about to be awarded.

“It has been procured and just to mobilise the contractor, Julius Berger is on site, the other one will be the other side, and the bridge is at 55 per cent completion stage.”

BUT the Nigerian Society of Engineers (NSE) is worried about their exclusion from the contract despite having Nigerians as the chief consultant of the first Niger Bridge in the 1960s.

NSE is also worried that amid rising cost of construction input, the quality may be lowered, going by the lack of variation clause in the contract.

The President of the society, Mr. Babagana Mohammed, noted that the first Niger Bridge was given to Nigerians as chief consultants and it was delivered and wondered what was wrong in giving Nigerian engineers the second one.

Asking whether the first bridge was not good enough or if it had collapsed, the NSE president said that government must initiate a deliberate plan to grow the profession and not wait for other nations.

According to him, no nation could become politically independent without first growing its engineering and government must deliberately be looking inwards “because you cannot quantify the number of dollars that have gone out of the country when most of the things required could be got in-house.

“We should be very considerate and look at many factors before we give out this kind of work. In Dubai, most of the works are being handled by their indigenes, every project you started in Dubai is managed by their indigenes, they took part in the construction and took part in the management and are now maintaining them.”

On the issue of variation, Mohammed said the cost of materials are higher than what it was in previous months and these are things that you don’t have control of and when you refuse to adjust the cost of what your contractor is doing, you are asking him to give you a low-quality job.

“In this kind of contract, they will ask you at a certain stage, the amount of money required so that they can buy the materials in bulk, if you don’t give them the money to buy the materials in bulk and you are giving them money in piecemeal and they are buying the materials piecemeal, the cost is appreciating, you have to adjust, it is the natural thing to do,” he added.

President of the Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NISTRUCTE), Dr. Kehinde Osifala, said their members are not involved, stressing that a bridge of that nature should have Nigerian content.

“I am worried about local content that is going to be involved in the work. For example, the Fourth Mainland bridge they are doing for the Lagos state government, I know that Nigeria engineers are involved in that project but that cannot categorically be said about the second Niger bridge,” he added.

According to him, there are some Nigerian consultants that are doing bridges and usually don’t register what jobs they have with the institution.

Dr. Osifala said anyone going into a non-variation clause or arrangement must weigh it very well to know if he can finish on time and if it is a job he cannot finish on time and know that there is the possibility for price fluctuation, if he does not have to go into such a contract.

Ohanaeze Ndigbo, an apex Igbo socio-cultural group in Nigeria, is more concerned with the level of work going on the bridge and the completion date than the issue of tolling.

Expressing satisfaction with the level of work on the bridge, the spokesperson of the group, Alex Ogbonna said since 1963-64, when the first bridge was done, there has been no alternative. He said the ongoing work should not be stalled with tolling controversy.

“We need to understand the terms of the agreement reached in the bridge that it should be tolled but that one does not bother us now. It is more important than the job is completed. It is difficult to engage in what will happen when you are not there yet. Our position is clear, let us first get the bridge, when it is done the question of tolling will come on board.”

The existing bridge over the Niger River dates back to 1965. It serves as a major road connection, bridging the cities of Asaba on the west bank and Onitsha on the east bank and is part of the Trans-African Highway between Lagos and Mombasa in Kenya, in addition to being the main east-west connection within Nigeria.

The Second River Niger Bridge is part of a new motorway ring, which aims to minimize traffic congestion on the old bridge and to strengthen connectivity in the entire region. Julius Berger is providing the planning, logistics and construction of the river bridge. Julius Berger’s scope of work comprises the construction of a 1,600 m long reinforced concrete river crossing with a maximum span of 150 m as well as one motorway junction, one toll station, and as a further challenge, 10 km of road construction on extremely soft and swampy terrain.

The three sections: West Approach (755 m, 14 fields with 55 m span each), East Approach (205 m, 4 fields) and Main Bridge (630 m, five fields with a maximum span of 150 m) are being built in parallel using the different production methods – “clock push” and “cantilever”.
Since the water level of Niger varies by about 10m between the dry and rainy seasons, the foundation is carefully planned and coordinated.

Additionally, soil improvement measures required for road construction, vertical drainage and horizontal dam base reinforcement are implemented to guarantee the load-bearing capacity and to accelerate the settlements of the sand dams, which are 6m high on average.
The Second Niger Bridge is to be furnished with other ancillary infrastructure including a 10.3 km highway, Owerri interchange and a toll station.

The bridge was initiated by the administration of Musa Umaru Yar’adua to be financed under a public-private partnership (PPP) with 60 per cent of the funding coming from the contractor, Gitto Group; 20 per cent from the Federal Government and 10 per cent each from the Anambra and Delta State Governments.

Unfortunately, the subsequent death of Yar’adua stalled the progress of the project. The project was first proposed in 1978 by the National Party of Nigeria (NPN) presidential candidate, Shehu Shagari, to be constructed across the Niger River and running from Asaba to Ozubulu and Ogbaru areas.

In 1987, after an alarm on the state of the River Niger Bridge by the then Minister of Works and Housing, Abubakar Umar, General Ibrahim Babangida challenged the local engineers to design the Second Niger Bridge to meet the need.

Upon return to civilian rule, President Olusegun Obasanjo promised to deliver the project. However, his administration did not carry out any major activity on it until five days to its end when it was hurriedly flagged off in Asaba.

The incoming administration effectively inherited a ₦58.6 billion proposed cost for a six-lane 1.8 km tolled bridge, which was to be completed in three-and-half years.

However, in August 2012, the Federal Executive Council under Goodluck Jonathan’s administration approved a contract worth ₦325 million for the final planning and design of the bridge.