As Fashola battles to deliver 2nd Niger Bridge
He has, for long, done away with wearing ties and cufflinks, but, most of the time, appears in a plain shirt over work trousers, booths, and safety helmet on his head, like an engineer, to be able to confront the tasks at hand. The battles include sourcing for funds for the project, legal tussles overpayment of the numerous compensation demands, rainy season, as well as politicization of the project, among others.
Consequently, if there is one Federal Government project that has been over politicised in recent times, it is the 2nd Niger Bridge. The politicisation of the project coupled with mischief and cynics churning out falsehood and propaganda to misinform members of the public has created confusion among the populace, to the extent that Nigerians no longer know whose story to believe. Should they believe what the government is saying or social media that seems to ridicule whatever the government says.
The Buhari administration that inherited the 2nd Niger Bridge project from the previous Jonathan administration has minced no word in assuring Nigerians that it has committed to delivering the age-long expected bridge. But it got to a point that not many people still believe that work on the project is on-going. The stories peddled in social media concoct the truth. The only thing that Nigerians want is to see the bridge in place as promised.
As to whether work is going on that will lead to the bridge, not many people seem to believe. The erection of pillars that are visible from the existing bridge doesn’t seem to change the pessimism. But seeing is believing, they say. One needs to get to the project sites to be convinced that a 2nd Niger Bridge is underway. The tour of the bridge project has proved that work is actually going on.
It is on that ground that the five-day inspection visit by Fashola and a team of journalists, Directors, and Controllers of Work and top ministry officials from the two zones, to strategic road and housing projects being executed by the Federal Government in the South-South and South-East was significant, at least, to prove beyond any doubt that the Federal Government is actually working, unrelentingly, to deliver the 2nd Niger Bridge as promised, within the shortest possible time. The trip to the project sites started after Fashola and his team, including my humble self, landed at the Benin Airport in an early morning plane from Abuja that defied the hazy Harmattan weather.
According to Fashola in a briefing to the team, “The purpose of this journey is not about self-validation. I want you to know what is happening in the road sector in Nigeria and to be able to see what we have done on each road, why we are doing that and what the challenges and potentials are so as to be able to enlighten Nigerians too.”
“Too often, some people believe that there is an unlimited amount of money in the purse of the federal government that is not being used to build and rehabilitate roads. But the truth is that money is not just there while various conditions continue to challenge the building and rehabilitation of roads at the same time.”
“That is why the government picks some roads at one time and works on them based on the strategic importance, access to agricultural areas, ports, industry, educational institutions, social investment, fuel supply routes and other factors that may not be obvious to all.”
After taking a long trip through sections of the dilapidated Benin-Auchi-Lokoja highway measuring over 128 kilometres, it was obvious that the most problematic portions of the road that made travelling hellish during the rainy season have been fixed by the contractors – Mothercat (Nig) Limited.
From there, on the second day, the team moved to the badly damaged Onitsha/Enugu Expressway, where rehabilitation work is being handled by RCC. Sections of Umunya/Amawbia axis are being rehabilitated. What is obvious in all the rehabilitations being done on the highways, unlike in the past, is the use of concrete materials to reinforce the roads for durability. This, hitherto, ignored the road engineering construction method, would ensure the stability of the roads for a longer time.
Coming to the 2nd Niger Bridge, the inspection kicked off from the Onitsha/Owerri proposed inter-change, just as one gets to Onitsha. There is serious work going on in that section by the contractor, Julius Berger. Excavations and steel rods are being mounted on concrete to bear the overhead bridge.
From this point to the project site at the bank of the River Niger on the Onitsha side of the bridge, required a bumpy ride using 4-Wheel Drive jeeps, over a distance of 7-kilometres on a reclaimed sandy surface. Hundreds of tons of sand have been deposited to reclaim swaths of marshland to create an access road to the bridge. Thus, piles and piles of sand had emerged from the seabed.
According to the Project Manager of Julius Berger Construction firm, Engr. Friedrich Wieser, actual construction began from October 1, 2018. This clarifies the misgiving that construction work on the bridge began in 2011 when the Jonathan administration first awarded the contract. No doubt, preliminary works were started involving surveys and pilling.
Nevertheless, no serious construction work was done due to a lack of funds. The initial arrangement to build the bridge under a Public-Private Partnership scheme on the basis of Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT) at a total cost of N108 billion did not work because the consortium that was to provide the funds could not deliver.
As a result, the Federal Ministry of Works, which initially, committed to contributing N30 billion (28%) of the project cost, has to bear the entire cost. Mr. Fashola had stressed that funds are not readily available just as very few sources of funds are available at the moment owing to the global economic situation. Very few countries or companies are willing to fund projects.
This, notwithstanding, Engr. Fashola told the journalists on tour with him that the Buhari administration is determined to complete the multi-billion-dollar project by February 2022. Engr. Friedrich Wieser had earlier confirmed that completion date. Fashola informed that the government has put in place a definite funding arrangement to ensure that funding does not delay the work.
According to him, this is one project that President Buhari wants to see its early completion. He said that the government is mobilising funds from various sources, including Sukuk and Nigeria’s funds that have been stolen or stashed away in overseas countries.
It is heartening that the other day, the Trump administration and Nigeria signed an agreement to return $321 million part of Abacha loot, to be committed to three strategic infrastructural projects including the 2nd Niger Bridge. Being the most ambitious infrastructural project that the Buhari administration could boast of as a legacy, the project would no doubt get a fair share of such funds.
There is no doubt that the 2nd Niger Bridge would impact positively on the social and economic realities of Nigeria. By these revelations, Nigerians would hold Buhari to his promise. The enthusiasm that Fashola exhibited at each project, showed that he will do everything within his power to ginger his principal to give priority to the bridge that will stand as his legacy.