The Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola SAN, has undertaken a one-day inspection and stakeholders’ consultation tour of the Second Niger Bridge reiterating the Federal Government’s commitment to its completion along with the Zik Mausoleum in Onitsha.
The existing Niger Bridge was built in 1965 and it has remained the crucial East-West link over the years. However, due to the immense traffic arising from the economic activities on the South-East and South-West transport corridor, the Federal Government under the last administration initiated the construction of the Second Niger Bridge but work had since stopped at the Early Works stages.
However, speaking at both the Palace of the Asagba of Asaba in Delta State during a consultative visit and in Anambra State at a stakeholders’ meeting that had the Governor of the State, Dr Willie Obiano and the Obi of Onitsha, HRM Igwe Nnaemeka Alfred Achebe in attendance, Fashola pledged the determination of the present administration to complete the bridge pointing out that the project was one that is of priority to President Muhammadu Buhari.
While speaking at the Palace of the Asagba of Asaba whom he visited first after being received by the Deputy Governor of Delta State, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro at the Airport, Fashola told the Royal Father who was represented by the Iyase of Asaba, Patrick Onyeobi, “I have come here to convey the commitment of Mr. President to the continuation and completion of the Second Niger Bridge. And having been briefed in the office, I believe this is the time for work to begin and it is time for me to go and see for myself and match what is on paper with what is on ground”.
Also while addressing the Governor, some members of the Anambra State Executive Council and the Obi of Onitsha among others at a consultative meeting, the Minister said, “I come here first in pursuance of the commitment of the Federal Government of Nigeria and that of His Excellency President Muhammadu Buhari to complete this Bridge and from the very day of my inauguration as Minister, he made it clear what priority the completion of the Second Niger Bridge meant to him”.
Stating other reasons for his visit, the Minister said aside continuing the implementation of the budget as it relates to the completion of the Second Niger Bridge, another reason for his visit was “to pay homage to the communities that have been the custodians of this national asset-Delta State and Anambra State”, adding that he also undertook the tour in order the address some of the issues that have arisen as a result of the project.
He told the Asagba of Asaba, “I am also here to address some of the issues that have come up as a result of this project, compensation issues, community issues” adding that he had also come to seek the support of the government and people of Delta State “towards providing a conducive environment for the work to take place without disruptions, without court cases, without community fracas and so on and so forth”.
Fashola, who said he would visit Onitsha in Anambra also in pursuance of the same purpose, said the Second Niger Bridge constituted a big asset which, according to him, would serve and further stimulate the growth and development of not just the host states but the whole country.
He declared, “The Second Niger Bridge, as a support to the First Niger Bridge, really connects the East and the West and links to the Iweto Bridge which also connects the North and the South”, adding that the commitment to infrastructure remained strong and tight in the agenda of the Buhari administration “in order to rebuild prosperity and to reduce poverty”.
While thanking the Royal Father and the Council of Chiefs as well as the Governors and other top government functionaries for according him and his entourage a warm welcome, Fashola, who reiterated the commitment of government towards addressing all contending issues, however, appealed to the communities to maintain peace and a conducive environment for the continuation of work on the Bridge while the compensation issues were being worked out.
Responding, the Asagba thanked the Minister for the visit, expressing joy at the commencement of work on the Second Niger Bridge. He, however, appealed that the Federal Government also takes good care of the First Niger Bridge while also promising that the communities would provide conducive environment for work to go on.
The Deputy Governor of Delta State, Barrister Kingsley Otuaro who stood in for the Governor, while welcoming the Minister pledged the support of the government and people of Delta State for the completion of work on the Bridge which, according to him, “serves as a monument for posterity”. He also asked the Minister to convey the joy and appreciation of the Government and people of Delta State to Mr. President.
At the second consultative meeting in Onitsha, Fashola also said the Second Niger Bridge would not only bring an improvement in the economic life of the host communities but would accelerate the economic prosperity, transportation, exchange of goods and services across the country.
“It will give relief to the First Niger Bridge and also help in ensuring that it is well cared for and in good state for repair and maintenance”, the Minister said adding that he had been briefed of the status of work and also of all the contending issues especially “those relating to lands, accreditation issues, identification of appropriate land owning families”.
According to him, he was also briefed on issues arising from the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment studies conducted as well as briefs from letters written by the Obi of Onitsha himself “to recommend certain patterns to help in identifying and representing the interest of the land owning families”.
Emphasizing the need for a conducive environment during the construction period, Fashola, declared, “Whatever the social and economic rights relating to land that arise, I believe that we will be better off if we resolve them while construction goes on. In that way, we win both ways, we have a bridge and we also get compensation”.
He disclosed that in his meetings with the contracting firms he had made it very clear to them that “not only must this Bridge leave a transport advantage behind, it must also leave economic prosperity behind for the people who use it” adding that there are also access roads from the Onitsha end and the Asaba end of the bridge that are under design that needed to be quickly completed.
Explaining the modality adopted for the construction of the bridge, Fashola, who said it was Nigeria’s first big move towards a Public Private Partnership (PPP) and the Federal Government, added, “It comes with a lot of challenges. Investors do not understand the host communities; and so they would not commit money unless they are sure there wouldn’t be any hostilities”.
“They want commitment in writing and by conduct that if they commit money the project would not be disturbed by court actions and court injunctions or by pirates, which actions sadly are now emerging on our landscapes”, he said adding that those were the assurances he had come to seek from the host communities and to bring the commitment of the Federal Republic to ensuring that the bridge, which he said “is one of the largest infrastructures that this administration is eager to complete as soon as it is possible to do so”.
Fashola also appealed to the Royal Father, as head of the host communities, to help resolve quickly any contending issues that could hinder the immediate commencement of construction adding, “The truth of the matter is that everybody wants development such as this project, but development must take place in somebody’s land. Whatever be the case, we must look to the larger picture”.
Responding, the Obi of Onitsha, HRM Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, thanked the Minister and the Federal Government for the commitment towards the completion of the Second Niger Bridge pledging that as stakeholders and host communities of the Bridge, the people of Anambra State would cooperate with the government to see to the completion of the project.
The Royal Father, who reiterated that the interest of the Anambra people was that the Bridge be completed and would do their utmost to ensure a conducive environment during the construction period, however, said consultations with the host community stakeholders had been negligible while there were still many contending issues, but assured that they were ready to keep such issues aside to allow construction to go on. He added, “For champions of the bridge, count us as number one”.
Noting that the people of Onitsha were co-advocates for the Bridge, the Royal Father said the importance of the Bridge to the people was not only because it passed through the city of Onitsha but also because it serves as an arterial Bridge that links the South East with the other important cities in the West, South and North of Nigeria.
He stressed that the interest of the host communities was also on compensation for the lands used for the project adding that the importance of land to the people of Nigeria could not be over-emphasized especially when it came to using such lands for public service. He promised that the communities were ready to sit down to resolve all contending issues while construction was going on adding, “As champions of this project, count us as one”.
The Royal Father also appealed to the Federal Government to assist in completing the Zik’s Mausoleum started in the Onitsha Metropolis by a previous administration adding that it has become an embarrassing sight in the metropolis.
The Governor of Anambra State, Dr Willie Obiano, in his remarks also thanked the Minister for the visit to the project which he described as all important for the economic growth and development, not only for the people of the South East of Nigeria but also for the whole country.
The Governor, who also thanked the Minister for the efforts he was making in the repaying of N43.3billion being owed the State by the Federal Government pointed out that most of the Federal roads in the State were constructed by the State Government, adding, however, that the Umunya end of the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway had become very bad and asked for Federal Government intervention.
He commended the Federal Government for what he described as “the great work” it has done translating in a lot of money it has put in the Power projects in the State adding that it would support Anambra, Imo and other states in the South East.
Saying that the project would take less than N200 million to complete, the Governor appealed to the Minister to have a look at the project because, according to him, the impact the project would have in the industrial growth of the states would be outstanding.
The Minister later visited the Zik’s Mausoleum on the Enugu-Onitsha Expressway where he made a commitment that the abandoned project, which was conceived 18 years ago, would be completed, adding that it was one little way to appreciate those who had served the country.
Fielding questions from newsmen later, Fashola, who noted that government was mindful of issues like compensation, again appealed that the host communities should allow peace to reign, adding, “Compensation can come either way. They can build while we compensate. They can compensate while we build and we can compensate after they have built”.
He explained that the investors would not commit their investments until all community issues had been resolved or that they were assured by the communities that they would not be disturbed adding that until such assurances were given, no bank would come and invest its money only to be stalk in court.
“That is why the main appeal here is, leave the compensation issue for us, we will sort out the compensation issues, let the work go on, let the investors move in, let us have assurances from the people so that we can go on. These things are not completed overnight, they take time. During the construction period, let that go on, we build the Bridge, they are compensated and we have development, that is why we are here”, he said.
On how soon the project would commence, the Minister said as soon as the issues were resolved contractors would go back to site adding that there was also the issue of the financial commitment with the PPPs that requires all due diligence to be done as well as the traffic studies currently being done in order to support the financial model.
He said there were also access roads due to be done on both sides adding that this was also under review and consideration for design at the moment, He, however said some work has already started and government intended “to continue those works, continue the piling and hopefully finish the work”.
On why construction work stopped, the Minister responded, “There was no money; they ran out of money. And then there was also early work issues which had been completed and mobilization for further early work could not take place because there was no budget.
“So those are the things we are now trying to put in place, there is a budget now, compensation, provision and all of that and you know contractors also now have to tell us now with their investors when they are getting the financial pledge. But the most important thing is the buy-in of these communities that there will be no disturbances during the construction period and they have assured me”, he said.