The Federal Government has awarded the contract for the construction of a second bridge over River Niger to Julius Berger. Good news no doubt, for this particular bridge is the only route connecting the South East and South South to the rest of the country. The present Onitsha River Niger Bridge – which costed £5 million – was completed in 1965.
This is not the first time that the gongs of building a second bridge has been sounded. We heard same at the twilight of the Obasanjo’s administration in 2007 (see: Sounding the Death Kneel on the Niger Bridge). Thus the heated conversation on Nigeria’s twitville should not be misconstrued as banal cynicism. Rather it’s a response by those who seek answers to clarify a lot of doubts.
Granted that President Jonathan Goodluck’s government has signalled her intention to build a new bridge; that is a positive step. However, good intentions are not enough. Therein lies the queries that beg for answers:
1. Is this contract for the building or designing of the bridge? Both are two different concepts.
2. Julius Berger has gotten a letter of intent “which would enable it to do preliminary work such as, soil testing and engineering design”. But how long will this preliminary work last?
3. Experts that I consulted said that it will take at least two to three years to build a bridge of this magnitude. The story about soil sampling and rain pattern is a bit distracting. These data can be collected in two weeks as they are in the public domain.
4. I just confirmed that there are already two existing designs for the 2nd Niger Bridge. So pray, which design are we expecting? A new one, or an adaptation of the previous ones?
5. And is it not a bit odd that this news came from the contractor and nothing yet from the client?
The reason for the cynicism of many of us towards this news, is based on previous experiences, where constructions were only present on the pages of newspapers. While it’s good news that at least something might happen soon, however, it rather early to start chanting an Alleluia chorus. This is not the first time we’ll hear of a 2nd Niger Bridge. Until construction actually starts and the bridge is completed, I’m afraid, I elect to remain cynical!