By Odogwu Emeka Odogwu, Chuks Collins (Awka), Isaac Ojo (Nnewi), Angela Nkwo-Akpolu (Owerri), Steve Oko (Umuahia), Chidi Asonye (Aba), Alphonsus Nweze (Onitsha) and Felix Uka (Abakaliki)
…Buhari should order Julius Berger back to site – Stakeholders
There is anger in the South East zone over the Federal Government’s abandonment of the N140 billion ($700 million) 2nd Niger Bridge.
Investigations by The AUTHORITY revealed that the contractor, Julius Berger Construction Company, stopped work on the project which is being constructed under Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement since April 2015.
Concerned citizens of Eastern Nigeria and other stakeholders are appealing to President Buhari to direct the construction company to resume work on the project.
After a private meeting with President Muhammadu Buhari at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on August 26, 2015, the Director
General of Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC), Aminu Diko, had hinted that work on the vital bridge would be suspended.
Dikko said: “The communities around that area are clamouring that their lands have been taken and that they have not been compensated adequately. As a matter of fact, we got a letter from the Onitsha Traditional Rulers Council complaining that they have not been adequately represented in this transaction.”
As that was raging, the Edo State Governor, Adams Oshiomhole called on the former Minister of Works, Mr Mike Onolememen, to explain to Nigerians the whereabouts of the billions meant for the bridge as according to him, $700 million was drawn from the Sovereign Wealth Fund for the project.
The bridge’s contract was awarded by President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan during the second term of former Anambra State Governor Peter Obi.
Onolememen had then assured Nigerians that the project would be completed before the expiration of former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration in 2015 as part of efforts to deliver on the campaign promises of that government.
But Jonathan lost in the election and immediately the contractor left the site.
The bridge is said to have been reflected in this 2016 Budget with hope that something tangible would be done to construct the bridge.
All the several efforts made by The AUTHORITY to speak with the management, including the Managing Director of Julius Berger Construction Company, Mr. Wolfgang Goetsch, on why work was stopped on the project, proved abortive.
Some stakeholders, however, claimed that the construction giant abandoned work immediately President Buhari took over the mantle of leadership about 10 months ago, following a presidential directive that work at the site should discontinue.
An employee of the firm (name withheld) who claimed he was recruited in April 2014 at the site of the bridge, admitted that Julius Berger had stopped work at the project site since June 2015 due to non-funding by the Federal Government.
According to him, the company only did soil texture and property evaluation before leaving the site with almost all their working equipment.
“So, if the Federal Government is ever serious about the project, let it release the money for work to start,” he said.
Comrade Casmir lzukanne, who lives close to the project site, said: “We don’t know why they stopped work and we are not happy or feel comfortable with the Federal Government, because this is the only bridge that links the South East to other parts of Nigeria and it’s economic importance to our country cannot be quantified.”
The Campaign for Democracy (CD) was emphatic on President Buhari as it called on the Federal Government to mobilise to the site of the 2nd Niger Bridge to end the marginalisation of Ndigbo.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Dede Uzor A.Uzor, CD wondered why such a national project should be abandoned and politicised.
Other stakeholders in Onitsha, Anambra State asked President Buhari to direct Julius Berger to return to site to continue the construction of the Second Niger Bridge.
The President of the Amalgamated Association of Anambra Traders (AMATAS), Chief Okwudili Ezenwankwo and the Chairman, International Society for Civil Liberties and Rule of Law (Intersociety) Nze Emeka Umeagbalasi, among others, called on Buhari to direct Julius Berger to return to site.
Ezenwanko said that he was hopeful that work would resume again at the site because he reliably gathered that the bridge was included in this year’s budget, which has just been passed by the National Assembly.
Chief Anigbata, who also said that the bridge was reflected in this year’s budget, expressed the confidence that Buhari will execute the bridge because of its strategic importance to Nigeria and Ndigbo.
He said that the Federal Government needs to put an infrastructure like the Second Niger Bridge on the ground to boost trade, commerce and agriculture.
But Umeagbalasi expressed doubt in Buhari completing the bridge, given his disposition towards the Ndigbo, saying that they are watching him closely.
He called on the Ndigbo, especially political leaders, rights activists and media practitioners to continue to mount pressure on the president so that he may have a rethink, even if he was not keen.
On their part, the apex Igbo socio-cultural organisation, Ohanaeze Ndigbo, Igbo monarchs and other stakeholders, called on the Federal Government, to as a matter of urgent national importance, resume work on the 2nd Niger Bridge.
The Coordinator of the Seven States Chairmen of Ohanaeze Youth Council (OYC), Mazi Alex Okemiri, said the suspension of work on the project stands tall among the injustices against the Ndigbo.
He said the project had become a huge fraud against Ndigbo by successive administrations in the country.
Ohanaeze said the abandonment of the project had seriously undermined and sabotaged economic activities in the South East geopolitical zone which is known for trade and commerce.
In the same vein, the Chairman of Umuahia North Traditional Rulers Council, HRH Philip Ajomiwe, called for the immediate resumption of work on the abandoned project.
He described the suspension of work on the project as “very shocking, painful and unbelievable”, considering the economic and strategic importance of the Niger Bridge to the Nigerian economy.
Similarly, the Aba Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ACCIMA), represented by Sir Emma Nwakpadolu, lamented the ordeals of traders as a result of the perennial traffic congestion on the existing bridge which is in very bad shape.
He said that the high cost of transporting goods from Lagos and other Western parts of the country across the Niger have led to increase in prices of goods in the South East markets.
In his reaction, former Publicity Secretary of the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) in Imo State, Mr. Enyinnaya Onuegbu, said it was regrettable that work has stopped at the project, noting that initially, people were allowing the new administration time to reappraise the projects inherited from the past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan.
Onuegbu condemned the action because “that project is the most important construction project in Nigeria presently, and would have provided a modern route into the South East and South-South States. And also make the movement of people from Northern Nigeria into the South very easy.”
On his part, Hon. Henry Onwukwe, a PDP Caretaker Committee member in Imo State, said it is a very sad development and total confirmation of the marginalisation of the South East by President Buhari’s administration.
According to him, it goes to confirm that the Federal Government has adopted a deliberate policy to make sure that the Igbos don’t count in Nigeria, saying everybody knows that the second Niger Bridge would increase the economic activities of the Igbo Nation when completed, but because of President Buhari’s policy to keep down the Igbos, the bridge has been abandoned.
To the Chief Executive Officer of Goodwill Electrical Construction Company Limited, Chief Neighbour Onwukaike, it is not proper that the bridge was abandoned, for whatever reason, considering its vital importance to the people of the South East geopolitical zone.
He described it as one of the most unfortunate lot of the South East people of the country over the years, just as it has been seen as one of those strategies of depriving them of the dividends of democracy.
Mr. Eze Ananaba, who is the Chief Executive Officer of J. Anderson Construction Company Limited based in Aba, expressed doubt the correct contents of the contract awarded for the construction of the additional bridge which became imperative, owing to the old age of the first bridge built decades ago.
The businessman asked the relevant government agencies to make sure the contractors are brought back to site since as he noted, a lot of money has already been pumped into that project which he described as very strategic to the people of the South East and, indeed, their economies.
Contributing, Chief Henry Ikoh, the Abia State Commissioner for Science, Technology and Industry, posited that the abandonment of the 2nd Niger Bridge project is worrisome to both the people of the South-South and South East geopolitical zones, who are mainly into trade, commerce and industry.
The commissioner, who is also an industrialist of repute, stated that he would not say that the President Goodluck Jonathan administration did not do well in initiating the second Niger Bridge but faulted government for not doing the needed follow up that should have ensured its early completion.
For the Vice Chairman, Ebonyi State Traditional Rulers Council, HRH, Eze Romanus Iyioku, the abandoned 2nd Niger Bridge amounts to insult on the deep feeling of Igbos, should the Federal Government stop work on the Bridge.
He explained that the bridge would not only serve the interest of the South East geopolitical zone, but the economic interests of the Nigerian nation.