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Written by Dr. Boniface Egboka on 13 August 2011.

I do entirely-agree with the recent statements made by the Deputy President of the Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Senator Barr. Ike Ekweremadu, where he stated that the River Niger Bridge at Onitsha shall collapse any time unless a remedial action is urgently-taken to check the problem as well as his strident call for the take-off of a second bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha. Many Nigerian engineering/environmental experts had earlier given such warnings which fell on deaf official ears. The former Southeast Z one Governors led by Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State had said so, equally, but to no avail. Some of our active politicians such as the great Senator Joy Ifeyinwa Emodi had equally lamented over the problem but little or no attention was paid to her timely call. It has been such a frustrating scenario from the Federal Government officials that seem to prevaricate over handling of the problem or just for them to sit on the fence while waiting ominously for the bridge to collapse and kill people! Ofcourse, this possible-bridge-collapse Armageddon shall happen unless the present Government changes attitude from the posture of her predecessors and do something corrective.

What we usually hear over this ominous problem of a possible collapse of this bridge from the earlier Federal Government officials is ritualistic: something will be done to avert the looming disaster; the contract for the second bridge has been awarded and signed; the construction of the second Niger Bridge at Onitsha will soon take-off and be finished in a record time; and bla bla bla, like a shameless tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury signifying nothing, ad infinitum! Once upon a time, a former President of this country carried out a phony commissioning ceremony, in situ, for the take-off of the second bridge across the Niger at Onitsha with a lot of political brouhaha and political gerrymandering, pomp and pageantry among sycophantic political hungry jobbers but nothing came out of it. At another time, we were told by the engineer-officials that over thirty-nine knots-and-bolts that had been missing or were lost were refixed on parts of the wobbling bridge but we were not assured that all the missing ones were actually-replaced or that the exercise cured the ailments of the sick bridge.

Even any ordinary layman who lives at Onitsha and beyond, knows that the Niger bridge is very sick and will die/collapse any day; it is only God that is holding the bridge, now, before He will let go! The bridge is over fifty years old with minimal maintenance services; it has been carrying the indescribable heavy loads many times more than it was designed/built for; the physical structure of the bridge was tampered with violently by the Biafran Army Engineers during the Nigeria-Biafra war to prevent Nigerian Army from using the bridge to invade Onitsha and beyond; the bridge has continued to act as a garage, parking lot or mechanic shade for vehicles of all grades and sizes as they wait for police, customs, Local Government officials during clearance at the Onitsha/Anambra and Asaba/Delta States borders, thereby, imposing destructive vertical stresses on the bridge-structure; the damaging effects of sediment deposition and siltation from the gully erosion/landslides prone upland areas on the bridge pillars and foundation as well as the effects of the so-called ongoing multi-billion Naira dredging of the River Niger and the consequent sand mining, are yet to be determined or known. Only God can give the estimate of the volume of human and vehicular traffic that go across the bridge year-in, year-out; but the humans fail to appreciate the extent of the destructive stresses imposed on the hapless bridge.

The bridge does not serve only the Igbos of the southeast as some demented minds seem to think; it serves the whole country. It is a great bridge that bridges and integrates socioeconomic-cum-political activities from the east, west and the north. Business men and women, tourists and visitors, nationwide, criss-cross this bridge from Lagos, Kano, PortHarcourt etc. to travel to Onitsha, Nnewi, Aba, Owerri , Uyo, Calabar etc. People from all over the country and parts of West Africa make use of this very important bridge from time to time. Everyone knows that this Niger Bridge is over-loaded and over-used daily and has aged dangerously; and hence, the justifiably-established need and decision by the Federal Government to build a second bridge across the River Niger; a task that must be done.

By the way, one is not becoming an apostle of doom, but what if no one takes an immediate remedial action to repair the ailing Niger Bridge and construct a second one and the bridge collapses as predicted, what will be the outcome of sufferings for Nigerians? One can hazard-predict a few: many vehicles will be trapped and stranded on the bridge and at the border ends; many people will die either through sustained injuries or by drowning in the River Niger below; the border ends of the bridge at Onitsha and Asaba ends shall become major scenes in confusion and chaos; many of the trapped vehicles of various sizes and travellers from all over the country will be rendered hopeless and distressed; the presently-decent town of Asaba will be messed up and become similar in outlook like the Onitsha end; the new International Airport at Asaba would rendered useless for its actual needs for the people of the southeast; small rickety boats with high probability for regular accidents would takeover the transport of desperate/stranded travellers across the River Niger; a new crime haven shall spring up where armed robbers, marauders and kidnappers etc. will takeover and make life more miserable for the people; the great commercial and industrial centres east of the Niger at Onitsha, Nnewi etc. will suffer great losses and great depression; an unnamable volume of travellers and vehicles that must be on the move from the north or east of the country, shall head to and fro through the Lokoja bridge at Ajaokuta that is presently-not-well-maintained and subsequently also shall cause its eventual-feared collapse! Above all, the total economic life of the nation shall suffer deplorably and inexorably. These can be really-be prevented where people are serious-minded, have integrity and are considerate.

But there is an unfortunate negative catch somewhere on why some reactionaries in Governments have shown a laissez-faire attitude to carrying out these corrective projects across the Niger: they have continued to hate the Igbos because of why they had to get involved in the Nigeria-Biafra war for which our people are yet to be forgiven up till today; and hence, of what they call marginalization of Igboland, an ugly reality. Flood disasters, gully erosion and landslides ecological problems in the east are not seriously-considered or are poorly-funded. Why bother over the collapse of the Niger Bridge as a priority? It took years of insurrection by the Niger Delta people before they were heard and given a reprieve. But if such a dangerous collapse of such important structure were to be in Lagos or Kano/Maiduguri, the Federal Government would act instante! Consider the regular maintenance activities carried out on the flyovers in Lagos; the recent rush to Lagos by our Distinguished Senators to see and advise on the flood disasters; the regular attention on and funding of desertification problems in the north, the way and manner the boko haram issue is being handled etc. These actions by the Federal Government on ecological problems are praiseworthy because each disaster affects everyone in the country directly or indirectly such that what is good for the goose is equally good for the gander. The Federal Government should repair/strengthen the old bridge across the River Niger at Onitsha and start the construction of a second bridge immediately; the construction activities including the completion periods should be phased and be well-spelt out to the public; community participation, monitoring and supervision by the people and governments of the Southeast Zone should be included. Nigerians must put the effects of that unfortunate Nigeria-Biafra war behind them and handle national problems with fairness and equity no matter whose ass is gored. A stitch in time saves nine while a word is enough for the wise.

Boniface Egboka, PhD, FAS, FNMGS, FNAH
(Professor of Environmental Hydrogeology)
BOCEF Foundation, Awka, Nigeria


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