Nigeria: President Jonathan is playing Politics with second Niger bridge
by Ogbuefi Blogs
On 30 August 2012, at Onitsha, President Goodluck Jonathan declared he will go on exile if he fails to build the Second Niger Bridge before completing his term in 2015. The Nigerian leader made the declaration in his remarks at a Town Hall Meeting held in the commercial city of Onitsha as part of activities marking his one-day visit to
Anambra State as he commissioned several projects, including the oil production facilities of Orient Petroleum at Aguleri, the SABMiller Brewery at Onitsha and the Chukwuemeka Odumegwu-Ojukwu Gateway in Onitsha.
I still remember how Obasanjo lied that the same collapsing bridge [pictured above and supported by pillars] would be built before he left office. General Ibrahim Babangida before him used the second Nigeria Bridge to titillate Ndigbo. Then, Yar’Adua used the same bridge to deceive those so-called Igbo leaders who lack discernment. Jonathan has now come, lying like a drunken sailor that he will build the bridge.
The issue of Second Niger Bridge came up during the Town Hall Meeting since Jonathan had during his campaigns for the 2011 presidential ballot promised to construct the bridge if elected President. Experts have warned that the existing bridge constructed in 1965 may collapse any time in view of the heavy traffic.
It was while attending a gathering of Ndigbo in London called by APGA UK to welcome the National Chairman of APGA, Chief Victor Umeh that I learnt of the Federal Government’s plan to finance the second Niger Bridge through a concessional agreement. The All Progressives Grand Alliance (APGA) chairman condemned the plans insisting that President Jonathan was not being sincere with the people of the zone.
Enugu-Port harcourt Express Road under Goodluck Jonathan
Umeh expressed regrets for President Jonathan’s pronouncements during his last visit to Anambra State, arguing that with such arrangement, Jonathan could not claim to have redeemed his campaign pledge to Ndigbo as the people would indirectly pay for the construction through toll fees.
Umeh said he was of the opinion that President Jonathan, by planning to construct the Onitsha Bridge through concession arrangement, meant that the government had not made any financial commitment to the project, more so when the concessionaire was expected to recover the money invested in the project through toll gates that would be erected at entry points of the Onitsha and Asaba cities.
Speaking at the Town Hall Meeting, Jonathan Goodluck said that “when the first bridge was built, it was during the presidency of Nnamdi Azikiwe; the second Niger bridge will be built under the presidency of Azikiwe Jonathan.”
To further reassure the people, the President said he would go on exile on the completion of his term if he does not build the bridge.
To convince his audience that serious efforts are being made to build the bridge, invited Works Minister Mike Onolomemen and Finance Minister Dr. Ngozi Okonjo Iweala to brief the people on what was being done about the construction of the bridge. Onolomemen reeled out the technical details about the design of the bridge and the companies bidding to construct it, while Okonjo-Iweala unfolded details about the financial arrangements being made to construct the bridge.
But these are political statements that will never be followed with actions from President Jonathan. Most of Ndigbo will be living witnesses to this deception from Aso Rock, once again. The President will not build the Second Niger Bridge until he leaves office in 2015. He would rather use the Niger bridge again to seek votes from Ndigbo and South East for his 2015 presidential bid.
The same promises were made during late Umaru Yar’adua/Jonathan ticket in 2007. Has the Niger Bridge been built since then? How many times and how long should the politicians lie to the Igbos and South East about the Second Niger Bridge? Our people must be smarter than this nonsense from politicians.
A bridge project could be completed within one year of any serious administration. The President has been in Aso Rock for approximately 6years now, and why must the Niger bridge be a bait for an exile until 2015 that he would leave office. Why not start the Second Niger Bridge project tomorrow or next month?
What this means is that as soon as President Jonathan declares intent for another term for the 2015, he would continue to use the Second Niger Bridge to woo the Igbos and South East to vote him once again with the usual promise that the Second Niger Bridge would be built. What will the President tell Ndigbo if the Niger Bridge is not built at end of his first term? Shame on the gullible who believe this exile thing from President Jonathan.
At the end of the Onitsha meeting, some of the participants, among them businessman Prince Arthur Eze were so thrilled that they urged President Jonathan to seek re-election in 2015. It was this same Arthur Eze that was pushing for Jonathan’s that told Nigerians then that he would go on exile if Abacha did not continue to rule Nigeria in 1998. He is still staying put in the country.
Let me remind the Igbos and South East that President Jonathan will not go on exile for failure to build the Second Niger Bridge. It is all about politics and toying with the people whose lives are affected by the Niger Bridge.
These politicians think that they know better than all of us. Or that everyone is dumb. Shame on anyone who believes President Jonathan’s claims of going on exile for not building the Second Niger Bridge.
Access roads (bridges included) between states of the Federation has always been the preserve of the Federal Government and never undertaken under Concession (PPP-Private partner Projects). The suggestions by Jonathan and Ngozi Iwealla to build the second Niger Bridge through concession simply shows how short sighted they are. It also indicates the intentions of Dr. Ngozi Iwealla and her World Bank ideologies to mortgage access roads and bridges to South East and South South as unbelievable. If the Federal Government can award N65.5 billion contract to build Lagos -Shagamu Road what is the difference in awarding the same contract to build second Niger Bridge. I am disappointed in the sources these suggestions emanated from. The Moses that we saw in the person of Goodluck Jonathan has crumbled beyond belief. We expected one major developmental project in Igboland during his administration but to no avail.
These the points we should use to enlighten the South East and South South States.
At the London meeting, Victor Umeh also recalled a similar statement by the Minister for Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala that the Federal Government would remedy the different erosion sites in the zone through a secured $450 million loan and wondered who would be responsible for paying back the loan. He said it would be disastrous if the states in the South-east were made to pay back the loan in a long term since the zone was financially bankrupt.
Umeh also cautioned political leaders in the South-east to be careful how they made pronouncements relating to endorsing any aspirant for 2015 general elections, saying the quest for Igbo presidency was a long time agitation dear to the hearts of Ndigbo who were tired of being spectators on the Nigeria political scene. Said he: “It is cheering news that construction work at the second Niger Bridge will commence in March 2013 but I was very worried that the second Niger Bridge will be concessioned to an international development consultant that will construct it and be expected to recover its funds.
“What that means is that the Federal Government is not part of the financing plan for the construction and that is why I am worried. It means that after the construction, tollgates will be mounted in Onitsha-Asaba, Onitsha-Owerri roads and maybe Ontisha-Enugu Road ends and our people will be paying for it.
Some portions of collapsed Enugu Port Harcourt Road
“I also see a twin issue where the minister for finance was quoted to have said that about $450 million loan has been negotiated for fighting erosion in the South-east.” She said it would have a 10-year moratorium when there would be retirement, it would be interest free, then the loan would be repaid under 40 years.
“What this means is that Federal Government will bring the money for the South-east to fight erosion but what is not clear is if it is the Federal Government that will pay back this money or the states in the South-east. “If the states in the South-east will pay this loan, I am afraid to say that these two issues are very worrisome. If our people will pay the cost of these services, it means we have not got anything from the Federal Government. One would have expected to get a clear commitment from the Federal Government to undertake this second Niger Bridge and finance it by itself.
“We don’t have money in the South-east because of the paltry money we get from the federal allocation. Who will be saddled with the responsibility of paying for these services? It means that our people will continue to suffer. Just this year alone, the Federal Government has released N50 billion for construction of bridges in Benue State and that is the type of thing I want to hear the Federal Government is doing in the South-east.”
Some Igbos take solace in the fact that Jonathan has appointed some Igbo sons like Anyim Pius Anyim to some political offices. But we know that political appointees only take care of themselves and not the commonwealth of the group, such cannot be the measure for the end of Igbo marginalization. What Ndi-Igbo need to end obvious marginalisation is not even the Presidency but federal government infrastructures, such as, good network of roads; revitalization of the businesses and industries destroyed during the war most of which are still moribund forty plus years later; international airport; inland dry docks promised by OBJ but unfulfilled; second bridge across the Niger; location of federal gov’t subsidized public sector corporations in Ala Igbo; ceding back to Ala Igbo land areas and oil wells vindictively carved into some states adjoining Igbo land areas; paying those Igbo states whose lands and oil wells were vindictively and egregiously carved out of Igbo territory retroactive accrued money due; removing most of the “rogger me” police check points in Ala Igbo that have become exploitative industry for the police most of whom are from states outside Igbo land; etc.
South east Roads under Goodluck Jonathan [Enugu-Port Harcourt Road]
Today the state of Enugu- Portharcourt expressway, is so pathetic that it presents the federal government as insensitive to the plight of Ndigbo, as ndigbo and other Nigerians gnash their teeth in excruciating pains plying through the path of death called expressway, also the quality of job FERMA is doing in a particular portion is so poor that it makes the promises of the present administration look very suspicious and pregnant with spurious tales.
Individual appointments are not the way to go to redress that imperative. Since 1999 return to democratic rule, none of the Igbo elected into offices (Senate and House of Reps) or appointed has brought not even a cottage industry to his constituency; talkless, his/her state.
Ndigbo has lost faith in this Federal Government. The commissioning of Orient refinery and the decalaration of Anambra an oil producing state should teach Ndigbo some lesson. What Ndigbo need to do is to follow the example of Chief Emeka Anyaoku and Dr. Alex Ekwueme, who did not wait for some phantom promises that Abuja would build a refinery in Anambra. These eminent men mobilised capital and went into the petroleum business.
So, eminent Ndigbo should come together in a consortium and raise capital, in conjunction with foreign partners, to build the Niger bridge. Or else, we may still be sitting pretty by 2019 listening to tales by moonlight.