Should Ndigbo tax themselves to build Second Niger Bridge? -By Azuka Onwuka

Filed under: National Issues |
Azuka Onwuka

Azuka Onwuka

 

I grew up in a community where government was far from the people and nobody waited for government to do anything for the community. Roads were created or paved by the community or wealthy individuals. Bridges were constructed by the community or individuals; the same for water, security, churches, schools, markets, etc.

Even the amenities that were managed by government like pipe borne water, electricity, post office, teaching hospital, college of medicine, library, etc, were financed and established by the community before the government took them over. In plain language, I grew up in an environment where the people did the work of government without even complaining about it. It is the bunu-bunu-ibu-anyi-danda philosophy: the philosophy that stresses that when people work together, nothing is impossible. That philosophy also has a subset: Obele azu kpata obele nku; nnukwu azu kpata nnukwu nku (which ensures that the small pulls its small weight while the big pulls its big weight). That way, the job gets done, and everybody is happy and proud.

The recent announcement by the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari that ongoing construction of the Second Niger Bridge might be suspended until the integrity of the bridge, cost and other issues were sorted out caused some furore, especially among the Igbo, as they are the main beneficiaries of the bridge. There were fears that the suspension could drag on for long and become an unofficial cancellation, and in 2019, the Second Niger Bridge will be remembered and used as a campaign tool again.

As far back as 1980, crossing over the Niger Bridge into Onitsha during the Christmas season was a tough task. I remember travelling from Ondo State with my father some days before Christmas that year and we had to leave early in the morning to cross the bridge before the traffic jam of the afternoon as reported later by kinsmen coming home from Lagos the same day. Having a second bridge across the River Niger had since then been a promise that was made and never fulfilled. The issue of the Second Niger Bridge was a serious issue long before the 11.8-kilometre Third Mainland Bridge was completed by General Ibrahim Babangida in 1990. President Goodluck Jonathan constructed the Loko-Oweto Bridge linking Benue with Nasarawa across River Benue. Meanwhile the width of the River Niger across which the bridge will be constructed is not up to one kilometre, even though the Second Niger Bridge is expected to be much longer than the width of the River Niger.

But there is no need to lament or sink into despair over the bridge. There is no need to feel bad or to be apprehensive about the fate of the bridge. Rather than bicker over the bridge, let there be an alternative option to the construction of the Second Niger Bridge.

Is there any law that states that only the Federal Government can construct a bridge? I doubt that. The Lagos State Government constructed the Ikoyi Bridge recently. Anambra State Government constructed the Odo Bridge a few years ago too. They may not be as big or long as the Second Niger Bridge, but they are bridges too.

If the difference between the Odo Bridge and the Niger Bridge is that River Niger is federal waterway, I doubt if the Lagos lagoon between Ikoyi and Lekki falls under state waterways.

Even though the Niger Bridge connects the South-East to the South-South as well as serves as the link to and from the South-West and the northern part of Nigeria, no other zone shows any real concern over it except the South-East. Therefore to solve the perennial frustration over the Second Niger Bridge, let the South-East states start the process of raising the funds to construct the bridge. Let the Federal Government be approached by the South-East states for permission to construct the bridge.

The cost of constructing the Second Niger Bridge was put at N108bn when it was commissioned last year under the public-private partnership scheme. The Federal Government would contribute N30bn (28 per cent), while the consortium (JB-NSIA) would raise the 72 per cent. The bridge was scheduled to be completed in four years.

I therefore suggest the setting up of a trust fund and a board of trustees to manage the fund that will be raised by the people for the bridge. If 20 million Igbo adults contribute a minimum of N2, 500 per annum, in four years that will be N10, 000 per person. That comes to N200bn, almost double the cost of the bridge. But because all heads are not equal, a graduated levy should be fixed as follows: N10, 000, N100, 000, N1, 000,000, N10, 000,000. This amount will be paid over a period of four years. Given the importance of the bridge, I will willingly stretch my resources to financial limits to contribute to the fund. I am certain that many Igbo sons and daughters will gladly contribute to the construction of the bridge, including those who don’t even use the bridge and those who live in the Diaspora.

The back and forth over the Second Niger Bridge has become like a ridicule. It looks like the bait given to a tethered monkey with a banana: when the monkey stretches its hand to get the banana, the owner of the banana moves the banana back, only to stretch it towards the monkey minutes later once the monkey has moved back. The poor monkey continues to live on hope that is never realised while the banana owner enjoys the plight of the monkey.

If the Federal Government insists on constructing the Second Niger Bridge, let the South-East states ask for permission to start the construction of the Third Niger Bridge, while the FG continues the ding dong with the Second Niger Bridge.

There is no need to continue to bank on the Federal Government’s goodwill to construct the bridge. There is no need to continue to feel sad or angry over the non-realisation of the bridge. If the current old and over-used bridge collapses, the majority of those that will die will be South-East people. And all through the period the bridge will remain unfixed, the South-East will be the major victims.

Also if the bridge is built by the people, there will be no tolling on it as against the 25-year tolling arrangement with the consortium.

Let nobody cry or bicker over the Second Niger Bridge. If the bridge will continue to be a recurring story, let the people build the bridge and move on to other things.

Twitter @BrandAzuka

 

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