The Second Niger Bridge has been on the drawing board since 1976 and there was no movement on that project until construction commenced on September 1, 2018.
The bridge, which is being constructed across the River Niger, will span from Asaba (Delta State) to Ozubulu and Ogbaru areas in Anambra State.
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It will serve as a major link between the South East and the South West region of the country.
After four years of consistent funding, a federal government delegation led by the Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, conducted an inspection visit to the Second Niger Bridge project, the second in three weeks, to access the progress of work to ensure it meets the deadline.
The high-powered delegation include the Chairman, Board of Directors of the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), Mr Farouk Gumel, and the NSIA Managing Director, Uche Orji.
Barely three weeks ago, President Muhammadu Buhari inspected work on the project.
Buhari, who was represented by his Chief of Staff, Ibrahim Gambari, was accompanied by Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola; Minister of Labour and Employment, Dr Chris Ngige; NSIA MD, Uche Orji and other top officials of government.
During that visit, Fashola stated that contrary to what people claimed two years ago that there was no bridge, the fast pace of work on the site against all odds had shown otherwise.
“What I said was the bridge link will be completed around February or at the latest the end of the first quarter.
“We are now heading towards the end of the first quarter and as you have heard from them, they will complete the eastbound link on the 15th of March and the westbound link on the 2nd of April,” he had said.
Speaking shortly after the second inspection, Ahmed described the bridge as a very significant project for the Federal Government.
She said the government attached so much importance to it because of the huge developmental impact it would have on the lives of Nigerians.
Ahmed expressed satisfaction with the pace and quality of the job done by both NSIA and Julius Berger.
The minister said: “Today is a very significant day in the construction circle of the second Niger bridge. This is one of the most iconic projects in the country at an initial contract cost of N206bn.
“Today, we have been able to fund this project with N157bn and I’m here to see where all this money is going. And also, the significance of today is that the two ends of the bridge are being put together, and this is the final phase of the work in truly competing the project and finishing work.
“So, technically, I can report to Mr President that I have seen where all the N157bn has gone. This is a project that is very dear to the president and it is designed to uplift the lives and livelihood of people of the South East and other parts of the country. And we hope that when this project comes on stream, it will ease traffic, enhance commercial activities and improve the lives of people of the state.”
One of the objectives of the bridge is to minimise traffic congestion on the old Niger bridge and to strengthen connectivity in the entire South-East region.
Under the new arrangement, the scope of work was expanded to involve the construction of a 1.6km bridge over the River Niger, scheduled for completion in August 2022, construction of two secondary bridges at CH25+166 (Amakom Village Road) and CH28+304 (Atani Road) spanning 21.7m each, which have now been completed, demolition of existing flyover and construction of new interchange at CH34+100 (Onitsha-Owerri Road), scheduled for completion in August 2022.
The project also involves the construction of 3.3km Approach Road on the Asaba side and 7.0km Approach Road on the Onitsha side of the main bridge, scheduled for completion in October 2022, toll plaza at CH25+700 which consists of eight lanes in each direction, scheduled for completion in October 2022, and site clearing of the Right of Way (RoW) including the removal of all bushes, trees and shrubs.
The construction work for the project also involves soil improvement including soil exchange, geo-textile as a filter layer, geo-textile for base reinforcement, pre-fabricated vertical drains, geo-textile encased sand columns and geo-textile for base reinforcement.
Upon completion, the project will offer significant socio-economic benefits for the contiguous states and indeed the entire nation by easing traffic flow, improving road safety, and creating greater opportunities for residents and neighbouring states, thereby regenerating economic life.
The Approach Roads will drive traffic to the bridge via two 17.5km Approach roads on either side of the bridge and enhance the project’s viability.
Speaking on the project, the Chairman, Board of Directors, NSIA, Mr. Farouk Gumel, said “The Board is pleased with the quality and pace of work. Undoubtedly, the 2nd Niger Bridge is a vital piece of national infrastructure.
“With the construction now over 84 percent done, it will soon begin to confer on this axis, reduced travel time and minimal traffic which will in turn increase economic activities and enhance the connection between northern and southern parts of the country. A Nigeria that is suitably connected with world class infrastructure is the Nigeria of our dreams and this road will help in achieving that.”
One thing that was also a source of concern during the initial stage of the implementation of the project was the issue of compensation.
But this is no longer a challenge as significant number of the settlements that were affected by the project had been adequately compensated.
NSIA says the construction of Second Niger Bridge will be completed in 2022.
Orji had earlier disclosed that all plans are geared towards delivering the project before the end of the year. He described the project as one of the legacies of the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government.
He said the bridge will come into light as a result of the presidential infrastructure development fund (PIDF) established to ensure the realisation of such projects.
The NSIA boss identified other projects to include Lagos-Ibadan and the Abuja-Kaduna-Kano expressways.
“The PIDF was set up in 2018 with an objective of attacking certain areas where we have been stuck as a country. There were some projects that have been on the drawing board for 40 or 50 years, no movement. So, the president decided to isolate them from the current process and create a new funding mechanism to make those projects move faster.
“Second Niger Bridge, for example, has been on the drawing board since 1976 and there was no movement on that project until the PIDF was effectively set up; Lagos-Ibadan expressway faced a similar type of circumstances; Abuja-Kaduna-Kano road, these are project that have been stuck, Mambila hydro power project is also there, everybody knows that we need to re-do them to make sure that we drive economic activity a bit more effectively.
“So PIDF was set up as a mechanism that creates a vehicle that takes government contribution, NSIA’s contribution and opens the door for investors to come in as a way to make sure we finish these roads on time and the progress has been quite impressive.”
Orji said all projects carried out by the NSIA are the president’s legacy projects with many of them set for inauguration next year.
Speaking at the inspection site, Orji said: “As it stands, the entire stretch of infrastructure i.e., road, bridge and interchange etc is about 84 percent done at this point while the bridge alone is over 91 per cent done,” he said.
According to Orji, while in terms of percentage, the major works have been done, the finishing works are quite extensive and would take a few months, stretching into October this year.
Clearly, this all-important project when completed would help in filling a major infrastructure gap in the country.