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Taming Azara and other killer bridges along Kaduna-Abuja Highway

The Azara Bridge straddles between Unguwan jibo in Kagarko and Azara community in Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Situated along the long stretch…

The Azara Bridge straddles between Unguwan jibo in Kagarko and Azara community in Kachia Local Government Area of Kaduna State. Situated along the long stretch of the Kaduna-Abuja Highway, motorists say the narrow bridge is ferocious in the rainy season and has claimed many lives due to its lack of protective barrier. Daily Trust looks into the dark history of the bridge and current efforts to tame its thirst.

On Sunday, August 15, 2021, the remains of the Jigawa State Liaison Officer in Abuja, Alhaji Suleiman Jazuli, and his driver were recovered from the flowing river under the famous Azara Bridge. With the help of a crane and local divers contracted from Ibbi in Taraba State, the Landcruiser Jeep Jazuli and his driver were commuting in was pulled out of the flowing river.

The Kaduna State Police Command had earlier said the duo were involved in a ghastly motor accident during a heavy downpour the Wednesday before. It was suspected that poor visibility was partly responsible for the accident that swivelled the vehicle into hitting one of the plastic barriers and then tumbled over the bridge. Because the water level was high and fast moving, the Landcruiser that plunged in got submerged.

The combined efforts of local divers, officials of the National Emergency Management Agency (NEMA), the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) and Fire Service working for days had garnered little success until the coming of divers from Taraba State who located the submerged vehicle.

The old Azara Bridge, though under Jere Chiefdom in Kagarko Local Government Area of Kaduna State, borders Unguwan jibo in Kagarko and Azara community in Kachia LGA. The bridge is narrow and protected by plastic barrier since its initial guardrails gave way due to accidents, wear and tear and vandalism. This, however, has made Azara bridge ferocious and thirsty in recent years.

Motorists who ply the Kaduna-Abuja Highway say the bridge has claimed many lives and the river beneath it has over the years become the final resting place of several vehicles.

Nurudeen Mohammed, a commercial bus driver at the Mando moto park in Kaduna, told Daily Trust on Sunday that several motorists have pencilled down the Azara Bridge and another bridge before Rijana as two of the deadliest accident spots along the highway.

Mohammed, who commutes passengers from Kaduna to Lagos, said the Azara Bridge is best nicknamed ‘killer bridge’, adding that most commercial drivers have mastered the art of caution while approaching it. “The bridge is narrow and has no barrier but some plastic slabs, the road also gets slippery when it rains. That spot has been a source of concern for every motorist plying the Kaduna-Abuja Highway,” Mohammed said.

He said most commercial drivers have experience with the road because it is their usual route but unfortunately, private drivers especially those new to the axis may not know of the danger ahead.

“A truck and a compact vehicle cannot pass through side-by-side because the bridge is narrow, one vehicle has to trail behind the other which means it is dangerous to attempt to overtake on the bridge and your level of concentration must be at its peak,” he said.

Also, Malam Idris Alhaji Altine who conveys newspapers from Abuja to Kaduna and Kano states, said being constantly on the road, the Azara Bridge has over the years become known as a death trap for motorists. Altine said the bridge used to have iron barriers but over time, the barriers gave way due to wear and tear, and accidents by large trucks.

“Just three weeks ago, I was passing through and I saw some people around bridge. I was later told a vehicle fell off. About 10 years ago, a director in the oil and gas industry, his son and driver fell off the bridge and it took days before their corpses were discovered.

“During the search and recovery, about four other vehicles including a J5 were recovered from the body of water under the bridge. This is because sometimes accidents happen at night and people may not know,” he said.

He however said another dangerous bridge is the one around Rijana that has claimed many lives, adding that the side of Rijana bridge when traveling to Abuja from Kaduna has no barrier while the other lane of the bridge when returning to Kaduna has deadly potholes.

Speaking however on the Azara Bridge, the Kaduna State Sector Commander of the FRSC, Hafiz Mohammed, confirmed that most of the barrier were missing which led to the use of plastic barriers. Mohammed said bridges usually have guard rails or barriers, adding that in the past, iron barriers have been used on bridges then came a time when aluminium barriers and concrete barriers were being used. “But today, we are talking about forgiving roads; a concept that minimizes the harm and consequences of traffic accident on the vehicle and the occupant. So, recent engineering technology on roads is looking at forgiven roads instead of aluminium or concrete barriers, there are plastic barriers that bounce.”

“If a vehicle hits it, it is supposed to bounce back, however, in the latest accident of August 11, 2021, when the Landcruiser jeep hit one of those plastic barriers, instead of bouncing back, it tumbled over and plunged into the river,” he said.

He confirmed that local divers from Ibbi in Taraba State had been invited to locate the vehicle’s resting place in the river. “They tied some rope around it and a crane was brought to pull it out and the two bodies were recovered dead and later on the vehicle was also pulled out.”

The state sector commander however said he had made a report to the engineer from the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing in charge of the road for temporary measures to be taken, adding that concrete barriers have now been placed on the bridge.

Assistant Director Highways under the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, Engineer Usman Yakubu, said from inception, the bridge had guardrails but after they were vandalized, the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA) put the plastic barriers, to warn approaching motorists.

Engineer Yakubu, who is also the Engineer’s Representative on section 1 of Abuja-Kaduna-Zaria-Kano road, said some of the plastic barriers had been knocked into the river and after the road project was awarded, the barriers had been painted and placed on the bridges to alert approaching vehicles.

He said with the ongoing road expansion, the bridges along the highway would either have to be expanded or dismantle to make way for new ones that will match with the weight of the new carriage way. He however said this is not part of the current contract.

“Some of the bridges even have structural defects, like that one in Azara, because of the activity of the people that are taking sand from the river, the foundation of the bridge is exposed but because of the high level of water you cannot see it now. So eventually, there may be a new contract for the bridges, we may need to dismantle them and have new ones.”

Eng. Yakubu said warning signs will also be made for motorist to know they are approaching the bridge. On the other bridges near Rijana, Eng Yakubu said the contractors have been instructed to look at bridges with same challenge, so that concrete barriers can also be placed for remedial measure.

“These are temporary measures,” he said, adding that when the project is done, the bridge will be fitted with modern safety designs to guarantee safer movement across it,” he said.

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