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‘Truth about Onitsha Bridge will emerge end of dry season’

The existing River Niger Bridge in Onitsha also known as the Onitsha Bridge connects south-eastern Nigeria with western Nigeria. The bridge built at the cost…

The existing River Niger Bridge in Onitsha also known as the Onitsha Bridge connects south-eastern Nigeria with western Nigeria. The bridge built at the cost of £5 million links to Asaba in Delta State. Construction works on this bridge were completed in December 1965. With the rise in population over the decades, the bridge has become a burden rather than a relief to the people. Now there is a great need for another bridge to complement this one. Last October, two persons died on the bridge, following a gridlock. A middle-aged man and a child were said to have died due to exhaustion arising from the long hours spent in their vehicles in the process of crossing the bridge.
Professor Ofoegbu said, “Well, I hope it’s not the same this time. That Niger Bridge has been a subject of politiking. Successive government have come, successive government have announced it. At a time it was said a consortium of Nigerian engineers and that…
“We’ve heard such stories over and over again. I hope this time it’s something very serious because the absence of that second bridge is not only costing lives, it’s costing man hours. Nobody has bothered to sit down and calculate the cost to the economy when about 100,000 people are stranded on a road for one week – standing at a point doing nothing. For every one hour wasted it’s a huge cost. Some of the people sitting in their cars, there are people whose man hour maybe as much as N1,000 an hour.
“The bridge has been so politicised. That bridge is one of the first built in this country with a purpose — to cut across River Niger. It has out-lived its usefulness. Unless you duplicate it, you’ll never find movement of humans and materials and business will never thrive in the south-east and there will never be a strong link

between the south-east, the mid-west and the south-west proper.
“Let’s see. The dry season will soon come to an end. If by the time the dry season ends no serious mobilisation to site has taken place, it becomes one of those political ambitions again.”
He denied that the construction of the bridge will affect the existing one saying drilling technology is quite advanced for the job. He said with controlled drilling, one can excise an existing house, put up another house within five meters. He advised that the contract should be awarded to the right people and there should be qualified supervision.
He said the new bridge must be located in such a way that it complements the existing one. If it is built far away from the existing one, motorists cannot turn around and and use it and the purpose is defeated.
He observed that apart from this new bridge, this is the right time to have a rail line so high tonnage load are carried on the train. “If we have proper rail lines, there will be no need for tankers plying the roads with fuel and burning people,” he said.
The professor spoke on the general problems with road construction in Nigeria. “We don’t have flexible and non flexible roads. We don’t distinguish between the weight, the load, the purpose of the road. This is a road that is supposed to take basic light vehicle load. The concept and designs are different.
“Maybe because you want to gain popularity, the important thing is the people have seen a pavement done, they drive the first year, they clap for you – the governor has done this – within six months we start seeing potholes. Some roads built by the British people – the road between Abakiliki and Enugu, between Kano and Kaduna, between Orji river and Enugu and Onitsha – go through the old roads, find out who has retouched them. Some of these roads were done in the 50s. They may not be very wide but that one-lane or two-lane is solid.
“They have chopped off but whatever you see of those roads is solid construction. Now, look at our road failure. A road fails because from point one, nobody takes into account the weather, the geology and the environment.
“Drive between Gboko and Wukari; Mutum Biyu to Yola. You’ll see the roads are peeling off. They’re exfoliating. The temperatures change drastically and the roads exfoliate. You can design a road to withstand this variable temperature regime—hot and cold making provision for the accommodation of expansion, contraction and changes in temperature. The same design of road between Makurdi and Abuja is assumed to be suitable for design of a road between Makurdi and Yola!
“Drive from Port Harcourt to Warri, despite the billions of naira and dollars spent on it, it continues to fail. Did anybody take into account the known geological history of the Niger Delta? One problem with the so-called Niger Delta road is that everywhere you have a tributory, no matter how tiny it is, a tiny tributory of this buried river channel, if you disturb it, it buckles.
“Drive from Port Harcourt to Warri, all those places you have failure, there are streams at regular intervals. When you want to build such a road, from images studies, geological studies identify where you have these river channels. Once you disturb something in the equilibrium, obviously, you cause problem. Even if it means excavating such places and establishing bridges which is what they’re doing now, must we wait until lives are lost, millions [of naira]wasted before we begin to do things the proper way?
“Every two years, somebody goes, says I’m patching up this place, they pour a bit of asphalt or smoothen it on top of river channel that is sinking. After the rainy seasoning, it collapses,” Ofoegbu explained.
He said routine monitoring of road works no longer takes place because a director is in the airconditioned office in Abuja. An engineer from the federal ministry of works may want to go to the field but the vehicle that suits the terrain is not available.
He suggested the bringing back of road gangs. FERMA, he sad was established to be and advanced version of road maintenance camps and gangs but it has become a contract awarding agency – contracts are awarded rather ther than establishing permanent infrastructure for sustainable maintenance of the roads.  
If the new bridge is built, apparently, people going to Aba, Owerri, Port Harcourt, Asaba will benefit. Construction works will last 48 months. 

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