Beyond the second Niger Bridge

It is heart-warming that the Federal Government has decided to commence work on the construction of the second Niger Bridge with the foundation laying ceremony performed in Onitsha recently.

At the ceremony, President Goodluck Jonathan assured Nigerians that the project would be completed on schedule and would alleviate the harrowing experiences users of the old Niger Bridge had been subjected to during the past decades.

Moreover, the President noted categorically that the new bridge will stimulate the economy of the south eastern states and national integration.

The federal administration should be commended for this bold and patriotic step in embarking on a project that will add a lot of value to the national economy.

It also gladdens the mind that the Federal Government, in designing the bridge, introduced some salient features that will prevent the occurrence of congestion on the new Niger Bridge by making provision for the construction of two by-passes to link the bridge.

The first, according to the Minister of Works, Mike Onolemem, is a dual carriageway from Benin – Asaba Expressway that will bypass Asaba and the Asaba Airport, then to the new bridge.

The second by-pass, the Minister said, would be another dual carriageway from Onitsha-Enugu Expressway to Onitsha – Owerri Expressway.

The construction of this bridge came at a time when the country is aspiring to achieve inter-modality.  It is important for all the tiers of government to work in concert to promote water transportation that has not been given the desired attention. At this juncture, it is germane to draw the attention of the governments that Onitsha market remains critical to many communities along the west and east banks of River Niger, downstream Onitsha.

Unfortunately, many of these communities cannot access Onitsha easily either by road or by river except the River Niger is fully dredged from Onitsha downstream the Niger. Also, the creeks and other tributaries of the Niger have to be made navigable all year round. This is an urgent assignment for the contiguous states of Anambra, Rivers, Delta and Bayelsa that have long standing commercial links with Onitsha. The neglect of water transportation since the end of the Nigeria civil war had stagnated the economies of these coastal communities. It will be recalled that Onitsha has been a collecting centre for the farm products of these coastal communities and with the commissioning of the Onitsha River port; it will fully resume its role as the economic hub of the Eastern States.

If the government is truly desirous of promoting multi-modal transportation, there must be even development of all modes of transport namely air, rail, water and land. As it is today, the developments in the transport sector and resource allocation are skewed in favour of road sector. This has been on since the early 1970s, leading to the crippling of both the rail and water transport sectors. This also impacts negatively on the roads as the roads are often damaged and hampering free flow of traffic.

The entire Niger area and the South Eastern States were integrated by the numerous rivers criss-crossing the region thereby making trade to flourish. The River Benue and other rivers in the north played similar roles. Both the rail and water transport sectors played monumental roles in the evacuation of products – groundnuts, hides and skin etc to the ports of Lagos, Burutu  and Port Harcourt through the River Benue and Niger. Moreover, these products were conveyed from the Northern cities of Kano, Kaduna and Zaria to the ports by rail. This happened in the era when agriculture was the mainstay of Nigeria’s economy.

As the water and rail transport remain topical in the national plan, it is very important that the various tiers of government allocate copious resources for an aggressive development of these two transport modes for greater economic and social development of Nigeria.