THE FIRST NIGER BRIDGE
The River Niger Bridge in Onitsha is also known as the Onitsha Bridge, and it is located in Anambra State, Nigeria. The Bridge connects southeastern Nigeria with western Nigeria over the Niger River. It is linked to Asaba in Delta State, Nigeria.
The Feasibility studies and design considerations on the possibility of constructing a bridge across River Niger from Asaba to Onitsha were carried out by the Netherlands Engineering Consultants of The Hague, Holland (NEDECO) in the 1950s, Between 1964 and 1965.
The French construction giant, Dumez, had constructed the Niger Bridge, to link Onitsha and Asaba in present-day Anambra and Delta States respectively, at an estimated cost of £6.75 million. The Construction of the bridge was completed in December 1965.
After its completion, the bridge was eight by four hundred and twenty feet (8×420 ft.), with a carriageway of 36 feet centre-truss and a pedestrian walkway on both sides of the carriageway. The bridge was also commissioned by the then Prime Minister, the late Alhaji Tafawa Balewa and opened for traffic in December 1965. §The bridge’s commissioning was the prime minister’s last public function before he was assassinated on the 15th of January, 1966.
During the Nigerian Civil War of 1967 to 1970, in an attempt to halt the Nigerian military advance, retreating Biafran soldiers meant destroying the River Niger Bridge at Onitsha, therefore, trapping the Nigerians on the other side of the river.
Forward to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan administration, the bridge was rehabilitated by replacing two spans on the Onitsha end of the bridge damaged during the civil war with a fourteen-foot wide bailey an estimated cost of 1.5 million pounds.
THE SECOND NIGER BRIDGE
The Second Niger bridge is set to be a Nigerian Federal Government project that is 1.6 km (0.99 mi) long and also planned to be furnished with other ancillary infrastructure including a 10.3 km (6.4 mi) highway, Owerri interchange and a toll station are part of the plan, as it is expected to be completed in the year 2022. The bridge was initiated under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration and is being sustained by President Muhammadu Buhari.
The bridge is being constructed across Nigeria’s Niger River, and it will span from Asaba to Ozubulu and Ogbaru areas. Meanwhile, the project is being developed through a public, private partnership (PPP) which involves Julius Berger.
The Second Niger Bridge was initially proposed during the 1978/79 political campaign by then-candidate Shehu Shagari of Nigeria’s National Party (NPN).
In 1987, after warning about the state of the existing River Niger Bridge by the then Minister for Works and Housing Abubakar Umar, General Ibrahim Babangida had challenged the local engineers to design The Second Niger Bridge, and in rising to the challenge, The Nigerian Society of Engineers called NSE Prems Limited, which subsequently delivered a masterplan. The addition of the east-west railway line to the project, unfortunately, the turmoil that precipitated the end of Babangida’s administration stalled the plan.
Under the subsequent military governments, the project of the second Niger bridge received little attention. However, President Olusegun Obasanjo promised to deliver a second Niger River bridge upon returning to civilian rule. It so happens that his administration did not carry out any significant activity on the project until five days before he handed over to the then-incoming administration of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua when Obasanjo flagged off the project in Asaba.
The Late Yar’Adua administration effectively inherited a ₦58.6 billion proposed cost for a six-lane, with 1.8 km tolled bridge, which was to be completed in three-and-half years. The bridge was to be financed under a public, private partnership (PPP) with 60 per cent of the funding coming from the contractor, Gitto Group; then 20 per cent from the Federal Government of Nigeria, and 10 per cent from the Anambra and Delta State Governments. But unfortunately, the subsequent death of President Yar’adua marred the progress of the said project.
However, in August 2012, the Federal Executive Council under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan’s administration had approved a contract worth ₦325 million for the bridge’s final planning and design.
During the 2011 Nigerian general election campaign period, Jonathan had promised that if he were elected, he would deliver the project before the end of his term in 2015. At an Onitsha town hall meeting on August 30, 2012, he went as far as promising to go into exile if he did not deliver on the project by 2015. The rigmarole continued under the President Muhammadu Buhari administration, who first cancelled the earlier contract in August 2015.
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