Abuja — The Federal Government yesterday rekindled hopes in the construction of the second bridge across the River Niger, linking Delta and Anambra States.
It said that feasibility studies and procurement processes had commenced while the ground breaking ceremony to formally flag off the construction of the bridge will take place by the end of the first quarter of next year.
The revelation came as the Senate yesterday demanded that the East-West Road be transferred back to the Federal Ministry of Works, because of the challenges which it said was retarding the completion of the project after several years
Minister of Works, Mr. Mike Onolememen, broke the news yesterday at a budget defence session with the House Committee on Works.
The announcement came same day the House of Representatives asked the Federal Government to declare a state of emergency on "all neglected federal roads" in the country and ensure that they were repaired urgently.
It also asked the Federal Ministry of Works to urgently rehabilitate the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway to save motorists and commuters from the agony of plying that road.
Onolememen disclosed that the Transaction Advisor on the second Niger Bridge has since commenced work have done a lot of initial studies and produced an inception report.
"They have even gone ahead to develop documentation of request for proposals that was sent to the different consortia who have expressed interest in this project.
"It is a unique form of PPP where the Federal Government is taking up thirty per cent equity and the consortium will be responsible for 70 per cent.
"As we speak, the request for proposals has been issued to the would be concessionaire and by 17th of December they will turn in their detailed proposals which will be analysed and at the end of which we will have a preferred concessionaire. Beyond that the programme has been planned in such a way that by end of the first quarter of 2013 there will be a ground breaking for the second Niger Bridge," he said.
Onolememen, who spoke to newsmen shortly after his interaction with the lawmakers described the entire budget defence exercise as " very interesting," saying it afforded the legislators to know what is happening on all road projects across the country and the challenges facing the Federal Ministry of Works.
He said both the executive and legislature had a responsibility to ensure that road infrastructure were properly developed and managed in the country.
Onolememen said there was no doubt that but for the road infrastructure the economy would have grounded to a halt in the absence of rail and water transportation. "We have a responsibility to fix the deplorable roads across the country so that they can better support the nations economy.
"We have looked issues of funding challenges. In fact the executive arm of government is already looking at ways of front loading the Federal Ministry of Works in order to drive our infrastructure project to quick completion and when you do that you would not have the need to augment projects and needless wastage of public funds would be averted,"he said.
In a resolution adopted by the House at plenary yesterday, the lawmakers urged the government to "execute the previous contracts awarded over the years on the Owerri-Aba-Ikot-Ekpene Road and other federal roads in Abia State.
The resolution followed a motion on the "Agony of Travelling on Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway and other Federal Roads in Abia State" sponsored by the Chairman, House Committee on Public Petitions, Hon. Uzo Azubuike, and six other lawmakers.
In the lead debate, Azubuike said the 9th Mile-Enugu-Port Harcourt Road and the Aba-Owerri-Ikot-Ekpene Road received only N396 million and N136.5 million budgetary allocations respectively in 2012.
He expressed concern that the road has degenerated to a level where travellers from Enugu to Port Harcourt are now forced to ply the Okigwe-Isukwuato-Umuahia-Ogborhill-Aba route to avoid the huge craters on the collapsed road.
He recalled that the state of the road prompted the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA), Abia State branch, in September 2012 to embark on a protest against the neglect of federal roads in Abia State.
Meanwhile, the suggestion to have the East-West Road transferred back to the Federal Ministry of Works, emanated from Minister of Niger Delta Affairs, Godsday Orubebe, who said the road is increasingly becoming overwhelming for his ministry as it was eating deep into the financial status of the ministry at choking point.
Orubebe, however, expressed optimism that with additional funding from Federal Government's SURE-P initiative, the ministry will meet its 2014 completion deadline.
According to him, the recent flooding across the country and long period of the raining season this year has not helped matters.
The minister made the disclosure in its 2013 budget defence, before the Senate Committee on Niger Delta stated, that the Ministry has an outstanding liability of capital projects to the tune of N30,836,932,001.34 billion.
He added that the Niger Delta Ministry will have no other option than to stop ongoing capital projects if funds were not adequately provided.
The challenges notwithstanding, Orubebe said: "Though there are challenges on some of the projects especially on the East-West Road, we would meet our December 2014 set deadline."
He added: "You may recall that the National Assembly appropriated the sum of N59.2 billion as capital allocation to the ministry for the year out of which the sum of N41.15 billion has so far been released leaving a balance of N18.05 billion."
According to him, the ministry plans to spend a total budget of N63,415,284,959 next year made up of N61 billion and N2,415,284,959 as capital and recurrent expenditures respectively, even as N1,475,169,908 had been proposed as overhead expenditure for 2013, adding that the proposed amount was grossly inadequate to run the headquarter and nine State offices in the region.
He also told the senators that out of the total releases amounting to N41.15 billion in 2012 budget, the sum of N40.4 billion had been expended representing 95 per cent.
Orubebe stressed that inadequate funding may also lead to derailment of the programme of engagement of Youths/Women of the Niger Delta region who have very high expectations that the ministry will empower them through skill acquisition programmes.
Senator George Sekibo, PDP, Rivers East who spoke urged the minister to concentrate on major gigantic projects rather on skills acquisition, adding that the ministry was misplacing its priorities.
Deputy Senate Leader, Abdul Ningi, representing Bauchi Central senatorial district said there was need for the ministry to effect developmental transformation in the region against the backdrop that the people were yearning for massive transformation and growth, just as he called for synergy between the Ministry, Amnesty Programme and the NDDC, adding that he observed very strong rivalry among the various agencies in the region.
Senator Ita Enang, Akwa Ibom North East senatorial district, however called for even distribution of projects in the zone especially against the backdrop that Akwa Ibom and Cross River States were highly marginalised.
The chairman Senate Committee on Niger Delta, Senator James Manager in his closing remarks, mandated that there was imminent crisis ahead if effort was not made to cater for militants abroad on training.