Awka — AFTER many years of waiting and agitation by the people of South East, President Goodluck Jonathan, yesterday, laid the foundation stone for the construction of second Niger Bridge linking Asaba in Delta State with Onitsha in Anambra State.
At an impressive ceremony attended by people from all walks of life, including Governors Peter Obi of Anambra, Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta, Theodore Orji of Abia and Martin Elechi of Ebonyi, as well as ministers and members of the National Assembly, President Jonathan gave an assurance that the project would be completed on schedule and according to specifications.
The project is to be constructed by Julius Berger Plc.
In a speech punctuated by ovations and clapping from the mammoth crowd that witnessed the ceremony, President Jonathan said the second Niger Bridge was critical to his administration's resolve to improve the economic fortunes of the country, describing it as a fulfillment of one of his campaign promises.
According to him, he chose to perform the ground-breaking ceremony before the exit of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State whose eight-year tenure would end next week because of the governor's unrelenting efforts to ensure the project was realised.
He said: "It is my resolve and that of my administration to ensure that this unity bridge is built to connect Asaba and Onitsha. I want to urge the governors of Anambra and Delta states to ensure that the project is built on time and according to specification."
Minister for Works, Mr. Mike Onolemenen, said the project, as part of the transformation agenda of Mr. President, was to improve the infrastructural and socio-economic activities of the nation.
The minister explained that the Federal Government would execute the project under the Public Private Partnership, PPP, arrangement for a concessional period of 25 years through Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer, DPFOT, model.
The Second Niger Bridge, he explained, was 1,590 metres long and forms part of the 11.90 km length project which construction cost was put at N117, 860, 700, 741. 82 vat inclusive.
According to him, the construction will be completed within 48 months.
Also speaking, chairman of South East Governors' Forum and Governor of Abia State, Chief Theodore Orji, said that with the latest development, President Jonathan had shown that the South East was of great importance in the Nigerian project.
Orji observed that the bridge, which will serve as a gate-way to the southern part of Nigeria, would also boost economic activities of the people and solve the problem of loss of man-hours being spent on the existing Niger Bridge which often experienced excruciating traffic.
Describing the project as a dream come true, the Deputy Senate President, Senator Ike Ekweremadu, extolled the leadership qualities of President Jonathan, adding that he had demonstrated an uncommon love for Ndigbo and Nigeria at large by the commencement of the construction of the bridge.
Chairman, Senate Committee on Works, Senator Ayogu Eze, said the Senate would ensure proper oversight function to ensure that the project was delivered according to specifications.
He noted that Igbo had fully been re-integrated into the nation with the emergence of President Jonathan, who appointed Igbo people into very sensitive positions which they never occupied since the end of the Nigerian civil war.
The ceremony virtually brought business activities to a halt in Onitsha as many traders locked up their shops to witness the ceremony.
Some of them who wanted to really show gratitude to the president in form of organizing a carnival for him were however disappointed because of heavy security in Onitsha yesterday.
Apart from the four governors, other personalities that attended the ceremony include the Deputy Governor of Enugu State, Chief Sunday Onyebuchi, coordinating Minister for Economy and Minister of Finance, Mrs. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, information minister, Mr. Labaram Maku, minister of state for education, Chief Nyeasom Wike, Senators, Ayogu Eze, Ken Nnamani, Andy Uba and Joy Emodi and Deputy Speaker House of Representatives, Chief Emeka Ihedioha.