After years of agitation for a second Niger bridge, President Goodluck Jonathan Monday laid the foundation of the bridge which cost is put at N117,860,700 billion.
President Jonathan declared at the ground-breaking ceremony of the project that when completed, the bridge would boost the economy of South-eastern states as well as other states the bridge will connect.
The president at the ceremony in Onitsha, Anambra State said the project was being executed under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement for a concession period of 25 years precisely, through a 'Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT)' model.
The federal government, according to Jonathan would provide incgts share of the project put at N40 billion. He expressed confidence in the capacity and competence of the concessionaire, Messrs Julius Berger-NSIA Consortium, to deliver on the project. "This project has been programmed in strict compliance with the Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission Act, and the Public Procurement Act. No stone has been left unturned in ensuring the success of the project, considering the several unsuccessful attempts by past administrations to deliver this vital bridge.
"On completion, this bridge, which is being constructed almost 50 years after the existing bridge opened to traffic, will alleviate the pains experienced by travellers as a result of congestion of the old bridge, particularly during festive periods. It will massively improve road transportation in the South-east of Nigeria, and also reduce travel times substantially, in this part of the country" Jonathan said.
The president recalled his electoral campaigns in 2011, when he promised the people of the South-east that if elected president, he would ensure that the 2nd River Niger Bridge is constructed.
He noted that the ground-breaking of the bridge was in fulfillment of his promise.
The president further noted that "as part of our administration's Transformation Agenda in the road sector, we have set out to construct two very important new bridges across our nation's two great rivers - the River Niger and River Benue. These are the Loko-Oweto bridge linking Nassarawa and Benue States, which is progressing satisfactorily, and this 2nd Niger Bridge, connecting Anambra and Delta States. "The 2nd Niger Bridge, whose foundation we are laying today, represents a strategic national infrastructure, with great socio-economic prospects for the contiguous states, and indeed, for the entire nation. It is an important economic artery that will connect the great markets of Onitsha and Aba, as well as the industrial hub of Nnewi and beyond, to both the northern and southern parts of our country."
To facilitate timely delivery, Jonathan disclosed that the federal government had made a commitment to contribute 25 per cent of the construction cost, in the sum of N30 billion.
He commended Governor Peter Obi of Anambra State and Governor Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta State, as well as all the people and host communities, for their patience, understanding, support and cooperation in the realisation of the commencement of the project.
He stressed that in commemoration of the nation's centenary, the bridge would deepen national integration and enhance economic and social interaction among other parts of the country and the South-east. "Next week in Abuja, I shall be inaugurating the National Conference, and it seems appropriate that this bridge, and the Conference, two major emblems of National cohesion, are being inaugurated within the same period. I would like to assure you all that every effort will be made to ensure that this 2nd Niger Bridge is delivered," Jonathan added.
Also speaking at the ceremony, the Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, noted that the 1,590 metres long bridge formed part of a 11.90 km length project.
He said: "The 2nd Niger Bridge is being realised under the Public Private Partnership model. The Special Purpose Vehicle (SPV) will be jointly owned by Julius Berger-Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) Consortium and Federal Government of Nigeria (FGN). "As obtainable under the PPP model, the concessionaire will have the right to charge tolls for the use of the new 2nd Niger Bridge as well as have full commercial rights on the project's Right of Way (ROW)."
He said this would be implemented within the framework of the federal government National Policy on Public Private Partnership and Federal Roads and Bridges Tolling Policy.
The existing Niger Bridge is to become the non-tolled alternative route for local traffic between Asaba and Onitsha.
He said the concessionaire, Messrs Julius Berger-Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (JB-NSIA) Consortium, would immediately commence the construction of the bridge with such tasks as site clearance, earthworks and road works, main bridge construction (piling works), secondary bridges (Atani Bridge construction), infrastructure (soil storm water system), temporary earthworks and road works (including Asaba Access road).
The bridge, Onolememen said, is located 1.7km downstream of the existing bridge on a new alignment and consists of two equal end spans of 40m, 15 equal intermediate spans of 55m each and two intermediate spans of 90m each, three navigational spans of 150m each and that it shall have a three-lane carriageway in each direction.
He said there would be the construction of two by-passes to the 2nd Niger Bridge.
The first by-pass, he said, would be a connecting dual-carriageway from Benin-Asaba Expressway by-passing Asaba and its airport to link the 2nd Niger bridge, while the second by-pass would also be a connecting dual-carriageway from Onitsha-Enugu Expressway to Onitsha-Owerri Expressway.
Meanwhile in discountenancing politics, former Vice-President Atiku Abubakar, yesterday commended President Jonathan for eventually rising to the occasion of commencing work on the bridge.
He commended Jonathan in Nsukka while presenting the keynote address at the 16th annual conference of African Council for Communication Education (ACCE), entitled "Communication, Children and the Youth in the 21st century", hosted by the Department of Mass Communication, University of Nigeria, Nsukka.
Atiku however noted that in view of the promises made during the electioneering of the president by 2011, the bridge ought to have been completed by now and not a mere foundation laying of construction works.
Atiku urged participants at the ACCE conference to find solutions to how best to ensure that 10 million out-of-school children returned to school.
"The participants should also seek solution to the high rate of unemployment facing youths in the country," he said.
He tasked the media on content that would promote the Nigerian economy, which, he said, has diverse sources of revenue and employment generation. "We don't have to depend just on oil, but on agriculture, solid minerals, manufacturing and services," Atiku stated.
He further charged the federal government to focus on setting regulatory standards and insist on implementing these standards.
"It will save cost as well as make it easier in management if federal schools were handed over to the states," he said.
Excited by the commencement of work on the bridge project, members of Ndigbo Cultural Society of Nigeria (NCSN) have lauded the efforts of the president at constructing the bridge.
President, NCSN, Chief Udo Udeogaranya, expressed profound gratitude to Jonathan for the ground-breaking event, reiterating that when completed, it would enhance economic activities in Igboland.
"The president has redefined himself as a man with exceptional integrity, striding on golden characters of dedication, devotion, allegiance, loyalty and total commitment to public service and a believer in a promise made is a promise fulfilled," the Ndigbo group stated.
He therefore declared that because Jonathan had kept his campaign promise to perform the ground-breaking ceremony, the Igbos would massively vote for him in the 2015 presidential election.
"As a result of this, Ndigbo Cultural Society of Nigeria(NCSN)guarantees my president our block vote come 2015," he said.
Ahead of the completion of the bridge, Governor Uduaghan has called on the federal government to rename the second Niger bridge, but failed to suggest a name.
The governor, who spoke during the ground-breaking ceremony, said the bridge was significant and important not just for Delta and Anambra States, but for the entire country.
While commending the president for the courage in laying the foundation of the project, Uduaghan promised the support and cooperation of the Delta State Government to ensure that the project was completed on schedule without hitches.