The Nigerian government on Wednesday secured the vital pledge for support from host communities bordering the N220bn Second Niger Bridge, to guarantee the successful completion of construction on or before the scheduled February 2022 deadline.
The bridge is a new construction of an 11.9 kilometres long, double three-lane highway designed to connect Asaba and Onitsha in Delta and Anambra States.
A federal government project executed under the Presidential Infrastructural Development Plan (PIDP), the construction of the bridge is funded by the three tiers of government through the Nigeria Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA), in collaboration with private investors.
PIDP is an initiative of the present administration to accelerate the execution of critical, strategic infrastructure projects necessary to drive the rapid growth and modernization of Nigeria's economy.
Although the contract was awarded to Julius Berger PLC in October 2016 and construction work commenced in November 2017, progress has been slow due to a combination of issues, including funding.
On Wednesday, the Managing Director/Chief Executive of NSIA, Uche Orji, said at the palace of the Obi of Onitsha, Nnaemeka Achebe, that the government believed the second Niger Bridge is one of the strategic projects under PIDP vital to the transformation and development of the country's South-East region and beyond.
Mr Orji said he was visiting the royal majesty to pay his respects as part of his official visit to Anambra State to assess the level of progress on the execution of some of the ongoing PIPD projects.
The NSIA boss assured the paramount ruler and the entire people of the region the federal government was committed to ensuring adequate funding of the bridge project to its completion, in view of its strategic importance to the growth of the country's economy.
"We (NSIA) want to assure you, Your Royal Highness, of steady availability of funding for the completion of the 2nd Niger Bridge by February 2022. The federal government sees the completion of this bridge as the key to unlock the growth and economic development of the entire South-East region.
"That is why we solicit the complete support and cooperation with the government of the host communities on both sides of the bridge to provide a peaceful environment to ensure the completion of the project on schedule," Mr Orji said.
He identified the other four projects funded by the NSIA under the PIDP to include the rehabilitation, reconstruction and expansion of the 127km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, to connect the country's northern region, and the modernization of 370 km Abuja - Kano Expressway.
The other projects include the construction of the 3,050 megawatts (MW) hydroelectric power project in Sarduana Local Government of Taraba State, and the construction of 30km dual-carriage East West Road from Oron in Akwa Ibom through to Calabar in Cross River.
"These five projects are critical to the economic development and advancement of not only the South-East region but the entire country's economic growth," he said.
He said funding for these projects has been structured deliberately to eliminate risks attributable to cost variation, to guarantee their speedy implementation and timely completion to deliver value to the people.
According to him, on completion, the bridge would operate on a tolling system to enable NSIA repay the money injected by investors in financing its construction.
In his response, Igwe Achebe expressed gratitude to the president, Muhammadu Buhari and his administration for the commitment to see to the completion of the project after years of promises by previous administrations.
The royal father said the people of the region believe the completion of the bridge would positively impact their economic and social life.
In pledging the full support of the host communities bordering the project, Ìgwè Achebe urged the contractors, especially Julius Berger to ensure more employment opportunities were given to indigenes of the area in the course of the project execution.
In his remarks, the project director, Freidrich Josef Weiser, said the current execution status of the project is at about 16 percent completion stage.
Mr Weiser promised the commitment of Julius Berger to deploy its capacity to deliver the project in record time.
"We will work hard to deliver the project by end of February 2022," he said.
The Igwe, alongside members of his cabinet, later joined the NSIA team on a visit to the construction sites where he was given a full briefing on the project.