The Second Niger Bridge facts and figures

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THE recent statement by H.E. Governor Adams Oshiomhole of Edo State to the effect that the Second Niger Bridge has gulped N140 billion in consultancy services is misleading; the facts prove otherwise. How could a project whose total cost is put at N108 billion spend N140 billion in consultancy alone? Unfortunately, the statement has raised much dust and is capable of putting Nigeria in bad light. By giving the erroneous impression that corruption has crept into the newly conceived mega bridge project, the international community, especially, willing investors in the project, could be scared away, which is not in our national interest.

Governor Oshiomhole is a highly respected comrade governor whose statements carry weight. It is regrettable that such unpatriotic statement was attributed to him, which might need recanting or clarification. The former Minister of Works, Mike Onolememen, under whose tenure the project was conceived, has debunked Oshiomhole’s statement and challenged him to substantiate his claim.

Oshiomhole is not alone in making speculative statements about a bridge, whose preliminary construction work began barely four months ago, precisely in May, 2015. The rumour mill is awash with all kinds of speculations. The South-East Zone, whose patriotic instinct fires their zeal, appears to be the most agitated. I would like to stress from the outset that the Second Niger Bridge is not an Igbo project. A bridge that equally bestrides Anambra State at Onitsha and Delta State at Asaba cannot belong to the Igbo alone.  I, therefore, can’t understand why only the Igbo appear to be too forward about the bridge. Everybody should be calm and stop politicizing the bridge that would, in other climes, go unannounced until it is completed. The other day, China commissioned the world’s longest bridge measuring 42.4 kilometres. Nobody heard about it while it was under construction.

For example, while the Ohaneze Ndigbo, the other day, reportedly warned President Muhammadu Buhari not to stop work on the Second Niger Bridge; the Aka Ikenga also issued a statement condemning the cessation of work on the bridge. Earlier on, the Ohaneze Caretaker Committee had lamented that former President Goodluck Jonathan “lied to Ndigbo about awarding contract for the construction of Second Niger Bridge”. My fear is that these statements could derail the bridge project rather than enhance it. An attempt to establish the truth led me to investigate the bridge project.

The truth is that the bridge does not serve the South-East more than it serves the South-South and South-West that have direct link to it. I am afraid that if this bridge is branded an Igbo project, it would be treated like everything belonging to the Igbo. The bridge should be left to the Federal Government and the international investors to realise the project.

The first Onitsha-Asaba Niger Bridge was completed in December 1965. Built by the French construction giant Dumez, the bridge linked the defunct Eastern and Western regions of Nigeria. Today, it is the major corridor of trade between the South-East, South-South, South-West and North-Central zones. At the time the bridge was conceived, Nigeria was mainly an agrarian economy. Thus, the bridge served as the avenue for transporting different agricultural products – palm produce, timber, rubber, etc. Prior to the construction of the bridge, these commodities were ferried across the River Niger between Onitsha and Asaba using canoes.

Owing to rapid economic development and population growth, pressure began to mount on the bridge, especially during festive periods. The bridge has been overstretched beyond its capacity. There is apprehension that the bridge might collapse with catastrophic consequences to lives and property. To forestall such disaster, the idea of a Second Niger Bridge was conceived.

The Second Niger Bridge was on the drawing board for many decades. Successive administrations in the country paid lip service to its construction. It was President Goodluck Jonathan that flagged off the construction of the bridge and actual work started. To that extent, it is wrong to accuse Jonathan of lying to Ndigbo about the bridge. Jonathan thought that he would win a second term during which he could complete the bridge. But he lost the election. The history of the bridge cannot be written without mentioning him.

The truth is that work has commenced on the Second Niger Bridge and is progressing. The project, which is divided into three phases, will bypass Onitsha and Asaba to connect the Owerri-Onitsha Expressway at Nkwerre-Ezunaka, and then cross Atani to the Asaba-Benin Expressway at Okpanam with a total length of 44 kilometres. With this length, the Second Niger Bridge will surpass the world’s longest bridge in China (42.4km), to become the world’s longest bridge!

The project is being constructed under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. A  Consortium JB-NSIA, is working on the project on the basis of Design, Build, Finance, Operate and Transfer (DBFOT), at a total cost of N108 billion. The Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) reviewed the concessionaire’s cost of N138 billion down to N108 billion. The project phases will be constructed under Engineering, Procurement and Construction contracts awarded by the Federal Ministry of Works (FMW).

The Federal Government committed to contribute N30 billion (28%) of the project cost. The remaining 72% will be raised by the Consortium under a 25-year concession. The Federal Government has so far committed N18.31billion. Out of this, N10.4 billion has been disbursed leaving a balance of N7.94 billion. A team of local and international consultants was engaged through a rigorous and competitive procurement process. The NSIA has spent the sum of $2.21 million on consultancy and another $247,586 on due diligence to determine project viability. The first-class advisory services are required to enable the project reach financial close – the point at which private capital is successfully raised.

Based on reliable information, work has not stopped on the bridge. It could be said that work has slowed down because of the rainy season that naturally stalls engineering construction work. Preliminary physical works have been completed. By December 2015, the final phase of the early works will be completed. The Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) is being done to meet the highest international standards to make the project eligible for long-term financing by local and international financial institutions. The Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission (ICRC) is reviewing the Full Business Case (FBC) and Draft Concession Agreement (CA). Once the ICRC approves the FBC, the CA will be signed and the Consortium will then raise the remainder of the project capital.

President Buhari has stopped work on the project. It is in the country’s interest to hold onto this project because any review will definitely raise the cost owing to the depreciation of the naira. The cost of the project was reached at the exchange of N154/$. Now the naira exchanges at N197/$. I can appreciate that Nigerians want to see a second bridge across the River Niger. People should calm down. The bridge project has a development and completion time-frame four years from financial close – point at which private capital is successfully raised. This point has not reached, meaning that count down for the bridge is yet to start.

Culled from: http://www.ngrguardiannews.com/2015/09/the-second-niger-bridge-facts-and-figures/

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