Anybody that has recently used the – as yet – lone bridge across the River Niger linking Delta and Anambra states, in the South South and South East geo-political zones of the country respectively, must have had cause to ponder its plight. The initial cause of concern must of necessity be the existence of well-fortified security checkpoints at either end of the bridge. Though they had always been there since the edifice’s construction, they needed those fortifications ever since its blockage by separatists hankering after the splintering of our beloved country. However, as good and fine as the intentions behind these checkpoints are to our national and individual existences, there are aspects of the actions of the security operatives manning the posts that need to be reviewed.
Most notable here are certain peculiar actions of these cadres that occasionally end up lulling traffic to and fro the bridge to a virtual standstill. These inevitable ‘hold ups’ almost always end up having heavy-leaden trucks trapped atop the bridge on end. In as much as the materials with which the bridge was constructed must have had the required strengths to hold forth in circumstances like that, they must have over time depreciated in proportions as the years rolled over. In situations, the number of these heavy-duty trucks straddling the bridge in pairs – going and coming – are so much that even the constructors of the bridge could never have envisaged its magnitude, let alone the rampancy of its repetition. Though some repair work has been carried out on the bridge in the past, experts have once more raised their voices concerning how long it can cope with the strain.
Aligned to this is the daily loss of working hours it costs the nation via the umpteen that forever trapped in these unavoidable ‘go slows’ that result as the logjams are cleared. Mostly affected are the many that live and work across the bridge. Notably, in the last decade many who work and trade in Onitsha were forced by high cost of land and rent to seek refuge in Asaba. Thus, these people who must of necessity cross the bridge daily to and from work most times end up either reporting late to work or returning late to their homes on account of these traffic gridlocks. So much is this that many have ended up passing many a night on the bridge.
Yet often taken for granted is the fact that also trapped in these logjams are people from, and heading to, destinations much farther than within the farthest reaches of the country. Indeed, vehicular traffic across the bridge includes those headed farther than the west and east coasts of Africa. While many are just passing by en route from different destinations, many are often patrons of the Onitsha Main Market – the biggest in West Africa – that sojourn from as far.
Most annoyingly, the situation is compounded the more by elements of the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) who have made the Onitsha end of the bridge their resident checkpoint. Days in and out, they block the free flow of traffic across the bridge as they seek motorists to take to their ramshackle office by the bridge where their officers oversee drumhead trials. Inevitably, the indicted are issued tickets that they must pay to retrieve their seized vehicles – even on weekends. Always, vehicles of their intended ‘victims’ parked at the mouth of the bridge end up causing more harm than good to the beleaguered bridge and the entrapped passengers in the stalled vehicles.
Of course, ever since the construction of another bridge linking the two states joined our national wish list, the subsisting bridge has come out the worse for it. This dates back to the 2nd Republic when the construction of a river port on the Onitsha side had adumbrated better times. In fact, talk as well as whisper of a 2nd Niger Bridge under the Obasanjo regime became so rife that many died hoping it had been constructed. What the then president having flagged it off at a rowdy ceremony before his third term bid? Under the Yar’adua/Jonathan interregnum it was to become a hoax that only died as it passed as silently as it had come following the latter’s defeat at the polls.
We at The Authority therefore find it most heartwarming that the present regime has joined the 2nd Niger Bridge queue with firmer promises than ever. However, before its conceptualization, we earnestly pray that the government does something about these little encumbrances that are short living the very life of the only one yet at hand. Yes, the sooner something is done about the incessant weight it has to bear day in and day out on account of lulled traffic on it, the better. After all, a bird in hand …