Monday, November 5, 2018
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Harrisburg, PA, USA

Pictures of Niger Bridge I took on a visit to Nigeria

first wrote an article calling for immediate construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge more than 9 years ago. Captioned “Lives are on the line, build Second Nigeria Bridge Now”, the article was published on Feb. 8, 2009. When the article was published, I was cautiously optimistic that authorities would see the need and that by now, the bridge would have been constructed. It was not to be. The government of Dr Goodluck Jonathan made some effort and the project actually took off with some piles and concrete piers constructed. But shortly after the government of General Buhari took over, the project was abandoned! Later, after President Buhari stated in an interview that his government was more interested in catering to those who voted for him, it became clear why the 2nd Niger bridge project was abandoned. The South easterners did not vote for him. What the government did not understand was that the Niger bridge was not just important for south easterners but for all of Nigeria because of its strategic location for movement of goods and people.

As the Buhari administration churned and chugged along, all manners of deception, by acolytes of the administration, especially those from the south east, became the order of the day. Sometimes, they would post fake pictures of a bridge construction project which they said was 2nd Niger Bridge construction. They wanted to give weary easterners the impression that the administration was working on the project. People who actually visited the project site were able to counter the fake narrative with the correct narrative and pictures. It became clear that the project had been abandoned.

But as the tenure of the Buhari administration began to wind down and as it became clear to the administration that it was not going to get much of the votes of south easterners and that the abandonment of the 2nd Niger bridge project was going to be one of the reasons, just a few weeks ago, money suddenly became available for the project! The Federal government announced that it had awarded a contract to Julius Berger at N200 billion for the construction of the project. How could it be that a project which some members of the administration, at some time in the past couple of years, told Nigerians was almost complete, was just awarded? They said this one was phase two. The mammoth deception that has trailed this project continue.

The most puzzling part is that as soon as this deception was announced, some politicians from the south east tucked their tails, ran to Abuja to see president Buhari. One would have thought that they would ask the president two poignant questions. One of the questions would be: “What took you so long Mr President?” The second question would be: “But you told us earlier that work was going on on the project?”. They did not ask any of that. Instead, in a brazen display of shamelessness, genuflection and slavish adulation all rolled into one, they told Buhari that they had come to thank him for awarding the bridge. They even said they were emissaries from all Igbos. That sight was as disgraceful as they come. I keep wondering why one would go to thank a politician for fulfilling his constitutional responsibility. A responsibility that tax payer funds was supposed to provide. I know that several projects are going on in the North and I have not read where northerners went to thank Buhari. For some reason since the war ended, the mentality of some Igbos has degenerated into that of defeatism. They still don’t feel like a part and parcel of the nation. For example, I read where some acolytes say, “vote for Buhari for 2019 and Buhari will give Igbos the presidency in 2023. It makes my blood boil whenever I read such stupid remarks. So Buhari even controls the destiny of Igbos in Nigeria?

As I write, the current Niger bridge continues to age. It continues to get more structurally deficient and functionally obsolete. In turn, the lives of motorists that ply the bridge continue to be in danger. Considering the age of the current bridge and the average daily traffic figure on which the design was predicated 48-years ago, the bridge is being overburdened by increased traffic.

With the way the current bridge is being stressed because of added vehicle dynamic loading, Nigerian authorities better be careful. Bridges have been known to suddenly collapse under that type of excess loading. The current Niger bridge is a truss bridge. It is therefore “fracture critical”, an engineering lingo that means that if a component of the bridge in tension fails, because there is no redundancy or alternate load path, the bridge may fail catastrophically without warning.

Some heavy vehicle drivers who use the bridge continue to complain that it vibrates as they drive by. Granted, bridges are designed to experience and absorb a certain amount of dynamic loading during use but when the movement becomes very pronounced, it is usually an indication of serious problems. Excessive movement of the structure could lead to bolts loosening and coming off from gusset plates that hold the trusses together. It has even been reported that the concrete piers are showing signs of cracking and spalling. All these are indications that the bridge has issues. Another issue that bothers me, about the current bridge, is the phenomenon called scour. The bridge is supported from under by a series of pillars called piers. The piers are founded on sand below the river bed. As the river flows, depending on the speed of flow, sand and other sediments are gradually eroded from around and under the bridge piers. This is called scour. If the problem is not addressed, over time, substantial amounts of the sand could be scooped away from around and under the piers and make them unstable. Usually, most bridges built over water and with susceptibility to scour, are inspected periodically by divers and remediated if need be. We have read that pier 2, one of the piers that support the Niger Bridge, has a shallow caisson foundation. It was originally designed to stand on land (land pier) but because the Niger River has slightly changed course over the years, pier 2 is now inside water, in a shallow foundation, making it vulnerable.

Let me warn that the government has the opportunity to prevent a potential catastrophe in Onitsha by acting swiftly, acting boldly and truly getting back to work on the 2nd Niger Bridge. This dilly-dallying equivocation occasioned by political grandstanding is not in any one's best interest. Tata bu gboo as the Igbos say, loosely translated to a stitch in time saves nine.


Pictures of Niger Bridge I took on a visit to Nigeria

Author of the books- 1. Nigeria: Contemporary Commentaries and Essays

2. Surviving in Biafra: The Story of the Nigerian Civil War