News Update

Buhari, the Second Niger Bridge, Dangote and Us

By Jude Atupulazi

Last Tuesday, the much publicized, long awaited Second Niger Bridge was finally commissioned by the Federal Government of President Muhammadu Buhari. Though he was conspicuously missing, as he was represented by the Minister of Works, Alhaji Babatunde Fashola, the bridge was named after President Buhari, such that it is now known as Muhammadu Buhari Second Niger Bridge.

The decision to name the bridge after Buhari is however what I find a bit embarrassing as it showed no modesty at all. Why? Buhari only finished what was started years before him. Let’s go down memory lane a bit.

In 1987, after warning about the state of the existing River Niger Bridge by the then Minister of Works and Housing, Abubakar Umar, General Ibrahim Babangida challenged the local engineers to design the Second Niger Bridge. Rising to the challenge, The Nigerian Society of Engineers contacted NSE Prems Limited, which subsequently delivered a master plan. The addition of East–west Railway line to the project stalled the plan and shortly after that, Babangida left.

Under the subsequent military governments, the project received little attention. Upon the return to civilian rule, President Olusegun Obasanjo promised to deliver a Second Niger River Bridge. However his administration did not carry out any major activity on the project until five days before he handed over to the then incoming administration of Umaru Musa Yar’Adua, when Obasanjo flagged off the project in Asaba.

The incoming administration effectively inherited a ₦58.6 billion proposed cost for a six lane, 1.8 km tolled bridge, which was to be completed in three and a half years. The bridge was to be financed under a public private partnership (PPP) with 60 per cent of the funding coming from the contractor, Gitto Group, and 20 per cent from the Federal Government of Nigeria, and 10 per cent from the Anambra and Delta State Governments. Unfortunately, the subsequent death of President Yar’adua marred the progress of the project.

However, in August 2012, the Federal Executive Council under former President Goodluck Jonathan’s Administration, approved a contract worth ₦325 Million for the final planning and design of the bridge. During the 2011 Nigerian General Election Campaign Period, Jonathan had promised that if elected, he would deliver the project before the end of his term in 2015. At an Onitsha Town Hall Meeting on August 30, 2012, he promised to go into exile if he did not deliver on the project by 2015. The rest is history. He did not deliver and he is very much around in Nigeria. No exile plans yet.

The rigmarole continued under the President Muhammadu Buhari Administration, which first cancelled the earlier contract in August 2015. But it would finally go on. It was bound to because there must come a time when it must be completed.

On December 15, 2022, at 9:50am local time, the bridge was opened to local traffic. Since not all connecting roads had been completed then, makeshift roads had been created to allow the bridge to be used during the Christmas Holidays. Crossing the bridge was free of charge.

After the Christmas and New Year the bridge was closed to traffic again until last Tuesday when it was finally commissioned and named after Buhari.

But why name it after Buhari when he did not originate it? What happens to those other presidents who contributed to it? There lies my beef. It is immodest of Buhari to have therefore allowed the bridge to be named after him; that is if it was the Southeast governors and the Delta State governor that took the decision. If it was the governors that did it, it showed a miscalculation on their part, given the reasons I’ve already given. If it was Buhari that wanted it named after him, it showed insensitivity and immodesty.

If anything, that bridge should have been named Unity Bridge or Second Niger Unity Bridge since everybody there at the commissioning alluded to the bridge as providing a link between the Old Eastern Region and the Old Western Region. Wouldn’t it have been therefore wonderful if it had been named Unity Bridge, even if it would keep up the pretence of love among Nigerians? But, no, there was a rush to name it after Buhari. Whether the brains behind the decision did it to receive a pat on the back by Buhari, we will never know. But it was even disturbing that Buhari himself did not deem it important enough to turn up at the event. An event that should be the biggest thing his government had done for the Southeast. Yet that was Buhari that had gone to Imo and Ebonyi States to commission projects of less importance to Nigeria. Meanwhile, the previous day Buhari was very much around to commission the Dangote Refinery in Lagos. Mind you, there was nothing wrong that he was there; after all, it is the biggest privately owned refinery in the whole wide world, but that leads me to another story.

Dangote Refinery

As I noted, this refinery is the biggest private refinery in the world. It is a good thing that it is in Nigeria. It is a pride to Nigeria and Africa, little wonder that the heads of state of three African countries were in attendance. Indeed, Dangote has carved a niche for himself as an astute investor, no wonder he is Africa’s richest man and I’m sure that by the time the money from the refinery starts rolling in, he may be among the world’s richest ten.

But what is this thing that stands Dangote out from the rest of the pack in Nigeria? Is it that Dangote is the smartest or hardest working entrepreneur in Nigeria? At least we know that when it comes to entrepreneurship, Igbos of the Southeast will always stand up to be counted.

Well, there is this little matter that some Nigerians often complain about. It is the seeming advantages that Dangote enjoys from the Federal Government and it did not start today. It seems there is a deliberate policy that seeks to kill off competition to Dangote; be it in the cement business or any other. And this is why the price of cement has gone up in Nigeria because it is only Dangote that calls the shots in the industry. Our own man, Clems Ibeto, was doing very well until it seemed he would compete with Dangote. Before we knew it, Ibeto Cement ran into man made problems. Also, at that time there used to be Eagle Cement and Benue Cement. They have all gone moribund now. When they thrived, the price of cement was affordable to Nigerians because there was a healthy competition. Today, sadly, Dangote can sell his cement at any price and we will have no option than to buy. Too bad, but that’s the stark reality.

However, I’m still happy about his refinery, especially because it is expected to save Nigeria trillions of Naira in importing fuel. It is also expected to bring down the prices of petroleum products. But then, all these are expectations because this is still Nigeria where the famous Nigerian factor can still work its magic.

Most Nigerians do not really care who owns what or where anything comes from as long as it benefits everybody. If the price of cement was cheap, Nigerians would not be complaining today. If the north had been producing great leaders who would be making Nigeria a real giant of Africa, no one would be agitating for Biafra or protesting that Igbos have not been allowed to produce a president.

All we need, all Nigerians need, is a level playing ground and equal opportunities. It is especially what Igbo people and their business class want. They know that once the ground is level and there is fairness, they can attain whatever height they want to. They will not only produce a Dangote but many Dangotes; even if they may not be as rich as the real Dangote.

But it does seem like a section of the country is mortally afraid of giving the Igbos any opportunity at all to blossom. Is it envy? Is it hatred? Is it a kind of complex? I do not know and may never know. But it is clear that this seeming ”national anti-Igbo policy” that we see in Nigeria is holding the country down. But even at that, the Igbos are not worse off as individuals. Despite all the years the north, for instance, has been in power, the poverty index in that place remains the highest in the country. Conversely, the poverty index in the East is the least. Curious, isn’t it?

As they say, he who holds someone down is also holding himself down. But in Nigeria’s peculiar case, the one they are holding down is even better off, such that even though they are being held down, those holding them are still scared of him.

Hohohoho…I laugh in Biafra.