By Kasarachi Azuka, Asaba
For 40 years, every administration from military to civilian had promised to construct the 2nd Niger Bridge, but never did it.
For years therefore, every Christmas, many would sleep at either end of the old bridge (Onitsha or Asaba) due to huge traffic that use to build up as a result of home rush. South-East people suffered so much that they yelled for a saviour.
At a point, they settled with the hardship of the Niger Bridge as normal. Now, a retired Army General emerged and did not talk much.
He simply unlocked the purse where the fund was trapped and made it go to work. Result, the impossible became possible. South Easterners can now, like people of other regions, go home and back without tears at Onitsha.
Chris Ngige, the minister of labour on Tuesday frowned over what he described as 40 years of ridiculous promises by politicians, to the citizens, as they failed to keep to their words on the issue of building a second Niger Bridge.
He however hailed President Muhammadu Buhari for putting those playing politics with the issue for decades out of business.
During his campaign to the South-East in 2015, he promised to build the bridge and finally delivered on the project.
Ngige stated this when he represented President Buhari to perform the ceremonial cutting of tape to declare the bridge open.
He noted that the people had not witnessed such a momentous event since 1965 when the old and first Niger Bridge was inaugurated by then Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa and then president Nnamdi Azikiwe.
Ngige, who is a former governor of Anambra State, made the assertion on Tuesday during the inauguration of the about 1.5 kilometers bridge, which was conceived about 40 years ago by the late Shehu Shagari federal government in 1983.
“Today is a great day, and my joy knows no bound. The inauguration of the second Niger Bridge today is President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise made and promise kept”, Ngige said in obvious elation.
He said that since the construction of the first bridge, when the need to have a second bridge was identified, it had been promises upon promises but without action or political will to embark on the project, hence it became an object of ridiculous politics by politicians until President Buhari came along and insisted that he was determined to complete the all-important project.
“The second Niger Bridge signals the major handshake between the South-West, South-East and the North”, Ngige said, adding that he wished Buhari a peace rest when he returns to Daura in a few days.
Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, Delta State Governor, who was represented by Festus Agas, the Chief of Staff Government House Asaba, congratulated President Buhari for the feat of delivering the project, saying that it would boost economic activities and improve the ease of doing business between Delta and Anambra as well as other parts of the country.
Dr Chukwuma Soludo, Anambra State Governor, said that he was personally overjoyed as well as the people of the state at the deliverance of the bridge by the federal government under President Muhammadu Buhari, a project that had for decades generated much agitation and complaints.
Soludo said that the FG has, by the inauguration of the bridge, provided one of the five critical infrastructure assets needed to open and serve as real economic game changer for the international community of entire South-East geopolitical zone.
“Four other desired critical projects include the creation of more maritime access to the sea through the development of the Onitsha port on the Niger; the dredging of the Niger from Onitsha to Lokoja; laying of a gas pipeline; and; development of a railway line across the South-East states”, he said.
He said that he could not stay for the inauguration of the Dangote Petroleum Refinery on Monday in order to be on ground on Tuesday for the inauguration of the Muhammadu Buhari Niger Bridge.
Hope Uzodimma, Imo State Governor,
Many royal fathers from Delta and Anambra states who attended the bridge opening ceremony were unanimous in commending the Buhari administration for what they described as a formidable economic and social game changer not only for Anambra, Delta and the neighboring states, but the nation at large.
Uzodimma described Buhari as his own hero, saying that it was conscientious, worthy projects like the second Niger Bridge that made leaders heroes of nations all over the world.
The bridges over the Niger are “the only link between the old Western Region and the old Eastern Region”, saying the regular nightmare on the old Niger Bridge, especially during the Christmas season when travelers spend days on the bridge, will now be a thing of the past.
Others at the occasion included Emmanuel Iwuanyanwu, the President-General of Ohaneze Nd’Igbo, and royal fathers from Delta and Anambra States who also hailed the president and emphasized on the benefits of the bridge to the people of the two regions and by extension Nigeria.