The ongoing construction of the 2nd Niger Bridge linking Delta and Anambra States was 50.1% completed as at last weekend, but despite the economic benefits being enjoyed, the host communities complain that the construction had brought woes to their people.
At a town hall meeting attended by Governor Willie Obiano of Anambra State, secretary to the Delta State government who represented Governor Ifeanyi Okowa, Minister of Works and Housing, Mr. Babatunde Fashola and officials of his ministry, top officials of the construction company, Julius Berger Plc, traditional rulers from host communities in Anambra and Delta States, as well as youths from the two states, the communities said the bridge is like robbing Peter to pay Paul.
Some of the communities had, on few occasions, disrupted work while demanding for payment of what they called adequate compensation to cushion the effects of environmental degradation they were suffering since construction began over two years ago.
According to the communities, the 2nd Niger Bridge had caused enormous flooding, with the attendant destruction of houses and farmlands.
The Obi of Onitsha, Igwe Nnaemeka Achebe, who spoke on behalf of the host communities said they do not want to be left behind in the economic prosperity that the bridge would bring.
He said: ‘We don’t want to be like New Bussa to the Kainji Dam project or Finima for the LNG project Bonny. See what the construction of the bridge has done to Oko Amakom people in Delta State and one way or the other, the people should be part of the prosperity of the bridge.
“There are still issues of community projects which are the responsibility of the federal Ministry of Works. We want the adjoining roads to be finished because if the bridge is completed and there are no connecting roads, it will become a bridge to nowhere,”
A representative of Delta communities also reinforced Igwe Achebe’s position saying, “We want government to construct access roads that will connect the host communities with the old Niger Bridge road. This is because the 2nd Niger Bridge has blocked the communities from accessing the bridge.
“The design of the 2nd Niger Bridge has no provision for step down to access the various communities to the project. If the access road is not constructed, our farm produce will waste away and the hardship will be aggravated”.
But the Minister of Works, Babatunde Fashola, took time to explain the economic benefits of the 2nd Niger Bridge. He said: ‘This is a N414 billion project. The bridge on its own is N206 billion, the roads 2A and 2B will cost N208 billion. So in these communities, that is the amount of federal government investment under President Buhari. This commitment remains even though the prize of crude oil remains $40 per barrel.
For the roads, the contract has already been awarded and we are just concluding paper work.
“To spend that money and build this bridge, the contractors will be buying 644,000 tons of aggregates. We require four million cubic litres of sand and that is the business that is also part of this project. They will require 68,000 tons of cement, 21,000 tons of reinforcement and 19 million litres of diesel. The last time I checked, 1,400 people were employed for this project.
“These are what this bridge is bringing to this part of the country for Nigerians who trade in these items and they are also commanding labour within these communities. This is the investment this project generates.
“This is the story of the prosperity that this bridge brings and those in real estate business know that because of this bridge, the cost of land in this area has continued to go up.
“That is prosperity coming. Therefore, we need peaceful coexistence to complete this project. We also need some sacrifice. We have to give some things in order to get some things and therefore we need to be patient.
“On the complaint that the construction of the bridge has resulted to heavy flooding in the area, I wish to state that even without the bridge, flood still happens because there is evidence of climate change across the world. But the complaint has necessitated reassessment of environment social impact assessment, to enable us remediate the situation as soon as possible.”
He said compensation conversation was also on-going and observed that the state governments were in the best position to engage with the communities on the matter.
“If they work with the communities, we can then work with them to bring some sense of agreement,” the minister said.
Governor Obiano of Anambra State also spoke, insisting that what Julius Berger needed was absolute peace in all the communities. He added: “There should be give and take between the contractor and the host communities, because this bridge is very important to Anambra, Delta, South-East, South-South and the whole of Nigeria.
“It is therefore, important that we support the Federal Government and hold our youths and I believe that Julius Berger will do everything possible to solve that problem by meeting some of the demands of the host communities. From Anambra side, we will continue ensure that there is peace.
“The multiplier effect of the construction is already magnifying, as many people, such as suppliers and other service providers are benefiting, as these requirements are sourced from here. By so doing, money is circulating and our economy and people are better for it.
“We therefore thank President Buhari for keeping to his word. He has consistently assured me that he will deliver the bridge on schedule, which is 2022, not minding the unstable economic environment”.