By: Bennie Egbunonu
It is still fresh in my memory, I mean the statement attributed to President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan when he visited Anambra State two years ago to commission former, Governor Peter Obi’s brewery in Onitsha. In the words of the President: “When the first Niger bridge was built, it was during the presidency of Nnamdi Azikiwe; the second Niger Bridge will be built under the presidency of Azikiwe Jonathan………If I fail to build the bridge in 2015, I will go into exile.” Now we are in the twilight of the first term of Jonathan’s Presidency, just a few days to the March 28, 2015 elections, and the Second Niger Bridge is still at ground zero stage.
Unfortunately the Governors of the Southeast and the leadership of Ohaneze Ndigbo have ceased talking about the 2nd Niger Bridge. They are presently busy drumming support for GEJ’s second term even as the project remains a forlorn dream.
But why are our people so gullible and easily manipulated by vote-seeking politicians? When will the people of the geo-political zone come to terms with the fact that infrastructural development of the zone is not considered priority by Federal authorities but only viewed as tools for politics and electioneering campaign? Or who can point out a completed federal project in the zone since the return to democracy in 1999? Perhaps with the exception of the Akanu Ibiam Airport in Enugu which since the exit of Princess Stella Oduah has remained largely work-in-progress.
General Olusegun Obasanjo, when he was released from Abacha’s dungeon in 1999, came to the South East to campaign for votes on the ground that he would reconstruct the collapsed Enugu-Port Harcourt Highway as well as promises to build the Enugu-Onitsha-Owerri expressway and a second Niger Bridge, yes the same 2nd Niger Bridge! Well, Obasanjo completed his first term without keeping any of the promises, yet the Ota Chicken Farmer still found his way to the South East to plead with the electorate to give him just one more chance and that if he was re-elected, he would finish the “good jobs” he had started in the zone.
I must admit that there was some semblance of work going on at the Enugu-Port Harcourt highway at the time. But no sooner were the presidential election results announced than the workmen removed their equipment. Today, Enugu-Port Harcourt road remain an eyesore, indeed a death trap, a complete wash-off, far worse than in 1999. Work on Onitsha-Owerri road is almost complete but that is 14 years after. The road from Onitsha to Enugu remains another death trap. Indeed, what in other parts of the country are taken for granted, in the South East they are considered great favour from some Overlords whose boots must be licked.
Sadly though, the South East zone has not learnt any lesson. But how can they, when the zone is so unlucky to have self-serving charlatans as leaders and spokespersons? One of them once threatened to go into exile in 1998 if the late Dictator Sani Abacha did not rule Nigeria forever. Unfortunately, death was just a few months away for Abacha. But the man stayed put.
And that reminds me of our President and Commander-in-Chief covenant with Ndigbo that he would go into exile because of the second Niger Bridge. At first I did not believe that Jonathan actually said that. I thought he was misquoted by some mischievous reporters. But then, Jonathan does not need to go into exile because right now, ahead of the 2015 Presidential election, the South East does not appear ready to hold him accountable for the statement. After all, following Jonathan’s statement in Onitsha in 2012, one of the “leaders” of the zone, Chief Arthur Eze urged the President to “go on and run for second term” implying that the agitation for Igbo Presidency in 2015 was already been foreclosed.
Therefore it was not necessary for Jonathan to swear at the time that he would go into exile over the second Niger Bridge. After all, ex-President Obasanjo left office without fulfilling the promises he made to the South East, and heavens did not fall. Everyone remembers the theatrics of how Obasanjo built the second Niger Bridge. With just a few days to his leaving office in 2007, the former President went to Onitsha and right in front of television cameras, performed what he called “ground breaking” for the second Niger Bridge saying it was “a promise made, a promised fulfilled”. Alas, it was a promise betrayed.
To further assault the South East over the second Niger Bridge, the Works Minister, Mr. Mike Omolememen in March 2012 declared that the construction of the bridge will take off in September of that year. He had said then, “In the next three weeks (that was efrom March 26, 2012), we would announce the concessioners to handle the project (2nd Niger Bridge); and by the last quarter of 2012 to 2013, they will move to site to start ground-breaking.’’ I guess they are still finding the ground extremely hard to break!
Finally, it must be stated that the importance and relevance of the 2nd Niger Bridge goes beyond the rhetoric of going into exile. Indeed nobody, not even the most virulent critic of GEJ wants him to go into exile. But the fact is that the second Niger Bridge for us in the Southeast has become a moral imperative, and its non construction shall continue to hunt the consciences of all those who knew the right thing and yet chose to sacrifice it at the altar of political exigency.
*Egbunonu, a public affairs commentator, contributed this from Awka.