Nigeria: New vital bridge hoped to end painful traffic congestions

By Ben Ezeamalu
Posted on Monday, 19 December 2022 12:15

Vehicles drive through the River Niger Bridge, a major link to the rest of the country in Onitsha, Nigeria November 23, 2018. REUTERS

More than 50 years after Nigeria inaugurated the Niger Bridge, linking the country's southeast to the southwest and the north, it has opened a second bridge serving the same purpose.

The government opened the Second Niger Bridge to the public on 16 December, about one week before Christmas.

“This Second Niger Bridge will help people a lot, in terms of easing hold-up [gridlock],” says Isah Ademu, an excited driver in Asaba.

The Niger Bridge, built in 1965, links the southeastern commercial city of Onitsha, in Anambra State, to Asaba, the Delta State capital, in the south-south.

For years, it served as a major gateway linking the southeast to most parts of Nigeria.

It is also a part of the Trans-African Highway between Lagos and Mombasa, Kenya.

However, over the years, Nigeria’s rapidly growing population of over 200 million piled pressure on the bridge, leading to frequent congestion.

Hours in traffic

During the last Yuletide, travellers from the southwest and northern part of Nigeria spent hours – sometimes up to seven hours – before crossing the 1.4km-long Niger Bridge, as traffic gridlock stretched beyond 12km approaching the bridge.

When the Nigerian government opened the Second Niger Bridge for temporary use until 15 January 2023, there was joy among drivers and passengers.

“This bridge is very important in that it decongests the gridlock at the old bridge,” Patrick Okoye, a businessman in Onitsha, tells The Africa Report.

President Muhammadu Buhari first awarded the contract for the Second Niger Bridge to Julius Berger Plc in 2016. But work did not begin until late 2017.

The bridge comprises a 1,600m-long reinforced concrete river crossing with a maximum span of 150m as well as one motorway junction, one toll station, and 10km of road construction on soft and swampy terrain.

This Second Niger Bridge will help people a lot, in terms of easing hold-up [gridlock].

The second phase of construction, which is yet to begin, will build two approach roads, Benin-Asaba and Onitsha-Enugu, to the bridge each measuring 17.5km.

For the first phase, however, the government built a link road for travellers coming towards Asaba to connect the Second Niger Bridge and continue to Owerri and Port Harcourt.

Not fully opened

One day after the Second Niger Bridge’s opening, there was still traffic gridlock on the first bridge.

Okey Chinedu, a driver who plies the Asaba-Onitsha route, said it was due to the belief that they have to pay at the toll station on the new bridge.

“Since morning there has been a hold-up at the old bridge,” he says. “Not up to 15 or 20 cars have passed through the new bridge because the money (toll) is high.”

Contrary to this belief, the government said it would not begin tolling on the new bridge until the bridge is fully opened to the public.

Currently, only one part of the dual carriageway is open for use.

Babatunde Fashola, the Works Minister, said earlier this month that the opening would only be for small vehicles.

Heavy-duty trucks will be denied access until the bridge is completed.

While movement on the bridge is open for traffic moving from the west to the east, on 15 January 2023, it would be reversed east to west, Fashola said.

Buhari’s predecessor, Goodluck Jonathan, had also announced plans to construct the new bridge, but no substantial work was done before he was defeated in the 2015 election.

‘No political impact’

Supporters of the ruling All Progressives Congress (APC) say the opening of the bridge is a major boost for the party ahead of the 2023 general election, especially in the southeast where the president is unpopular.

Okoye said Jonathan’s party, the People’s Democratic Party, which was in power for 16 years, could not build the bridge.

“They did no tangible thing in the southeast,” he says of the PDP. “For me, as a person, I will vote APC because no government has done what they had done.”

But Kaine Ananwune, an Anambra-based lawyer, said the bridge would have “no political impact”.

“The only thing is that President Buhari, under whose administration the bridge was completed, will always be remembered by the people of the southeast. This is the man that did what others promised and did not do.

“I don’t think that bridge will score any political point in favour of APC as a party because the people of the southeast link that bridge, not to APC as a party, but to Buhari as an individual.”

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options