By Monday Ijeh
Inaugured more than 47 years ago, the multibillion-naira Bodo-Bonny bridge project in Rivers has suffered series of setbacks due to funding challenges, concerned citizens observe.
The project, targeted at easing transportation problems of Bonny community and its environs, would be the first link road to the island.
The island, hosting the Nigeria Liquefied Natural Gas (NLNG) and other oil companies has boats and helicopters as the only means of transportation.
Angered by the heaps of yams and toiletries seen awaiting transportation to Bonny Island through boats, the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Mr Babatunde Fashola pledged that the long abandoned project would be undertaken by President Muhammadu Buhari administration.
He said that the project had suffered several challenges over the years, observing that the contractor had abandoned the site because it was not funded.
Fashola said that the Federal Government had made provision to finance the project in partnership with NLNG in the 2017 budget proposal.
It was on this backdrop that the Federal Government signed a tripartite agreement of N120 billion with NLNG and Julius Berger Nigeria Plc. for the construction of Bonny-Bodo bridge.
At the MoU signing ceremony, NLNG offered to pay 50 per cent of the total cost of the project while the Federal Government will take responsibility of the remaining 50 per cent.
Julius Berger was therefore mobilised to begin work on the project but recorded another setback following attack on its facilities by communities along the corridor of the project.
Fashola expressed dismay over reported cases of attack on the facilities of the contractor that resulted in the withdrawal of its workers from the site.
The minister, at a meeting with representatives of communities along the corridor of the project and officials of Julius Berger then issued two weeks ultimatum to the communities to resolve their differences.
He said the Federal Government could not afford to keep money down, adding that the contractor had received its first mobilization.
“It took time to beg NLNG to release money for the project, so, if you don’t take ownership of it and put it to use, then, we might as well tell them to take their money back.
“We need to have a position within two weeks for MoU of compromise to be signed, assuring us that there will be peace in that place.
“You must invite the contractor back to site and ensure that you suggest to them anything you want the contractor to do because you can’t take over their business,” he said.
Fashola said that the commencement of the project was conceived by the Federal Government within the context of agitation for better quality of live in the Niger Delta region.
“I am sad to hear that the contractor is being attacked, his property in Gitto yard being vandalised, topographic survey and other works being stopped in your communities.
“My sense is that if a major Federal Government project is coming to your area, you put your differences aside particularly for the fact that the project is a potential live changing assets,’’ he cautioned the residents.
Prof. Jasper Jumbo, the Traditional Head, Jumbo House, Bonny, blamed the attack on Julius Berger facilities to the failure of the company to consult Jumbo Major House before the commencement of the project.
“I have not seen Julius Berger since the project was inaugurated, I have not seen the design, I don’t know where the road alignment will go through and it will go through my land.
“We want to know our stake in this project that God has brought for us; we want to know the local content of the project,’’ he said.
Chief Abel Attoni, the Palace Secretary, Bonny Kingdom said that the kingdom was not aware of any attack on the facilities of the contractor.
He pledged the commitment of the kingdom to support the project, explaining that a committee had been constituted to interface with the contractor to ensure smooth execution of the project.
Mr Johnson Fadire, the Federal Controller of Works, Rivers, said that the 17-man peace committee set up by the minister to ensure smooth execution of the project was doing its best and had been meeting on monthly basis
He said that the 39-kilometre Bodo-Bonny bridge project slated for completion in 2022 was currently four per cent completed from Bodo axis.
He attributed the achievements recorded in the project to the fact that compensation had been paid in the Bodo axis where work was currently going on.
“ When the contractor started the work, it was agreed that the project will commence simultaneously on both Bodo and Bonny axis because it is being funded by the Federal Government and NLNG.
“The idea is to satisfy NLNG since its operational base is in Bonny but the agreement could not hold because the communities on Bonny axis have yet to be compensated.
“Before we can do any work from Bonny axis, we must demolish some houses and if we choose to start in the green areas, we equally have a lot of economic crops.
“The people are not happy with us and I have received several letters from the paramount ruler of Bonny in this regard,’’ he said.
He, therefore, called for urgent intervention of the Federal Government to resolve the compensation issues and equally start work from Bonny axis.
Fadire alleged that other problem facing the execution of the project was that the communities had been very hostile to the contractors in their request.
“We are having very big problems with the communities; they have been very hostile and rigid in their request and this is negatively affecting pace of work on the project’’, he said.
Mr Mustapha Shehuri, the Minister of State for Power, Works and Housing, called on communities along the corridor of the project to cooperate with the contractor.
Shehuri said that the call was to ensure speedy completion of the project and ease the sufferings of residents of the communities.
He expressed satisfaction with the quality and pace of work by the contractor, Julius Berger Nigeria Plc.
The minister said that the communities had over the years yearned for the project under the various past government administrations but never came to fruitful.
“The present administration has taken interest in constructing the bridge because it feels that the people deserve it.
“Now that work has started on the project, I am using this medium to appeal to the communities to cooperate and appreciate the project because they are the major beneficiaries.
“We must embrace development because that is the only way government can be attracted to projects like this’’, he said.
Shehuri said that the ministry was doing its best to ensure that issues of compensation on Bonny axis as well as communities between Bonny and Bodo were resolved.