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Lamentations over failed Enugu bridge, roads

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•Reps to push for infrastructure rehabilitation in South East

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From Magnus Eze, Enugu

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President of Aba Chamber of Commerce, Industry, Mines and Agriculture (ACCIMA), Chief Jerry Kalu, early last month, played host to the member representing Aba North and South Federal Constituency, Chief Emeka Nnamani, at the ACCIMA office.

 

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At the interactive session, Kalu said the business community in the zone was of the opinion that the actions of the Federal Government regarding federal roads in the region connoted planned neglect and total abandonment.

The chamber demanded that representatives from the zone in the National Assembly should step up engagements with relevant federal ministries and agencies, towards convincing them on the urgent need to rehabilitate such infrastructures in the region.

Some South East members of the federal legislature seemed to have listened to the ACCIMA’s charge with their swift moves after the collapse of the bridge at the NNPC Mega Station-New Artisan axis of the Enugu-Port Harcourt Expressway on September 25.

Shortly after the collapse of the bridge, which led to the diversion of traffic into Enugu City centre, Nnolim Nnaji (Nkanu East/Nkanu West), Chimaobi Atu (Enugu North and South), Stainless Nwodo (Igboetiti/ Uzouwani) and Obinna Aguocha (Ikwuano/Umuahia North and South) inspected the scene of the collapse.

They called on the Federal Ministry of Works to quickly reconstruct the collapsed bridge.

Atu who said the incident happened within his constituency noted that there was an urgent need for the Federal Ministry of Works to intervene by reconstructing the collapsed bridge.

He explained that the situation has caused untold hardship to the people of South East and South South because it is the only artery connecting the two regions along the Enugu route.

“This bridge, which was constructed in the early 1980s, is the only link between the South East and South South. It is very critical to the movement of heavy-duty trucks and other vehicles from the North to the South. The consequence of the collapse is dire and will lead to untold economic hardship. People can’t move again because the diversion of traffic to Enugu town has serious implications. I and my colleagues are calling on the Federal Government to quickly intervene,” Atu said.

He disclosed that he and the Enugu State Caucus will escalate the situation on the floor of the House of Representatives.

He said: “We shall escalate this development on the floor next week. Don’t forget this collapsed bridge is in my constituency and the road is a federal road.”

Nnaji said he was disturbed with the situation urged the Federal Government to take urgent steps in salvaging the decaying state of roads in the South East by declaring a state of emergency on infrastructure in the zone. He who promised to work with the Enugu caucus and secure Federal Government’s immediate intervention, asked the state government to collaborate with the federal.

“We have looked at the development and have seen the extent of the damage. I spoke to the Chairman, House Committee on Works, and I also spoke to the Chairman of Senate Committee on Works about the development, and I am also aware that the Governor of Enugu State, Dr. Peter Mbah, spoke to the Minister of Works and also escalated this situation to the presidency.

“So, we are appealing to the people of Enugu State, the neighbours of the state and everybody who is using this road to exercise patience. I can assure you that the government of Enugu State and indeed the federal government will come up with a lasting solution to this problem,” he stated.

Nwodo and Aguocha also said they would work hard to ensure that urgent attention was given to the situation.

Governor Mbah during his first on-the-spot assessment of the disaster site called for a new road maintenance model to guarantee a better condition and longevity of Nigerian roads. He regretted that the current model had failed woefully.

He thanked God that no life was lost despite the magnitude of the incident, but urged the federal government to consider a concession of all the federal roads in each state to the state governments for proper maintenance in conjunction with the private sector.

“I think the question should be whether the current model of federal road maintenance is working or not; and I think that is the bigger question that we must ask.

“Today, we are here witnessing a tragedy that has just occurred. We are fortunate enough that no life was lost, but this could have been prevented entirely.

“So, the people can no longer ply this route because of this tragedy. This shows clearly that we do not have a sound federal road maintenance model.

“The bridge collapse didn’t just happen. These threats could have been identified if we had routine or regular maintenance.

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“Perhaps the way to go is to find a way to concession these roads to the states. The states need to take charge of the roads within their domains and there has to be a conversation around the funding models.”

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In the main, the government in a statement by the Enugu State Commissioner for Works and Infrastructure, Gerald Otiji, advised commuters to use Nza Street through New Haven or ply Ogui Road and Abakaliki Road to their various destinations.

An expert opinion attributed the cause of the collapse majorly to erosion. The collapsed bridge lasted for about four decades. The bridge span is within 40 meters in length and about 21 meters in width (dual carriageways).

He explained: “One of the major causes of the collapse of the bridge is erosion. This is caused by the eroding of the bridge embankment and subsequently the collapse of the abutment.

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“The river bed has eroded between 10 to 12 feet thereby exposing the pier foundation (pile caps and the piles) consequently exposing and weakening the supporting natural soil that serves as the foundation to the piles.

“A bridge embankment is soil or granular materials that support the abutment. On the embankment, there were no protective materials placed on the embankment surface area exposing it to run-off water that discharged directly through a drainage to the embankment instead of discharging directly to the river.

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“The embankment should have been protected by constructing riprap or stone pitch the surface area of the embankment…”

He added that it was disheartening that the Federal Road Maintenance Agency (FERMA), one of the agencies of the federal government that oversee the maintenance of roads, has failed woefully “just like every other arm; organ, and ministry in the Nigerian government.”

Minister of Works, David Umahi, visited the site on September 28 in company with Enugu Governor.

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Umahi who assured of immediate reconstruction of the bridge blamed the collapse on eroded abutment and age.

“This bridge that collapsed has gone viral. A lot of people have been sending the pictures to me and have been calling. Also, you never allowed me to rest since you said I must come and see it. When you have a leader, who is committed to what leadership of a people should be, he must get support. That is why I decided I must come so that I will brief the president.

“I am also very sure that when they see the two of us together, they will find out that the president is a man that listens.

“Yesterday, I sent the man in charge of bridge design and construction and also the Director of Federal Ministry of Works in charge of the South East. They came and carried out their review.

“What has happened here is very unfortunate. I have read the report of my men, and I have also read the report you sent to us, and the pictures, and the two reports are the same. The piles were exposed because besides the abutment, this bridge was built in 1978.

“We are going to look at the second bridge and see how far remedial work could be done on it and see if we can use it while we do everything to demolish this one and start the reconstruction. And we are going to scale up the reconstruction of the two bridges alongside the road that is going on.

“I want to assure you that we will do that and I have directed the contractors to do everything to provide alternative road in addition to the several routes that you have also provided,” the minister said.

He also commended the governor for undertaking to dualise the Enugu State part of the Enugu-Abakaliki Road, saying the governor had shown leadership in ameliorating the plights of his people.

He further lauded Mbah’s suggestion on getting states involved in federal road maintenance, saying it showed the private sector mentality the governor had brought to bear on governance.

“I am happy that when you visited here, you proposed that the federal government should involve state governments in Highway Development and Management Initiative (HDMI),” Umahi said.

Meanwhile, residents of Enugu town and commuters especially those around Independence Layout and New Haven have complained over the stress they have had to pass through since the diversion of traffic through these areas.

Aside the gridlock along New Haven particularly in the evenings, it is now common to see broken down trucks along these routes. Many of such cases are recorded along Nze Street and New Haven, and unfortunately, several of articulated vehicle drivers do not have regard for the ‘Caution’ sign.

The situation has put pressure on traffic managers in Enugu metropolis.

“We beg the government to find a way of controlling these drivers to avoid calamity of greater proportion. Some of these tankers bear highly inflammable items like petrol, if the situation is not carefully managed, they could fall and spill. And, vehicles can also ram into these trucks they abandon indiscriminately on the road without the Caution sign or anything to show there’s a breakdown,” Nduka Nebo, a resident of Independence Layout, Enugu, lamented.