The news is everywhere that the Minister of Environment, Mrs. Laurentia Mallam, has just admitted that the Federal Government erred in commencing work on the construction of the Second Niger Bridge without consideration for the Environmental Impact Assessment Law.
The Federal Government, according to her, failed to comply with the requirements of the EIA law in embarking on the project.
The ministry has consequently stopped work on the project.
The minister also hinted that the bridge construction had to be suspended because “they did not comply with our ministry’s rule.”
“The Minister of Works had to run to me so that we might give them certificate to resume work,” Mallam said.
The above information has just informed us that the construction of the Second Niger Bridge has been suspended indefinitely pending its compliance with the EIA law.
I have assessed responses to this development and all points to one thing: That the Federal Government is playing politics at the detriment of the South-East people. And that rhetoric has taken over the construction of the Second Niger Bridge. This is exactly what happens when you put the cart before the horse.
For well discerning minds, we all suspected that the rush to “commission” the groundbreaking of the Second Niger Bridge which the President did last month was all about 2015.
It is trite that you cannot rush to build a house without a foundation.
I can’t imagine that the Federal Government does not know that they need to comply with EIA standards before commencement of work.
The most disturbing is that the Director, Environmental Impact Assessment, Mr. Kehinde Odusanya, who was with the minister, said, in response to a question, that: “Because of the national interest in that particular project, the Federal Ministry of Works had to request an interim approval just to commence preparation activities.”
Odusanya’s words portray one thing. That the Federal Government because of “national interest” was in a hurry to start the project it was not ready and willing to carry out and therefore sought for an interim approval to commence the project. Interim approval?
With the trend of things, one can easily depict that the “national interest” there is to use the construction of the bridge to garner Igbo votes in 2015 for the ruling party.
For those who don’t know, the Federal Government had hurriedly awarded the construction of the Second Niger Bridge to Julius Berger in a very bizarre “hire purchase” manner. The government is to contribute only 30 per cent of the expenses , giving the construction company the rights to recover 70 per cent of the construction costs through tolling.
Till date, we have yet to get any information of any previous Federal Government projects anywhere in Nigeria. So, how long will it take to do the EIA? Hopefully, very soon so that work will also resume immediately.
Any attempt to use any excuse now as a yardstick to mischievously stop work on that project will spell doom for the President and his party in the coming elections.
Whether President Goodluck Jonathan likes it or not, the Second Niger Bridge will be a major yardstick in determining the direction the political pendulum will swing in 2015.
Ikenegbu Layout, Owerri