Every year, particularly during festivities like Christmas and Easter traffic is always at its peak, sequel to returnees heading home to Igbo land.
South-Easterners no matter the horrible economic situation in the country, look forward to joining their kindred in celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ at Christmas or His resurrection at Easter aside August meetings that now bring our mothers home.
Such opportunities are also utilized for wedding, traditional wine carrying, Bazar, launching for community projects among other social gatherings that their brothers and sisters living outside the community are expected to return and contribute to.
Then the law enforcement agents intensified their actions especially either for good of the public or against the public especially those targeted at extorting money from road users and frustrate the returnees by demanding unthinkable things from those who bought new cars and barricading the road to ensure each passer bye drops money before passing.
These illegal road barricades have been used to extort returnees and often times, turn to nightmares as returnees sleep on the road , even suffocate among other horrible stories. We have heard stories of a child dying on top of the Onitsha Head Bridge and things like that and numerous stories on how people returning for Christmas slept on the road particularly the Head Bridge.
This year’s Christmas is here again and efforts are on to forestall road users from sleeping on the Bridge. Should the Bridge collapse, it would be horrible for commuters across the federation as the Niger Bridge remains the only near and easy link between the South West and South-South and South East and other parts of the country.
Already, Anambra state government led by Chief Willie Obiano has inaugurated a traffic management coordinated by the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) to be assisted by the Anambra Traffic Management Agency (ATMA) and other traffic agencies to be working round the clock throughout the season; in particular taking care of all the junctions and roundabouts. Even, the government plans to have about 10 critical locations across the state improved with traffic light systems.
Government has increased road diversions with signposts especially with those roads that are nearest to main roads, and appealed to all road users utilize them.
Obiano’s government according to Ogbuefi Tony Nnachetta , Commissioner for Information and Communication Strategy warned all owners of dysfunctional vehicles to remove them from all major roads. This directive has already started since December 15th.
As well, the Obiano Government assured to work closely with the Delta State Government led by Senator Ifeanyi Okowa to address key issues causing gridlock around the Bridge Head Onitsha during this yuletide.
The meeting was witnessed by the Corps Marshal, Federal Road Safety Corps, Mr Boboye Oyeyemi, at the Government House, Asaba.

Their meeting was on measures the two states can take in collaboration with the Federal Road Safety Corps to ensure safety on their roads and hitch free ride across the Onitsha Head Bridge to avoid people sleeping on the Bridge.
They decried the ugly development where commuters travelling through Delta State to Anambra, would be held for hours and sometimes days at the bridgehead area.

Okowa and Obiano are ready and the FRSC Boss, Mr Oyeyemi, assured his men would ensure safety roads during the Christmas but if otherwise, then we are endangering the Niger Bridge.
Governor Obiano while inaugurating the 2017 Federal Road Safety Corps Ember Months Operation in the State with theme, "Right to life on the highway not negotiable," aimed at raising public consciousness towards issues of road safety, announced that a joint team of Security agencies will soon commence raid of all motor parks to rid them of drugs and other influences that can make the drivers behave in an unbecoming manner.
He revealed that his government has made available forty ambulances to be positioned at strategic places all over the State to ensure prompt response to road emergencies during the festive period.
Assistant Corps Marshall in charge of Benin Zone, comprising Anambra, Delta and Edo states, Assistant Corps Marshal Kehinde Adeleye said the idea behind choosing Onitsha for the rally is because of its strategic nature in commerce and transportation in the Southeast region.

My happiness is that the Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC) has reiterated it’s readiness to tackle all traffic challenges associated with the yuletide in Anambra especially the Head Bridge.
Good enough, Mr Sunday Ajayi, Sector Commander of the corps in Anambra state, assured its readiness to tackle all traffic challenges associated with Christmas in Anambra state.

Ajayi said:  “To this end, the command will strengthen its partnerships with sister agencies, the state government’s traffic department, Ocha Brigade and Vigilante groups to ensure accident-free celebration”.

If commuters are assured of smooth ride through the River Niger Bridge in Onitsha which connects South-Eastern Nigeria with Western Nigeria, linking Asaba in Delta State, then the FRSC and other agencies associated with road safety and crime free yuletide have done a perfect job but if any hitches are experienced then their efforts are futile, endangering the Bridge more.
The Niger Bridge was built in 1965 based on the Second National Development Plan of 1962-1968 during Nigeria’s First Republic under Prime Minister Tafawa Balewa. The success of the Bridge was the outcome of mutual political bargaining between National Council of Nigerian Citizens (NCNC), the dominant political party in the eastern and mid-western regions and Northern People’s Congress (NPC), that controlled the Northern Region.

Niger Bridge was designed by the Netherlands Engineering Consultants of The Hague, Holland (NEDECO), after its practicability investigation in 1950s , while  French construction giant, Dumez Construction Company built the bridge in 1965. It cost £6.75 million, comprising of eight by four hundred and twenty feet (8×420 ft.), designed carriageway of 36 feet centre-truss and consisted of pedestrian walkway at both sides of the carriageway.  It was opened for traffic in December 1965 by the then Prime Minister, the late Alhaji Tafawa Balewa before his assassination on January 15, 1966.

The noble project was destroyed during the Nigerian Civil War of 1967-1970, but the Biafran forces in order to stop the federal troops from advancing into the Biafran territory blew the Niger Bridge. They succeeded in stopping the incursion of the Federal troops but did a great damage to the monumental project.
Then after the war, the two spans on the Onitsha end of the Niger Bridge damaged during the civil war were replaced with a fourteen-foot wide bailey, at an estimated cost of 1.5million pounds.


The Bridge is old and Federal government announced a second Niger Bridge and work has commenced but at a snail speed. Motorists are complaining that the current Bridge is becoming a trap and could collapse if heavy duty trucks and motors continue to stay long on top of it. There was a rehabilitation work on the bridge in 2005.
Though the call for construction of a 2nd Bridge across the Niger is welcomed, efforts should be intensified to ensure motorists have a free ride across the Bridge by ensuring no road blocks and extortion points are established on the Bridge.
The Military and Police officers as well as FRSC members among other agencies should shun all temptations to check vehicles on the both ends of the Bridge , Onitsha and Asaba and concern themselves with how to achieve free ride in and out of Onitsha.
This is in line of saving lives and property should the Bridge collapse sequel to load overhang. If anything must happen to the Bridge , let it be at God’s time and not man made by security agents who mount on both sides of the Bridge checking vehicle papers, licences and other things for extortionist tendencies.
Okowa, Obiano and Oyeyemi shall ensure such delays are not experienced this year on the Niger Bridge by ensuring all officials posted to work on the Bridge shall focus on road freeing issues not on their conventional duties and appurtenances for ‘extortion’.
Onitsha Bridge is an accident waiting to happen but let us help tarry the longevity of the Bridge until an alternative Bridge called 2nd Niger Bridge is provided to give way to a comprehensive repair of the existing Bridge. This careless mass death shall pass us bye.

Odogwu Emeka Odogwu is an Editor, and Publisher based in South-East and can be reached on odogwuchampionawka@yahoo.co.uk , and phone 08060750240 . He blogs at www.odogwublog.com 
 
 Photo of Okowa, Obiano and FRSC Boss