The Loko-Oweto Bridge meant to link the two communities on the either side of River Benue along that axis: Loko in Nasarawa State and Oweto in Benue State recently got the news that the bridge will be ready for use at the scheduled date of November. To the two communities who have been having nightmare in doing business across the second largest river in the country, the news brought some respite. ABAH ADAH writes.
When the last administration thought it wise to award the contract for the construction of Loko-Oweto bridge across the River Benue way back in 2011 at the cost of N30 billion from Subsidy Reinvestment Programme (SURE-P) fund, the joy of the two communities on both sides of River Benue, Loko in Nasarawa State and Oweto in Benue State and the rest of Nigerians knew no bound.
Seven years down the line, the project which was awarded and commenced in November, 2011 with a completion date of November, 2015 is still being anxiously awaited, as the bridge, apart from its various economic benefits, will open up an alternative route with shorter travelling time for motorists travelling along the North Central, the South East and South South zones of the country.
The construction of the bridge is the essence of constructing the 74km road from Nasarawa through Loko to the bridge. The completion of the bridge is expected to concur with the completion of the road which is among the about 206 road projects inherited by the current administration in 2015.
As at the time of visit to the bridge and road under construction by the media team put together by the federal government, the expatriate project manager, Eyas Nassar, told the newsmen who were led to the site by the director of Communication in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Theodore Ogaziechi, that the bridge was 82 per cent completed, and that he and his working team expect completion of the bridge on the new schedule of November if the fund involved is made available in good time.
The manager, who acknowledged the impact of SUKUK (the Islamic bank loan introduced by the Buhari administration to, as claimed, execute existing road projects across the country) said the intervention of the fund was what hastened the work to that advanced level, adding that the project has provided employment for about a thousand indigenes from the two host communities.
The Loko-Oweto Bridge consists of 2 twin bridges referred to as Bridge 1 at the Northern (Loko) end and Bridge 2 at the Southern (Oweto) end both of which total to about 2.2km, making it the longest bridge to be built in Northern Nigeria, according to the project supervisor in the Ministry of Power, Works and Housing, Tony Onwubike.
According to Onwubike, the time lapse in the execution of the project which brought about the extension of the completion date to November at a revised contract sum of N51 billion was largely as a result of a change in the original design of the bridge.
The supervisor, who expressed satisfaction with the level and quality of work done on the bridge, said the economic relevance of the project is already manifesting in the area as petty businesses now thrive to the advantage of the people, adding that the road when completed with the bridge will reduce the travelling hours of motorists plying the North Central, South East and South South axis by, at least, three hours.
During the visit, it was observed that only the second of the bridge No 2 is being worked on as the other three are now ready.
He, however, advised that the road should have been dual instead of the single carriage way that it is as heavy traffic is expected to be on the road eventually.
As at press time, work (largely earthwork) was ongoing on the 74km road which leaves Nasarawa through Loko in Nasarawa State to Oweto across the bridge in Benue State.
The two communities at both ends of the bridge have a long history of buoyant social and economic activities which centres mainly on fishing and farming. This in itself may be evident in the kind of groups of people that inhabit the communities.
Loko is predominantly made up of Agatus with other settlers like Fulanis, Hausas, Ijaws and so on. Across the river, where the Oweto community is, they also have the Agatus, Domas, Ijaws and Fulanis.
For these communities, the Loko-Oweto bridge is the best thing that has happened to them courtesy of the federal government. As far as they are concerned, when the bridge would have become operational, the difficulties they have experienced for years in doing business across the river would have become a thing of the past.
Speaking to LEADERSHIP Friday, a resident by the name Yakubu Tanko, said the bridge has come to make life and business easy for them. He said people from the South East who come to buy fish from Loko do not always find it easy, especially during the rainy season when the river is full.
“They manage to get down with the aid of these wooden canoes you are seeing stationed at the riverbank. It is the same canoes that are used in fishing. Even those who engage in crop farming face the challenge of taking their produce across to market on either side.
“By the time this bridge is completed, all these experiences will definitely become part of the people’s history,” he said.
Tanko however, appealed to the government to ensure that the tempo with which work is going on currently on the project is sustained so as to have the bridge completed as soon as possible for the rich economic potentials of the area to be harnessed maximally.
Ahead of the completion, the communities are fast witnessing some form of development, especially in the real sector.
Joseph Ede, a resident of the area said, “Now people are buying lands and building sophisticated houses in our community. Unlike some years ago when this place was a forgotten community. In fact land is gaining more value by the day now. And I believe all that is in anticipation of the completion of the bridge.”
Another resident who declined giving name said is the presence of security agencies that have come in to protect construction workers has, by extension, kept the rampaging Fulani herdsmen some kilometres away, enabling them to sleep with their two eyes closed.
“The Fulani herdsmen had constantly dealt with the natives, killing, maiming and stealing their properties. With soldiers and security men on ground because of the construction works, the attacks have been curtailed,” he noted.
River Benue has long been an attraction to different people even before the colonial times. That explains why there is a community of Ijaws settlers on both sides of the river and fishing is a major industry. Loko, to some natives, was also the end of the world. But their world has further been stretched beyond Loko with the bridge, across the river. When completed, the Loko-Oweto bridge will reduce the pressure on Abuja-Lokoja road, as many motorists going to Southeast and Southsouth will find it more convenient using the bridge and thereby reducing travel times by about three hours.
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