If The Niger Bridge Collapses…

by Ugochukwu Ejinkeonye

Please, could somebody be nice to this hapless nation and walk across to President Umar Musa Yar’Adua’s cosy castle in Aso Villa, where not a few believe he is still in bed enjoying a very refreshing midmorning sleep, wake him with a very gentle tap on his shoulder, and ask him what his reaction would likely be if he was suddenly roused from deep slumber with the tragic news that the Niger Bridge had collapsed, and with it many Nigerians and several vehicles, all plunged into the dark belly of the deep waters of the River Niger, thus spreading sorrow, pain and anguish everywhere? Would he just sigh, murmur barely audible things about being always disturbed with “these people’s endless troubles,” put his head back on his soft pillows, have Lady Turai tuck him up more comfortably in his made-in-Germany or Saudi Arabia blanket, and go back to sleep?

And then, perhaps, after a couple of hours, he would wake up again, better refreshed and fairly alert, and ask to be reminded what was told him the other time (or was he even dreaming it?).

“No, Your Excellency, you were not dreaming. You were informed, Your Excellency, before you went back to sleep, that the nation had been plunged into deep mourning, because the disaster long foretold which most people thought your regime had done nothing to avert (but we know that you were busy night and day drawing up elaborate plans for a lasting solution to it, instead of resorting to “quick-fix” options like your predecessors) has eventually exploded on the nation. Don’t mind the foolish bridge, Sir. It could not wait for another two years for Your Excellency’s well-crafted action-plan to be unfolded to give it the attention it deserved before deciding to embarrass this well-focused Administration with its stupid fall. Well, don’t allow that to bother you, Your Excellency. The only problem now is that because no word had come from you since the past couple of hours when the tragedy struck, presidential spokespersons have been at a loss as to what to tell the nation, and mischief makers are already taking advantage of the situation to spread wicked rumours, which, as Your Excellency knows, we can’t be party to, because we are happily bound by Your Excellency’s dreaded Oath of Secrecy.”

“Tell the nation what? What do they want to hear from me, am I the one that pulled down the bridge? Please, where is Turai, I need my lunch. Eh-hhe-erm, gentlemen, you can please, excuse me.”

“One more thing, Your Excellency, Sir. Reports have just reached us that the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB) has just addressed a crowded world press conference at the foot of the collapsed bridge and stated clearly that while they deeply regretted and mourned the loss of human lives in the monumental tragedy (which had occurred as a result of Federal Government’s criminal neglect, nonchalance and utter callousness despite repeated clear warnings that the dilapidated bridge was caving in), they were, on the other hand, glad that the collapse of the bridge had at last, naturally, and without any sweat, carefully carved out for them the Federal Republic of Biafra they had long yearned for, as the vital link between their country and Nigeria has now collapsed.”

“Ehee? Did they really say that? Were the BBC and CNN at their press conference? Kai, these people! In fact, I had thought the collapse of the bridge would effectively keep those restless Igbos at home and at least solve Fashola’s population headache once and for all … but I never thought of this other angle… Now, as you can see, we now have a real emergency on our hands! Now you run! I say, run, go and gather State House correspondents immediately! Call in all foreign correspondents that you are able to reach immediately! Tell them I am so heartbroken and in deep mourning because of the tragedy. You can even inform them that I fainted when I heard the news. No, no, don’t add that line. The Action Congress will capitalize on that now to revive the nonsense story about the state of my health. Just tell them I am deeply shocked and pained by the incident. In fact, tell them that due to the effect of the tragic incident on me, I may have to travel to a Saudi or even German hospital to observe a three week intensive prayers on behalf of the nation, to get the inspiration to solve the present disaster and avert future ones in this country. Did I just say ‘hospital’? Ah, no! I mean mosque! And you, while I am away, remember you’re under a dreaded Oath of Secrecy, and if any funny rumours dare go out about me, you know the consequences… Finally, don’t forget to tell them that I would have personally addressed the nation immediately on the matter, but I am presently on phone with many world leaders calling in to commiserate with us on the tragedy. You never can’t tell, one or two of them may elect to donate some dollars to us to enable us manage the disaster.”

“Your Excellency, any message to the bereaved families?”

“Oh, yes – the familiar line, I expect you to know that! Tell them I am with them, sharing this their moment of sorrow with all of them… Now, that’s okay, you may go now. Ah! My lunch is almost cold. No more questions, please. Let someone ask Goodluck to see me. He must to fly to Onitsha immediately to inspect the extent of damage, commiserate with the families of the bereaved, and announce my decision to set up a Commission of Enquiry to probe the immediate and remote causes of the collapse. He has to go immediately before this MASSOB propaganda gains ground and spoils the day for everyone….Ehee, yes, Ojo, you are already here? You will have to cancel or readjust (whichever) your scheduled trip to Paris and go to Onitsha with Goodluck; there may be need for you to deploy your ever confusing grammar to great advantage among the traders there….”

….Well, thank God, the Niger Bridge, though now a death trap, is still standing there like a well-beaten warrior, still faithfully shouldering heavy vehicular and human traffic between Asaba and Onitsha. But experts are warning us that if nothing is urgently done, that bridge would soon cave in, and crash down before Christmas – the time many Easterners would pass through it to return to their villages to spend the season with their kit and kin at home. What this means is that we have just less than two months to fix that bridge and save the nation the trauma of another tragedy. But from what we are seeing, the Federal Government is not behaving as if it is aware that a devastating tragedy is lurking at the corner, waiting to strike. Many people from virtually everywhere in the country use this bridge daily. Many more will use it this December and the New Year.

Only few may have heard the chilling alarm raised over the state of the bridge. Some others may have heard, but what alternative do they have except the same death-trap, especially those whose daily pursuit for sources of livelihood must make them shuttle between the South-West, South-South, Onitsha and even the North? The Federal Government must do something immediately.

Repairs on the bridge would require total or partial closure. If that extends into the December/New Year period, the torment people would experience there would certainly cast this government in the mould of a heartless devil. In fact, not even the most dreaded Oath of Secrecy would save it from the fiercest contempt and grave alienation of many Nigerians who would just regard it as one huge calamity unleashed on Nigeria at these most perilous times to severely punish it. No doubt, the fund to rehabilitate the bridge is there, but does the willingness exist, Mr. President?

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