Decades of neglect have resulted in colossal damage to the nation’s bridges with many of them never having undergone any form of maintenance, either structured or unstructured over the last four to five decades.
Amid the shocking revelation that the Federal Government is planning to spend N270 billion for maintenance, repairs and restoration of over 50 bridges across the country, experts said, the nation would have continue to vote such a humongous sum for repairs until government initiates an appropriate policy that will change the status quo.
According to them, the nation could have been saved the trouble, if government had adopted a policy of nurturing indigenous engineers, who should be at the helm of affairs for any construction works to being executed by expatriate engineers.
The Guardian’s investigation reveals that during Gen. Yakubu Gowon’s administration, which witnessed massive infrastructure development, Nigeria engineers were made to study under the expatriates who are handling major world banks financed projects in the country.
According to renowned lawyer and the then Federal Commissioner for Works and Housing, Alhaji Olufemi Okunnnu, it was a matter of policy by the Gowon administration for Nigerian engineers to set up their companies to help in roads studies especially in the most important roads like Lagos- Ibadan Expressway, Ijebu ode- Benin-Asaba Road, Enugu-Awka-Onitsha Road, Kano-Maiduguri Road, Kaduna-Jos-Makurdi-Lokoja Road and many other roads including bridges.
The policy, he noted was to encourage, develop and equip indigenous engineers to ensure maintenance.
Okunnu however lamented the states of bridges and other federal infrastructure, which was expanded from 7, 500 miles in 1967 to 20,000 miles in 1974, when he left office.
He said the roads and bridges were either being reconstructed or construction have been completed while reconstruction was planned on some before he left office.
“The thinking was to empower indigenous engineers to develop their expertise in other to ensure appropriate maintenance of infrastructure,” he added.
But successive governments have jettisoned this policy with many of the bridges located in famous cities like, Lokoja, Onitsha, Kano, Lagos, Abuja, Port Harcourt and Kaduna, which were once cynosure of attraction because of their engineering masterpiece are now in despicable state.
For example, the third Mainland bridge, which was the longest bridge in Africa, measuring about 11.8 km in length, until 1996 when the 6th October Bridge located in Cairo was completed did not witnessed any serious maintenance till 2006.
The Bridge, one of the many construction works of Julius Berger Nigeris Plc started in 1977 was completed in 1990 and named IBB Boulevard but the name that stuck till date is The 3rd Mainland Bridge.
However, many commuters had reported that the bridge was vibrating noticeably, indicating that it needed urgent attention.
As a result, remedial work was commenced on some portions of the bridge at different times, leading to partial closure of the bridge at different times, which was completed in January 2013.
Recently, rehabilitation works on the Lagos Ring Road Bridge Abutment and Approach Ramp to the Third Mainland Bridge was awarded by former President Goodluck Jonathan to an Italian firm, Borini Prono & Company Nigeria Limited following indications of some misalignments on bridge caused by ecological problems, erosion and sand filling.
But structural engineers said government should be blamed for failure to monitor and enforce relevant laws.
According to the President of Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NIStructE), Oreoluwa Fadayomi, a nation that neglects its engineers in the scheme of things cannot develop.
Most of the issues about the bridges, he said, have to do with leadership.
“If you have a visionless leadership, then the nation will find itself at the bottom of development.
“We don’t want a situation where a government is greedy and selfish, thinking of its own alone. It is like giving fish to people, which is what we are doing now, bringing in the Chinese or the Germans to come and do all these socalled development. Look at what is happening to our refineries and our gas plants now.
“There was a time when they want to do some works on the International Airport and they have to be looking for the drawings abroad because they have not been any Nigerian content elements on it. We need to go back to Gowon’s day, when the road networks that are all fading now were being constructed.
“Nigerian consultants were in charge and they were given the right to source for the right technical partners that would work with them”, he said.
For a reader in the department of Civil Engineering, University of Ibadan, Dr. Festus Olutoge, it is regrettable that Nigeria lack maintenance culture for her assets unlike what is obtained in developed world like India where structure like roads and bridges are constantly maintained and repaired.
He also bemoaned that Nigeria lacks data for her structures, construct assets and leave it alone whereas there was the need to continuously monitor the usage and ascertain whether they are performing optimally.
“For every action, there is a reaction, when you apply a load on a structure, depending on the type of structure, the component such as internal and the precast are affected. Bridges respond to varied degrees of temperature, they shrink when the temperature is cold and expand when the temperature is high”. He said.
Olutoge explained further that quick deterioration of the bridges was as a result of heavy load vehicles and big trucks that ply the bridges.
He also stressed that such vehicles are supposed to be weighed and charged appropriately and the money collected used for the maintenance of the bridges and roads to enhance their life span.
Also another construction expert, Dr. Bamidele Dahunsi, said maintenance is an essential part of management of any structure even before the completion of such a structure.
“Nigeria has a lot of bridges and when you neglect these facilities, the cost of putting it back into shape could be enormous. If Nigeria has been doing this all the time, perhaps, we will not have cause to spend such an amount of money”.
Dahunsi, who is also a structural engineer and university teacher, explained that bridges are one of the most expensive structures across the world.
He said their various components like the top-surface of the bridge, the supports, and the joint where you have the biggest problem in Nigeria if not well solidified and given regular maintenance, could bring a lot of vibrations and endanger the bridge and its users.
“More engineers should be employed to maintain the bridges and roads, regular check on the state of the bridges, maintenance activities must be part of the management of the bridges and it should not be what we do by accident”, he said.