Sonala Olumhense: The 2nd Niger Bridge and other broken promises

by Sonala Olumhense

2nd-Niger-bridge

But here we are: 2014, and the SNB seems to be the latest proof the President intends to postdate his 2011 electoral pledges. He has already said the Lagos-Ibadan road will now be completed in four years.

President Goodluck Jonathan last week finally got some traction on the Second Niger Bridge (SNB) project. It was one of the key elements he felt he needed to win the Igbo vote in the 2007 and 2011 elections, and he hammered at it relentlessly.

According to Mr. Jonathan himself, it was in 2007 when he was running for Vice-President that he first promised to build the bridge.

Four years later, he would run for the presidency on his own, and at least two times in one day, the first in Aba, he made sure everyone who was listening, and everyone who was capable of telling anyone else, he was going to complete the SNB.

That was on February 12, 2011.

Appearing in Enugu on that same day, he repeated the promise; he was not taking the chance of losing the vote of a people in a place where he reminded them his name was Azikiwe.

He would return to the East on February 26, and repeat the same promise in Awka: he, Goodluck Azikiwe Jonathan, would complete the SNB.

Press coverage of that week confirms that he left Awka for Onitsha. There, the following day, he made the defining promise of his electoral campaign and his presidency.

“I do not make empty promises in my campaign,” he declared, “because whatever I promise to do, I had already carried out adequate study to make sure I can accomplish it in the next four years.”

Most of Mr. Jonathan’s campaign pledges are documented “A Mountain of Promises,” an article I published as a public service one week before his inauguration in 2011. That Onitsha declaration makes them all a critical part of contemporary Nigerian politics.

The SNB is a tantalizing challenge, but it is curious that Nigeria’s President only broke ground on it last week, just a little more than one year to the end of his tenure.

Let us be clear: each time Mr. Jonathan played the SNB card during his campaign, he spoke in terms of completing it before the end of his tenure in 2015.

Another such memorable occasion, after the election, was a Town Hall meeting in Onitsha on August 30, 2012. On that occasion, he told the people he was so sure he was of his pledge that he was prepared to go on exile if he failed to build the SNB before completing his term in 2015.

“When the first bridge was built, it was during the presidency of Nnamdi Azikiwe,” he said. “The Second Niger Bridge will be built under the presidency of Azikiwe Jonathan.”

He was rewarded with tumultuous applause and dancing by people who thought they had invested wisely. They were still dancing when Jonathan got on his jet and returned to Abuja.

Again, that was in August 2012, five years after Jonathan first promised the bridge, and one and a half years after he repeatedly played the same card in an effort to win the local vote.

The problem is that last week, he seemed to have forgotten his target of 2015. The project will now be completed “in four years,” he said, with no indication as to his exile address.

Many Igbo politicians were in celebration over the groundbreaking, curiously ignoring the fact that the bridge that Mr. Jonathan will “complete” in four years is different from the one he promised in 2011. The one he campaigned with is due no later than May 29, 2015.

With his new project, he is getting away with a bait-and-switch scheme: in 2011, he promised a 2015 bridge in order to get the 2011 vote; in 2014 he is dangling the same bridge for the future.

To be fair, President Jonathan has yet to declare he will run for next year’s election; he had said on several previous occasions he would not contest.

Nonetheless, something else he downplayed last week is that the bridge he promises in four years, if completed, will for 25 years belong not to the government. It will belong to the concessionaire, Julius Berger, which will impose and collect tolls. Only the politicians are salivating at the prospect of those tolls.

I fully support the construction of the SNB; everyone who has paid attention knows that it is long overdue. The problem is that when someone owes a debt, his promise to pay it in the future neither satisfies the debt nor assuages the outrage of unfulfilled deadlines.

This is the problem with electoral promises. In 2011, Mr. Jonathan arrived with various promises he was exchanging for votes “because whatever I promise to do, I had already carried out adequate study to make sure I can accomplish it in the next four years.”

In the context of the SNB, he is not delivering on his “adequate study,” and he is not delivering on time. There may be a whole book of electoral pledges nationwide which fits that description.

For the South-east, he also promised, among others: facilities that would boost the enterprising spirit of the Igbo; stamping out kidnapping; upgrading the Enugu airport to international level; dredging the River Niger; a dry port in Aba; rehabilitating all the main roads into Abia, and constructing all the major roads which link Anambra with its neighbors.

He promised to dualize the Enugu-Abakaliki Express Road within his first year; to convert the Federal Medical Centre in Abakaliki into a teaching hospital; to tackle the erosion menace; to prepare Aba for aircraft production; to complete the aero-dynamic survey of gas in the Anambra River basin; to complete the Onitsha Inland Port, and to build coastal roads and rail from Lagos to Calabar.

That was just one geo-political zone.

Nationally, he promised, among others, a holistic review of Nigeria’s education sector policy; a five-year plan to revolutionize agriculture and establish industries; a four-year development plan that would open up the South-South geo-political zone; a five-year structure for road construction to replace annual budgetary allocations; and a five-year development acceleration plan.

These are besides broader promises to combat corruption and to ensure electricity, security and jobs.

On May 21, 2011, when I first published my summary of these promises, it was as a reminder to Mr. Jonathan, but it was also as a measure of my skepticism. I did not believe Mr. Jonathan believed a word he had said.

At his Media Chat in June 2012, however, he assured the country he was on course. “People will see the results by 2013 and things will change,” he declared.

But here we are: 2014, and the SNB seems to be the latest proof the President intends to postdate his 2011 electoral pledges. He has already said the Lagos-Ibadan road will now be completed in four years.

This is a trend Nigerian voters must bear in mind when politicians show up before elections with wild supplies of promises.
The history of Nigeria’s public life is the story of a landscape littered with broken promises and uncompleted projects. It is not difficult to see how this came to be, and people like President Jonathan must be held to account.

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Op-ed pieces and contributions are the opinions of the writers only and do not represent the opinions of Y!/YNaija.

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