It is astonishing to learn that the famous Niger Bridge, one of the most prestigious, yet least regarded engineering masterpieces in Nigeria, has been closed to pedestrian users for over two months. The Bridge, which links Onitsha, the commercial city of Anambra State and gateway into the Eastern flank and Asaba, the capital of Delta State, is probably the only bridge in Nigeria with special lanes constructed for the use of pedestrians and cyclists.
The Nigerian Army had temporarily prohibited pedestrians from crossing the Bridge in the wake of the protests and blockage by the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB) and other pro-Biafra groups in December 2015 over the incarceration of their leaders. The Army obviously took the step to prevent the further assemblage of the protesters around the Bridge to ensure the smooth movement of vehicular traffic.
Since the protests have died down and no further threat exists for users of the Bridge, we do not see why the Army should continue the prohibition of pedestrians from crossing the Bridge. What sense does it make to stop people from crossing the Bridge on foot when the Army is maintaining road blocks and round-the-clock presence there? Reports have it that bad eggs in the Army and the Navy (which also operate a roadblock around the Uga Junction in Onitsha) have since resorted to extorting money from commercial motorcyclists and tri-cyclists, who are made to pay N2,000 per month for right of way to go about their businesses.
We join concerned stakeholders, such as the Anglican Bishop of Amichi Diocese, Ephraim Ikeakor, the Campaign for Democracy (CD), the Intersociety group and others who are calling on the military authorities to end this obnoxious affront on the democratic and constitutional rights of Nigerians to freedom of movement. The military has no right to decree that people can only be conveyed across the Niger Bridge through the use of vehicles. It is not everyone that can afford to do so.
Besides, the River Niger and the Bridge over it are breathtaking tourist sites, and people should rather be encouraged to visit the Niger to take in the beauty of nature and engineering excellence combined. It is very disheartening that Nigerians are gradually being made to lose their rights. The military must rein-in the growing acts of impunity among their staff and respect the laws of the land and its rules of engagement with the civilian populace.