Bridges are one of the most important road infrastructures in any country. They link places separated by rivers and bodies of water and serve as an overpass for ease of traffic in many cities. To this end, they are of huge relevance for social and economic development.
Nigeria, the world’s 32nd largest country does have many of these structures across its total land area of 923,768 square kilometers. However, maintenance of these structures appears to be a major problem as indeed in other countries.
Typically, the maintenance culture in the country is poor hence a lot of public facilities have been left in ruins and subsequent abandonment. From the personal perspective, the average Nigerian cannot maintain his or her personal property and that has trailed maintenance of government properties.
Popular bridges in Nigeria include the Niger Bridge in Asaba/Onitsha, Third Mainland Bridge, Carter Bridge, Lekki-Ikoyi Bridge all in Lagos, Benue Bridge in Makurdi and Jebba Bridge in Jebba.
Located in Lagos State, the Third Mainland Bridge was constructed in 1990. It was the longest in Africa until the 6th October Bridge located in Cairo, Egypt was completed.
Constructed by Julius Berger Nigeria Plc, the 11.8 kilometers long bridge is one of three linking Lagos Island to the Mainland.
Asides the Third Mainland Bridge, there are several popular bridges in Lagos State such as the Eko, Carter, Ijora, Iponri, Jibowu, Abati Barracks, Ojuelegba, Stadium and Costain bridges.
Indeed, there are also bridges in both the northern and the eastern parts of Nigeria. Scattered in several towns, they include Jebba, Lokoja, Markurdi Bridges among others.
However, one thing, which is peculiar with all of these bridges, is a lack of consistent and thorough maintenance.
Thus, when people ply them, they get worried due to the fact that they hardly know their true condition
In a chat with Saturday INDEPENDENT, Uloma Eze (not real name) spoke about her fears when plying the Third Mainland Bridge.
In her words: “I always have phobia whenever I am on Third Mainland Bridge because of the sound from the impact of the vehicle’s tires on the joints of the bridge. I always have this feeling that any minute of the day, something will happen and it will sink. I don’t know why, but that premonition always comes to my mind anytime I am on the bridge. I feel that the clanging sound is not normal,” she said.
Asked if she has that premonition on Third Mainland Bridge, Eze answered thus “I hardly notice that kind of clanging when I am on any other bridges, it is not that loud and it is not something you notice that much because other bridges don’t have too much of that demarcation in-between them, maybe because they are shorter. They don’t have too many connections; I don’t feel like that on other bridges, but Third Mainland Bridge, I don’t know why.”
Eze went on to say that another factor that worries her about the bridge is the fact that there are too many vehicles on the bridge at a particular time. “What I understand is that bridges are built for vehicles to keep moving, but not to be permanently stationed on them for a long time. During the government of Babatunde Raji Fashola in Lagos State, the traffic congestion on the bridge was controlled such that it wasn’t much, and it was always moving fast. However, in the past two to three months, the traffic jam seems to have returned back, this time heavier. You have six lanes of heavy vehicles and trucks on one side of the road, I don’t know why, but anytime I am on it, I am always in prayers; I hardly sleep. I always tell myself that one day it will happen, but I won’t be on the bridge when it happens,” she added.
Eze’s phobia for Third Mainland Bridge is not outrightly different from that of Mojisola Kolade, a certified driver of several years, who revealed how she stopped driving because of the fear that grips her each time she drives on bridges in Nigeria.
“I had to stop driving in Nigeria due to the feeling I get every time I drive on Nigerian bridges, even in Lagos State. I am well-travelled and I drive abroad, but I always get that chilly feeling when I return to Nigeria. It’s like the bridge would collapse,” she said while speaking with Saturday INDEPENDENT.
Now, Kolade hardly drives herself in Nigeria, as she goes around with her driver. When he is not available, Uber or Bolt does the trick for her.
To avoid calamity from the collapse of a bridge, would mean to fix it before it collapses.
In Lagos State, as part of efforts to prevent disaster from collapsed bridges, the state government has been trying to ensure that trucks, tankers and articulated vehicles stop parking on bridges.
In an interview, the Sector Commander of the Lagos State Federal Road Safety Corps (FRSC), Hyginus Omeje spoke about the risk that awaits road users as a result of tankers parked on bridges.
Omeje said “We are sitting on a keg of gun powder because the bridges are weak as tankers, trucks and articulated vehicles are parked on them. When these vehicles are stationary on the bridges for a long time, they have a negative impact, including deterioration, bridge-fatigue, damage or even collapse.”
Affirming Omeje’s claims, former President of Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers (NIStructE), Oreoluwa Fadayomi in a past interview said bridges are made so that vehicles keep moving.
While the trucks parked on Lagos bridges might pose a threat to the lives of road users, there are other risks from using them, especially those with their footing built inside rivers and lagoons.
Professor JHT Kim, Head of the Concrete Structural Engineering Laboratory at Yousei University, Seoul, South Korea, agrees that underwater metal casings and concrete piles are responsible for carrying the weight and stabilizing of bridges.
However, how often are the conditions of these concrete piles checked after years of construction? Who checks if they have been eroded by water, and who is responsible for conducting stress tests on them and when they are done, how reliable are the results released?
Emphasising the importance of stress and integrity test and the need to be just and fair with the report turned out, Engineer Victor Oyenuga, a former President of NIStructE stated that: “Just like any other thing, there is a need for us to carry out a test on bridges after many years of construction. I remember that the Stadium and Ojuelegba Bridges were constructed when I was in Yaba College of Technology, and that was between 1974 and 1975. By the time you look at that time till now then you know how many years the bridges are. So, I think that there is a need for test on the bridges, bearing in mind that every work has a lifespan, especially for bridges. For concrete nowadays, the current code is about 120 years, but the minimum is actually 50 years. So, there is no cause for alarm. Normally, there is supposed to be regular checks and maintenance. Some of these bridges might have their expansion joints already worn-out. Like Ojuelegba Bridge for instance, in the morning, when you are Lagos bound, there is always hold up there because of the worn-out expansion joint. So, such things are supposed to be replaced because if they are not replaced, a vehicle that is supposed to just climb will impact additional weight on the bridge because it will seem like the car is jumping from one end to the other. I don’t know if the government has done any stress or integrity test on the bridges, but I know that they did some repairs on the Third Mainland Bridge. Before repairs were done, there are test and studies that would have been carried out to determine the type of repairs that are necessary. I also know that during the reconstruction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway when you are ongoing to Ibadan, there were repairs also done by Julius Berger on the three bridges towards Kara,” Oyenuga told Saturday INDEPENDENT.
In 2013, Senator Gbenga Ashafa, representing Lagos East Senatorial District raised alarm over the impending collapse of the Third Mainland Bridge.
In a motion co-sponsored by 55 other senators, Senator Ashafa claimed that a report produced by a company experience in underwater survey indicated that the underwater metal casings housing the concrete piles on which the bridge stands have rusted, hence the vibration of the bridge on some portion.
The report was attributed to Professor Kim, who came to Nigeria for research work in December 2012. Though Senator Ashafa’s outcry met with heavy criticism, the Federal Roads Maintenance Agency (FEMA) under the auspices of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing have since been occasionally shutting down the bridge for periodic maintenance work.
In 2018, the Third Mainland Bridge was closed for three days between 23 and 26 of August. According to FEMA, the repair which should naturally be an extensive one would be staggered to ease traffic.
During the period, maintenance work on the road was carried out with old asphalts replaced with new one. However, the probability that the footing of the bridge was touched is unclear.
Engineer Tayo Awodun, who was in charge of the maintenance project was quoted to have said that “the agency was working on both carriageway of the bridge in a way that it would not affect traffic.” He, however, didn’t make any mention of any maintenance work that would see them test or evaluating the core of the bridge.
Speaking in relation to the Third Mainland Bridge, the Lagos State Commissioner of Transportation, Ladi Lawanson, revealed that integrity test is occasionally carried out on it by FEMA. Lawanson revealed this in August 2018.
According to him, this explains the occasional closure of the bridge. If the Third Mainland Bridge has been tested and supposedly certified okay, what about the other bridges in Lagos State?
In 2018, the Lagos State Government stated that Carter and Eko Bridges; would also go through integrity tests after the evacuation of tankers on the roads.
According to the government, having carried the amount of dead loads it had for so long, it was important that they be tested.
Though maintenance work was carried out on Eko Bridge in 2018, it wasn’t clear if the bridge underwent an integrity test.
In 2018 alone, over 10 bridges collapsed in Nigeria for various reasons. The Ilorin-Mokwa-Jebba Road Bridge at Tatabu Village, in Niger State, was partly washed off. Another bridge which collapsed was that in Bokani-Tegina road with another along Bida-Minna Road also crashing.
Dangana in the Lapai Local Government Area of Niger State also witnessed a collapsed bridge that left commuters stranded. In Owerri, Imo State, a bridge located near a Children’s Amusement Park at the Ikemba Ojukwu Centre also collapsed as did the Atuwara Bridge located in Ilogbo, a town in Ado Odo/Ota Local Government Area of Ogun State. The Minister of Power, Works and Housing Babatunde Raji Fashola personally announced the collapse of the Jalingo-Wukari Bridge.
A paper titled “Significance of Structural Integrity Assessment In The Sustenance Of Nigeria’s Infrastructural Development” written by the trio of Olaniyi Abraham Oluseun of the Ministry of Works, Akure, Ondo State; Ogunseye Olatunde David of the Federal Polytechnic, Bida, Niger State; and Engineer Wale Lagunju (FNSE), the Executive Director, Intecon Partnership Limited, Ibadan, Oyo State, examines the mode of assessing the structural integrity of concrete structures under the destructive and nondestructive approaches. The report also revealed why structural infrastructures continue to collapse.
According to the report, Nigeria has made little provision for operations and maintenance, hence the extensive damage of civil engineering infrastructure.
Recommending a solution to structural collapse, the report advised that a “consistent inspection must be carried out on most structures to ensure that they do indeed possess excellent structural integrity.”
It went on to recommend regular inspection and non-destructive test methods (NDT), as swift and inexpensive means to establish whether a structure is still in a serviceable condition or not, adding that the inadequacy of infrastructures to serve their intended purpose during their lifespan is a major drawback to the nation’s economy.
Despite being aware of the disaster that can occur from the collapse of major bridges in the country, no serious effort has been put into ensuring that bridges are given random and occasional detailed inspection.
On Thursday, June 28, 2018, a fully loaded truck, with its highly inflammable content and that of 54 other vehicles got burnt on the Berger end of the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway. Many have asked if the bridge has gone through any test since then.
Speaking with Saturday INDEPENDENT on the kind of maintenance work they do on Lagos bridges, the Deputy Director, Public Affairs, Ministry of Works and Infrastructure, Mr. Sina Thorpe said “On our bridges, we do have constant monitoring and inspection. So, where any fault or repair is needed the state government carries them out.”
Asked if an integrity test had been done on the Otedola Bridge since the petroleum tanker explosion of 2018, Thorpe said that immediately the debris from the fire was cleared, the state government through the Ministry of Works and Infrastructure in partnership with the Lagos State Materials Testing Laboratory (LSMTL) carried out several tests on the bridge. According to him, the Institution of Civil Engineers also conducted an integrity test on the bridge, adding that the Federal Controller of Works Lagos State had assured that the bridge was in top shape during a meeting they had after the incident.
Shading more light on the responsibilities of the ministry in relation with bridges, Thorpe said “bridges are not like roads, but when you talk about the surface, definitely when we see any anomaly, the Public Works Corporation carries out the resurfacing of the bridge. We have a department in this Ministry and our engineers go out randomly. We do the constant routine inspection and monitoring and where it is observed that there is need to carry out maintenance work, we do it immediately. Most of these bridges have a lifespan, but before that, the flag is already raised that this bridge is going to be due. This is irrespective of whether we experienced any obvious fault anywhere. Because is not when you observe the fault that you now carry out the repairs. When the infrastructure is handed over to the state government, we do sign a maintenance agreement with the construction company spanning sometime and if they eventually hand them over to us, we have our own maintenance calendar that we do carry out.”
Mr. Thorpe went on to list some of the bridges which have been recently maintained by the Lagos State government as the Ogudu and Alapere Bridge, adding that the Eko Bridge also witnessed some routine maintenance of the expansion joints last year. According to him, the state government does the maintenance of bridges constantly.
Definitely, the need to conduct integrity test on bridges and maintain them to prevent catastrophe leading to death cannot be overemphasised.
A few days ago, a ferry collided with a bridge pillar in the state of Para in Northern Brazil. It caused a 200- meter section of the bridge to collapse into the Moju River. According to eyewitnesses, two cars fell into the water after the crash.
Scuba divers are still searching for survivors as at the time of filing this report. The five crew members on the ferry were said to have survived. The bridge leads to Belem, one of the country’s busiest ports.
Therefore, there is an urgent need for Nigeria’s government to begin to look into prompt maintenance of these bridges especially those that were built in the 70s like Iponri Bridge in National Art Theatre, Lagos.