Udu Bridge: A Death Trap!

*Bridge in imminent collapse - Investigation *Bridge not maintained in 43 years - Residents *Bridge solid, passed integrity test - Delta Govt

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Crack on the old Udu bridge piers. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

Udu bridge, built about 43 years ago to provide connectivity to several satellite communities around the Warri metropolis, shows signs of imminent collapse and is indeed crying for Delta State government attention, to avert tragedy.

Udu Kingdom is linked to Warri metropolis via the Udu Bridge and the adjoining Enerhen community.

The bridge, standing over the Udu river that flows through Ovwian to the Warri River and connecting the Escravos bar, is now a deplorable death trap that motorists fear they may wake up, one day, to a collapse.

The road edifice built to connect Udu, Ekete-inland, Ekete-waterside, Orhuwhorun, Aladja, Egini, Otor-Udu, Otu-jeremi, Ogbe-Ijoh, Kiagbodo and other satellite communities and villages within Udu, Ughelli South, Burutu, Warri South-West Local Government Areas of Delta state, was opened to traffic in the year 1976.

BIGPEN Online findings indicate that since 1976 after it was built and commissioned by then military administrator of Mid-West state, Late Brig. Gen. Samuel Ogbemudia, the bridge has not undergone any extensive renovation or a bit of maintenance.

Yet it is the only bridge connecting the densely populated 34 communities that make op Udu council besides the Otokotu Bridge from the Delta Steel Company (DSC) expressway axis.

From the right flank of the bridge is the Delta Steel Company (DSC) plant in Ovwian/Aladja, supposedly Africa’s first direct steel production company that ferries heavy metal objects across the bridge, and a Shell Gas Plant located in Otorogu within Ughelli South and Udu Kingdom.

The bridge

Ovwian town, the community at the other end of the giant bridge, is one of the fast developing areas close to Warri metropolis. It is over 32,000 in population according to a Wikipedia check. Ovwian is the main link town sharing boundaries with Aladja, Ekete, Owhase, Egini, Orhuwhorun and Ujevwu communities.

By the bridge is the Udu main market, the popular Udu harbor market where local gin popularly known as ‘Ogogoro’ is sold in commercial quantity and privately owned Jigbale market which has grown to become one of the biggest market in the area.

Besides, the number of light weight vehicles that ply the Udu Bridge per day cannot be quantified following the densely populated nature of the area.

Also, the heavy weight trucks that ply the bridge and sometimes collide with the bridge rails in the past cannot be estimated.

BIGPEN Online findings indicate that the result of such accidents and collisions on the piers are the visible cracks on the walls of the bridge and rough crater at the middle of the bridge.

A recent accident on the bridge led to the damage of a long stretch of the rails over two months ago with no government intervention to reconstruct it.

A heavy duty truck accident on Udu bridge. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO
A heavy duty truck accident on Udu bridge. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

The bridge till date is still open to the danger of having no solid rail on a long stretch thus constituting a great risk to road users and motorists who often ply it to connect the Udu satellite communities.

It was gathered that a heavy weight truck, probably having brake failure veered off the bridge track and collided its head on the rails which collapsed to the other side.

According to residents, it took the divine providence for the driver of the truck (pictured in this report) to come out alive and for the truck not to have fallen over and crushed people who ply their trade under the bridge.

A heavy duty vehicle that plugged its head on the bridge's rails. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO
A heavy duty vehicle that plugged its head on the Udu bridge’s rails. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

Another section of the rails was blown away by heavy wind accompanied by rain storm following corrosion on the iron rod, an indication that the railings are no longer solid enough to stand the test of time.

It is fearful to drive that bridge at night, a resident said, because a swerve for oncoming vehicle may easily land one on the lagoon or cause a crash land on the under bridge piers because of the absence of the rails in the harbour market axis of the bridge.

Sources said that the tragedy that was averted in the accident witnessed two months ago, in the bridge,was enormous as hundreds of people have turned under the bridge into a beehive of activities where they eke out their living.

Makeshift shanties of people hustling under the Udu bridge Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO
Makeshift shanties of people hustling under the Udu bridge Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

There is another life under the bridge. One would find a pigs keeping slab, goat slaughter mini-market and several makeshifts for sawmill dealers and for petty traders who sell items for hustlers and bustlers who ply their trade under the bridge.

While under the bridge, one could see some of the iron rods protruding from the bridge even as nearly all the concrete slabs in the bridge have broken.

Majority of the people who volunteered information about what they know about the bridge complained that the bridge usually vibrate when a number of vehicles, particularly heavy weight are on it. They, however said that it has been eons since they last saw any government maintenance efforts on the bridge.

A truck which collided on Udu bridge after it was dragged out. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO
A truck which collided on Udu bridge after it was dragged out. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

The last maintenance effort that was done on the rails was from a private individual who often show concern to fabricate the disjointed rails whenever they were compromised.

Another concerned individual from Udu also brings in people to clear the weeds that grow on the patches.

Besides this, according to our sources, the bridge every year is just a receiver of road users, but has not received any local and state government maintenance measures.

Friday Erituoyo is an activist and marketer at the Timber Union Association in Udu. He has a makeshift office under the bridge and one of those who witnessed how the rails of the bridge crashed down from the bridge about two month ago.

“I was here that day it happened. I saw everything and luckily no life was lost. This bridge has been constituting hazard before now. If you’re passing through the bridge in the morning, you will notice there is a pothole at the middle and it is a big hazard waiting to manifest.

Collapsing rail at centre of Udu bridge. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO
Collapsing rail at centre of Udu bridge. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

“If you are going to work in the morning, you must go late because of the traffic jam occasioned by that pothole in the middle of the bridge. The recent one that happened was also in my present where a trailer almost fell off the bridge. Damn, the government is not trying here, from local government to state and federal government. They have failed in their responsibility to the people. Maybe they think people that are living here and occupying this community are ‘animals’.

Continuing, Erituoyo wondered, “Imagine a House of Assembly member’s house is across the river and he must pass the bridge to get to his house and he is representing Udu. What is he doing there if he cannot raise issue about this bridge?

Findings however indicate that the house member representing the area in the state assembly had at the time raised the issue of the bridge on the floor of the house.

Notwithstanding, Erituoyo said that both the house member and the community leadership have not done enough to take up the issue of the bridge before the state government.

A piggery under the Udu bridge

When asked to mention when last the bridge was in maintenance, Erituoyo shouted ‘Jesus’ in exclamation, saying ‘donkey years!’ “You can see it by yourself and we said we have a government. It is only God that has been saving people from accident in this bridge.

He said that the bridge was built late 70s by the Ogbemudia administration when Edo and Delta where still under one state, Bendel.

Erituoyo confirmed that one private individual simply identified as ‘TalkingJar’ (business name) was responsible for the clearing of the bridge of sands and weeds. “He used to come here on his own without payment to do it, so I want to commend him because he is really trying”, he said.

“There was a time one other person sent people here to repair the railings when a section of it fell off but that person I don’t really know but we learnt he is from Udu also”.

Another fallen rail on the floor of Udu bridge. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO
Another fallen rail on the floor of Udu bridge. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

But when BIGPEN Online contacted the President General of Ovwian community, Chief Matthew Uparan, he said that it was not true that the leadership of the area were sleeping over the danger posed by the current condition of the bridge.

According to him the bridge belong to the 34 communities that made up Udu council and not just Ovwian community. He however said that the issue of the bridge and the proposal for the dredging of the Udu River which also links the Warri River were some of pressing issues that the President General of Union of Udu Community, Chief Godwin Notoma was taking up with the government.

“We recently wrote to the federal government over the dredging of the Udu river since it also links the Escravos bar and security agencies were here to investigate our claims so I think the government would do something also about the bridge”, Uparan said.

Mr. Duke Okua, Secretary General of Ovwian community who gave graphic details about the construction of the bridge, said that the state government has not done any tangible maintenance of the bridge since it was built by the military government.

According to him, “The Udu bridge was commissioned in 1976 by the then military administrator of Bendel state, Samuel Ogbemudia and since the road to Udu was opened to economic development, no meaningful maintenance have been made on the bridge”.

He said that most of the rails are not there again adding “people are also complaining that the bridge is shaking most especially when heavy duty vehicles are passing through it”.

Another section of the bridge

Mr. Okua said that the bridge “really needs maintenance so we call on the Okowa-led administration to do something about it because it is old”.

When asked about the construction firm that handled the bridge project, Mr. Okua said, “It was constructed by Dumex Construction Company, the only company we know in those days that was doing government work.

“They did the construction of the bridge and the entire Udu road. Most roads, even the Ovwian main road, was also done by Dumex.

On the maintenance of the bridge, he said “Ovwain community has not written any letter again of late but I heard over the radio that the man representing us in the Delta state House of Assembly, Oviejitobo was saying something about it that Udu need another bridge or that one should be given adequate maintenance.

“I think during the Ibori government, I saw some people doing maintenance there which was not completed, the rails were partially maintained and they also did some paintings there, those were just the maintenance I saw but since then nothing has been done”, Mr. Okua said.

Another side view of the Udu bridge. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

Further investigations revealed that the Delta state government during the tenure of Chief James Ibori as governor had planned to dualize the Udu bridge with a landing point at Enerhen junction but the project was abandoned before it was hatched.

It was learnt that the Ibori administration in preparation for the said project took geographical survey of houses that were to be demolished to make way for the second bridge and one of such houses was the popular Jigbale house around Odibo roundabout.

The cost implication of demolishing that building which has a Certificate of Occupancy (CoO) and others reportedly forced the government to abandon the project. The state government was said to have also planned to dualise the Enerhen junction at that time to accommodate the bridge.

It was also gathered that the state government during the Ibori tenure had conceived building a bridge across Enerhen-Opete-Okpaka which would land at Enerhen junction after the dualisation of the Udu bridge failed but the project was also abandoned at conception level.

When reminded that the people of Udu at the time wrote to former governor Ibori to construct a second bridge to decongest the traffic, the Ovwian scribe affirmed that the idea came up because of the traffic coming from the Enerhen side of the bridge.

“I think the idea for a second bridge came up because of the holdup coming from the Enerhen side of the bridge. The Udu people needed an alternative route hence they cried for another bridge from Opete to Enerhen. It was necessary to decongest the holdup but until now we have not heard anything from government, the government didn’t respond to the letters Udu people wrote”.

Uparan however added, “Ibori tried to start the project but it was during the last lap of his administration, adding that there was also pressure on Dr Emmanuel Uduaghan to take up the Enerhen-Opete-Okpaka bridge project to decongest the traffic but he also did nothing about the project.

“Now that Okowa is here, we are not sure of anything from him because he is contending with failed link roads. Nearly all the link roads in the state have failed because of poor contractors handling these projects so it is telling on him seriously. The money he will use for this bridge would be enough to do like ten internal roads because the bridge would cost much money”, Uparan said.

Mr. Okua said, “We are calling on the federal government to extend the dredging of the Escravos bar to the Udu river so that vessels can be coming this way and to open more vistas for economic development because here is populated and for the population to be adequately taken care of, the dredging should take place here also so that the bridge can be maintained and more bridges can be built.

Crack on the old Udu bridge piers. Credit: BIGPEN PHOTO

Meanwhile, several efforts to reach the Delta state Commissioner for Works, James Augoye to comment on this report proved abortive as he neither picked his calls nor responded to text message sent to his mobile phone concerning complaint about the bridge.

Delta state Commissioner for Works, James Augoye

A text message sent to the honourable commissioner’s mobile phone to get government comment on this report on November 7, 2019 read, “Good morning sir, calling in respect to disrepair state of Udu bridge. Was told you’re aware part of the bridge rail collapsed over a month ago yet nothing has been done. We have a feature article on it and want your comment”.

He ignored the text message and never responded to inquiry but one week after this message was sent, the commissioner reportedly convened a press conference without reverting back to this writer in Asaba where he spoke about sundry issues concerning government efforts on road infrastructures and made mention of Udu bridge.

He tagged the complaints made by residents and motorists despite the visible concrete cracking on the bridge pier as ‘rumours’ and said engineers have certified the bridge as being in good condition.

The failed portion of the bridge including the fallen rails that left the bridge literally stripped naked to the lagoon for months were seen as nothing to worry about in the face of the risk and danger it posed to the lives of road users and residents of the area.  

According to the commissioner, who is an engineer, the “Udu Bridge is safe for use”, dismissing claims of it being a ‘death trap’ as speculations that should not be taken serious as the bridge has not failed but still very healthy for motorists.

Crack on the walls of the bridge

He, however mentioned that a team of engineers from the ministry of works was dispatched following the “alarm by the public that the bridge was in danger and not good for use”.

According to Aguoye, the team of engineers carried out integrity test on the bridge and found out that nothing was wrong with the bridge.

But he went further to confirm report that the hand rail which stretches over 420 meters on the bridge is vibrating when vehicles are passing through because a section of it has fallen off.

“The bridge is safe, the only problem is the hand rail which runs through the entire bridge. The rails will be vibrating when driving through. A section of it fell off which is resulting in the vibration because part of it is suspended for now.

“Once we are done with the replacement, the vibration will stop. We are going to do a comprehensive rehabilitation of the rails to make it modern,” Augoye said.

However, the President General of Union of Udu Community, Chief Godwin Notoma when contacted, said that he recently led his executive to the chairman of the local government, Hon. Jite Brown over the state of the bridge and poor roads infrastructure particularly the express junction road and others in Udu council area.

He said that the bridge deserved every attention government gives to infrastructures in the state, adding that it was long any maintenance was done on it.

According to him, “besides the bridge which we tabled before the local government council chairman on Thursday (fortnight ago), we also discussed the issue of inner roads in Udu which have also failed. The express junction in particular and the police station road and many other roads in Udu.

“I led my executives to the council chairman, and we were told that the commissioner for works has even sent some people to check the bridge so I think the state government is going to do something about the complaints”, he added.

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