Two months after the Nigerian Military closed the Niger Bridge to pedestrians crossing to and from the Asaba axis in Delta State and Onitsha in Anambra State, Bishop Ephraim Ikeakor, other clerics and civil society groups have given the Army seven days to reopen the bridge.
Since the closure of the bridge, the military in enforcing the order have meted out all manner of punishments to motorists and commuters accused of violating the directive.
The AUTHORITY learnt that a private car driver and a commercial bus driver were forced by soldiers to cut grass at the Asaba end of the bridge for allegedly disobeying their instructions.
But motorists and commuters who have been bearing the brunt of the activities of the soldiers stationed at the bridge after the protest by the Indigenous Peoples of Biafra (IPOB) are not happy, describing their stay as that of “an army of occupation.”
The single lane left on each side of the expressway is not enough to accommodate the high volume of traffic that builds up on the bridge every day, hence traffic gridlock has become a recurring decimal.
Following the ban on pedestrians and the roadblocks mounted at both ends of the bridge, pedestrians, commuters and motorists have been facing hard times crossing to and from Onitsha and Asaba.
The Military from 302 Artillery Regiment under the Commander, Abdulahi Maigari, during the protests by the IPOB and the Movement for the Actualisation of the Sovereign State of Biafra (MASSOB), barred pedestrians from crossing the bridge.
But since normalcy returned to the area, pedestrians have not allowed to use the bridge despite several appeals from civil society groups and non-governmental actors.
In the spirit of the Easter celebration, the Lord Bishop of Amichi Diocese, Right Reverend Bishop Ephraim Ikeakor, wondered why the Fulani’s killing of farmers in Agatu, Benue State and other parts of the country still had freedom of movement but pedestrians in Onitsha Main Market are not able to move freely.
Bishop Ikeakor demanded the Army authorities to soften their stance and reopen the Niger Bridge for pedestrians since there are no more security threats that warrant the closure in the first instance.
Also, the national body of the Campaign for Democracy (CD) yesterday said it was longer acceptable for the Army, in a democratic government, to continue to hold the people hostage.
In a statement by its National Publicity Secretary, Dede Uzor A. Uzor, CD said the Nigerian Army has been given a seven-day ultimatum to reverse the punishment to pedestrians crossing from either end of the bridge, as the Nigerian Constitution gives freedom of movement to all Nigerians.
CD said: “Going by what the Army is doing, they are violating the Nigerian Constitution and it is unacceptable. We have given them, seven days to reverse it and allow our people enjoy themselves after Easter by having a choice of crossing over the River Niger on foot, rather than on vehicles. People should be allowed to move freely.”
The Intersociety Board of Trustees (BoT), Chairman, Emeka Umeagbalasi, described the action of the military as sabotage to the Igbo economic hub and a punishment to innocent people going about their legitimate businesses. He alleged that the Nigerian Navy does same at Uga Junction, also in Onitsha, lamenting that he never knew where they got such powers from.
Umeagbalasi said the two military organs have turned themselves to extortionist agencies at the Head Bridge and Uga Junction as they both have contact persons the other members pay to, be it Okada or traders at the areas.
Okada members pay up to N2,000 per month. He lamented that they equally give people corporal punishments. He blamed the Hausa/Fulani oligarchy for such extortions and punishment to Ndigbo.
Meanwhile, the affected officials of the military did not pick calls put to their phones by The AUTHORITY to get their side of the issues at stake.
Motorists and traders making use of the Onitsha-Asaba Bridge have decried the highhandedness of the soldiers stationed at the both end of the bridge.