This bridge built by the colonialists, destroyed by the Biafrans in retreat during the civil war of 1967-1970, then rebuilt by the Nigerian government means a great deal to the Igbo.
It means more than a mere bridge connecting the Eastern Nigerian heartland at Onitsha with the Southwest of Nigeria at Asaba.
Besides the fact that no other bridge in Nigeria is so built, none evokes the kinda passion amongst a people like it does with the Igbos.
I cannot say if this existed before the civil war, but certainly it became established after the war. Not only with those who witnessed that sad part of history, but also with their offsprings.
During the pogroms in the North and other parts of Nigeria following the first coup and the ‘revenge-coup’, it served as the point which once reached by the returning/fleeing Igbo, such becomes the responsibility of the government of Eastern Nigeria which later became the Republic of Biafra.
Definitely the passion it evoked in those days differs from those of todays’. I’ve witnessed several occasions where and when travelling to the East by road and on getting to the Bridge Head on the Asaba side, people making calls to family that they were ‘there’, even when it’ll take another five hours to get to their final destination and home. Such is the kind of passion that bridge evokes. It’s when you know you are HOME!
It becomes all the more telling when you career this bridge during the festive seasons when many Igbos are wont to go home, with the resultant inbound traffic ‘pon the bridge. This is when it almost begins to look like a religious or spiritual encounter, especially as you gaze upon the Niger River underneath the bridge. Such beauty.
I’m convinced of the attachment of the Igbo to this bridge because I travelled with a Yòrùbá friend over it once and he felt nothing like I was feeling. I’ve interviewed many non-Igbos including those married to Igbos yet found nothing close to that feeling you’d find even amongst Igbo kids plying that bridge for the first time.
Interestingly, in one of those incidents that blighted Fashola (Lagos State Governor) before the Igbos, destitutes suspected to be of Igbo origin picked up along the streets of Lagos were dumped under this bridge to make their way home, in that unfortunate ‘deportation’ saga, that would later cost a member of his party the governorship position in Anambra State.
The Niger Bridge or Head Bridge has over the years become like the Igbo man’s mother, it is where he heaves a sigh of relief, where he utters the word, “finally”.
It’s the only place where he’s accepted with arms wide open, regardless of what he’s going home to face. The ‘Head Bridge’ can never have enough of her people.
If Igbos were Hindus, that bridge would’ve long been a goddess. If they were Yòrùbá they’d have made the bridge the point of depositing their sacrifices/êbô. She may not be any of these for the Igbo, but is definitely far more than that for them.
To the many Igbos and others whose heart clicked with the bridge as they made it past that Mecca, I say may you see more opportunities to do same again for millennia to come. May the Creator of our forefathers bless your Hustle.
Ìgbò Ekene mú únù.
Mú a nùùù.
Úmù únù zù á únù ò ò!