Bagana: Myth of Trade by Barter and The Agony of Abandoned Bridge

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The ancient town of Bagana in Omala Local Government Area of Kogi state which is bounded on the north to River Benue separating it from Guto, Umaisha, Obatukwu and Loko in Nasarawa state, and on the East by Agatu LGA of Benue state. Bagana is 15km away from Abejukolo, headquarters of Omala LGA, with river access to Lokoja the Kogi state capital could be said to be water locked.

Bagana with a rough population of over thirty five thousand inhabitants has diverse ethnic tribes such as Igala, Agatu, Hausa, Nupe, Kakanda, Ebira Koto, Ibo, Kanuri, Epe and so many other minor tribes living today in peace and harmony.

Its diversity and location on bank of River Benue and coupled with her  proximity to the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has earned her the reputation of being the hub of doing business in Omala LGA over the years. It boast of  a thriving and prosperous commodity market that, till date, represented the intellectual postulation of the 19th century legendary economist Adam Smith’s  Trade by Barter.

Although modernity has changed the trade in most part of Nigeria. The trade by barter as a means of exchange has largely  remained intact in Bagana market.  In the market, one does not really need to have money to buy what he or she wants, but with  farm produce such as yams, cassava flour, millets and guinea corn which are produced by farmers from the hinterlands are being exchanged with fishes and other aquatic lives, beans and cereals which are produced in abundant by the riverine people of Nasarawa state thereby eliminating the incidence of inflation that has ravaged the business spectrum across the country.

Another thing that made Bagana unique was that it played host to colonial traders John Holt conglomerate in the early 19th century. The trading giant established warehouses for their goods and built residential settlements for their officials, which today have remained historical relics.

According to analysts, the trading merchants used Bagana as transit to buy farm produce from the hinterlands which is today carved  into part of middle belt and  states of the eastern states. Goods such as cotton, palm oil and kernel. Human cargoes were sold in Bagana for onward transportation through barges to Lokoja while goods of European origin such as salt, textile materials etc where shipped to Bagana for onward sales to the hinterlands.

At this time Bagana grew in population and popularity as it became a household name across the river Benue and the eastern states of the federation.

Although the town had grown both in population, industry and popularity, it had no security outpost, no functional institutions as the only School of Fisheries established by the then Benue state was abandoned when the town was carved into the new Kogi state creating huge security and unemployment challenges.

No wonder that toward the tail end of his administration in April 2007,  the former President Olusegun Obasanjo and his officials came to Bagana where he performed the signing agreement of the first Public Private Partnership (PPP) model in bridge construction in Nigeria across the River Benue in Bagana , which is known today as ill fated  Bagana/Guto bridge.

The former president Olusegun  Obasanjo, a week later  followed the Bagana experiment to sign the construction of second Niger bridge linking Asaba in Delta state and Onitsha in Anambra state. Unfortunately, while work on the Bagana bridge was stopped after about 50% job completed without cogent reasons adduced from the authorities concerned, the 2nd Niger bridge has since been taken over by the Federal Government. This is a case of what is good for the goose is not good for the gander.

However, independent opinion gathered that attempt by government to cancel the agreement was met with court injunction. Efforts by the Global Toll Nigeria to woo foreign investor to complete the multi-billion naira bridge has not been successful.

Meanwhile, a completed Bagana bridge will serve as a link between the north, the middle belt and the eastern states in Nigeria. It will help in fostering unity and boost economic development of the country.

Bagana/Guto bridge, as it is called, will fast-track ease of movement of goods and services, passengers and motorists  from the east, middle belt to Abuja and to the far North.

Bagana bridge construction has numerous  advantages over the other bridges on the Benue River as it will open up towns and villages in Nassarawa and the eastern flank of Kogi state which are inhabited mostly by fishermen, farmers and traders who can contribute meaningfully to the socio-economic development of the country.

When completed it takes lesser hours to move from Abuja to the whole eastern and part of south south states of Cross River and Akwa Ibom than any link bridge across the River Benue. By rough calculation, a motorist from Enugu needs just two hours to hit Abuja, the Federal Capital, while on other bridge it takes between five and six hours thereby reducing the gridlock on Lokoja-Abuja highway.

Bagana could also serve as satellite town to Abuja with the completed bridge as it takes only 45 minutes from Abuja thereby depopulating the overbloating Abuja population.

The bridge which was handled by the states of Kogi/Nassarawa, FGN and the Global Toll Nigeria ltd, the private consortium on a counterpart funding of ratio 10% each to the two states, FG 20% while Global Toll is to contribute 60% of the contract sum.

This paper gathered that the two states of Kogi and Nassarawa and the Federal Government had substantially paid their counterpart fund before the work was stopped.

In other to sensitise the concerned authorities , the Member representing Omala LGA in the state Assembly Rt Hon. Aliyu Akuh had on several occasions raised motions on the floor of the House to ensure the completion of the project which has gulped billions of naira from the past governments of Kogi and Nassarawa states as  counterpart contribution.

He lamented that for such huge financial contribution by the government to a project to allow the continued stoppage of the project is a disservice to the taxpayers and negate the principles of developing all parts of Nigeria for the benefit of the people.

The lawmaker called on the government of President Muhammadu Buhari in conjunction with the governors of Kogi and Nasarawa states to setup a high powered committee to address the stoppage and the immediate commencement of work.

This, he said, will rekindle the hope of the people that afterall the government is for the overall development of every part of this country and a panacea to wastage of government scare resources.

Credit: Julius Atabor

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