Second Niger Bridge was originally proposed in 1978, and ever since has been used as a campaign promise by national politicians seeking the support of voters in the southeast. It took more than three decades for the work to begin, but finally the company building the six-lane bridge says it will be ready by 2022.

When done, it will be “a huge sigh of relief to all Easterners in this country,” says Newman Nwankwo, 33, a businessman based in Onitsha who often plans his whole day around bridge traffic. Either he tries to cross at the lunchtime lull between noon and 2 p.m., or he waits until Sunday.

He won’t even attempt the crossing unless he has at least half a tank of gas.

“If I don’t plan well and I meet traffic, I just relax here in the queue, putting my A.C. and music on,” he said.

Stalled on the bridge, I look around and imagine what all these people could be doing if their time weren’t being sucked away by these daily snarl-ups and the four-decade wait for another option across the river. Bridges cause traffic all over the world, but this one’s aging steel rivets seem to be under more pressure than any I have ever crossed.

Another hour ticks by. We move a few inches.

People pass by, selling cold water and Coke. Where there is a go-slow, as traffic jams are known in Nigeria, vendor business blossoms.

Any movement is an on-again, off-again process. At one point when traffic starts forward, the driver in front of us is asleep. No amount of honking wakes him. Someone rushes over to shake him awake.

We go for 30 seconds. We stop for 30 minutes.

At midnight we make it across. It’s taken almost six hours to do three miles.

Leaving the bridge, we pass under a large sign on the Asaba side.

“Welcome,” it reads, optimistically, “to the land of progress.”

Ruth Maclean is the West Africa bureau chief of The New York Times.


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