HAPPY ANNIVERSARY JULIUS BERGER:

Commentary

By Steve Osuji

THE ALTERNATE SOVEREIGN: lt’s quite in character for Julius Berger (JB) not to roll out the drums on her 50th anniversary, regardless of COVID19. Didn’t they say wealth whispers while money is noisy.

Well, JB, the big, blue B encased in a white square background has been in Nigeria for 50 years and you may add, doing exploits.

The firm merely took out full page advertisement in some newspapers to announce her coming of age.

“50 Years: CELEBRATING THE PAST, INNOVATING THE FUTURE. Proudly Nigerian since 1970.”

Yes, JB is truly Nigerian in every respect and ramification. In fact it can lay a claim to being more Nigerian than Nigeria. And the reason is simple. In the last 50 years, JB and her officials have worked the innermost precincts of Nigeria’s power vortex than any other firm or officials.

They surely know what most of us don’t know and of course they do what we would never do.

Since 1970, all the presidents/heads of State, all the works ministers, most of the governors and big contracts compradors in the corridors of power, JB people must have encountered them at one point or the other.

For 50 years, the power, might and muted influence of JB can only be imagined and that’s because it has turned out to be a most smooth operator, an ultra-efficient, quietly humming machine.

And it had been so for five decades and getting better and much more coldly efficient by the day.

It can be said that JB is the architect and builder of post-independent Nigeria – to a very large extent!

Starting out in 1965, as a fifth Independence anniversary gift to Nigeria, German government had granted soft loan to Nigeria to build her second bridge in Lagos. JB, the German company was of course the firm to do this massive engineering feat.

Eko bridge it was to be christened, it was the longest and most modern bridge in West Africa at the time.

MONSTROUS MONOPOLY: Since then, JB has held a vice grip on Nigeria’s major infrastructure propositions. Yes, JB has rendered passable, if not quality deliveries most of which has passed the test of times, it has been 50 years of occupation nonetheless.

JB didn’t only virtually build the post colonial Lagos, the firm also almost singlehandedly built the bulk of Nigeria’s new capital city, Abuja.

Between Lagos, Abuja and the Niger Delta States, any project of elephantine magnitude that was and is not being handled by JB, is probably not worth it’s size. It could also be that the client couldn’t pay. Let it be known that JB charges premium rate and like a much-sought after mistress, JB always names her price.

JB is storied to be a middling construction firm in Germany set up by a hustler, named Julius Berger who didn’t even go to school. Berger was a building material supplier who got interested in civil works thus formed a company after his own name. But Berger was long dead before JB struck gold in Nigeria. One would wager that JB would be the largest firm in Germany today, but don’t expect to read that in the media.

After the 2nd Mainland Bridge (Eko Bridge), JB was also to build the magnificent 3rd Mainland Bridge all of them connecting Lagos mainland to the Island.

JB had also built a dam in Benue-Plateau State in 1971 and these projects gave her the fillip to fully establish in Nigeria with Lagos and Plateau taking up some equity in the struggling firm.

It has been open sesame since then. JB rebuilt the damaged Niger Bridge at Onitsha in 1970 as the civil war was receding into the eastern hinterland.

JB was practically spoilt silly from then with big jobs lined up her path since 1970.

The 28km Itoikin-Epe Road (1972), the sprawling Volkswagen Assembly Plant, Badagry road (1973), the Falomo Bridge (1974), the vast Lagos Inner Ring Road on Lagos Island (1974), Tincan Island Port, Apapa (1977), New Carter Bridge (1986) Lagos-Badagry Expressway extension from four lanes to 10 lanes, equalization of Ota-Abeokuta Road, Apapa-Oshodi Expressway, Lagos-Shagamu phase of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, to name few in Lagos.

JB virtually raised Abuja from dust. Starting from 1983 when she built the Abuja Central Area phase 1, Abuja to 1987 when the entire Maitama District Central Area 1, till today, JB has been at ‘war’ turning the stony sod of Abuja without let.

Some of her landmark jobs include the Abuja International Conference Centre; Federal Secretariat Buildings; Nnamdi Azikiwe Intrnational Airport; Louis Edet Police Headquarters; The Yar’Adua Centre; National Stadium, Abuja; CBN Headquarters; National Institute of Legislative Studies; new Senate and House of Assembly Annex; the building, and later, expansion of the Airport Road, in Abuja.

Outside Lagos and Abuja, JB built the Challawa Dam in Kano; Pankshin Dam and Water Treatment Plant; Jebba Bridge; Warri Port; Sapele Port; Aluminum Smelter Plant, Ikot Abasi; Delta Steel Plant; Ajaokuta Steel Plant; Itapke Ajaokuta Railway; Jos Steel Rolling Mill; Abuja-Kano Road.

Former Akwa Ibom State governor, Goodswill Akpabio practically hijacked JB and suffused her with enough earth- shaking infrastructure projects that the firm had to set up a third office in Uyo, Nigeria – after Lagos and Abuja.

Some of such jobs are the Akwa Ibom Stadium (Nest of Champions); a giant underground drainage system, among numerous others.

JB built Tinapa; some NLNG trains and Bonny Island and jetty; the Admiralty-Alexander (Fashola) Cable-stayed bridge linking Ikoyi to Lekki.

Obajana Cement Plant, Edo Cement Plant, Chevron Headquarters, Ajah…

More than 70 landmark projects accomplished by JB across Nigeria since 1970.

SHUNTING OF THE ‘REBEL’ SOUTHEAST: It’s quite uncanny that JB somehow bypassed the southeast in this blitzkrieg of construction. It didn’t matter that southeast had just been devastated by the civil war and that the 70s and ’80s were the peak of nigeria’s oil boom. Federal Government simply applied the bulk of Nigeria’s oil boom on building up Lagos and Abuja.

Apart from the repairs of the damaged Niger bridge after the war and the on-going panting and fretting over the less than 2km 2nd Niger bridge, JB hasn’t done any notable projects in the southeast east till date.

Of course the federal government takes the blame for discriminating against Ndigbo but that’s story for another…

WAS IT THE BERLIN ECONOMIC CONFERENCE? Every student of history knows a bit about the Berlin Conference of 1884 where European superpowers sat at a table and parcelled out most of the African continent as if it were a huge booty.

The countries were mainly Britain, France, Germany, Portugal and Belgium. They simply carved up Africa into arbitrary pieces and each of them took their potions to colonize and exploit.

What happened in post-independence Nigeria may he likened to another Berlin Conference of a subtle kind.

While Britain and U.S. took hold of Nigeria’s vast crude oil reserves through Shell, Chevron, ExxonMobil, etc,

Germany was quick to take hold of the infrastructure needs of the new, fledgling nation.

Did you ever wonder why no other serious engineering firm quite succeeded in Nigeria since independence? Some that ventured eventually crashed out. Remember firms like Spibat Strabag, Feugerolle and even Costain all had to pack up.

It has therefore, been an open field for JB.

MASTERS OF THE JUNGLE: To say that JB made good over these years would be dumb talk. JB made a killing and has continued to do so. It probably has made enough wealth in Nigeria to raise another country from scratch.

JB meticulously mastered the art of the jungle. A newly free colony would need to procure modern infrastructure for sure. The type only the masters could deliver.

It is also a well held notion that the new colony is highly corrupted and distorted. To deliver high-end, high-cost project never happens without compromises.

That is why a hilltop mansion had to be delivered for a military president and yet another one for a civilian president, among numerous other less prominent mansions.That is why our stadium in Abuja was ranked the most expensive in the world upon completion. It is also why there is often little transparency, or shall we say much surrounding in JB’s affairs.

JB’s rare ability to ‘graft’ Nigeria’s power locus into its business model which has allowed for her sweepstakes is equal to her capacity to deliver quality jobs, it must be said.

An artist impression of JB would be a two faced animal, half angel, half lucifer. What would Nigeria have done if she didn’t have JB that could play both ends against the middle and still get some results?

It surely would have been a calamity if we didn’t have someone with some acumen in managing this jungle, one dares say!

But going forward and after 50 years, true it’s a quoted firm, it pays dividends and taxes, yet one would expect a more enlightened JB. Cost of jobs can be less prohibitive for sake of dear country, it must engage more, release more of the strategic shareholding and commit more to social investments in Nigeria if truly it’s a Nigerian firm as it claims.

▪︎Steve Osuji, is a leading columnist and award winning journalist and social activist 

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