When we leave Victoria Island, where we live, to travel to the airport or, as we did this past weekend, to the church Stake Center, we travel on the Third Mainland Bridge. This is a very long (about 12 km), low bridge on pillars over the water. Wikipedia says that it is the longest bridge in Africa (somebody told me that it was the longest in West Africa, but maybe it actually is the longest on the continent). In this photo, it's somewhat difficult to see the turn in the bridge in the Harmattan haze, which was particularly bad this past weekend. We were lucky this weekend, this long stretch is often clogged with traffic at a standstill, but it was free and clear on both our trips Saturday and Sunday. It took us about 40 minutes to get to the Stake Center -- it's just a little farther on to the airport past there. But I have a friend who was coming back from a trip and took 5 hours(!) to get home from the airport because of the traffic. That's hard on the bladder AND the nerves. The "go-slows" on this bridge are notoriously dangerous for armed robbers and the local "area boys" (the categories often overlap, but sometimes the area boys aren't armed, but threaten harm if you don't hand over the goods) threatening vehicles when there is no escape. That is a big reason why the company wants us to travel with armed guards when we travel this route. But if we had bikes here with us, this next weekend during the Environmental Saturday morning when no cars are allowed on the roads, we could join in a bike ride on the bridge with the Nigerian Field Society. They get approval to have a police van accompany the bikes, and bike the bridge stretch and back before cars are allowed back on the road. I think that would be an interesting way to see it. As it is, we get a quick glance at the "ijawa," which are these rickety houses on stilts built over the water accompanied by equally ramshackle boats. This is home for many fishermen and other people who eke out survival from the water.
The bridge was opened in 1990. There were reports in the fall of 2006 that there were signs that the bridge was in danger of collapsing. They had previously a couple of collapses of interchanges off the bridge. I have no idea if they have addressed the issues of the bridge structure. I doubt it, or they would likely still be working on it. And, more recently, there have been threats by MEND (the Movement for the Emancipation of the Nigerian Delta), a homegrown terrorist organization responsible for a lot of the kidnapping and unrest in the Delta region, to blow up the bridge. They certainly know that this would be a target that would have a huge potential for upheaval. I did find out that there is another option for travel to the airport, but it's much longer and goes over a couple of other big bridges. So, in the meantime, I say a prayer that the bridge won't collapse or be blown up while I'm on it, and I breathe a sigh when the road is clear and we can get off it as quickly as possible!