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OPINION: Lagos-Calabar highway robbery



OPINION: Buhari’s presidency at Nigeria’s expense [1]

THE intention may have been noble when the former President, Gen. Olusegun Obasanjo sowed the seed of the Lagos – Calabar Coastal Highway in 2006. For those who may not know or are unable to connect the dots, the notorious East West road in the Niger Delta region of our country was actually conceptualized and designed to be constructed as a phase of the project that has metamorphosed as the Lagos -Calabar Coastal Highway. The problem was that the lack of clarity, purpose, buy-in and transparency that dogged the Obasanjo East -West road now appears to be afflicting the current President, Alhaji Bola Ahmed Tinubu’s Lagos -Calabar Coastal Highway.But this one is dripping with a carefully crafted fraud. However, It willstill amount to self-deceit to scoff at the central place and pivotal role of road construction in opening up a country and in economic development. This may have informed the conception of the East – West road by Obasanjo almost 20 years ago in addition to the efforts to pacify the then very restive Niger Delta region. Early in the life of the fourth republic the Niger Delta which lays Nigeria’s golden egg – crude oil-was a no-go area. Indigenes felt, and rightly so, that their region produced [still produces]the bulk of the crude oil that sustains this country, yet her people lived in squalor and penury. Their environment was [is] polluted by mindless and wasteful gas flaring; the roofs of their homes are battered and destroyed by acid rains; their farms are routinely turned into wastelands bymassive crude oil spills which also destroy their main source of livelihood -fishing.

It’s critical to note that their plights are accentuated by the fact that a vast majority of the indigenes of the region lived [live] in penury and darkness and yet they have neighbours [oil workers] who live in oasis of opulence and ostentation. Back in the day as a reporter, it was a common sight to see a community in that region enveloped in darkness wrapped with degradation sharing a common fence with oil workers’settlementsor camps with fancy houses, blinding lights and tree-lined streets and avenues. Residents of the campsdrink potable water. Residents of the backwateradjoining slums drinkstagnantand unsafe water. It was no surprise, therefore,that they were forced to take up arms, form militias, kidnapped oil workers especially the expats for ransom and shut-in oil wells. The usually deaf and dumb and insensitive Nigerian rulers were stirred to act. The Niger Delta militants, as they were known, had Nigeria by the balls. Without crude oil there will be no Nigeria. The prominent militants were pacified with golden handshakes and the promise of constructing the East -West roadfor the elite while a substantial number of the rest got amnesty and educational opportunities abroad.

The above was part of the past. If the latest fad of the Lagos -Calabar Highway construction is about the Niger Delta, not much has been said in that regard.It looks morelikea slush fund wrapped in a huge contract. If there ever is a wrong time to embark on a potentially good and beneficial project of this size in Nigeria, it’s now. A 10-lane freeway with a rail track in its bowel has the capability of potentially transforming parts of the nine states where this coastal road will pass through. Roads andrails shape modern societies. They facilitate movements of persons as well as transportation of goods and services. They play critical roles in economic development of communities, regions and countries. Roadsand rails improve accessibility and connectivity. During construction roads and rails as in this case provide vast opportunities for employment of both professionals and artisans. And anything that could help to make a significant dent on Nigeria’s staggering unemployment should not be dismissed with a waive of the hand. These benefits should ordinarily recommend the wholehearted embrace of the coastal highway by a majority of Nigerians. So, why is that not the case? First, this peculiar road project which will coarse through challenging terrains including swamps and mangroves across nine states with spurs at an estimated cost of N15trillion and a delivery period of eight years is a misplaced priority.

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That a miserly sum of about N500 million was provided for the project in the 2024 Appropriation Act is a clear pointer to the inevitability of another failed project.It has all the ingredients of a white elephant project, another monument to waste. Minister of Works, Dave Nweze Umahi, an engineer and immediate past governor of Ebonyi state said last week that a section of the road will start on Victoria Island and end in Lekki Deep Sea Port, both in Lagos stateand will gulp over N1 trillion. Work was said to havealready started on that section of the highway but nobody is talking about the source[s] of funding that segmentof N1.06 trn. The mystery about the funding of the Lagos-to-Lagos section of this road in the absence of appropriation by the pliant national assembly is symptomatic of the opaque nature and brazen lack of transparency of the totality of the Lagos Calabar Coastal Highway as being superintended by the Tinubu regime. Initially, the road was said to be a BOT [Build, Operate and Transfer] in which case the federal government will not be required to commit any money towards its construction. Even at that it had a problem. The estimated cost was not disclosed. The construction duration was not stated. But Nigerians were told that Hitech Construction Company was arbitrarily handpicked to build the road. The rationalization was thatonly that company has the financial muscle and the technical competence to deliver on the ‘specialized’project. Everybody kept quiet. But soon after,a memo was reported to have been presented to the federal executive council for the approval of about N1trillion forthe Lagos-Lagos leg of thehitherto BOTroad. And that Hitech will handle it.Meanwhile, Hitech is reported to be owned by one Gilbert Chagourywho is said to be a long- standing business partner of President Tinubu. Then Nigerians became curious. And agitated. Former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar raised some posers including thenon-disclosure of the total cost of the project; why the projectwas being funded by the Nigerian government despite itbeinginitially touted as a BOT and later a PPP? [Public Private Partnership]; why the projectwas commencing from Chagoury’s Eko Atlantic City?; why N1.06 trillionwas being provided by tax payers for the pilot phase of 47 kilometres?; why the N1.06trndid not get the approval of the national assembly?; why therewasno competitive bidding for the project?; and, how the Tinubu regime got thenewdesign as well as the right of wayfor the road within seven months since it claimed that the past administrations of Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari never touched the project? There was also concern about the projected expenditure of N4billion per kilometre onthe road. The initial reaction of the presidency through presidential media adviser, Bayo Onanuga, was typical-abuse and deflect but avoid the substantial queries. Later Umahi took over and he performed very well by avoiding to illuminate the dark crevices of the road contract. For instance, he dodged providing a definitive cost for the contract and who designed the project since the original design by the Niger Delta Development Commission [NDDC]was scrapped, according to him. Infected by the bug of haughtiness founded on nothingthat runs in the veins of the AllProgressives Congress [APC] aparatchits, Umahi started his intervention by describing those who asked legitimateand probing questions about the contract and the project as illiterates. His principal, Tinubu, had once said that Nigerians who queried the make up of the 2024 budget as not knowing their arithmetic. The minister claimed that the coastal road construction was no longer a BOT nor a PPPas had been posited earlier. He said it was an Engineering Procurement and Construction [EPC+] structure whichnow means, according to him, that the federal government must contribute counterpart funding. Interestingly, though the contract has been awarded to an associate of Tinubu but Nigeria still does not know how much will be its financial obligation. Isn’t that curious? The looming rip off is highlighted by the minister’s disclosure that the contractor will raise only 6% of the over N1trn required for the pilot phase of the Victoria Island, Lagos to Lekki, Lagos section.

This percentage by Hitech makes no sense going by Umahi’s assertion last week that the financial exposure of the federal government in this 700km road and rail project will be between 15-30%. Even if we assume the upper limit of 30%,it means that Hitech should be responsible for sourcing 70% of funding for this pilot phase.Umahi had strutted about last week moving from one media house to anotherin Lagos boasting that he would run the figures of the road contract for illiterate Nigerians. He did. But in spite of his best efforts, his figures failed to add up. He came out from the exercise looking uglier. And a prime suspect in a grand larceny. Thisroad project isa gagantuan contract heist by the Tinubu regime. And Nigerians are being led into it with their eyes wide open.

Nothing recommends this Lagos -Calabar Coastal Highway at this time-not the financial health of the country, not the mode of the redesign of the road, not the manner of the award of the contract to Hitech, not the unknown total contract sum, not the unspecified financial obligation of the government, not the moral and ethical issues including the possibility of self enrichment, not the structure of the contract, not the expenditure per kilometre and not the projected return on investment in 15 years. It becomes more concerning when a comparison is made with a similar road construction project which runs from South Africa toEgypt. The Cape Coast[South Africa] –Cairo [Egypt]road traverses eight other countries-Sudan, South Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe and Botswana. The project was inspired by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, Africa Development Bank and Africa Union.The road covers a span of 10,288km [or 6,355miles]. In 2019 the projected cost was $18 billion.Yes, $18bn. There should be a more creative way to steal from Nigerians. The fraud wrapped as a contract for the construction of this Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highwayis in your face.


Articles published in our Graffiti section are strictly the opinion of the writers and do not represent the views of Ripples Nigeria or its editorial stand.

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