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Highway to controversies: Plethora of problems haunt Lagos-Calabar coastal highway project

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Highway to controversies: Plethora of problems haunt Lagos-Calabar coastal highway project

Amid widespread criticisms and controversies trailing the ambitious 700-kilometre Lagos-Calabar Coastal super highway project been constructed by the Federal Government, the government has doubled down on its resolve to see the project to conclusion.

The over 700-kilometre super highway, which will cut through nine states, Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Rivers, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom and Cross River, is starting from Lagos in the South West and culminating in Cross River State in the South-South region.

The superhighway will link the Lagos-Badagry Expressway, the Fourth Mainland Bridge, Lekki Deep Sea Port Road and connect various roads in the Northern part of the country through Ogoja-Ikom.

The highway will also feature rail lines running in the middle of the 10 lanes carriageways.

The first phase of the project has already kicked off with construction work starting on the 47.5km Ahmadu Bello to Eleko in Lekki Peninsula section with heavy duty equipment and bulldozers deployed by the contractor, Hitech Construction Nigeria Limited.

During BH’s visit to the Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island construction starting point at the weekend, it was observed that over 2 kilometres have been fully completed with paved cement.

However, since the Minister of Works, Senator David Umahi, broke the news of the award of the contract to Hitech in September 2023, it has been one controversy after the other.

Less than 24 hours after he made the announcement, Umahi was contradicted by his own Federal Ministry of Works which claimed that it had not yet granted the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway construction project to any company.

According to a statement issued by Mrs Blessing Lere-Adams, Director of Press and Public Relations Unit at the Federal Ministry of Works, media reports suggesting that the project had already been awarded are inaccurate.

She emphasized that the statement attributed to the Minister of Works, David Umahi, is completely false and misleading.

“The general public should take note and be properly informed. The Federal Government has recently commenced initial discussions with the engineering company, HITECH, concerning this project. A subsequent meeting is being contemplated to further assess the feasibility of entrusting the project to them.

“The ministry has not issued any such contract nor entered into any contractual agreement with any company in connection to this matter.

“As a result, media organizations are urged to verify their information with the Federal Ministry of Works before disseminating inaccurate information to the public.
“We must exercise greater diligence in our journalistic endeavours, as the ministry consistently values the fair and positive coverage of its policies and initiatives”, the ministry admonished.

While Umahi’s announcement was greeted by widespread criticisms, queries and denial by Nigerians and his own ministry which questioned him on when the contract was awarded, it took the Federal Executive Council (FEC) another five months to green light the project.

FEC’s approval for the super highway was announced in February 2024 by the President’s Special Adviser on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, exactly five months after Senator Umahi informed the nation of the initial approval.

According to Onanuga, the approval is one of the key outcomes from a recent FEC meeting which date he failed to mention.

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“FEC approved construction of Lagos-Port Harcourt-Calabar Coastal Superhighway to Messrs Hitech Construction Africa. The First phase made up of 47 kms will begin in Lagos”, Onanuga had stated back in February.
However, rather than Onanuga’s announcement dousing the dust raised, the timeline of approvals given by the presidential spokesperson and the minister of works raised more questions.

Some Nigerians who spoke on the development questioned the wide gap between the time Umahi made his own announcement of approval in September 2023 and when Onanuga made his own in February 2024.

“Did he (Onanuga) just woke up in February to know that the project had been approved, or was it just approved in February as he stated?

“If the project was truly approved in February as stated by Onanuga, when and where did Umahi get his own approval which he announced to the nation last September?
“We need more clarification on this. To me, it looks as if the government gave the contract a long time ago to Hitech and is just trying to get retroactive approval for it after the unexpected backlash from Nigerians”, said Mr. Segun Ojo, a public analyst.

Apart from being bogged down by governance and approval issues, the super highway is plagued by allegation of padding.
Since the approval and construction works on the highway started, contrasting figures have been bandied in the media as the true value of the contract.

Figures ranging from N7.85trillion to N17 trillion total cost, and N4billion to N22billion to construct one kilometre are flying in the media space, with Nigerians confused as to which one to believe.

For instance, one of the critics of the project, ex-Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, had a few days ago in a statement said the project had exposed President Bola Tinubu’s administration’s penchant for shady deals for personal interests.

Highway to controversies: Plethora of problems haunt Lagos-Calabar coastal highway project

Landmark Towers

According to Atiku, the Federal Government has refused to make public the cost to tax payers. He also accused the government of making the project appear like a new one.

“Till date, the Tinubu administration has refused to reveal how much the project will cost in total. Umahi, who even came on Channels Television recently, evaded questions as to the total cost of the project.

“But if 47.47km costs about N1.06 trillion, it means each kilometre is being built at N22.5 billion or $18 million. For a project that is going to be 700km, it means the total cost could be N15.7 trillion or $12.56 billion, which is higher than previous estimates”, Atiku had alleged.

However, the former vice president’s allegations of a padded contract and Tinubu having personal interest because of his alleged business link to Gilbert Chagoury, the executor of the project, were faulted by the Minister of Works, Senator Umahi, who argued that the project was initiated by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration and reviewed by the Muhammadu Buhari administration.

According to Umahi, Chagoury’s Hitech was picked because of its capacity, insisting that there’s a part of the procurement law that allows the government to pick contractors based on skills, rather than least cost.

“You have a section of the law that allows you to procure a particular project based on the skills a company has. Handing over the project to Hitech remains an advantage to Nigeria because not only did they stop the flooding along the axis, they also reclaimed a lot of land and have turned it to another Dubai.

“Another example is the 3rd Mainland Bridge that was awarded to Julius Berger because they have specialty in that aspect of work. Yet, no one queried us on giving the contract to Julius Berger.

“So we invited Hitech based on the procurement act. And so the way you are doing such invitation, there must be proof of track record of a company that has done such works. And so they gave us a quotation. We ran it with them.

“The project was initiated by former President Goodluck Jonathan’s administration at the cost of $12 billion and reviewed by the Muhammadu Buhari administration to $11.1 billion. So there’s no personal interest associated with that.

“So, since Tinubu was being accused of pursuing a personal interest, Atiku should tell us what personal interests Jonathan and Buhari were pushing”.

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Umahi also disputed the figures presented by Atiku, arguing that the basis for his analysis was wrong and that a kilometre of the road will only cost N4.329 billion.

Another controversy haunting the highway project is the obscure nature of its funding.
While speaking at a press conference with journalists on September 23, 2023, the minister of works, had disclosed that Hitech Construction will fund the project under the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model.

“Let me announce that it is under PPP. The Hitech group are going to look for the money. They have already found the money and that is the good news because we don’t waste our time talking and holding meetings and wasting resources.

“We are engaging seriously because we have seen the financial capacity and capability of Hitech and this project is going to be delivered in phases”, Umahi had stated far back in 2023.

However, recent developments indicate that it is the Federal Government that has been funding the project.

For instance, on Monday, February 26, 2024, tte Federal Executive Council (FEC) approved the sum of N1.06 trillion contract for the construction of the first phase of the coastal highway.

Ironically, it is the same minister of works who had announced that Hitech will fund the project in 2023, that also announced the approval to newsmen after the FEC meeting presided over by President Bola Tinubu at the State House, Abuja.

“Today, we had the the approval of FEC for the construction of 700 kilometer of coastal routes running from Lagos through the nine coastal routes or states up to Cross River.

“The October 30th FEC had approved that this project be procured under EPC+ Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Financing and in favor of High Tech Construction Limited, which means that they were supposed to search for the funding.

“They already have started searching for the funding, but there are hitches here are there. And so, the ministry had to go back to Mr. President to ask for two things and that was on January 18. We asked can we fast track this?

“Since this project was going to be procured in two phases and multiple sections, can we get the federal government to fund phase one, which is what is 47.47 kilometers running from Ahmadu Bello in Lagos down to Lekki Deep Seaport? Mr. President graciously approved”, Umahi had explained.

The minister also denied allegations that the project did not adhere to laid down procedures, arguing that the contract was granted based on counter-funding rather than through a Public-Private Partnership as earlier claimed.

However, many analysts who spoke on the development argued that Hitech lacked the financial capacity to execute the project without getting help from the government.
“They knew this from the beginning but decided to keep it away from Nigerians. Where do they expect Hitech to get over N15trillion which is more than half of the nation’s budget.

“Even for a nation as big and endowed as Nigeria, it will sweat a bit to raise that huge amount, not to talk of a small company like Hitech.

“I believe the plan of the government is to construct the highway in phases, then toll it to raise funds for other phases”, claimed a stakeholder in the construction industry who begged for anonymity.

What perhaps is proving to be the greatest challenge to the road project is the battle for right of way and huge compensation to be paid to affected owners whose properties will give way to the highway by the government.

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Government’s move to acquire the necessary right of way for the multi-trillion naira project has encountered opposition from many property owners, particularly those along the high net worth Victoria Island/Oniru/Lekki and Ajah axis in Lagos.
The fiercest battle against the eviction notice came from the management of Landmark Beach Resort, a popular tourist destination in Oniru, Lagos, who were asked to remove all structures 50 metres to the road.

Meanwhile, the Chief Executive Officer of the resort, Paul Onwuanibe, had kicked against the planned destruction of some of his facilities which he put at $200million.

According to him, government should rather reroute the first 1.5 kilometre of the proposed highway along the undeveloped median of Water Corporation Drive, Oniru.
The government is, however, is insisting on having the road close to the beach as planned.

BH findings revealed that the government had initially planned the road to pass through Water Corporation Drive when it was conceived more than fourteen years ago, but decided to move it closer to the sea to avoid demolishing houses that sprang up on the route during the about 15-year delay.

Though Business Hallmark can not independently confirm the allegation, sources in government told our correspondent that some investors privy to the proposed highway started buying up land on its routes in the hope of harm twisting government for huge compensation.

“The whole thing is an huge scam involving people in government in connivance with those in the private sector.

“What they (public officials) normally do is to leak information to their collaborators in the private sector about government’s plan to acquire some lands in the future for public use.

“They then quickly buy up these lands, start construction works which are negligible, while waiting for government to start negotiations for compensations”, the source claimed.

But realizing the huge compensation package it must to put in place if it insist on sticking to the original plan, the government decided to move the road towards the sea, BH learnt.

“Again, some people started construction on the beaches, even moving far into the ocean to be able to claim huge compensations.

“If you look well at the structures marked for demolition, they are mostly thatched chalets and outdoor recreational facilities that require little to put up.

Yet, some people have been shouting that they had spent over $200million putting up these makeshift structures. It is a huge scam that a lot of people are benefiting from.

“Left to me, I would have ignored their shouts and won’t pay a penny in compensation because they can’t pretend to be ignorant of the proposed highway”, claimed a source in the Lagos State Ministry of Works and Housing who did not want his identity disclosed.

The minister of works, while speaking in March, alluded to the source’s revelation, saying the government had no option than to reroute the highway from its original route.

“We have the challenge of a lot of infrastructure on the road corridor. So, we requested Mr. President to approve that we realign the road, so that we move closer to the ocean shore, and then avoid those properties which could lead to huge compensation and litigation”, Umahi had stated.

During BH’s visit to Water Corporation Drive, Oniru, Victoria Island, Lagos at the weekend, it was observed that several structures, including Waterfront Residences, Landmark Events Centre, Landmark Towers, Pastor Ituah Ighodalo’s Trinity House Centre, Oceanna Towers, Cora Hotel, Crystal Bay Towers, The Ark Apartment, Lagos State Water Corporation (LSWC) building and many others donned the popular street.
As such, it would be totally inconceivable and uneconomical to reroute the highway back to the original route as suggested by some critics, especially property owners along the sea shore affected by the quit notice.

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Despite that, the Federal Government is reassuring that it would pay compensation to all property owners along the path the 700km Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway would be passing through across.

“The Federal Ministry of Works will pay compensation and the president has directed me to pay compensation, but we are not going to pay anything to those living in the shanties.

“When you put up a building on a land that is not your own then you are not entitled for compensation. If your property is not approved, you are not entitled for compensation, but the president is a man of good heart and so I think we would still pay compensation to some persons because of the hardship in the country.

“But I repeat, shanties or unapproved buildings won’t be paid but we would try to save solid properties as much as possible”, the minister stated.

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