Politics

Tinubu awarded Lagos-Calabar highway to his ally, Gilbert Chagoury – Atiku

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Atiku Abubakar, the presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 election, has claimed that President Bola Tinubu awarded the 700km Lagos-Calabar coastal highway to his ally, Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech Construction Company Limited (Hitech), devoid of any documented competitive bidding process or decision by the Federal Executive Council (FEC).

Atiku, a former vice president, said Tinubu puts personal business interests before Nigerian infrastructure.

Recall that the Federal Government recently announced the start of construction on the 700km Lagos-Calabar coastal highway.

The Minister of Works, David Umahi, revealed this in a statement last week by his Special Adviser on Media, Orji Uchenna, in Abuja.

Umahi said the contractor commenced work following the formal handover of the initial phase of the project, comprising 47.47 kilometres of dual carriageway, to Hitech Construction Company Ltd.

But Atiku who disclosed that the Lagos-Calabar coastal highway project re-entered public discussion during the waning days of the Goodluck Jonathan administration in November 2014, noted that the project failed to take off under Jonathan’s tenure due to his electoral defeat.

Subsequently, former President Muhammadu Buhari expressed his commitment to kick-start the project.

In 2016, Buhari announced a renegotiated cost of $11.1bn and pledged completion within three years. Despite these assurances, progress remained elusive.

Reacting to Umahi’s statement, Atiku, in a statement by his Media Coordinator, Paul Ibe, on Sunday, alleged that the project was allocated to Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech Construction Company Limited (Hitech), devoid of any documented competitive bidding process or decision by the FEC.

“Umahi refused to reveal how much the project would cost. He only explained that it would run through nine states and would have a railroad running through the middle. Most importantly, the works minister said the project would come at zero cost to Nigeria, which is currently facing an all-time high level of debt,” he said.

Atiku noted that the project being “build, operate, and transfer,” indicated that Hitech would construct the road, operate it for a certain period, recoup its investment through tollgates, and subsequently return it to the Nigerian government.

“Because the project did not require public funds, it did not go through approval from the National Assembly, which holds the power of appropriation. Also, the project only went through the Infrastructure Concession Regulatory Commission with no record of a competitive bidding since Chagoury’s firm was to fund the project 100 per cent.

“However, to the shock of many Nigerians, Umahi returned to FEC with a memo in March 2024 seeking the approval of N1.06tn that would be paid to Chagoury’s firm for the first phase of the project which is wholly in Lagos.

“This pilot phase was to begin from the edge of Chagoury’s Eko Atlantic City on Ahmadu Bello Way, Victoria Island, and terminate at the Lekki Deep Sea Port, Ibeju-Lekki, a distance of 47.47km. 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 N1.06tn, it means each kilometre is being built at N22.5bn or $18m. For a project that is going to be 700km, it means the total cost could be N15.7tn or $12.56bn, which is higher than previous estimates.”

Atiku warned that the renewed hope infrastructure fund, under Tinubu’s discretion might serve as another avenue for diverting public funds through dubious projects.

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He stated, “More curious is the fact that the entire pilot phase of this project begins and ends in Lagos, especially within the axis of Bola Tinubu’s business interests. It is no secret that both Tinubu and Chagoury are business partners.

“This same Hitech, owned by Chagoury, was unable to complete the 50km Lekki-Epe Expressway. Despite installing two tollgates along the axis, Hitech which was part of the Lekki Concession Company consortium was only able to construct about 20km, forcing the Lagos State Government to buy it back at the cost of N7.5bn ($50 million at the time) in 2013, which came at a loss to the people of Lagos.

“Tinubu has once again put his personal business interest ahead of that of the Nigerian people in violation of his oath of office where he swore that ‘I will not allow my personal interest to influence my official conduct or my official decisions’.

“The so-called pilot phase from Eko Atlantic to Lekki Deep Sea Port was initially conceived as a Lagos State Government project but because of its huge cost coupled with the fact that Lagos State has a huge debt burden no thanks to Tinubu, the Federal Government is now implementing it under the guise of Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway. This perhaps explains why there are fears that the project will never get to Calabar, and this is the same reason the project is beginning from Lagos and not Calabar.

“Despite not revealing the cost of this entire project, the Tinubu administration is now on the verge of setting up a so-called Renewed Hope Infrastructure Development Fund, a fund targeted at constructing capital projects without the usual budgeting process.”

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