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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

Misplaced Priority: The Neglect of a Coastal Highway

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The construction of the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway has commenced amidst numerous fiscal and due process concerns. President Bola Tinubu’s administration has shown indifference towards the challenges. The 700-kilometre highway project is expected to take eight years to complete and will cost a staggering N15 trillion, subject to inflationary pressures. While the project could bring significant economic benefits, there are legitimate questions surrounding it, particularly since government officials have acknowledged the country’s economic challenges.

Construction has started at the Eko Atlantic City for the pilot phase and will end at the Lekki Deep Seaport. The highway will consist of 10 lanes and cost N4 billion per kilometre, making it the first of its kind in Africa according to the Minister of Works, David Umahi. The construction project has already encountered resistance from some property owners who were compensated with N2.75 billion for the demolition of their properties.

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Similar road networks are planned for the Sokoto-Badagry Coastal Highway and Enugu-Abakaliki-Ogoja-Cameroon Highway as part of a geo-political balancing act. The latter will pass through Oturkpo in Benue State, Nasarawa State, and end at Apo in Abuja. The Minister of Works has indicated that the design work has begun for the second project, which is expected to cost over N20 trillion due to its 1,000-kilometre length.

Political discussions have already started regarding the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway, particularly around how the project was awarded. Concerns have been raised about the lack of adherence to due process in the bidding process, leading to uncertainty among stakeholders. The absence of a competitive bidding process is a departure from the requirements of the 2007 Public Procurement Act, which emphasizes transparency, accountability, and value for money.

The awarding of the contract for the highway project without a competitive bidding process raises questions about the cost estimation process and potential favoritism towards allies of the administration. Additionally, the failure to conduct an Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) before commencing work has drawn criticism. The Ministry of Works recently organized a workshop to gather data for the ESIA after construction had already started, contrary to standard practices and regulations.

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David Umahi disclosed that Hitech, the construction company, would fund the project under the Public Private Partnership (PPP) scheme. However, there have been discussions about the government providing 50 to 30 percent counterpart funding in an Engineering, Procurement, Construction plus Finance (EPC+F) model. The financing of the project remains a subject of ongoing debate.

It remains puzzling why the federal government is embarking on new construction projects amid financial challenges and the deteriorating condition of existing highways. Nigeria’s road infrastructure is consistently ranked poorly, with thousands of kilometers of roads in dire need of repair. Prioritizing the completion of existing vital road networks across the country’s six geopolitical zones should take precedence over new projects like the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway.

The state of several existing highways, including the Kaduna-Zaria-Kano Highway, Abuja-Lokoja Highway, and East-West Road, highlights the urgency for investing in rehabilitation and completion of already existing infrastructure. The failure to complete crucial projects like the East-West Road, which has been ongoing since 2005, contributes to the deplorable state of transportation in the country and poses a risk to public safety.

While the federal government undertakes massive borrowing to finance various projects, including road construction, attention should be directed towards critical sectors like education and healthcare, which are in a state of crisis. Neglecting essential sectors while embarking on grandiose infrastructure projects is unsustainable and does not address the immediate needs of the populace.

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The government’s borrowing spree, alongside the mounting debt burden, underscores the need for prudent management of public resources. Allocating funds to projects with tangible economic benefits in the short and medium term should take precedence over costly infrastructure developments that do not address the pressing issues faced by the nation.

As Nigeria grapples with economic challenges and revenue shortfalls, strategic planning and resource allocation are crucial to ensure sustainable development and address the urgent needs of the population. The current focus on coastal highway construction raises concerns about misplaced priorities and the neglect of critical sectors that demand immediate attention.

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