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Thursday, May 23, 2024

The Lagos-Calabar Highway Project: A Road to Corruption and Mismanagement

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The presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 election, Atiku Abubakar, has described as wasteful and a highway to fraud the claim by Works Minister Dave Umahi that the 700km Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway will tentatively cost N15.6 trillion.

Atiku also knocked Mr Umahi for altering the project’s initial plan after Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech had been awarded the contract without any competitive bidding.

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He said, “Umahi had announced that Hitech would fully fund the project, and based on this, there was no competitive bidding. He (Umahi) then said that Hitech could only raise just 6% of the money for the pilot phase. This smacks of deceit.”

Mr Umahi had, during his media rounds at select TV stations on Thursday, said the road project would cost N15.6 trillion ($13bn at an exchange rate of N1,200/$1) while the rail which will pass through the road would be costed separately.

The minister also said the project would not be PPP but that the government would be providing 15%-30% counterpart financing.

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Responding to Mr Umahi’s revelation, Atiku said the tentative cost was the equivalent of the total budget of all 36 states of the federation combined.

He said, “The total budget of all 36 federation states for 2024 is about N14 trillion. If you add that of the FCT, the entire budget of all sub-nationals is N15.91 trillion. This is scandalous. Worse still, they have already awarded the contract but are still not sure of the level of the counterpart funding component of the federal government!

“Umahi had said in September 2023 that Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech had the money to construct the highway and would be PPP. Hitech was to build, operate, and transfer it back to the Nigerian government after years of tolling.

“It was reported by every media organisation, including those owned by Tinubu. It was based on this proposal that Hitech was picked. Why did Umahi then turn around to claim that it was not to be a PPP but that the government would pay 15%-30%?”

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The former Vice President noted that in the 2024 budget, the project was captured as the Lagos-Port Harcourt coastal highway and was put at a cost of N500m.

“Although the National Assembly approved N500m for the project this year, the Tinubu administration has released N1.06tn. That is more than 200 times what is in the Appropriation Act. This is what happens when the National Assembly fails in its duties,” he added.

Atiku said it was curious that the N15.91 trillion announced by Mr Umahi did not include the cost of the railway component. He, therefore, wondered how much the project would cost if the railway component is included.

“If N15.6 trillion is for the road component alone, then the total cost could be far higher when the railway is included. We want to know the cost of the railway,” he said.

The PDP presidential candidate also lambasted Mr Umahi for admitting that the project was given to Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech construction company without competitive bidding.

He asked Mr Umahi to stop trying to deceive Nigerians with the claim that only Hitech was competent enough to do the project, wondering if it is the same that has been grappling with the execution of its projects in Lagos.

The former vice president stated, “The essence of competitive bidding is so that Nigerians can get the best value for money. It is so that you can compare prices and pick the company that can afford the project. It is wrong for him to have concluded that only Hitech could handle this project when such a project has been done by other reputable firms in the United States, China and South Africa.

“He claims he didn’t know there was a business relationship between Gilbert Chagoury and Tinubu, but this is another lie because Tinubu has publicly acknowledged this fact.”

Atiku also accused the works minister of attempting to deceive Nigerians as regards the appropriation for the project.

He called on members of the National Assembly to be alive to their responsibilities instead of acting like an annexe of the presidency.

The PDP candidate stated, “Until I exposed the dubious nature of this project, no member of the National Assembly thought it wise to investigate. The total cost was never made known until now. The fact that there was no bidding was never made known until I blew the whistle.”

READ ALSO: From Saddiya to Edu: Nigerias humanitarian ministry illegally transferred N1.4 billion into private accounts

The former vice president also knocked Mr Umahi for claiming that no money had been released yet to Hitech, which he described as another lie.

“On March 31, 2024, Umahi came on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics programme where he pointedly said that the sum of N1.06tn was released to Hitech. Only for him to say on TVC on April 11 that the same money had not been released. Which one is true, and which one is false?”

Signed:Atiku Media OfficeAbuja11th April, 2024.

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