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Thursday, May 23, 2024

Umahi Claps Back at Atiku, Reveals N15 Trillion Project Estimate

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The Minister of Works, Dave Umahi, says the 700 km Lagos-Calabar coastal road will be constructed at N15 trillion.

He said a kilometre of the road would cost N4 billion.

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Mr Umahi stated this at different media interviews on Thursday in response to the controversy trailing the award of the road contract.

Atiku’s questions and other controversies

Atiku Abubakar, the candidate of the PDP in the 2023 presidential election, recently raised several questions regarding the contract award.

The former vice president, in a series of statements, specifically raised concerns about the cost of the project, the lack of competitive bidding and opacity in the funding structure of the project.

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In one of the statements, Atiku said Hitech, a company owned by Gilbert Chagoury, an associate of President Bola Tinubu, was awarded the project without competitive bids.

He added that the government lied that the project would be a Public Private Partnership (PPP), with Hitech providing all the funds.

Atiku also estimated that the project, excluding the designed train tracks in the middle, would cost N8 billion per kilometre.

Also, there is controversy over the potential demolition of some structures along the right of way. The most notable of such potential demolition is the Landmark Resort.

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The Presidency’s earlier response

The Presidency, through the Special Adviser to the President on Information and Strategy, Bayo Onanuga, on Monday, replied Atiku, accusing the former vice president of desperation to “hug the headlines as a self-appointed opposition leader.”

“The contract that was awarded was that of Lagos-Calabar Coastal rail. The rail was designed as part of the standard gauge national rail network. The contract was awarded on August 4, 2021, by the Federal Executive Council presided over by former Vice President Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN, at $11.17billion. The contract was to be completed in six years. The project didn’t take off.

“The Lagos-Calabar Coastal rail project has always been on the card. It was another testament to the failure of the previous PDP-led government that it could not get it off the ground in the 16 years it held sway.

“The Lagos-Calabar Coastal highway and Lagos-Calabar Coastal rail are two distinct projects. Unfortunately, the former Vice President is confused about the two projects.

‘President Tinubu should be praised for having the courage to embark on this transformative project and not vilified as Atiku Abubakar unsuccessfully sought to do.

“We know there is nothing so sacred for Atiku Abubakar in pursuing his undying ambition to be President of Nigeria even in his advanced age,” Mr Onanuga said.

Atiku does not understand the figures—Umahi

Speaking in a series of interviews granted to Channels TV, Arise TV and Television Continental, Mr Umahi also faulted Atiku’s position on the project.

During his appearance on Television Continental (TVC) News Hour programme, Mr Umahi said the former Vice President used the design done by the Niger Delta Development Commission (NDDC) to arrive at the estimate.

He said the Tinubu administration is using a new design for the project.

He explained that the NDDC plan is a four-lane highway without a design for a train station; however, the current design is a 10-lane highway.

Mr Umahi refused to give a definite project cost but gave an estimated figure of N15 trillion to be completed within eight years.

“People are building castles without knowledge, and they don’t know figures; I will run the figures for you. We will compare the cross-section of the one the former vice president mentioned that was renegotiated for $11.1bn for 700 km.”

“So you have to ask now what was there to be constructed. And what was there to be constructed is the only available design from NDDC. They had designed the entire 700 km, but we are not following precisely that pattern or right of way. We have a different modification. The original design had two carriageways on each side of the road with four lanes.

“And in the middle, they did not provide for the train track. It’s just going to be a water-collecting basin. But the coastal road we are constructing has a total of 10 lanes, you know, not only that it has a total of 10 lanes, it also has what we called shoulders.

“And the total shoulders can be put at about 23 metres. So when you put the total concrete pavement we are doing, it’s about 59 metres. When you put the total flexible pavement that he quoted, it’s about 23 metres.” he said.

Mr Umahi added: “You will find out that our cost is N4bn instead of the N8billion claimed by the former vice president.”

On the funding structure, Mr Umahi said the project is not a PPP but rather an Engineering Procurement and Construction (EPC+) structure, which means that the federal government must produce counterpart funding.

He stated that the negotiations are ongoing regarding FG’s counterpart funding, which he projected would be between 15 and 30 per cent.

Project, highway to fraud, Atiku responds

Meanwhile, Atiku, in a swift response to Mr Umahi’s interview on Thursday, described as wasteful and a highway to fraud the claim by the works minister.

He also criticised the minister for altering the project’s initial plan after Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech had been awarded the contract without any competitive bidding.

“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,” the former VP said.

Atiku also said by Mr Umahi’s revelation of the tentative cost of the project 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 stands at 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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