The Ambitious Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway

The commencement of work at the Lagos end of the 700 km Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway which runs through nine coastal routes/states without the usual fanfare of exorbitant flags offs associated with major infrastructure projects in Nigeria represents a new bold step by the President Tinubu administration to talk less and do more in its desire to bequeath Nigeria with the critical infrastructure needed to drive the economy to the next level and push it into the fold of the world’s emerging economies.

The ten-lane highway which runs from Lagos through the Lekki Deep Seaport, Ondo, Ogun, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom and terminates at Cross Rivers State has a rail line in the middle, making it a dual purpose facility that reinforces the functionality of two components in the same sector to provide a seamless transport network that promotes resource and management sharing-opportunities for excellent service delivery. 

A few days after the Minister of Works, Engr. Dave Umahi announced to Nigerians that the Federal Executive Council, FEC had approved N1.06tr for the first phase of the project which covers 47.47km within the Lagos axis from the edge of the Eko Atlantic City to the Lekki Deep Seaport, he visited the site and this time, told Nigerians that the road contractor, Hitech Nigeria Ltd. had already sand filled about 1.3km distance in just a few days, a proof of their speedy engagement to deliver the massive project within schedule. In Nigeria, we call it walking the talk. 

For those who do not understand it, the Lagos-Calabar coastal highway was conceived by the Goodluck Jonathan administration in 2014 but could not take off until he left office in 2015 and remained frozen in the drawers for the eight years that President Buhari was in government, with ocassional announcements of its commencement which never really happened. Initially conceived as a Public-Private Partnership, PPP in a Build-Operate and Transfer fashion, work was stalled due to the inability of the private participant to raise the needed funds for take off. Currently financed by the federal government, it is encouraging to note that the federal government is also looking to the African Development Bank, AfDB to step in and provide the funds required for the speedy completion of the road project. 

This is the first time a road project of this magnitude that impacts the economy in very many positive ways is being undertaken in Nigeria. For one it connects about eight states seamlessly and provides trade opportunities not only for the States where it crisscrosses but also the adjoining States and has the capacity to build multi-regional trade routes that intersperse the entire country. Beyond that, creating massive employment opportunities during the work period and thereafter and linking other sectors creatively, including the nascent blue economy with its vast opportunities for local and foreign investors makes the project worthwhile, timely and cheery.  

With the capacity to stimulate demands for raw materials, equipment and services from the areas within its coverage, it also has the potential to drive a sub-continental market reach from both the West and Central African sub-regions and position Nigeria as a regional trade route that straddles both regions. Its capacity to attract housing and urban development along the corridors of the benefitting States is a huge economic potential that would certainly create a boom in the sector and help to decongest some of the cities along the route that are in dire need of renewal. Indeed, its potential to midwife a new economic vista for Nigeria and two sub-regions is endless.

In all of its finest provisions when completed and measured with our contemporaries in the African continent and worldwide, the project did not come early enough to have given Nigeria the headstart it required as a regional power to promote integration and project the hope it gave Africa at independence. However, since no time is wrong to do the right thing, we will take solace in the courage of President Tinubu to set the ball rolling in working to develop the super infrastructure Nigeria requires to operate as a 21st-century-compliant nation in economic matters.  

On the flip side and without sounding pessimistic, shouldn’t our recent history of infrastructure abandonment make us wary of this project so that we can lower our expectations and be disappointed at the level we can accommodate? Does it not bother Nigerians that the 127 km Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, that passes through Lagos, Ogun and Oyo States has been under construction and reconstruction for the past 25 years of five different administrations from Olusegun Obasanjo through Yar’Adua, Jonathan to Buhari and Tinubu, yet it remains uncompleted? 

Would it be wrong for anyone to recoil in shock when one remembers that the 338 km East-West road from Warri in Delta State through Bayelsa, Rivers and terminates at Oron and Eket in Akwa Ibom State that is the smaller version of the Lagos-Calabar coastal highway remains dilapidated and work in progress for as long as history can remember, particularly the Eleme-Onne axis that houses two refineries and a petrochemical company and more than 200 oil and gas companies including the Onne Port from where the Nigeria Customs Service and others generate an average of N1.3 trillion naira annually?

Relying on the recklessness with which we have abandoned road and other massive infrastructural projects in Nigeria, the concerns shared by many in the days after the news of the commencement of the Calabar coastal road should be well taken and carefully interrogated, especially as it concerns the issues of transparency and conflict of interests in the said project. Last week, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar raised concerns about the contract valuation which up till today remains opaque as the federal government has not been able to tell the total estimated cost of the project and the inconsistencies surrounding the designation of the project first as a PPP and later the involvement of the Federal Government as sole financier without the award of the contract passing through the due process of bidding as required by the extant Procurement Act of the country.

While these concerns may appear as a distraction, given the ability of the federal government to explain away those inconsistencies with officialdom, we must also understand that ignoring such probing details lie at the root of many of the projects that have been abandoned in the past because the original contract was not conducted using international best practices which made it easy for the contractors to elope without sanction. We have a litany of huge infrastructure projects, notably the Ajaokuta Steel Complex, Aladja Steel Mill, the Mambilla Hydro power plant, the Brass Liquified Natural Gas project, and many others which were designed to leapfrog the Nigerian economy to the next level but ended up sapping national resources that could have profited the people if proper evaluation and project continuity were followed. 

The issue of demolition of properties along the designated route is also a matter of concern as seen in the planned demolition of the Landmark Beach Resort, a $200m venture that offers employment to hundreds of people and pays taxes to the federal and Lagos state governments. It is imperative for the project managers to be constructive in determining which projects serve the public interest and the ones that stand in the way of public progress, to the extent that projects that impact the economy positively in its overriding interest are not destroyed to make way for a road that could be redirected. 

All taken together, the quick resolution of cogent concerns raised by stakeholders and visible efforts made by the federal government to ensure a conscious execution of the coastal highway from end to end without political interference would be reassuring and serve to dispel fears in some quarters that the project is meant to start and end with the 47.47 km distance within Lagos, especially as some have also questioned why the project did not start from the Calabar axis. The successful completion of this singular project would spur the erection of other complementary critical infrastructure that would reset the trajectory of Nigeria’s economy for future growth. 

The only way President Bola Tinubu can humble naysayers and force history to be kind to him in its judgement as far as critical infrastructure is concerned in Nigeria, is to muster the courage to complete this project within the estimated duration of three years, and by so doing lift the veil that has covered Nigeria’s quest for super infrastructure to drive the economy and make it as buoyant as it should be. The project should not go the way of others so that it can sustain the Renewed Hope, even in the midst of despair.

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