The plan by the Bola Tinubu administration to build a 700-kilometer coastal highway from Lagos to Calabar is ill-thought-out. The whole idea is hair-brained. The project, if it ever takes off, will end up as a white elephant.


•Dave Umahi


I can bet that the bogus plan is mere showmanship. There is no genuine intention to see it through. What is likely going to happen is that something will be done at the Lagos end of the proposed highway to give the impression that the project is real and realizable. Again, I can bet on anything that the so-called coastal highway will not go beyond Ogun State before those behind the ill-considered plan will consign it the dustbin of abandoned projects.

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Why do I doubt the deliverability of this plan? I do so for good reasons. The project is ill-timed. Those behind it must have overlooked all the life and death challenges that Nigerians are facing at moment. Food inflation has jumped above 40 percent. The result is that the average Nigerian family is just managing to eke out a living. This is not to talk of the general cost of living in the country. There is pain and agony everywhere in Nigeria. The people are asking why. Where did they get it wrong? A responsible and responsive government will take more than a passing interest in this ugly state of affairs. Instead, it will take concrete and decisive steps to reverse the ugly trend. This has not been done. So, why rush into a project that will not, in any way, address the existential threat that the people are facing at moment? What is easy to see here is that those who came up with the plan were driven by sensational immediacy. But I suspect that there is a devious plot behind the idea.

It does appear that the ultimate objective is to pull the wool over our eyes and divert our attention from the real intent of the self-serving initiative. It will be trite to say here that the project will be a conduit for funds diversion. That should be clear, even to the most undiscerning. What may not be obvious to many is that a lot of fairytales will be woven around the project in the years to come with the ultimate objective of giving the people of the Niger Delta the impression that a government that has their interest at heart has come. Only those with the gift of circumspection will see through the elaborate charade. Only a minuscule few will come to terms with the fact that what they are being presented with is mere appearance. The project is far from being real.

Unfortunately, the make-belief being put up will not be seen by the people for what it is. Instead, they will be taken in by the antics of those who believe that the best menu the people should be served at all times is that of deceit.

If ours were to be a clime where the citizenry is socially and politically aware, questions will be raised about the many grey areas that dot the entire scheme. Nigerians, particularly the people of the Niger Delta, know of something called East-West Road project. The 188- kilometer civil infrastructure project connects the Niger Delta cities of Lagos in the west with Calabar in the east. The project was conceived as part of measures to address the underdevelopment in the Niger Delta. Decayed and decaying infrastructures in the region have been posing a challenge to movement of goods and services. The extraction and transportation of oil which is produced in commercial quantities have been hampered by the poor infrastructure in the region. This has created an ugly scenario where the ports in Calabar, Warri and Port Harcourt are abandoned by cargo ships in favour of the Lagos ports, leading to the congestion and chaos that we experience in and around Apapa and Tin Can Island ports in Lagos. The East-West road project was undertaken to address this hazardous situation.

It must be noted that construction work commenced on the road in 2006. Nearly two decades after, the road remains still-born. It has been nothing more than a red flag flying over the Niger Delta. This is in spite of the fact that it is being funded through various channels such as the African Development Bank and Subsidy Re-investment and Empowerment Programme (SURE-P).

If we mean business as a people; if Nigerians have the capacity to hold their governments accountable, what we should be talking about now will be how the East-West road project will be delivered. Undertaking another gargantuan road project in the same region when the existing one remains uncompleted 18 years after is a pathetic case of misplaced priority. It makes no economic sense.

As if the indiscretion of undertaking two similar projects in the same region at the same time is not enough, the cost of the proposed coastal highway makes the project a lot more unwise to embark upon at this time. We have been told that the project will cost about N15 trillion with a completion time of eight years. A kilometer of the road infrastructure has also been estimated to cost about N4 billion. These figures, which are subject to variations depending on the strength of our currency, are too high to contemplate at this time. The Nigerian economy under the present administration has virtually collapsed. The purchasing power of the Naira is at an all- time low. Galloping inflation is snuffing life out of economic activities. The situation we have on our hands amounts to an emergency and should be treated as such. One practical way of dealing with the debilitating situation is prudence. Government should not only cut cost, it must avoid wastage. It is therefore the height of imprudence to embark on this project at this time. That government ignored all the hang ups around the project and insisted on embarking on it is suspicious. It seems to lend credence to allegations in some quarters that government has other intentions other than giving the people of the Niger Delta a new lease of life.

One is also reminded of some other salient questions that have been raised about the project. First is that the project was never mentioned in the open. Second is that there was no competitive bidding. A contractor was just named for the project with the public knowing nothing about how the contractor was selected. These issues need to be addressed to the satisfaction of Nigerians. Unfortunately, the Minister of Works, Dave Umahi, has not done much in this regard. His recent media rounds was a mere reaction to the vexed issues. He did not justify the need for the project at this time. We understand that the minister is just the president’s errand boy. But he should have, at least, tried to make the product he was selling a little bit attractive to the buyer. Everything about the project is not only shrouded in secrecy, it is, so far, lost in controversy.