• Tuesday, July 23, 2024
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BusinessDay

Five unanswered questions about Lagos-Calabar coastal road

The Lagos-Calabar coastal highway is the most ambitious, yet most controversial piece of infrastructure the federal government under President Bola Tinubu has undertaken so far.

The 700km coastal highway, designed to connect nine coastal states in the country, including Lagos, Ogun, Ondo, Edo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa-lbom, and Cross River- where it will terminate, is also one of the country’s most expensive road projects.

Though a laudable project that many believe will promote both transportation and tourism in the country, the manner the government is going about it has raised questions which the government and the executing ministry are yet to provide answers.

The government, especially the supervising minister of works, David Umahi, is so passionate about the project that they interpret any opposing views or questions on the project as an affront to President Bola Tinubu in particular and Nigeria in general.

Umahi is a thorough-bred and experienced engineer who acquitted himself well as governor of Ebonyi State where, it is believed, his exploits in terms of infrastructure development earned him his present job just as it did for Babatunde Fashola, former Lagos State governor and the immediate past minister of works.

But the many controversies surrounding the coastal highway put the minister on the spot, dwarfing his stature as an achiever and also questioning his capacity to accommodate dissenting views, including those that could help his work.

The speed and passion with which Umahi and the federal government are pursuing this project suggest it is sacrosanct to them which is why it seems to be contravening environmental regulations, making it a clear case of putting the cart before the horse.

So, Nigerians, professionals and sundry onlookers alike, are asking one question after another about this project, but such questions, instead of receiving the needed answers and guiding the execution of the project, make the promoters feel irritated and assaulted.

Though the government welcomes views such as those of Ben Murray-Bruce, a member of the 8th Senate, who described the project as “symbol of a brighter future,” it is impatient with others that border on the contradictions that define that project.

The government, therefore, feels irritated by such questions as ‘what is so special about the coastal highway that it is prioritised over security and food scarcity; what qualified Hi-Tech Construction Limited as contractor for such a complex project.’

Others are ‘which other companies bidded with HiTech; who set the cost of the project at N15 trillion, or who is lending Nigeria the money.’ Whoever asks these questions as Peter Obi and Atiku Abubakar have done at various times, is viewed as an enemy of progress and, by extension, of the government.

The minister does not see reason for anybody to be questioning a project that, in his estimation, is so important that people’s investments, jobs and other means of livelihood as well as the drive for foreign investment could be traded for it.

Another major question which also comes as an irritant to the minister is the issue of an Environmental Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) report on the project. This was demonstrated when an Arise News reporter asked the minister if there was such a report.

After fruitless efforts to evade the question, he said “it is for the government to issue the report, not the reporter, not the media,” barely hiding his anger. Though there could be on-going efforts to produce the ESIA report, the minister did not wait for it before commencing demolition.

Yet another question that the government does not want to hear is the need to preserve investments and save jobs even as that also will encourage foreign investors to come with their money.

In an invitation letter to a Scoping Workshop signed by the Controller of Works in Lagos, Olukorede Kesha, that was held on April 20, 2024 at Eko Hotel and Suites, the government described the coastal road as a transformative project to enhance connectivity, economic growth, and transportation efficiency in Nigeria’s coastal states.

The invitation was for stakeholders to participate in the Scoping Workshop that would be looking at the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment (ESIA) and Resettlement Action Plan (RAP) studies for the highway project.

The letter explained that “the workshop is a crucial step in the development process of this major infrastructure project and will provide a platform for stakeholders to engage, contribute, and shape the future of the project.”

The ESIA and RAP studies, the letter added, are being conducted to ensure that the project is developed in a responsible and sustainable manner, in line with local regulations in Nigeria as well as international standards and frameworks.

“The ESIA will assess the project’s potential environmental and social impacts and propose mitigation measures, while the RAP will outline the compensation and assistance measures for people affected by land acquisition, involuntary resettlement, or loss of assets. These studies are essential for guiding the project’s implementation towards a sustainable development,” the letter added.

Besides the compensation for properties for demolished properties within the first 3 kilometres of the project, Nigerians are asking if the government is moving ahead of time in respect of other issues raised by the scoping workshop invitation letter.

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