Minister plans live transmission of Reps probe panel hearing on coastal highway controversy

Adebari Oguntoye
Adebari Oguntoye
David Umahi

The Minister of Works, Senator David Umahi, has said he is ready to face the House of Representatives probe over the controversy surrounding the N15tn Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway road project.

Umahi added that he planned to ensure the exercise was televised live for all Nigerians to see.

The minister also stressed that there was nothing to hide about the project, stating that he and the Ministry of Works followed due process and obtained the necessary approvals and documentation for the project to commence.

Speaking with Saturday PUNCH in an exclusive interview on Friday, the minister said that the claim that the loan obtained to complete the project did not follow due process was untrue.

He, however, added that the matter was before the National Assembly, noting that he would not want to comment on it.

“I am ready to face the National Assembly to defend the project. I will not want to say anything now until I meet with the senators and House of Representatives members. It will be live, so you will also hear it. It will be live so that Nigerians will see it,” he added.

The House of Representatives on Thursday resolved to probe the ongoing N15tn Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway project.

As such, it said it would set up an ad-hoc committee, which would investigate the project and submit a report within four weeks.

The resolution of the House followed the adoption of a motion of urgent public importance moved during plenary by the member representing Gwer East/Gwer West Federal Constituency of Benue State, Austin Achado.

The House also resolved to summon the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice, Lateef Fagbemi, SAN; the Minister of Finance, Wale Edun, and his works counterpart, Umahi, to shed more light on the project.

The Ministry of Works, however, defended the project, saying it followed due process.

It also said the House of Representatives members had pledged support for the project.

A 700-kilometre turnpike infrastructure project, the coastal highway project has attracted commendation and condemnation since the Bola Tinubu administration approved it in February.

The 10-lane coastal road was designed to connect Lagos to Cross River, passing through Ogun, Ondo, Delta, Bayelsa, Rivers, and Akwa Ibom states before culminating in Calabar, the Cross River State capital.

The project gained traction under the administrations of former presidents Goodluck Jonathan and Muhammadu Buhari but could not commence.

Under Jonathan’s administration, the highway was to cost $12bn, and $11.1bn under Buhari. It was subsequently expanded from a four-lane double carriageway to a 10-lane highway.

Umahi disclosed that the construction of the coastal road was expected to span eight years and cost N4bn per kilometre.

No personal interest

The Lagos-Calabar Coastal Road project has been trailed by many controversies. One of the controversies was that the contract given to Hitech did not follow due process and that there was no competitive bidding for the project.

Also, there have been issues around whose interest the project would serve if completed, with several voices, including that of a former vice president, Atiku Abubakar, who said the project would serve a personal interest.

Following the many controversies that have trailed the project, including the demolitions of structures, Umahi appeared in several televised interviews to defend his stance. In one of such interviews on Arise TV, the minister had said the project was not aimed at serving any personal interest but that of all Nigerians.

“When people say the project is on personal interest, there is a contradiction there. This is because Atiku Abubakar said the Jonathan administration wanted to do that project, which would have cost about $12bn or so. So, whose interest was that administration promoting in trying to do that project?

“I have a design from the NDDC (Niger Delta Development Commission) on that project. The NDDC designs are quite bulky. When I was implementing this current project, I had to call for the design. There is no personal interest in this project. The idea of that project came from the ingenuity of Mr President (Bola Tinubu) when he was governor; he was the one who procured the right of way within the Lagos corridor and gazetted it.”

Speaking further, the minister said, “The reason for the project taking off now is all about how we can inject some activities into the economy. If we want to come out of inflation, we have to look at investments in infrastructure, and that is what this project is addressing. It addresses a lot of elements of return on investments. There is no personal interest associated with that.

“It is quite petty to ask why it is starting from Lagos and not Calabar. The name of the project is ‘Lagos-Calabar Coastal Road’ and not the other way around. This means there is a zero point, which happens to be at Ahmadu Bello Way, which coincides with the Eko Atlantic. That is pure coincidence. We have started the project already and it is progressing. As of today, I can tell you that about 80 per cent of the first 1.3km is completed.”

On the costs, Umahi said there had been talks about different amounts, stating that it would cost N4bn per kilometre. Defending the cost, he said,

“People are just building castles without knowledge and they don’t know figures. I will run the figures for you. We are going to compare the cross-section of the one the former Vice President, Atiku, mentioned that was renegotiated for $11.1bn for 700km. And what was there to be constructed is the only available design from NDDC.

“They had designed the entire 700km, but we are not following exactly 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 does it have a total of 10 lanes, but it also has what we called shoulders.

“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. “And so when you run the figures, you now find out that under his calculation, it is giving you about over N19bn per kilometre. Now, if you divide it by the 23 kilometres that they are doing, it is about 2.225 times a standard superhighway carriageway, which is N11.55bn.

“Whereas what we are doing, if you divide it, you get N5.167bn, So when you now divide using our 1.067, you get about N4bn per km,” he stated.


On issues of compensation, Umahi referred the media to the Lagos office of the Federal Ministry of Works.  “Ask my Lagos office,” he said.

When contacted, the Federal Controller of Works, Lagos, Keisha Olukorede, said only 11 property owners would be compensated. This is as she added that nine out of the 11 had already been paid their compensation, noting that two were yet to be paid.

She said, “For the people whose structures have been demolished, we have paid. We have paid nine of them out of the 11. We have not paid the other two persons because their documentations were not completed. That is all I can tell you for now.”

 Umahi has no fears about project – Aide

Meanwhile, speaking in an interview on Friday in Abuja, the works minister, through his Special Adviser on Media, Uchenna Orji, appreciated the concerns regarding the project, affirming that the current administration operates transparently and adheres to proper procedures According to him, the House of Representatives is a veritable partner in the development of the nation and deserves answers to its concerns.

He said, “The House of Representatives is a veritable partner in the development of the nation, and they have a great stake in ensuring the accomplishment of the Renewed Hope agenda. We rely very much on them to ensure that the public is kept abreast of the developmental strides and aspirations of this present administration.

“We are very happy that they are concerned about the government and the people because they represent their constituents. We appreciate the concerns they have about the project, but this administration is transparent and has done things in an appropriate way.”

Orji said the action of the government was to tackle the problems mitigating development in Nigeria, and that one of them was having a solid road infrastructure.

“The minister is tackling it headlong without any delay, and with time, Nigerians will appreciate all of these giant strides. The coastal highway will fast-track economic development and open up coastal areas, ensuring that they are integrated with the outer part of the nation. So whenever the national assembly is investigating any matter, it is all in a bid to ensure inclusiveness and that all and sundry are carried along in the developmental process,” he added.

He further explained that the probe should not be seen as an indictment but to cross-check the necessary details, ensuring that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed.

“It would appear that some people do not know the workings of the legislature, they have given a window of fair hearing, and they cannot be a judge in that circumstance. They have not condemned or passed any judgement because if they had, we would not have been given a window. A probe is not something negative; it means looking into the details and ensuring that all the I’s are dotted and the T’s crossed.

“I think that is where they are going, to ensure that all of the details are correct, and we are saying all of these things have been done so that the public can appreciate the efforts of the works minister, not only to ensure that jobs are done in keeping with the standards but also in keeping with the procurement procedure.

“We are unshaken about the probe, and the National Assembly is not against anybody. They are doing their legislative duty and are a veritable partner,” the minister’s aide added.

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