Why Lagos-Calabar coastal road might not be completed, by Dele Sobowale


“LAGOS-CALABAR COASTAL ROAD: Uproar over costs, as FG proposes N3,000 per toll gate.” VANGUARD, APRIL12, 2024.

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My fellow Nigerians never cease to amuse me. They get extremely excited over important matters for the wrong reasons. One of the hottest issues of the moment is the Lagos-Calabar expressway on which President Tinubu embarked hastily in order to have “a major achievement” to his credit in the first year. Don’t get me wrong. Such a road is highly desirable and the Public-Private approach is certainly the best approach for such a gargantuan project. Establishing toll gates along the way is global standard.

One of the measures, the ever self-righteous Obasanjo took to set Nigeria along the path of low economic growth was the cancellation of the toll gates bequeathed to him by the military administrations before him. That monumental blunder has been responsible for at least half of our national debt by forcing his successors to engage in debt-financing of road construction. Generations of Nigerians will pay dearly for OBJ’s mistake.

The road will definitely result in more rapid development of the coastal areas of the nine states which will benefit directly from its construction. At the very least, it will save travellers from Calabar and Lagos a lot of time reaching the other end. Nobody can estimate the ultimate economic savings to commuters over time. Some of the other socio-economic advantages to be derived from the road have already been highlighted by the Minister of Works, David Umahi. There is no need for me to repeat them. Generally, the idea is splendid. But, there ends the endorsements as well; because the project entails a monumental risk.

To begin with, the FG hastily started the Lagos end while most stakeholders are still unaware of the consequences for them. Granted, the FG’s right to acquire land for public purposes is guaranteed by the constitution, the proposal must still be approved by the National Assembly, NASS. Furthermore, the various States’ Houses of Assembly must also be informed and pass the necessary laws to enable the Governor to surrender the areas requested to the FG. That brings up the first question. Has this been done and when? Unless the FG has cleared all the legal hurdles standing in its way, the project might terminate at the border of Lagos State; or at best Ogun State. Then where will that lead us?

The Minister in his address to stakeholders, including the media, at the Eko Hotels and Suites, last week repeatedly pleaded for patriotism and cooperation from all Nigerians. That appears like attempting to close the ranch gate after all the cows have fled. The FG should have done the canvassing for support before starting; not after running into brick-walls and experiencing blow-backs from critics. At any rate, the FG has failed several tests of transparency and accountability in the manner in which the contract was awarded.

Granted, there is nothing wrong with awarding contracts to friends if they can be proved to be the best qualified. Not allowing other qualified contractors to have a chance at bidding for the “contract of the century” smacks of corruption. How would Nigerians, who will ultimately pay for the road know that we got the best deal possible? Umahi can offer excuses, but, they will remain unconvincing. The only way a government can convince people is to be totally transparent and above reproach. Tinubu’s government has failed the acid test in this matter. Can it then expect to be trusted after this self-inflicted injury?

Furthermore, the Minister has refused to be categorical about how much the road will cost. Thus, Nigerians are supposed to approve a project whose cost is unknown. Umahi’s excuse that it is impossible to predict the cost of materials several years in advance, while valid, would apply to any medium term project in the public and private sectors. That has not removed the obligation of the Chief Executive Officer, CEO, in this case, Tinubu, from telling the stakeholders what he believes are the best estimates for each year in the future. No CEO in a well-managed organisation would approach his Board of Directors with a proposal for a multiple-years project without attaching the projected total costs to it. Interestingly, the Minister who could not forecast the final cost of the project already knows how much users will pay for the privilege of plying the road in order for the project cost to be redeemed with interest to the contractor.

Umahi might be a good engineer, but, he needs to sharpen his skills in project finance. His claim that the contractor will have fifteen years to recover his investment with N1.6trillion interest is off the mark and highly suspicious. He omitted the eight years construction period – during which no revenue is generated. The risk runs for 23 years; and it is my suspicion that, having built the road, users will pay a lot more than the N3000 average toll charge. In other words, we are being led into a trap by the FG on this matter.

The aggregate economic costs of the project will never be known. But, it will exceed the construction cost. Businesses, homes, factories, schools, hospitals, farms and even oil installations will be demolished. Many of the owners will not receive compensation for their properties; they might be ruined for life. Hundreds of thousands of jobs will first be lost before the road generates its own jobs. For those older than 60 and deprived of their means of livelihood, promises of better life in the long run means never. They will be dead before the prospective benefits accrue to the living.

Diverting a lot of traffic from the old routes will also have a negative impact on the economies of the parts of the states to be deserted. Lagos-Ibadan express road retarded the development of the towns along the old Trunk A for years and induced factories to spring up along the expressway; so much so, most people are not even aware that what they call Shagamu on the express was not part of the old town at all. Similarly, the old Ore is different from the expressway Ore. The two are just now merging. Shagamu, Ore, Benin, Agbor, Asaba, Onitsha, Owerri etc will experience diminished traffic and business. The 700km road will create social and economic disruptions in many states on a larger scale than any single road before it. That is part of what makes it such a big risk to take and should have been discussed more before embarking on it.


“The road will serve to integrate the North and South.” Umahi.

One of the reasons advanced for embarking on the project by the Minister is simply laughable. I was watching Channels Television when the Minister made the case for the road. I hope the statement quoted above was what he said – without elaboration. To me, it is difficult to understand how a road crawling along the coastal areas of Nigeria would integrate the North and South – even with two spurs on it. So, I asked a few Northerners and Southerners what they thought of that idea. Only one Southerner thought it might. The rest dismissed it as nonsense. Clearly, the Minister is wasting his time if he expects massive Northern support for the project. More to the point, unless Tinubu secures second term in 2027, the road will most probably terminate less than halfway; and might remain unfinished for decades after. Already, legal obstacles are building up in its way – which will delay completion even if Tinubu is re-elected.

Given the track record of Nigerian governments, it will amount to a major miracle if the road is completed in eight years. Re-construction of the Lagos-Ibadan expressway started with the Yar’Adua administration in 2009; suffered delay under Jonathan for five years, before it was passed to Buhari for eight years. Tinubu has spent almost one year on it; and it is still not completed. It is less than 150 kilometres long; and it has taken 15 years. The L-C road is expected to be 700km long. How many people can honestly claim that it can be done in eight years? At best, Tinubu now has seven years to go.

Finally, at least for now, the FG has not been totally honest with Nigerians on this matter. What was announced as a Public-Private project to be entirely financed by the contractor will, after all call for expenditure of over N1tn of public funds. I have no objection to the public contributing towards the project; because that is standard operating procedure. But, why lie about it?

The issue of demolition of a well-established hospitality centre and tourist attraction, on account of hastily redrawn plan for the road poses an ethical question. It smacks of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Can’t the road go through its original course? And, as Tony Iredia asked in Vanguard on April 14, 2024, “Why is the job not Calabar-Lagos? Must every project start from Lagos?” Lagosians should worry too. If this project is ever terminated by Tinubu’s successor, Lagos will be the biggest loser. Businesses, houses, schools, hospitals and a great investment would have been lost for nothing.

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