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N15.6tr highway: Tinubu-led govt faces question on fraud & transparency

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Nigeria's President Bola Tinubu

In a country yearning for infrastructural development, the Lagos-Calabar Highway project was initially hailed as a transformative endeavour. However, the surrounding transparency and secrecy behind the selection of the contractor ignited a firestorm of scrutiny, pitting public trust against the promises of progress.

At the heart of the controversy is the N15.6 trillion budget earmarked for the project, a staggering investment in Nigeria’s future connectivity.

Spearheaded by President Tinubu’s administration, with David Umahi at the helm of the Works Ministry, expectations were sky-high, only to be met with a flurry of questions about procedural integrity and the potential for corrupt practices.

Ikechukwu Emeka Onyia

The author, Ikechukwu Emeka Onyia

The choice of Hitech Construction Company Limited, owned by Gilbert Chagoury a known personal friend to President Tinubu, without a public bidding process is particularly alarming.

The opacity of this selection process is a direct challenge to the principles of transparency and fairness in public procurement as covered by Nigeria’s Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP).

Moreover, Umahi’s dual role as both advocate for the contractor and public official is troubling. His public endorsements of Hitech’s capabilities without a transparent evaluation process have led to increased public skepticism.

Nigerians are left to wonder whose interests are being served: those of a few well-connected individuals or the collective future of the nation?

How did a Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway Project, Minister of Works Davi Umahi had earlier in September 2023, informed the country that Nigeria will not spend a kobo in the project turn to cost the country Trillions of naira?

According to Umahi earlier, the awarded company will fund the project under PPP with Built Operate Transfer (BOT) arrangement.

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It is also worrisome that Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) is yet to say anything on why the project was not publicly bided as expected by law.

Observers are worried that the anti-corruption organization, EFCC created for issues like this, is busy chasing those that spread their money during social events while issue of corrupt practices is raised in the tune of N15trillion.

Is EFCC so incapacitated on this issue due to the fact that the chairman was appointed by the President and the company awarded the controversial contract is owned by Mr. President Tinubu’s friend?

The National Assembly empowered by the law to oversight the Federal Executive arm of the government is behaving as if they are part of the Executive and the development has moved the conversation around the project to the citizens where National Assembly is now helpless observers in a matter that ought to be on their table.

This development should worry the government and person of the President Tinubu who has been faced with corruption accusations even before he was elected the president.

The absence of publicly available feasibility studies, environmental impact assessments, and detailed project plans only compounds the issue. These elements are foundational to any project of this scale, ensuring that it is not only viable but also sustainable and, in the public’s, best interest.

To navigate out of this quagmire, the Tinubu led government must embrace a course correction centered around transparency and accountability. Instituting a transparent bidding process, open to both local and international firms with proven track records, would be a step in the right direction.

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Furthermore, publicly releasing all project-related documents, including environmental impact assessments, would demonstrate a commitment to environmental and social governance.

The establishment of an independent oversight committee, possibly with representatives from civil society, industry experts, etc, could provide the much-needed assurance that the project is being executed with the highest standards of integrity.

The Lagos-Calabar Highway project, with its potential to revolutionize transportation in Nigeria, stands at a crossroads. It can either become a landmark achievement in Nigeria’s infrastructure development or a cautionary tale of missed opportunities and unfulfilled promises.

The path towards restoring public trust and ensuring the project’s success lies in unwavering commitment to transparency, accountability, and inclusive governance.

By Ikechukwu Emeka Onyia


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