The recent bold moves by Senator Ben Ayade, governor of Cross River State to construct a 260 kilometre super highway and a Bakassi Atlantic Deep Seaport to reduce travel time within the state as well as build a major economic bridge between the South and North-east is ruffling feathers as Sunday Okobi reports
The seeds for the actualization of the twin projects: the 260 kilometre Calabar – Katsina – Ala highway and the Bakassi Deep Seaport were sowed May 29, 2015 at the inauguration of Senator Ben Ayade as governor of Cross River State.
In his inaugural speech, Ayade made some key pronouncements that would eventually hallmark his administration. He announced to his audience that his administration would undertake the building of key infrastructure and what he christened as signature projects.
In outlining the broad vision of his administration Ayade said “In the new Cross River of our DREAM, there is a place and hope for everyone. There will be jobs for the youth and prosperity for the working class. The resurgent middle class shall find anchor for their roots and everyone shall find independence and pride in their work. The wages of honest labour shall liberate families from the jaws of hardship and no child shall go to bed with an empty stomach. Neither shall any mother be depressed by lack of access to Medicare for her children and loved ones. Brothers and sisters, this is our DREAM.
He challenged his people to look beyond the mundane and focus on the big picture, big ideas that would ultimately transform the state and propel it to greater heights. “This is what this moment requires. The capacity to dream! That is what will give real meaning to our belief. We must all strive to dream, to lift our eyes beyond the horizons of the present difficulties and visualize a better day! And we must all do this…from the hills of Obanliku to the thick forests of Boki and from the Creeks of Bakassi to the Cocoa plantations of Ikom, we must join hands to plant the trees of HOPE and water the gardens of liberty,” he urged them.
Among the key infrastructure that he hoped would catapult the state to a new horizon, Ayade used the opportunity,” to announce our signature projects; we shall undertake the construction of a dual carriage super highway from Calabar through Ikom and Ogoja to the Ranch Resort in Obudu. We shall also build a state sea port. We shall do more,” he echoed.
21st Century Marvel and Africa’s First
The road according to the governor “will have internet connectivity all through the highway, a photographic solar system with a satellite antenna. It is also going to be the first to have anti-sleep bumps on the highway. It is also going to be the first to have speed cameras. It is also going to be the first to have ambulatory services. This road is a digital road, designed for the 21st century. We are optimistic that this road will be done in the next four to five years. It will reduce travel time from the current 5 to 6 hours to just one and a half hour. It would create harmony and peaceful existence between the three senatorial zones in the state as well as transverse 14 out of the 18 council areas in the state. It goes through the heart of business in the state and would give opportunities to our farmer to evacuate the farm proceeds through off-takers. On a more important note, it will open up access to largely untapped but abundant solid mineral deposits like ore, uranium, coal etc in neighbouring states.”
Just last week at a retreat held for his enlarged EXCO, an elated Ayade broke the news to the gathering that the federal government has given its nod for the Bakassi Atlantic Deep Seaport to go ahead. The governor also revealed that the current Sole Administrator of the Customs and Excise, Col. Hameed Ali has equally given approval empowering the implementation of the free trade zone status which has held back the Multi-billion naira Tinapa Leisure and Business Resort from realizing its full potential.
However, a public commentator writing for Crossriverwatch, Emmanuel Etim explained that “It is common knowledge that the existing ports in Nigeria, especially Apapa and Tin Can Ports in the Lagos axis, are overstretched with the attendant inordinate delays in cargo handling and processing. With capacity for 60 million metric tonnes of cargo handling, the ports run at 100 million metric tonnes. This is expected to increase.
“The construction of the Calabar Deep Sea Port will thus increase the volume of vessel traffic and cargo coming through Cross River State, decongest Lagos and Onne ports and reduce cost of doing business for Calabar-based businesses who spend additional transport cost to take delivery of their consignments in Lagos and Onne ports.
“Some companies that depend on the port for their business activities in Cross River State include General Electric, Tinapa Business Resort, Calabar Free Trade Zone, ECM Terminals Ltd, Intel Services and Cocoa Industries, Flour mills, Dangote Group etc.
“Also with the ongoing expansion of Unicem Cement Company and other cement factories coming into the state, the port is expected to serve as export port for manufactured products from the state.
“Having established the fact of the strategic location of Cross River Satte and the proximity of the state to the northern states of Nigeria and countries bordering the north of Nigeria, it is clear that it makes more business sense for the businesses located in that zone to use the Calabar Deep Sea Port. This justifies the need for the second project; the evacuation corridor which is the Calabar Ikom Ogoja Obudu Superhighway.
“The location which has been chosen for the development of the new deep sea port is a natural deep port and thus is not expected to face the challenge of regular dredging faced by the existing port. The deep Sea Port has natural features that will make it the preferred port for many vessels. The new deep sea port is planned to be located in Bakassi Local government Area of Cross River State,” he stated.
In addition to these, the twin projects will provide relief to investors and access to the huge unexploited solid mineral deposits that remain largely untapped in Benue, Kogi, Nassarawa and Cross River States.
Evidently, soon as he assumed office, Ayade commenced the process that will eventually bring these projects to fruition. He sent some bills to the state assembly to enact laws that would create the enabling environment for the smooth take off of the projects. The bills that have been passed into law gave birth to 27 Special Purpose Vehicles including the state owned petroleum corporation (PETROCROSS); Bureau for Public Private Partnership which warehouses all PPP entered into with the state government; Infrastructure Company (INFRACROSS) which oversees the superhighway and deep seaport.
Having secured the legal framework that empowered him to move ahead with the projects, he turned his gaze towards financing and partnerships. He began his global tour seeking both core investors and partners that would come in and not only to invest in the projects but also provide the necessary technological know-how and skills to make the projects a reality. The successes recorded during some of these visits prompted him to report to President Muhammadu Buhari during the ground breaking event that in terms of financing “the Bank of Infrastructure and several commercial banks had already put together 500 million Euros to fast-track the construction of the road.”
Basking in the euphoria of favourable reactions from both the local and global investors, Ayade pressed on and invited President Buhari to the state for the ground breaking event. Buhari acceded to his request and proceeded to Calabar in October 2015. It would be Buhari’s first time out to an opposition party-ruled state and a great feat for Ayade
At the event Buhari said “I must at this juncture commend the state Governor, Senator Ben Ayade, and his team for their foresight in conceptualising this project. Given the multiplier effect these two laudable projects are expected to generate, in terms of aggregate spinoffs, I want to assure you of my determination and as well as the commitment of the Federal Government to ensuring that this road and indeed the seaport runs to a quick completion.
“Let me commend our young Governor, Professor Ben Ayade, who globe-trotted to get these core foreign investors to invest in these huge projects.”
According to the President, the road, which will link the South South and Northern parts of the country, when completed, will also ensure a reduction in travel time and man-hour.
He said the project was a significant milestone in the economic transformation agenda of the state.
Buhari, assured Ayade of federal government support and pledged to be back in due course for the inauguration of the project.
“I feel the warmth of your embrace and the passion in your gaze. The future of Cross River State is certain. I am one with you on this. I promise to come back to commission (inaugurate) this road upon completion and that is very soon too,” Buhari pointedly assured the governor.
Ayade in his opening remarks said apart from the road project, the state would also be constructing a deep sea port in Bakassi adding that the two projects will be executed through Public-Private Partnership. He said the idea behind the projects dated back to when the state lost its oil wells to Akwa Ibom State upon the loss of Bakassi.
Justifying the choice of the projects, the governor explained that “The theological kinetics of this road started with the loss of our oil wells consequent upon the loss of Bakassi, therefore the state was reduced to wants in body and spirit. It became imperative that we reconstruct a new means of production; we need to open the horizon to get teeming young people employed. It is against such background as I sought to leave this state it became very clear and evident that we must construct new means of production.”
Praising the President for his support, the governor acknowledged that “As soon as I sent a letter to you on the Bakassi seaport, it took less than one day in your office and it was minuted out; explaining that the 260km super highway would serve as an evacuation corridor from the seaport. It will have a track of 14 metres and a key wall of 680 metres that will allow for vessels from outside and every other vessel to berth. It will, therefore, provide an evacuation corridor for vessels, material and equipment lying in Calabar uniformly, effortlessly to Northern Nigeria.”
According to the governor, the existing federal road will require up to five to six hours to get to Benue State from Calabar, but with the construction of this super highway, only one hour, 30 minutes will be spent.
The two projects are complementary and are of immense economic and social importance to the state, the nation and the continent, especially the Central African countries of Niger, Chad, South Sudan, etc, which are landlocked countries. The countries will be connected through Benue, Taraba, Adamawa and Borno borders with Cameroun, ultimately creating access to the Atlantic Ocean for the landlocked countries.
The super highway takes its origin from the foot of the deep seaport located at Bakassi Local Government Area running through the forests of Akpabuyo, Odukpani, Akamkpa, Biase, Yakurr, Obubra, Etung, Ikom, Boki, Obudu, Bekwarra, and terminates at Gakem near Vandikya, in Benue state.
When completed, it will serve as the evacuation corridor for the deep seaport and provide alternative travelling route for commuters to the Northern part of the state and beyond.
But no sooner had Ayade began his economic diplomacy than a combination of both local and global environmentalists and Conservationists weighed in accusing his administration of destroying the environment, endangering conservation and utilizing the superhighway as an excuse to profit from logging. Ayade denied all these accusations volunteering that if there was anyone in a better position to know about environmental preservation and protection, his background as an environmentalist placed him head over others.
Dr Odigha Odigha, the immediate past Chairman of the Cross River State Forestry Commission, accused Ayade’s administration as one lacking in integrity, insisting that his position on the super highway had been that much as he is not disinclined to sustainable development, the super highway must not pass through pristine forests.
“I want development and we are craving for sustainable development. The super highway must not pass through the tropical thick forest and that is the only heritage we have of note. It is better advised that he pulled the super highway out of the pristine forest and leave the rain forest alone. That is what the world is saying,” Odigha stated.
Ayade dismissed such claims pointing out that ““I want to put it on record that I have signature that is characteristic of me, to protect the environment.
“There is no person outside our state that is better positioned to protect the environment than myself. For the superhighway, I have no intention to degrade the environment but to add value.”
In his defence, the governor told a United Nations Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (UN-REDD) programme’s team that visited him at Government House, Calabar that Odigha was opposed to the success of the project.
Ayade accused Odigha and his cohorts whom he “sacked” of collaborating with the international community to frustrate the construction of the super highway project.
“It became news when this same Governor chose to do a super highway creating a width of just 35 metres, a corridor of 35 metres, which will have less than 20, 000 trees to be removed with a corresponding five million trees to be planted. It is being dramatised because suddenly a man who sat in this position as Chairman of Forestry Commission was sacked for selling wood.
“Today he has an NGO (non-governmental organisation) that he is using to write to all of you campaigning against the superhighway, the same thing with the Chairman for anti-deforestation task force.
“We sacked him based on Police report that the forest was being degraded and he was party to reselling of all the seized wood. When we asked him for the money from the sale of the wood he said he used it to run the task force and I sacked him.
“Those two people have come together because they all have access to all of you for this long. And they promised that they will launch a campaign against the superhighway.
“We have mobilised task force for anti-deforestation, we have mobilised the police and army to look for people who are stealing trees and then we do not even get appreciated as a state. What we get is two small people who stole trees and were arrested and sacked and have decided to internationalize the project.
Unperturbed, Odigha raised further questions: “What kind of highway is this? This is the first time anywhere in the world that they are doing a highway that takes 20 kilometres as offset. It is strange, the road is only 75 metres and standard highway says 50 metres on either side but he has acquired 200 metres from the left and right of the road and then a further 10 kilometre on the left and the right.
But giving a detailed route survey of the super highway, the consultant surveyor, Surveyor Ada John explained in his technical proposal for the route survey to the governor that “This specie of survey is carried out within the precinct of the Super Highway Right-of-Way(R-of-W) and shall include, as a minimum, the following Surveyors’ Council of Nigeria(SURCON) standardized protocols: Detailing of all existing structures, traditional / heritage sites; Determining the extent of cultivated areas along the Super Highway corridor; Determining the geospatial information concerning locations of appreciable gradient changes, likely vehicular traffic interchanges, intersections of feeder roads and the Super Highway etc.;Detailing of natural features/obstacles e.g. river crossing, gullies, creeks, swamp, mashes etc.”
On the controversy surrounding the acquisition of several kilometer expanse of land on both sides of the route, Ada pointed out that the “R-of-W for the route shall be 20 km in width. Measured perpendicular and equidistant to the Centre Line (CL) of the Super Highway. That is, the R-of-W shall be 10km wide on either sides of the CL. The R-of-W shall be further subdivided from within into two sectors, namely: (i) Future Road Expansion Zone(FREZ); and (ii) Special Economic Development Zone(SEDZ). Note that, the FREZ shall be 75 metres wide and measured perpendicular to the CL outward. Whereas, SEDZ shall be 9.25km wide and measured from the outer limits of the FREZ outward.”
He further clarified that “The CL shall be marked with pegs at 25m intervals. Details of existing highways, roads, tracks, high tension power lines etc. crossing the Super Highway route. The longitudinal section shall be based on a terrain model of 150m width (75m either side of the CL). The cross sectional interval should be at 25m, while the CL shall be cleared at the width of 2m. For the purpose of defining the Centre Line, identification marks shall be placed along the CL such that they are inter-visible, and at equidistance of 25m apart. Demarcation of Right of Way shall be done by emplacing pegs along the corridor at 25m interval.”
Yet, this failed to stop the federal government through its ministry of environment from issuing a stop work order on the projects pending the ratification of the Environmental Impact Assessment Report (EIA). The governor who broke the news during a courtesy visit of the Head of Service, Mrs Winfred Oyo-Ita disclosed that the federal government has temporarily stopped the construction of the proposed 260 kilometres super highway pending the conclusion of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the project.
He told Oyo-Ita that his administration has been asked by relevant federal authorities to stop work on the project until the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report was ready.
According to him, there are challenges in delivering his signature projects like the Super Highway and Bakassi Deep Seaport for inauguration by President Muhammadu Buhari within four years.
The governor said it was regrettable that some persons were playing politics by ignoring the technical aspect of the projects which was important to the socio-economic development of the state.
Ayade also urged Oyo-Ita to intercede on behalf of the State Government to get the federal authorities to discharge the challenges and ensure the completion of the projects.
He said that Oyo-Ita could intervene by helping to ensure timely release of approvals necessary for the construction of the superhighway and the Bakassi Deep Seaport.
Besides, the governor specifically appealed to the Head of Service of the Federation “to kindly put in words on our behalf to the Minister of the Environment and Minister of Transport.”
Ayade lamented that “Today, as we speak, there is no work going on, all the equipment that were mobilised have been down-sized. The EIA has been issued but because of the petty concerns that have been raised, the Minister of Environment decided to come to see things for herself and she left very satisfied.”
Enter Politics, Intrigues, Bureaucracy
The governor alluded during the HoS’ visit that the projects were enmeshed in local and international politics. On the EIA, he said a comprehensive report of about 4 volumes has already been prepared awaiting the federal ministries of environment and transport’s approval. He also said the design of the two projects undertaken by the same team that designed the oldest ocean bridge in the world in China is 100 per cent ready.
Observers believe that because of the enormous benefits accruing from the two projects including positioning as an evacuation corridor from Bakassi Atlantic port to Northern Nigeria and beyond to Chad, Niger, Cameroun, Sudan etc; automatically become a second major gateway to Nigeria apart from Lagos for the evacuation of solid mineral exploited from catchment areas nearer to Bakassi than Lagos or Port Harcourt these comparative advantages seem to pose serious threat to other existing ports in the country especially Lagos.
Maritime experts posit that the original maritime design was for Lagos which has about 5 ports to service the South-west, while Port Harcourt serviced part of the South-south, Calabar was originally conceived to be a spur to the North-east. Unfortunately the Calabar port has failed to perform that role because of the shallow nature of the port which has resulted in leaving all South-ward bound cargoes to empty into Lagos ports.
Today, Lagos is congested while Port Harcourt exclusively services the oil and gas sector, these developments therefore are supposed to open a vista of opportunities for the new Bakassi Atlantic Deep seaport as a second gateway to Nigeria and also a bridge to link the North-east for the evacuation of petroleum products from the numerous tank farms in Calabar to other neighbouring countries.
Maritime experts predict that should both the superhighway and deep seaport become a reality, it will engender a boom in cargo business in Calabar, thereby robbing the Lagos seaports of the much needed cargoes traffic and revenue. It is believed that a conspiracy is afoot to torpedo these twin projects to ensure they are dead on arrival.
However, others believe that rather than killing the projects through political intrigues and bureaucracy, the survival of the twin projects are keys to bringing about healthy competition and giving the importers the choice on which ports to patronize. It is their opinion that it would also reduce the travel time from Lagos to the North, decongest Lagos port and also ease the way port businesses are transacted smoothly and without hassles.