- Set conditions for awarding such huge contract
- Warn its execution can wreck government
- Lament neglect of indigenous construction firms
The decision of the Lagos State Government to announce six Chinese firms and four others shortlisted for the construction of Fourth Mainland Bridge, a 38-kilometre suspended bridge once valued at over $2 billion, has come under scrutiny.
While indigenous engineers have warned against the award of a white elephant project at a time of national economic crisis, investors disapproved the award of the project to Chinese firms in particular without a sovereign guarantee.
In separate conversations, former President, Nigerian Society of Engineers, Mr. Kunle Mokuolu; President, Nigerian Institution of Structural Engineers, Dr. Kehinde Osifala and some indigenous investors doubted the viability of the project if awarded at the time the national economy in struggling.
The state government had shortlisted 10 firms from the 32 that applied for the expression of interest for the construction of the bridge, a 38-kilometre suspended bridge that would run from Ajah through Baiyeku towns to Itamaga in Ikorodu.
As shown in a statement by Special Adviser on Works and Infrastructure, Mrs. Aramide Adeoye and Director-General, Office of Public-Private Partnership, Mr. Ope George, the shortlisted firms include six Chinese construction giants.
Some of the firms are: CCECC Nigeria Limited, CGGC-CGC Joint Venture, China Harbour Engineering Company Limited, China State Construction Engineering Corporation Nigeria Limited, Power Construction Corporation of China and Ingenieros Consultores, S.A. and IC ICTAS Insaat Sanayi ve Ticaret A.S.
But an investor, who anonymously spoke with THISDAY, wondered that any serious company would be interested in the construction of the bridge. For him, the state’s public private partnership law “is atrocious and not investor-friendly.”
He supported his claim with previous projects the state could not execute successfully under the PPP arrangement. He cited the case of Lekki-Epe expressway, a 50-kilometre road expansion, which remained uncompleted after 14 years.
He, thus, said Lagos and indeed, Nigeria “have terrible track record in PPP. We should investigate the proposed terms of the fourth mainland bridge project. We need to know whether they are just calling it PPP in name, but in reality, it is not a PPP.”
He, also, expressed concern about the number of Chinese construction giants that were “shortlisted for the project. If it will be truly private sector funded, and there will not be a Sovereign Guarantee, then LASG should, as a matter of principle, screen out the Chinese because of their blatant racism.”
Mokuolu, a certified engineer, explained different reasons the project should not be the priority of the government. After the lockdown, he argued, socio-economic realities would prove that the fourth mainland bridge would become a white elephant.
Apart from the fear that the project would end up inconclusive, he argued that the decision of the state government no doubt depicted “a dearth of knowledge for the process of sustainable development and socio-economic managemen.”
He disapproved the strategy of most foreign construction giants to construct such an iconic transport infrastructure citing their strategy “to entice our government with financial assistance” that would further entangle into debt trap.
With prudent management of public resources, Mokuolu argued that the state government could generate “to execute our projects over a record time rather funding it with the PPP arrangement. China, like other foreign firms in Nigeria, have never been interested or committed to building local capacity in Nigeria.”
On this ground, NSE’s former president advised that the state government “should not award this contract to any Chinese company unless it is a donation from the company or the Chinese Government. They should go and tidy up the Light Rail (Blue Line) project before looking at the Fourth Mainland Bridge.”
Besides, according to him, the project should not be a priority for the state government on the ground that the state’s infrastructure deficit is so huge. Rather than awarding the bridge contract, he emphasised the need to prioritise addressing infrastructure deficit in education, health and mass transit system, among others.
He thus warned that the bridge “might never be completed or be completed when the child born today will be a grandfather. They have been on the Light Rail (Blue Line) project since 2002. That is 18 years ago. Some Lagosians born on the day the rail contract was signed are already fathers and mothers with huge debt hanging on the neck of the state government.”
Osifala lamented the state of indigenous construction firms, which according to him, could not bid for such bridge, not because they lack expertise, but because the governments at different levels had not provided them much needed support that their foreign counterparts effortlessly enjoyed.
He explained that constructing such an iconic transport infrastructure “is a specialised project, construction work would be underneath the water, in and above the water, special equipment are needed which our indigenous firms may not have. First, experiences on similar jobs are relevant, required and useful.”
Also, Osifala said financial wherewithal “is of essence. I doubt if any indigenous firm could muster such a fund without government support. If they are considered the best on merit, experience, equipment, completion time, financial capability and they are ready to keep to our rules on local content.”
If the state government should favour any Chinese construction giant, he advised, our engineers must check the design and the design drawings have to be in English. Monitoring and supervision of their work should be an essential part of the negotiation.
Apart from subjecting the design to indigenous professional inquiry, he advised that only supervisor grade of technicians and above should be allowed to work on the project so that they could supervise and train Nigerian artisans.
Osifala equally said a reasonable percentage of the supervising engineers “should be Nigerians so that future maintenance would not be an issue. Similarly, training and sponsorship of local engineers on bridge engineering and maintenance should be an important part of the contract. Attached to the project should be conditions, which must be strictly monitored and adhered to.”