Issues in the N15.6 trillion Highway

Olusegun Adeniyi

Last Thursday, former Vice President Atiku Abubakar doubled down on his allegation that the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Road project is “a highway to fraud”. The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) presidential candidate in the 2023 general election was countering claims by the Works Minister, Dave Umahi, whom he accused of dishonesty. “Umahi had announced that Hitech would fully fund the project, and based on this, there was no competitive bidding. He (Umahi) then said that Hitech could only raise just 6% of the money for the pilot phase. This smacks of deceit,” Atiku stated.

Shortly before Atiku’s response, Umahi had announced that the road project would cost N15.6 trillion ($13bn at an exchange rate of N1,200/$1), with an additional rail through the road to be costed separately. “The total budget of all 36 federation states for 2024 is about N14 trillion. If you add that of the FCT, the entire budget of all sub-nationals is N15.91 trillion,” Atiku argued, wondering why a single road project by the federal government would cost more than the budgets of all the subnational governments put together. He raised other posers. “Umahi had said in September 2023 that Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech had the money to construct the highway and would be PPP (Public-Private Partnership). Hitech was to build, operate, and transfer it back to the Nigerian government after years of tolling. It was based on this proposal that Hitech was picked. Why did Umahi then turn around to claim that it was not to be a PPP but that the government would pay 15%-30%?”

Incidentally, until Atiku’s intervention, I was also under the impression that the road would be constructed without any financial commitment from the federal government, based on what is in the public domain. While flagging off the project last September, Umahi had told Nigerians that the deal with Hitech Construction was on a PPP model. “Let me announce that this project is under PPP. The Hitech group are going to look for the money. They have already found the money and that is the good news because we don’t waste our time talking and holding meetings and wasting resources,” Umahi announced on 23 September 2023. “We are engaging seriously because we have seen the financial capacity and capability of Hitech, and this project is going to be delivered in phases. Any section that we complete, we will toll it and then business and transportation will start.”

But Umahi is now changing his story. “This administration never envisaged the project under Private Public Partnership. It has always been under engineering, procurement, construction and finance,” Umahi said last week. “And so, under this kind of arrangement, as you have on the Abuja to Makurdi road project, the federal government is required to pay a certain amount for counterpart funding.” The Minister then went on to cite some technical jargon to rationalize why a multibillion-dollar highway is shrouded in so much opacity.

Whereas the National Assembly approved N500 million for the project in the 2024 budget, according to Atiku, the federal government has released N1.06 trillion to the company, even when the total cost remans a matter of speculations. “If N15.6 trillion is for the road component alone, then the total cost could be far higher when the railway is included. We want to know the cost of the railway,” Atiku countered as many Nigerians compare the cost with similar highways in other countries. “The essence of competitive bidding is so that Nigerians can get the best value for money. It is so that you can compare prices and pick the company that can afford the project. It is wrong for him (Umahi) to have concluded that only Hitech could handle this project when such a project has been done by other reputable firms in the United States, China and South Africa.” The former vice president claimed that the Hitech promoter, Gilbert Chagoury has a business relationship with President Bola Tinubu. “Until I exposed the dubious nature of this project, no member of the National Assembly thought it wise to investigate. The total cost was never made known until now. The fact that there was no bidding was never made known until I blew the whistle.”

While Atiku may be directing his attacks at Umahi, it is obvious that his main target is President Tinubu. In the process, the former vice president has raised several fundamental questions. But for me, one suffices: the credibility of the Bureau of Public Procurement (BPP) under the current administration. It’s beyond scandalous that the BPP has no say on a project of this magnitude that ordinarily provides opportunities for international bidders to drive the cost down through superior technology, experience, and expertise.

The objectives of establishing the BPP are contained in Section 4 of the Public Procurement Act (PPA). These include establishing pricing standards and benchmarks, as well as ensuring the application of fair, competitive, transparent and value for money standards for the procurement of public assets. Section 16(1)b of the PPA clearly provides that all procurements shall be conducted by open competitive bidding. But the BPP has since become irrelevant, with tales of compromised officials all over the place in Abuja. Meanwhile, on 19th January 2022, then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Boss Mustapha, issued a circular which provides that for works costing over N1.5 billion, the procurement method to be adopted shall be International/National Competitive Bidding.

There are just too many issues that do not add up on this Lagos-Calabar Highway project. As of today, Nigeria is not yet very experienced in the construction of concrete roads, so we need to know more about the capacity of Hitech in that regard. Then there is the issue of ‘Right of Way’. I am aware that some of the major power transmission projects awarded since the Obasanjo administration are still being stalled due to Right of Way acquisitions. One then wonders how the Right of Way for a road of 700 kilometres was acquired within a matter of weeks. I have no expertise in road construction, but should there not be an environmental impact assessment on this major project that was designed and awarded within seven months? More disturbing is that Umahi has been speaking more like the project engineer for Gilbert Chagoury than a Works Minister who should be promoting and defending the interest of Nigerians.

The Coastal Road Project is a necessity no doubt. And it is one that I would love to see constructed because the economic benefits are immense. I also have nothing against any company getting the contract. But the process of engaging Hitech as contractor for the road is against all international best practices. Perhaps it is time to scrap the BPP and we just go back to the era where government officials just award contracts without following any process.

The Challenge of Disabilities

Two weeks ago, I used the unpleasant experience of Debola Daniel (at the Lagos airport KFC) to write on the challenge of living with disabilities in Nigeria. Not surprisingly, the column elicited responses from several Nigerians both at home and in the Diaspora. With his permission, I have decided to run the one by Mr Banji Fatoba because of his family’s experience and the efforts he and his wife are making to help others with similar challenges.

Dear Olusegun,

I read your article ‘Debola Daniel and the Inconvenient Truth’ with great interest. As a parent of two neurodivergent children navigating life in Nigeria, let me share my own experiences, which echo the struggles outlined in your piece. In recent years, my wife and I have faced numerous obstacles in ensuring our children receive the education and support they deserve. Despite our best efforts, both of our children have been kicked out of two private schools in Lekki, Lagos, solely due to their neurodivergent conditions. The discrimination and lack of understanding they encountered were disheartening and frustrating, to say the least.

One particularly distressing incident involved our daughter being barred from participating in ballet classes for an entire school term, despite us paying for the classes. Moreover, a teacher at one of the schools had the audacity to declare that our daughter was unable to learn, further exacerbating our anguish. In response, we were left with no choice but to withdraw her from the school and resort to homeschooling for two years. Despite the challenges inherent in homeschooling, we persevered, and I am proud to say that our daughter has made remarkable progress. She has not only learned to play the piano but has also developed a love for reading. These achievements serve as a testament to her resilience and the unwavering support of our family.

While Nigeria still has a long way to go in terms of providing adequate support and inclusivity for neurodivergent individuals, similar challenges exist even in more advanced countries like the United States based on my personal experiences. Although such occurrences may be uncommon, they serve as a stark reminder that the fight for equality and acceptance knows no geographical boundaries.

Meanwhile, my wife and I started a company called Bloom Buddy ( to ensure that many other families do not have to go through this harrowing journey alone. We partnered with ‘Autism Speaks’, the largest Autism NGO in the world and launched the first Autism screening app designed for Nigeria and low-resourced communities. We also collaborate with the Center for Autism and Neurodevelopment Disorders (CAND-Do) of the University of Lagos to create access to parents and caregivers.

In conclusion, I appreciate your efforts in shedding light on these issues, and I hope that by sharing my own experiences, we can collectively work towards creating a more inclusive society for all, regardless of neurodiversity or physical disability. Awareness is key to supporting people with disabilities and ensuring inclusion. I admire your outspoken conviction to promote this inclusion of those who are typically excluded. Lastly, here is a link to a blog post authored by my wife on the challenges neurodiverse and disabled children face in gaining access to education in Nigeria:

A Note of Appreciation

I must express my appreciation to all the people who honoured us with their presence at our residence last Friday to mark my wife’s 50th birthday. Former Chief of Staff, Professor Ibrahim Agboola Gambari, who arrived the country the previous night from Kigali, showed up. Governor Caleb Mutfwang of Plateau State (with whom I was in the Christian Corpers Fellowship during the 1989/90 NYSC year) sent Senator Napoleon Bali to represent him. My gratitude also goes to Pastors Chinedu and Oby Ezekwesili, Pastors Evaristus and Ngozi Azodoh as well as Pastor Joke Joseph who were in the house as early as 8am for prayers and the 50-minute of praise/dance coordinated by music ministers, Kenneth Ozioma and Uche Okoro. Having refused to reveal who was funding the music (including the afternoon session by Leke Gospel Band), it was only after the ceremony that Uche told us Pastors Julius and Funke Abegunde paid for everything. May God continue to bless them and family. Later in the afternoon, the NEITI Executive Secretary, Orji Ogbonaya Orji was among several professional colleagues that were in the house. Of course, his predecessor, Waziri Adio was around with his wife, Sandra (‘Madam Metro’), as the chief hostess.

Special thanks to Father George Ehusani, Pastors Laolu and Olawunmi Akande, Pastors Lanre and Bimbo Oduola, Pastors Paul and Joy Amade, Pastors Dele and Lydia Jegede, Pastors Amaechi and Chinwe Azubuike, Pastors Williams and Ify Onidarafunmi, Pastors Dayo and Elizabeth Kayode, Pastors Seun and Tosin Afolayan. My appreciation also to Sonny and Aniema Offiong, Deji and Kemi Adesida, Ola and Eniola Awoniyi, Sonny and Florence Aragba-Akpore and others who were with us from the morning session. In the afternoon, Senator Bello Mandiya, Mrs Maryam Uwais, and Dr Kole Shettima spent considerable time with us. And so did Messrs Biodun Adeniyi, Paul Nwabuikwu, Muyiwa Adekeye, Jideoffor Adibe, Azu Ishiekwene, Dan Akpovwa, Lanre Lasisi, Yusuf Ali, Paul Ibe (and wife, Dorothy).

Other guests included Mr J.J. Omojuwa, Mr Tunde Ahmadu, Ms Lewa Ejila, Kazeem and Temitope Iwalesin, Mr Olawale Banmore, Mrs Onyinye Waniko, Mrs Angela Agboyinu, Dr Emmanuel Nwokorie, Mr Mike Leramo, Mrs Ronke Okezie, Ms Shade Enajekpo, Princess Hassana Onoyiveta, Mrs Sylvia Garuba, Dr Mrs Abiola, Mr and Mrs Attah Nwachukwu, Mrs Olayinka Fagbemiro, Mrs Angela Agboyinu, Mrs Florence Igwe, Mrs Eki Iyoke, Mrs Bosede Okuneye (my children’s ‘Daddy’s sister’), Mrs Beatrice Ayorinde, Mrs Modupe Ogundimu, Mr Yemi Adeniji, Mr John Oko, Mr Tola Ogunnbi, Mrs Julie Jackson and husband. There were also Patrick and Amaka Uzoma, Chinedu and Uche Eneh, Akintayo and Vivien Ayodele-Bamisaye, Patrick and Stella Uzu.

Having drawn the foregoing list from images captured by the photographer, I am aware that many names have been omitted. I plead their forgiveness. But let me also appreciate Messrs Chudi Offodile, Bisi Kazeem and Chiedu Ebie as well as Hon Florence Akinwale.

It was delightful that the Not Forgotten Initiative (NFI) teachers were the first to arrive our house at 7am last Friday to celebrate her. We appreciate them. Meanwhile, with support from their uncles, aunties and cousins, our children (unavoidably absent) raised a huge fund to give my wife a holiday in a Lagos resort from where I am writing my column this week. On Tuesday night, we were hosted to dinner by the chairman of Caverton Offshore Support Group, Mr Remi Makanjuola and wife, at their Ikoyi residence. We cannot thank them enough for their support over the years. Yesterday, it was the turn of Mrs Biodun Martins and Mrs Ronke Kosoko to take us out for lunch.

Ordinarily, birthday celebration is a bit alien to me. I grew up with Christmas as the only period in the year worth looking forward to. New clothes and shoes. Rice and chicken. Bread and tea (what they now call beverage). My wife, of course, was used to celebrating birthdays. When our children were still young, she would take them to orphanages on their birthdays. And the moment they entered boarding school, birthday was no longer an issue in the house, especially with all of them born when schools would be in session. The first real discussion about birthday happened ten years ago when my wife was about turning 40. At the end, she asked that we donate the money to dig borehole for a Tunga community in Abuja. With that, I thought I could delete birthday from the family calendar. I was wrong. Since January, someone had become almost aggressive in saying, “I must celebrate my 50th birthday”. I had no choice but to make a concession. I believe my wife deserves to be celebrated for her role in the family and the underprivileged children she helps to provide free and quality education to.

For all the people who joined us last Friday and the numerous other well-wishers who sent messages, may things of joy never cease from our families.

• You can follow me on my X (formerly Twitter) handle, @Olusegunverdict and on   

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