How Umahi deceived Tinubu on 700km coastal highway road may fail like Amaechi’s monorail, warn experts

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    The 700 km Nigerian costal highway, brainchild of Minister of Works, Chief David Umahi, may end up a white elephant project akin to the now abandoned monorail project initiated by former Rivers state governor, Rotimi Amaechi in 2009.
    As governor, Amaechi engaged Germany-based amusement rides firm Intamin to build a 5.4km monorail system in Port Harcourt, the state capital. As at the time he left office in 2015, Amaechi had committed over S400 million (over N600 billion) to the project. The project was abandoned.
    Experts blamed the failure on poor feasibility and funding studies, saying S400 million spent on the project would have been enough to built a new Port Harcourt city.

    In late August 2023, Senator David Umahi assumed office as Works Minister. Four weeks after assuming office, the minister disclosed that he had opened talks with Hitech Construction Company Limited to build an “ambitious” 700-kilometre coastal highway from Badagry to Calabar.

    Hitech is a division of the Chagoury Group, a business conglomerate in Lagos that oversaw the construction of the Lekki-Epe expressway and the Ajah flyover.

    After meeting with Hitech officials on September 23, 2023, Umahi assured that Hitech would solely finance the project, and that the company would thereafter toll the road.

    Said Umahi, “Let me announce that it 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.
    “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.

    “The right of way of this project is about 100 meter corridor. There is provision for a rail line in the middle of the road which is about 20 meters.

    “The road has four carriageways. Each of the service lanes is 10 meters wide. The main carriageway is 14 meters,” he added.

    Five months after Umahi’s promise that Hitech had “already found the money, ” he approached the Federal Executive Council to approve a N1.067 trillion facility for the execution of Phase One of the road project spanning 47.47 kilometres.

    He blamed the move on the inability of Hitech to source the funds he said they already sourced a month earlier.

    “Although council had earlier approved the project to be procured under EPC+F (Engineering, Procurement, Construction and Financing), the contractor, Hightech Construction African limited, suffered setbacks while sourcing for finances,” lamented Umahi.

    “So, the Ministry went back to Mr. President to ask for two things: We asked ‘can we fast track this?’ Since this project was going to be procured in two phases and multiple sections, can we get the federal government to fund the phase one, which is what is 47.47km running from Ahmadu Bello in Lagos down to Lekki Deep Seaport? Mr. President graciously approved,” he stressed.

    On March 8, Umahi claimed in a release by his media aide Orji Uchenna, that Hitech had moved to site, and recovered over 1.3 kilometres of land.

    “They have completed some filling of 1.3 kilometres from the day the project was awarded to them. It shows the speed they are going to deploy this project. Within a couple of weeks, we awarded the project to them, they mobilised a lot of dredging equipment, and you can see that they have recovered 1.3 kilometres of section one of the phase,” noted Umahi who isn’t known for showering praises on contractors.

    However, visits by Pointblanknews.com to the site revealed that as at the time Umahi claimed Hitech had filled 1.3km of land, less than 700 metres had actually been filled.

    As at Monday March 10, Hitech officials were still negotiating with middlemen to help source good excavators and trucks for hire, casting a shadow of doubt on Umahi’s claim that the companyhad the capacity to deliver on the project.

    “700 kilometres in a swamp is a lot of bone to chew for any company, let alone for Hitech that isn’t in the league of big players like Juilius Berger, RCC, Bouygues, PW, Setraco and the rest,” offered one site engineer.

    “We are still trying to hire sound trucks. Sand filling such terrain isn’t a tea party. You need hundreds of sound trucks, which we don’t have at the moment. We are sourcing from nearby cities like Ibadan, Akure and Benin. We took off sand filling from Eleko. It has been very challenging,” an operator told Pointblanknews.com.

    Some officisls of the Ministry blamed the policy somersaults on what they described as Umahi’s high handedness.

    “He is Mr. Know-it-all. He doesn’t listen to any official, including the Permanent Secretary. He talks down on his directors. I’m sure you must have seen him doing so on national television. This has greatly dampened the morale of staff of the ministry,” offered an official.

    ” He has deployed and redeployed several officers, especially those he feels may have the temerity to question his motives. He has outsourced most of the duties of Minito private consultants. Very few officers can tell you what is going on, as they have been effectively sidelined,” another added.

    A retired director who did not want his name on print told Pointblanknews. com that Umahi’s coastal highway project may prove to be President Tinubu’s biggest headache.

    “First, without any design, you award a contract to a company you claimed has enough money to finance the project. Few weeks later, you scratch your head to say they can’t source the money, so Nigeria should take a loan to finance a road that virtually leads to nowhere.

    “Umahi wants us to spend over N1 trillion on 47 km of roads. Meanwhile, fir the 2024 fiscal year, we have proposed N657.23 billion for all the road works in Nigeria. It means that for the over 700 km of the coastal road, we’ll be looking at over N16 trillion. This is more than 60 percent of our 2024 budget. Which country spends over 60 percent of its entire budget on 700km of roads? ” he querried.

    Noted a top official of the Council of Registered Engineers of Nigeria (COREN), ” I hear Umahi is the alpha and omega at the Ministry of Works, who listens to no one but himself. Only a third of our 36,000 km of federal roads can be said to be in good condition.

    “Now, the federal government owes road contractors about N1.5trn. What sense is there in spending over N1 trillion on 47km of a new coastal road, which, by the way, is a white elephant project, when there are over 20,000km of very bad roads scattered across the country?

    “Umahi has been busy demonizing contractors who are owed for over 10 years, but curiously sees Hitech as the only angelic company in Nigeria. I’m sure that some day, the wind will blow and enable us see the dump of this unholy alliance that is set to greatly embarrass President Tinubu and set Nigerian taxpayers back by several trillions of Naira, ” he cautioned.

    “Some of us are documenting his several infractions in the Ministry. He is revoking contracts and reawarding same to his cronies and fronts. Look at the wonders Nyesom Wike is doing in Abuja. We’re they not appointed the same day? While Tinubu will have a lot to celebrate in the FCT, there’ll be little or nothing to show for Umahi’s stewardship come May 29, 2024,” he warmed.

    Recall that some industry experts had faulted Umahi’s appointment as Works Minister.

    The Chief Executive Officer of Magnificent Choice Services Project and Engineering Ltd, Jeremiah Akinsele, toldPunch newspapers that although Umahi studied Civil Engineering, he had left practice almost 20 years ago.

    He said, “Umahi left practice almost 20 years ago, and has been a partisan politician. I thought the new government would hire a technocrat that has an understanding of how the construction industry works.

    “The former Minister of Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola, has not been able to justify his tenure. He is not a professional. Hence, the management of projects he did was done as a quack. We see a lot of things roll out in the newspapers but do not speak in reality, ” declared Akinsele.