Atiku Slams Tinubu, Brands 700km Lagos-Calabar Coastal Project A ‘Highway to Fraud’

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Atiku Abubakar, the Presidential candidate of the Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) in the 2023 election, has criticized the assertions made by the President Bola Tinubu-led administration regarding the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway Project.

He denounced the claims made by Works Minister, Dave Umahi, stating that the tentative cost of N15.6 trillion for the 700km highway project is wasteful and indicative of potential fraud.

In a statement released by his Media Office in Abuja on Thursday, Atiku expressed dismay over Umahi’s decision to alter the initial plan of the project after Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech was awarded the contract without competitive bidding.

He said, “Umahi had announced that the project would be fully funded by Hitech, and based on this, there was no competitive bidding. He (Umahi) then turned around to say that Hitech could only raise just 6% of the money for the pilot phase. This smacks of deceit.”

In response to Umahi’s statements during media appearances on Thursday, where he indicated that the Lagos-Calabar Coastal Highway Project would cost N15.6 trillion ($13 billion at an exchange rate of N1,200/$1), Atiku expressed concern.

He noted that this tentative cost is equivalent to the total budget of all 36 states of the federation combined.

Atiku also highlighted Umahi’s assertion that the project would not be a Public-Private Partnership (PPP) but would involve the government providing 15%-30% counterpart financing.

He said, “The total budget of all 36 states of the federation for 2024 stands at about N14 trillion. If you add that of the FCT, the entire budget of all sub-nationals is N15.91 trillion. This is scandalous. Worse still, they have already awarded the contract but are still not sure of the level of the counterpart funding component of the federal government!

“Umahi had said in September 2023 that Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech had the money to construct the highway and that it would be PPP. Hitech was to build, operate, and transfer it back to the Nigerian government after years of tolling.

“It was reported by every media organization, including those owned by Tinubu. It was on the basis of 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%?”

Atiku Abubakar, the former Vice President, pointed out that in the 2024 budget, the project was listed as the Lagos-Port Harcourt coastal highway and was budgeted at a cost of N500 million.

This stark contrast in the projected costs raises concerns about the transparency and accountability of the project’s implementation.

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“Although the National Assembly approved N500m for the project this year, the Tinubu administration has released N1.06tn. That is more than 200 times what is in the Appropriation Act. This is what happens when the National Assembly fails in its duties,” he added.

Atiku expressed curiosity regarding the announcement made by Umahi, noting that the reported N15.91 trillion cost did not encompass the expenses associated with the railway component of the project.

He raised questions about the total project cost when factoring in the railway component, highlighting uncertainties surrounding the overall expenditure and the need for clarity on this matter.

“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,” he added.

Atiku, the PDP presidential candidate, strongly criticized Umahi for acknowledging that the project was awarded to Gilbert Chagoury’s Hitech construction company without a competitive bidding process.

He urged Umahi to refrain from attempting to deceive Nigerians by suggesting that only Hitech was capable of executing the project, questioning whether it is the same company that has encountered difficulties in fulfilling its projects in Lagos.

Atiku stated, “The essence of a 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.

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“It is wrong for him 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.

“He claims he didn’t know there was a business relationship between Gilbert Chagoury and Tinubu, but this is another lie because Tinubu has publicly acknowledged this fact.”

Atiku further accused the Works Minister of trying to mislead Nigerians regarding the allocation for the project.

He called on members of the National Assembly to fulfill their duties instead of resembling an extension of the presidency.

Atiku’s remarks underscore the importance of transparency and accountability in government projects and the need for robust legislative oversight.

The PDP candidate further said, “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.”

Atiku, the former Vice President, criticized Umahi for asserting that no funds had been disbursed to Hitech, which he deemed as another falsehood.

This highlights concerns about transparency and accountability in the execution of government projects and emphasizes the importance of accurate information dissemination to the public.

“On March 31, 2024, Umahi came on Channels Television’s Sunday Politics programme where he pointedly said that money that the sum of N1.06tn was released to Hitech. Only for him to say on TVC on April 11 that the same money had not been released. Which one is true, and which one is false?”

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