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Two years on, work super slow on Cross River superhighway, deep seaport

By Anietie Akpan, Deputy South South Bureau Chief
11 February 2018   |   4:21 am
For over two years now, matters have been lying prostrate at both the proposed 275-kilometre Cross River State Superhighway, and the deep seaport projects.With the realisation of both projects now highly suspect, fears are beginning to build up on the impact that monies so far committed...

Ongoing clearing of the project site for the super highway. PHOTO: Heinrich Böll Stiftung Nigeria

• Projects May Put State In Perpetual Financial Bondage
• No Cause For Alarm, Says Govt Says

For over two years now, matters have been lying prostrate at both the proposed 275-kilometre Cross River State Superhighway, and the deep seaport projects.With the realisation of both projects now highly suspect, fears are beginning to build up on the impact that monies so far committed to them would have on the state’s finances even as critics say it would keep the state under serious financial bondage.On October 20, 2015, President Muhammadu Buhari in Obung Community, Akamkpa Local Council of the state performed the groundbreaking ceremony of the superhighway and the deep seaport projects.

The proposed Bakassi Deep Seaport in Esighi, Bakassi Local Council Area, and the proposed road, which cuts across various communities in the state, terminating at Katsina-Ala boundary, are expected to open up the state, and present its people and Nigerians with a window of opportunities, as well as, reduce travel time.

While performing the turning of sod, Buhari said, “that I am here in person underscores the importance the Federal Government attaches to this. It is indeed a significant milestone in the economic and policy of the governor.“This is the first groundbreaking under my presidency. I commend Ayade (the state governor Senator Ben Ayade) and his team for their foresight in conceptualising this project, and I want to assure you of the commitment of the Federal Government to ensure the completion of the project. I promise I will come back to commission it. I urge the governor to ensure work is done on it quickly.”

But two years after lots of economic trees were brought down causing economic hardship to affected communities, the project is still lost in the forest with no meaningful progress made. The major factor that has stalled the superhighway project was the inability of the state government to come up with an acceptable Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report.After the fourth EIA, the Federal Government eventually gave the state a 23-point conditional approval for it to meet within two weeks before the project can take off.
After the initial clearing of the swamp at Esuk Usung Iwang Beach in Esighi for the seaport project, the entire site is now desolate and the cleared portions overgrown with weeds and short trees.At Esighi the supposed jetty for the port is a shallow stream that is almost covered with swamp forest. That stream is also the only source of water for the people.

During a recent visit to the site, hordes of children were playing around. One of them said, “this is the place for the deep seaport, but the main river is far ahead covering a distance of about two hours. This stream is shallow, but when the tide is high, the entire place will be covered with water.”Three NGOs, Heinrich Boll Foundation, Rainforest Resource and Development Centre (RRDC), led by Mr. Odey Oyama, and Green Code, led by Mr. Edem Edem, had in a combined research work submitted that the proposed 275km superhighway will duplicate the linkage of the existing federal highway to Katsina-Ala in Benue State, and put the state in over 54 years of financial indebtedness.
They argued that the project would not be viable to the state, rather it would be a drain pipe. Even though the state government said it would not bear the cost of the project, it has not been able to explain, who would bear the cost, which has dropped from N800b to N200b even though the road is now 10km longer. “The cost of the superhighway was given at N800b in November 2015, and curiously, despite the depreciation of the naira it has remained exactly the same in the 3rd EIA document, and miraculously reduced to N200b despite the increase in road length.”
The NGOs further stated that, “the superhighway is to depend on tolls generated from trucks using the proposed deepsea port and from our calculations it will take at least 54 years to recoup the N200b superhighway cost without interest.” They further argued that, “the main revenue source for the highway has not been built. The proposed site for the deep seaport is six metre deep at high tide and approximately 50 miles away from the sea meaning it will be expensive to build and continually dredge it for maintenance. Since losing Bakassi to Cameroon, there have been issues with traversing Cameroon waters to reach the port.”
They added that, “what the state needs now is a super economic strategy to sustain it for the next three years, and the answer is not just collecting loans and piling up debts in the name of superhighway and deep seaport. How can we be borrowing to pay salary and we celebrate it as an achievement?”The state government in its EIA had rejected handling the upgrade of the existing road due to high cost, which it put at N1.8 trillion and the NGOs said, “this cost is debatable when you look at the cost of highways in Nigeria.”

A press statement signed by the Village Head of Ikot Ndarake, Chief Bassey Efanga Okon; that of Ikot Abasi Effiom, Chief Silver Effiom Duke, and the Village Head of Ikot Okpo Ene, Chief Emmanuel Okon, also complained of the destruction of their economic trees and the non-payment of compensation to affected communities.They said, “With the clearing of the standing trees around our houses, the roofs of houses have been pulled down by windstorm. There are no trees any longer in our communities to serve as windbreakers and erosion sites are beginning to emerge around the communities. The sources of livelihood of our people, especially women have been destroyed…”
But the State’s Commissioner for Lands, Dr John Inyang, in a reaction said, “the first de-bushing we did was to catch up with the first dry season that we experienced, and as they were going in, records were being taken from which we compiled a list of beneficiaries, or people to be compensated. Now we are into financial computation such that the final copy will be presented to His Excellency for disbursement. So, there was no time we said we are not going to pay and there was no time we said we will start work without capturing the necessary data as it affects the people.”
Despite the delay, Governor Ayade on December 27, 2017, during the Bikers’ Parade, which was part of the Calabar Carnival, reassured the people of the state that the projects were on course.He said: “I will build the deep seaport and the superhighway money or no money. We have the biggest budget in the country by any state.” 
Ayade, who earlier said the project would be executed under a Public Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement and 71 investors have bided to participate, added that the projects would generate much revenue to the state, as the road would serve as an evacuation corridor for the new deep seaport. It would be the first to have broadband Internet wifi connectivity, speed cameras, ambulatory services and photology solar system, while the seaport is going to be the deepest seaport in Africa with a draft of 16 metres and a key wall of 680 metres that would allow all sizes of vessels to berth. Work so far done on the project include; soil studies, which has been completed, same thing as detailed survey and route survey. The initial clearing has also been done.
All these notwithstanding, some persons have described the N1.3 trillion 2018 budget of the state christened “Budget of Kinetic Crystallisation,” as a way of burdening the state with liabilities to be incurred through loans for spurious projects.But the government says there is no cause for alarm as the budget was not anchored on any loan.

The Chief Press Secretary to the Governor/ Senior Special Assistant Media, Mr. Christian Ita, said the state was not getting any loan to fund the 2018 budget. “We have commenced the construction of the Bakassi Deep Seaport and we are going full blast with the construction of the superhighway too. If you remember, it is through a PPP arrangement for them to build, operate and transfer. And this means that we are getting people to invest in those projects and not taking loans to execute them.  

“So, the budget allows us to capture the funds that these people are going to bring into these projects… Cross River State cannot even borrow and that is what people are forgetting. Under this government we cannot borrow because the state has reached the threshold of borrowing, so the state is not borrowing.”
On how investors will recoup their money from their investments on these projects and for what duration, he said, “we have a PPP law that allows for up to 30 years. The budget is not on loan, NEXIM Bank was here few days ago and NEXIM Bank is our financial advisor. The bank is even bringing investors already. So, what we have at hand is where your money cannot take you to, your intellect takes over.”    
Commenting on when these projects would take-off in earnest, the state Commissioner for Works, Mr. Dan Osim-Asu said, “You should be aware that that project has been commissioned by the President Buhari, and that de-bushing for the entire stretch has been completed. Clearing at the Bakassi Deep Seaport from tonnage 0.00 to tonnage 10 is from the deep seaport itself, which you can’t access, it’s all swampy…The challenge that we had with the EIA project, which dragged for up to a year also delayed further work. With the EIA in our hands, the project is on course.