Why We Have Not Commenced Constructing the Cross River Superhighway-Ayade

 Ben Ayade 
Work is yet to commence on the much talked about 275-kilometre superhighway in Cross River State, three years after the groundbreaking.

The superhighway, designed to cut across at least 16 local government areas, is one of the signature projects of the administration of Governor Ben Ayade.

The initial length was 260 kilometres. But 15 kilometres were added when the state government was compelled to further divert the road away from the Cross River National Park.
The superhighway, which will cost billions of naira, was conceived as a Public Private Partnership (PPP) project.

President Muhammadu Buhari on October 20, 2015 performed the groundbreaking for the ambitious road project meant to connect Cross River with Nigeria’s North-central region and the rest of the country.
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, during a visit to Cross River in June last year, endorsed the superhighway project as representing “creativity” and “big vision”, and pledged the support of the federal government for it.

The superhighway is tied to another ambitious project of the state government – a deep seaport which is also yet to take off – and is expected to drive economic boom in the state and the nation.

The seaport is a PPP project, too.

Environmental activists, however, have continually kicked against the superhighway which they say would destroy several species of plants and animals and also displace the indigenous people of the areas where the road will traverse.
Other people have also expressed concerns the projects could plunge Cross River into huge debt.
Construction work is yet to commence on the road project, apart from the initial clearing of the forest, Owojela’s Blog learnt.

The Guardian newspaper, February this year, reported the site for the seaport as “desolate”.

“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,” The Guardian said in the report.

“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.”

Continuing, the paper said, “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.’”
Mr Ayade’s aide, Eric Akpo, confirmed to the Media, Thursday, work has not commenced on the road and the seaport.

Mr Akpo, who is a special assistant to the governor on technical matters, is among the state officials overseeing the two projects.
He admitted the super highway project initially ran into conflict with the federal ministry of environment over unresolved issues on the environmental impact assessment (EIA) but said the EIA was later granted approval late last year.

The current delay is because of the process of getting necessary approvals from the federal government for the proposed seaport, he said.

“The design and everything, including environmental impact assessment approval, for the super highway is complete and ready to go.
“But the deep seaport is still awaiting a status approval from the federal government,” Mr Akpo said.

“You know, it needs the approval for it to function as a deep seaport.”

Mr Akpo said it was necessary to first get a status approval for the seaport before construction work could begin on the superhighway since both projects are tied together.

“The superhighway is going to be an evacuating corridor for the seaport, majorly.

“You know, when the port comes alive, there is going to be constant industrial traffic going in and out of the port. And because the superhighway, as a private investment, is going to be toll, it is from this toll the investors will recoup their investments, based on the vehicular traffic generated by the deep seaport. So, the viability of the super highway as a project is closely tied to the deep seaport.
“In fact, what will even make the port a choice port for export and import is because we will not have all those traffic congestion problems that will cause your goods to be delayed like what we have in the Lagos port,” Mr Akpo said.

The governor’s aide explained the process it would take for the seaport to obtain status approval from the federal government.
The federal government, he said, must first approve the procurement of the services of a transaction advisor whose job is to look into the viability of the proposed seaport. The transaction advisor’s recommendations, to be submitted to a project delivery team, would come in two separate reports called “outline business case” and “final business case”.

The project delivery team, set up by the federal government, consists of officials from the Nigeria Port Authority (NPA), Federal Ministry of Transportation, and the Infrastructure Concessionary Regulatory Council (ICRC).

According to Mr Akpo, Feedback Infrastructure Company Ltd, selected as the transaction advisor for the proposed seaport project, has already submitted and gotten approval for the “outline business case”, and it is now working on the “final business case”.
“The transaction advisor has the next two or three weeks to produce the final business case which will be submitted to the project delivery team for approval and it will be forwarded to the federal government. The federal executive council will now look at that report and grant the status approval.

“Hopefully, before the end of 2018, we could get the status approval. I cannot be definite on it since it is in the hands of the federal government,” he said.
“The state government has never said they were going to get a bank credit to execute the port or the superhighway. We have refused, as a state government, to obtain any form of guarantee for any of the prospective investors for this projects.

“We have told prospective investors we won’t issue them any guarantee.
“Over 20 investors have shown interest, we have entered into MoU with the companies, but we have not come into an agreement with any of them yet because we are waiting to get all the approvals for the projects first,” the governor’s aide said.