It will take over 100 years to recover the construction cost of the proposed 275-kilometre superhighway in Cross River if the state government goes ahead with the project, a civil society organisation in Nigeria, BudgIT, has said.
The superhighway, designed to cut across at least 16 local government areas, is one of the signature projects of the administration of the governor, Ben Ayade, and it is meant to link the South-south state with Nigeria’s North-central region, through Benue State.
Construction work is yet to begin on the superhighway three years after the ground-breaking was done by President Muhammadu Buhari.
One government official told PREMIUM TIMES the delay is because the state was waiting to get necessary approvals for another mega project in the state – a deep seaport – which is tied to the road project.
Environmental activists 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.
BudgIT, in a researched report published in December 2017, put the cost of constructing the superhighway at N200 billion, which it described as being “ambitious and expensive”.
The report, titled Economic Alternatives to the Cross River-Super Highway, is clearly meant to persuade the state government against embarking on the superhighway.
“It is an ambitious and expensive project costed at N800bn in Nov. 2015,” the group said in the report. “The cost has since been reduced to N200bn even though the length increased by 10km.”
The initial length of the superhighway 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, an aide to Governor Ayade, Eric Akpo, confirmed to PREMIUM TIMES.
The Cross River government conceived the superhighway and the deep seaport as Public Private Partnership (PPP) projects.
“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 superhighway 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,” said Mr Akpo who is a special assistant to the governor on technical matters.
BudgIT estimated that cars would be paying N1,000 toll fees on the superhighway, while truck would be paying N5,000.
“Even at this high estimated toll fees, it will take over a 100 years to pay back the cost of construction,” the group said.
Cross River’s external debt is put at $115m, the fourth largest amongst the 36 states in Nigeria, BudgIT said, attributing the situation “to poorly implemented projects (in the state) such as Tinapa and loss of oil revenue”.
It added, “Raising external debt for a project without deep analysis will undermine future state revenues needed to create an enabling living and business environment for present and future generations.”
The group said there are three already existing roads linking Cross River with Benue and that the state government could help fix those roads or push the federal government to do them.
“Cross river state rejected upgrade of existing Calabar- Ogoja-Benue Highway that could have served the same function with the proposed superhighway,” the group said. “We question the N1.8 trillion that CRSG alleged will be the cost of upgrading the existing Calabar- Ogoja- Benue road.”
BudgIT said the Cross River government, instead of going ahead with the proposed superhighway, could revive the Tinapa project and turn it into a “Tinapa Knowledge city”, “an IT park that takes advantage of kilometres of already existing ﬁbre optic cable and will elevate the city to an IT hub the south-south geopolitical zone of the country”.
The group said the government could, in addition, build 72 agric processing hubs spread across each of the local government areas in the state and powered by renewable energy, as well as empower 2,000 small and medium scale entrepreneurs with N5m each across the state.
The governor’s aide, Mr Akpo, has however assured that the Cross River government will not incur any debt because of the proposed seaport and the superhighway.
“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,” he told PREMIUM TIMES.