According to the 4th Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) report submitted by the Cross River State Government (CRSG), it plans to spend N200 billion for a 275km, 4-lane super highway with street light and internet access. An amount that is a 75 percent (N600 billion) reduction from the amount proposed in the first, second and third EIA reports; even though the total length of the highway was increased by over 15km in the fourth EIA report.

One wonders why such a sharp drop in the cost of construction even though the road length due to the diversion from the initial route has increased by over 15km. How is it that between March 2017 when the 3rd EIA was submitted and June, 2017 when the 4th EIA was submitted the construction cost dropped beyond justification? Has the cost of construction materials suddenly dropped? Overall, the reduction is a win for the people of Cross River state.

But a pertinent concern is the source of funding. Who or which organisation is behind the money? In what format is the money coming? Is it a domestic or foreign loan? Is it a grant? Is it a private-public initiative? What are the inherit conditions? These questions beg answers understanding that there is no free lunch anywhere.

The Governor, Senator (Prof.) Ben Ayade has routinely stated that the state government will not be responsible for financing the billion dollars project but it has failed to disclose the nature and source of funding. In whatever form – loan, grant, donation or funded with the state’s annual budget, the law requires that the source of funding be made known for scrutiny. But the secrecy with which the project is transacted only gives room for suspicion.

Conspiracy theorist could say that it is coming from a drug cartel or a terrorist organisation? But let’s forget such extremes.

A look at the submitted EIA reveals that the five years road project will be funded by the World Bank. It also states that the feasibility study was conducted with support from the World Bank and the Asian Development Bank.

So if it is coming from the World Bank and the likes, it means it will be a loan. Thus, the people of Cross River state have the right to know the conditions under which the loan is issued as the burden of repayment will fall squarely on them and on generations unborn. And for a state that is one of the most indebted in Nigeria, an additional loan will be a disaster. According to the Debt Management Office (DMO), CRSG has a foreign debt profile of over N114 billion and a domestic debt profile of N128 billion as at 31th December, 2016. Thus, with an additional debt of N200 billion, the state will be drowning in a N442 billion ocean of debt. Ah! My hands on my head! Human solidarity would not allow me to advice my enemy to take this option.

Is it to be funded from the state’s annual budget? Could be! The abrupt increase in the annual budget of the state from N180 billion in 2014 to N303 billion in 2016 and N301 billion in 2017seems to support this school of thought. In addition, the initial clearing that was done before the stop work order by the Federal Ministry of Environment was issued must have been done with money from the state purse.But this option will invariably mean taking a loan.

But again, could it be a grant? But who will be approving a grant for a project that sideline the people? This seems less likely considering that international grant makers now see Nigeria as rich enough to run its affairs; unless the grant is from a shady source.

Is the highway to be built by private investors on a Build, Operate and Transfer (BOT) basis? This means that the investors in will recoup and make profit by tolling the road. But from a desktop analysis I conducted, it shows that even with an over blotted toll traffic and fees of 10,000 car per day at N500 per cars and 1,000 truck per day at N5000 per truck, it will take about 55 years for the investors to recover their initial N200 billion investment not to talk of profits. I am as certain as certain can be that no investor will be willing to sink such amount of money for 55 years without profit? And with must road having a lifespan of 25 years, it clearly shows that this business case for the highway to nowhere is a failed one for an investor.

From the above analysis, it is clear that there is no economic justification for constructing a highway that plans to destroy the beautiful rainforests of the “Nation’s Paradise State.” So I ask, why the continuous pursuit of such a contested and unsustainable development by a professor that should know better? The answers are all indecent and show a dangerous pattern of rascality with which many state governors conduct their state affairs.

But if the professor is insisting on building a road for the good people of Cross River state, he should consider rehabilitating the existing federal road and make claim for full refund instead of committing the state to perpetual mortgage repayment.

Now, that is the win-win alternative.

 

Emmanuel Unaegbu

Unaegbu is Senior Programs Manager at CLIMATTERS and writes from Abuja

Twitter: @emmalysis