By Emman Ovuakporie
ABUJA—MEMBERS of the House of Representatives Committee on Works, Tuesday, for over two and half hours, grilled the Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Babatunde Fashola over the non-completion of the 2nd Niger Bridge and the Lagos Ibadan Express Way.
Fashola who made submission at a two-day investigative hearing put together by the Works Committee, chaired by Rep Toby Okechukwu, told the lawmakers that the Federal Government would continue work on both projects without previous agreements on concession.
He said:”nobody can ask us to stop working on the projects because you can’t ask government to stop work but government can ask you to keep your money.”
This however came after the Speaker of the House, Yakubu Dogara had in his welcome address, called on the Federal Government to complete both projects.
Fashola disclosed that the sums of N11.5 billion and N5.05 billion have been provided for Lagos-Ibadan expressway and Second Niger Bridge in the 2018 budget estimate as directed by the House via the resolution passed penultimate week.
The Minister observed that most of the partners involved in the concessioning of the Second Niger Bridge have pulled out, adding that those who participated did not have adequate fund to implement the project, hence, the resolve to use available budgetary allocation for the project.
While stressing the need for prioritisation of critical projects of economic importance, the Minister noted that most of the investment inflows into the country during the period were portfolio investment into oil and gas as well as capital market.
He said that the Lagos-Ibadan expressway contract was cancelled in 2012 following the inactivity of the concessionaire, adding that the sum of N29 billion was spent on the Lagos-Ibadan expressway project when government eventually took over after the present administration assumed office in 2015.
He however noted that subsequent efforts made in 2017 to increase budgetary provision for the project was stalled sequel to the reduction in the proposed budget of N31 billion to N10 billion, while the Ministry had issued N15 billion certificate of completion to the contrators handling the project.
According to the Ministry, plans are underway to include Abuja-Kaduna on debt financing in the nearest future, adding that the proposed Greenfield Abuja-Lagos dualization contract has been kept in view pending the completion of major ongoing projects.
While responding to question on the utilisation of $1 billion from the Foreign Reserve, Fashola noted that the improvement of Nigeria’s foreign reserve has boosted the manufacturing sector performance from below 50 percent to 70 percent, according to the PMI for 2017 financial year.
He also reiterated commitment to ensure that efforts are intensified for speedy signing of the relevant bills on road infrastructure into law when the National Assembly transmits it to the Presidency.
Also while declaring open the two-day investigative hearing open, Dogara, represented by the Deputy Minority Leader, Rep. Chukwuka Onyema, said the investigative hearing became critical given that the projects were constant and ugly features in national discourse.
He said proactive steps must be taken to ensure early completion of the projects as they constitute vital arterial network for the country’s road transport system.
“They have become media sensations and highly politicized to the extent that it now seems that we are playing games with the lives of our people.
“Past administrations have celebrated progress ostensibly made on them while achieving little or nothing in reality,” Dogara said.
According to the Speaker, the House observed that contracts for the construction of the projects continued to feature in annual budgets without any seeming signs of their completion or the amount required to do so.
“The Minister for Power, Works and Housing stated that funds for the projects in 2017 Appropriation Act were reduced, so they run the risk of becoming white elephant projects because they are not under concession or Public-Private Partnership (PPP) arrangement.
He added that the manner of execution of the projects was not in accordance with defined methods for executing projects.
“The Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority had spent about N18 billion on the Second Nigeria Bridge as the financier during their early stages.
“As a result of these observations, the House, by resolution, urged the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing to provide funds in the 2018 budget for the completion of the projects,” the Speaker said.
Dogara said that the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway had become a subject of litigations as the government vacillates between executing it through a PPP arrangement and direct funding through appropriations.
“Unfortunately, the same affliction is seeping into the execution of the Second Nigeria Bridge.
“If the House of Representatives, in its oversight responsibility, does not step in at this time, we run the risk of continuing this path and the rehabilitation of Lagos-Ibadan Expressway will remain a mirage and the Second Niger Bridge will never get constructed,” Dogara noted.